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In The Studio: An Interview With Legendary Engineer Shelly Yakus

Recorded John Lennon, Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, and many more

By Bruce Borgerson November 13, 2013

Shelly behind the legendary API (originally from Sunset Sound) at Tongue and Groove Studios, Philadelphia.

So I think Donny Hahn and I really captured the essence of that group.

And the way we laid it out in the room was unique. I remember Robbie Robertson had a speaker, shaped like a cube—I had never seen this before.

I had it sitting on two wooden chairs, stretched between the two, and he would throw the switch and it would start rocking back and forth. He said it was a speaker in there, spinning around.

BB: But it wasn’t a Leslie?

SY: No, I’d never seen it before. I saw things going on in that room I had never heard of. I think they had a lot of stuff made for them.

The most remarkable sound was, on one song where Garth played what I remember was a Lowery organ , on a lot of the songs he had the signal from the organ, before it went to the Leslie, go through telegraph key, and on the telegraph key you have a tension spring so that you could adjust.

He loosened the spring, and whacked this key, and it started bouncing up and down so it was making and breaking contact, and then started playing the into to one of those songs.

Can you imagine me standing in the studio, watching this key go up and down, hearing this sound coming out of his organ…well, I’d been in the studio since I was a kid and I was seeing shit go down that I’d never seen before.

Remember, there were no racks of digital boxes back then, so people had to be very clever to come up with new sounds.

BB: Did they do many overdubs?

SY: They did some horn overdubs, but those weren’t used on the final mix.

BB: Do you remember how the drums were miked?

SY: It’s hard to remember for sure, but I would suspect we used a Telfunken 251 as the overhead, and an Altec ‘salt shaker” on the snare.

The bass drum was probably an E-V 666. We had mics on the toms as well, but I’m not sure what those were.

I do remember we worked a lot on getting the drums to not ring in sympathy the other drums, because we didn’t have gates back then.

I can see the session like it was yesterday. I remember how they were set up in the room, around this seven foot Steinway grand.

All the players were really close to each other, in a large room—the same one we used for Dionne Warwick with the orchestra—but only a small part of it was used.

It had a beautiful hardwood floor, high ceilings, and the room itself just had a great sound. There was a drum riser, it kind of like a half wall of three sides of the drums.

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