The Making of Terea
A behind the scenes glimpse of Baby Grand Records

Old pictureIn the fall of 1977 when production began on the Terea Album, Baby Grand Records was in full swing releasing scores of eclectic recordings, all designed primarily for one purpose…not to turn a profit! The premise behind the label headed by Ron Fair—a scrappy and ambitious 20 something pianist, composer/arranger and most of all aspiring record executive who would later go on to become the President of A & M Records and Geffen Records (discovering Christina Agulara, and developing the mega careers of the likes of Black Eyed Peas and others)—had at its foundation a curious loophole in the U.S. tax laws that allowed wealthy investors to realize a tax credit far in excess of their investment.  It was really quite simple; an investor would put up a few thousand dollars to cover the production and manufacturing costs. The album would have a minimal number of pressings issued and an accountant would value the recording  at 10’s of thousands  of dollars  above the costs based on what the investor would have realized  had the record been a commercial success. In this manner, someone could invest say $5,000 and receive a tax credit of anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 as a loss on what he “expected” to generate from his initial investment. In the 1970’s the economy in the States was slamming, and there was no shortage of investors in search of tax credits.  I’m sure that some of the investors actually fancied the notion that this was their entrée into the music business, and others perhaps just liked the idea of supporting the arts (although we never saw any of the investors, nor did any of them ever attend any sessions).

Of course for us, none of that mattered.  We were being given money to record pretty much the music we wanted to and in the manner we wanted. And all without having to deal with the “suits” watching over us, meddling in the creative process, or putting pressure on us to alter what we were doing in order to deliver commercially viable product.  All we had to deliver was a credible finished album on time and on budget.  We recorded everything from experimental jazz projects, to mainstream rock and pop music, to live-to-2-track jazz recordings (often conceived and recorded in the space of just a few days), commercial albums of “covers,” and whatever else popped into our minds.

old pictureRon had assembled a small loosely organized team (all mostly in our mid to late 20’s as well) to meet the grueling production schedule.  We pretty much used the same cadre of young musicians (who themselves went on to major careers recording, touring, writing and/or producing) on everything.  While I was heavily involved with Ron in A & R duties, I did a little (and sometimes a lot) of everything, which was also true of many of the other members of the team.  It was not unusual for me to be producing a project one day, playing in the horn section on another project the next, writing songs and arrangements for another, and serving as recording engineer on yet another.  We each simply did whatever was necessary to get the projects done.

Sometime in 1977, Sharon Robinson, a fine background singer and songwriter who I had worked with briefly a couple of times sent me a demo tape of her a singing a few of her own songs.  I loved the tape and played it for Ron and my production partner John Seiter (The Turtles, Spanky and Our Gang) the next morning.  Ron loved the demo as well, and later that same week got a green light for the Sharon Robinson project.  Because of the tax shelter issues with the label, Sharon was reluctant to use her own name, hence Terea (a name she had used in the past and her middle name I believe).

John (also one of my favorite singers and a fine drummer) and I were assigned to produce the album. It was decided that I would also do the arrangements (although Sharon’s songs were so beautifully constructed that all I had to do was organize them and add a few polishing touches).  We also went slightly outside our normal group and used David Vought (bass player from the Association) to engineer. David is not only a fine musician, but a great engineer, and maintained a small studio that the Association used for their own projects. The studio was far from elegant (actually a converted space in an old industrial complex), but sounded great, and allowed up to work in a casual environment.

Because all Baby Grand sessions were so low budget and not able to fit into a union framework, the musicians generally used pseudonyms. Ironically, several years later I was heavily involved as a negotiator with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and was instrumental in developing a number of low budget recording agreements that would have enabled these sessions to be under a union agreement.  No doubt that my earlier frustration for not being able to record the Baby Grand records under union agreements led to insights that help create the low budget recording agreements that we now have.
While it has now been quite some time since those sessions, I recall that we recorded the basic rhythm tracks over the course of three evenings, with some minimal overdubs.  The musicians on those sessions were:

Carlos Vega (“Enrique Vasques) – Drums
Leon Gaer (“Jim Schlossberg”) – Bass
John Goux (“Dave Guye”) – Guitar
Greg Mathieson (“Matt Gregory”) –Keyboards

old pictureLater that same week, we brought in a string quartet to sweeten "For Free".  The “Doo Rag” horns are in fact Joe Romano (also a well known artist working in oils and mixed media, and a composer in his own right) playing trumpet and trombone, and myself playing alto, tenor and baritone sax as well as the Alto Flute solo on "Morning Laughter".

Background vocals were Sharon, and now preeminent LA session singer Carmen Twilley.

In addition to Sharon’s original material, it was also her idea to record a version of the Jimi Hendrix iconic song “Manic Depression,” which we put together the night before the first session based on a live version Sharon had been performing. The unusual vocal sound on this track was achieved by “double tracking”  Sharon’s vocal (i.e. recording her a second time on another track singing the exact part as on the first track), but in this case, recording the second vocal track with her singing up against the grated metal door of the studio’s deserted loading dock.  Sharon was not only a good sport to try this technique, but a consummate professional by nailing the double exactly (or maybe she just wanted back in the studio right to get away from whatever “creepy crawlers” had inherited the loading dock).

Finally, the master 2” tapes were taken to Devonshire Studios in North Hollywood (where I was working from time-to-time as a recording engineer) and mixed by me.

Looking back at these sessions all those years ago brings back so many fond memories. I was working on a great project with a fine artist with excellent material. And better yet, was able to do so while working with so many close friends and fabulous musicians.  Unfortunately, Carlos Vega who was perhaps the finest drummer I have ever worked with passed away tragically a few years ago. However, most of rest I am in contact with still, and fortunately continue to have an opportunity to work with.

I am grateful for an excuse to reminisce about old times, and hope you enjoy the album as much as I did making it.