THE MIX – Chris Stone Interview – by David Schwartz – September 1978
At the time we started the studio, I was the national sales manager for Revlon Cosmetics and I used to come over to the studio on my lunch hour to do the paper work. Gary, having worked all night, would very often be out cold on the couch, with Jimi still in the studio glaring through the haze at the speakers. They would sometimes go three and four days without stopping. Out of those sessions came “Electric Ladyland”, the Record Plant’s first record. Other people have taken credit for the record, but about ninety percent of it was done in Studio A in New York with Gary and Jimi.
I think the reason for our success is that Gary and I were diametrically opposed and, between us, covered both sides of the road. My whole background was marketing and sales, his background was creative audio.
Gary was an institution. He single handedly was responsible for changing studios from what they were – fluorescent lights, white walls and hardwood floors – to the living rooms that they are today. His feeling, more than anyone else’s, was that a studio should be a comfortable place to record. He was the one who first thought of the diversions, like the Jacuzzi he built in 1969. In those days that was unheard of. The only reason he built it was that I wouldn’t agree to an Olympic size swimming pool in the parking lot. The Jacuzzi was Gary’s compromise – and quite a surprise to me! Of course today there are probably a hundred studios with Jacuzzis.
Q: What about those famous jams Gary put together?
Q: Besides comfortable studio environments what other innovations has Record Plant brought us?
THE MIX – Independent Engineers Forum – September 1978
Gary wandered in the day before, attracted by the music he’d heard, and wound up joining us on the project for the next few days. It was the first time he’d come into the studio with me since the old days in New York, and I was really pleased to have him there. We’d gotten into one of those all day, all night, push-yourself marathons, where you look at the clock and it says three, and you really aren’t sure if that’s AM or PM. Gary was in one of his Genius-at-work moods. We came up with something rather by accident, which is the way most inventive sounds are born. I’d mixed down a tune of Welch’s called “I Almost Got Religion”. It was good, but we weren’t satisfied with just good and wanted to push beyond what was just a good mix. We’d been searching for an infinite, panning effect that would weave in and out without altering the mix itself. What we did was to wild-sync mixes back onto the multi-track master and then re-mix the result. Not only did it move around and swirl, but it flanged itself as it did so. We were elated, and dubbed it “Astro-mixing”.
MIX – L.A. GRAPEVINE – by Maureen Droney – December 2001
MIX – The ‘70s – by Blair Jackson – November 2004
Like Heider's before it, the Record Plant was an instant success, attracting a wide variety of first-tier acts including Sly Stone, Van Morrison, Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield, and by the end of its first decade, it had hosted such notables as Stevie Wonder (Songs In the Key of Life), Fleetwood Mac (Rumours), Grateful Dead (Wake of the Flood), Journey, Jefferson Starship, George Harrison, Pablo Cruise, Aretha Franklin, Rick James, Joe Walsh, The Eagles and many others. The studio was also the setting for progressive FM radio station KSAN's beloved Live From the Record Plant series of intimate concerts with the likes of Bob Marley & The Wailers, Bonnie Raitt, Jerry Garcia, Nils Lofgren and many others.
THE AMBIENT CENTURY: FROM MAHLER TO MOBY – THE EVOLUTION OF SOUND IN THE ELECTRONIC AGE – by Mark Prendergast – Bloomsbury Publishing 2003
Hendrix’s greatest work, Electric Ladyland, would hit the top of the American charts in the autumn of 1968. A double-LP celebration of his black roots, this was the most important electric blues ever recorded. Full of soul and Gospel touches, Electirc Ladyland contained its share of studio live playing but also a tremendous amount of Ambient electronica. Recorded between early spring and late summer 1968, it benefited from being put down in a new studio, the Record Plant in New York, opened by Hendrix’s old friend Gary Kellgren with Tom Wilson’s help.
NEW TIMES – Inside the Hotel California – by Lucian K. Truscott IV – June 1977
As usual, all four studios are booked nearly around the clock. At this very moment, Bette Midler is working in Studio B, and Frank Zappa has set up a second home in Studio C. The Eagles and the Tubes are recent departures, as are Dave Mason and Bill Withers. The Record Plant is so popular some groups check into it like they would a motel, using the Rack Room, the “Sissy Room” and the “Boat Room,” with a nautical motif. There is also another room jokingly referred to as the “Anne Frank” room, because it contains a hidden cubbyhole beneath a loft bed. The Eagles’ hit single, “Hotel California,” seems to be about the Record Plant. It seems possible to enter the massive complex and never return. The place has a vortexlike quality which Kellgren built into it by design.
“I opened this place in 1969,” Gary says, standing in the middle of Studio A. “Eight years ago, this studio was the only one of its kind in the world. We had a party here in this very room. Princes and princesses, pimps and aristocrats, dealers and movie stars, all of them came to the opening of the Record Plant. It was like the beginning of the dream I started back in an old warehouse off tin-pan alley in New York [this was the first Record Plant]; the idea that a studio is your home because it’s my home too. I stayed up for a whole year, the whole year, 1969, working on this place. That’s what you have to do to make it in the music business. You work six days a week, and then on the seventh you keep on working. It’s beyond a god trip, man. You want to make it in this business, you do the same thing the stars do. They’ve got to be on top of their image thing, the studio thing, the performance thing, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all the time. People think rock and roll is what they read in Rolling Stone. People don’t know shit.”
We are joined by Bob Margouleff, who has just finished co-producing Billy Preston’s latest album, and is credited by those in-the-know with having “ears,” for being the genius behind the scenes on Stevie Wonder’s monster album, Songs in the Key of Life. But Margouleff has dropped by the Record Plant for the same reason the place is a hang out for Rolling Stones, ex-Beatles, Clapton-Cream/Winwood – the heaviest rock and roll people come to the Record Plant because its studios have a certain sound they’re looking for, and they come because of Gary Kellgren. Gary not only has “ears,” he has Ears. Chris Stone, Gary’s long-time friend and half-owner of the Record Plant, knows about Kellgren’s Ears. “I was there when he recorded Barbara Streisand, Paul Anka. He recorded Anka for years. Everything he touched in the studio was a hit. Gary is remarkable in the studio. He really is. He’s like a secret Phil Spector.”
Producer Margouleff has brought two tapes with him, cut by groups he produces and manages. He will play them for Kellgren, and wait expectantly for Kellgren’s response. The first is a soul/disco group. The tunes are catchy, up-tempo – pumped up with strings, synthesizer and complicated electronic effects that push disco into a kind of modern Young Rascals sound. Kellgren closes his eyes and nods his head. After two cuts he raises his hand. That’s enough.
Margouleff scrambles to play the second tape. He wraps the thick 16-track tape around the idler wheels and tape head, punches the button, and the big Westlake Studio Monitors (designed by Kellgren and Tom Hidley) play a country-rock tune. The music is undistinguished – a hybrid of early Byrds and modern outlaw. Kellgren doesn’t move. The song finishes, and Margouleff pushes a fast-forward button. The monitors scream as he searches for another cut. Another country-rock tune, this one more Eagles-influenced. Less than a minute into the song, Kellgren gets up from his reclining leather producer’s chair, walks across the control room, and punches a large red lever marked “STOP.” He walks back and flops in his chair. He looks tired again. “That fucking music isn’t saying anything to me,” he says. The tape rewinds with a soft whisper. Margouleff has a look of resignation on his face. Tomorrow he’ll fly all the way to Indianapolis to pick up a Lamborghini sportscar. Tonight he claims not to have been surprised by Kellgren’s blunt reaction.
“That’s what I came over to play the tape for,” he explains. “One listen from Gary can save you thousands in studio time.”
Kellgren exists in a sphere of pure sound. He always did. Engineer Jimmy Robinson was with Kellgren in the early days, before the Record Plant. “Gary had a dubbing studio around the corner from 1619 Broadway, the Brill Building,” Robinson recalls. “Everybody from 1619 used to come over to cut demos. Carole King, Neil Diamond, Paul Anka, the whole early sixties rock scene would be there. Neil Diamond would be up in 1619 in his cubicle, and he’d write five songs, and he’d run around the corner to Gary’s studio, put down $50 for 30 minutes of studio time, cut five tunes backing himself up on guitar, run back around the corner to 1619 and sell them for $50 each, for a $200 profit. Then Gary opened up a regular studio, with like a two-track taping system, the early days of stereo. But he was never satisfied. All the studios were bare rooms, with green paint and linoleum floors… it was like making music inside a hospital ward. So finally, in 1967, he got together with Chris Stone, who was working for Revlon, and this heiress to the Revlon fortune. Stone was the businessman, Gary was the engineer, and the lady was the bread. When they built the first Record Plant, it was like a spaceship.”
Now Gary wanders from one studio to another in an almost sleepwalk state, shuffling along in loafers that are one size too big, so he can slip into them without reaching down to pull them on. Nothing matters but the sound that is being produced in Studio A, Studio B, Studio C, Studio D. Every room can be completely closed-off, darkened, turned into a capsule in which there is no day, no night, no input other than that which is created by the occupant. Kellgren has specialized in creating special environments in which musicians can work. Studio B in the L.A. Record Plant was designed by Kellgren and built specifically for Stevie Wonder. One of the studios in the Sausalito Record Plant, a place known as “The Pit,” was built especially for Sly Stone. Kellgren’s reputation as an electronics genius knows no bounds. Kellgren was the first engineer to introduce “phasing,” a technique that produces a jet-type sound. Until that point, recording had a one-dimensional quality. Gary was experimenting with sound all the time. He changed rock. He is a legend that has been built up little by little.
A musician will be in one of the Record Plant studios, completely blocked. He wants to create a sound, a specific sound which should sound just like this – he purses his lips and out comes a wheeze – and nothing the band does can produce that sound. Kellgren appears. He listens to the pursed lips of the famous musician. His Ears focus in on the wheeze, exactly what that wheeze sounds like. He disappears. A little while later he reappears with a small metal box. Inside can be seen wires, resistors, transistors, capacitors, endless little electronic gadgets. Into one side of the box he plugs a guitar. Into the other side he plugs the lead to the amplifier. He tells the musician to strum a certain chord. Kellgren picks up the box and adjusts a small knob. He tells the musician to strum the same chord again. The amplifier emits a wheeze, the wheeze. Only minutes ago he was wheezing through pursed lips. His block is broken. Work resumes. Kellgren disappears.
The first hit album the Record Plant produced was Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. (When Hendrix died, Gary turned 80 tapes of Hendrix jamming – 1,200 hours of Jimi – over to the Hendrix estate.) Its first hit single was “Don’t Bogart that Joint” by the Fraternity of Man. Hundreds of rock stars have plugged into the Record Plant consoles since then. All of Ringo Starr’s L.A. hits were recorded there. The place is a second home to groups like the Eagles, stars like Rod Stewart. When the Concert for Bangladesh was taped, it was to Kellgren the heavies turned as engineer, to master the tape for the record. He has engineered and produced records for Ron Wood and Bill Wyman (Stone Alone). Even if he had done nothing else in his life, Kellgren would be famous among musicians for a jam he produced in March of 1975, a never-released song called “Too Many Cooks.” Present for the session were John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston, Mick Jagger, Al Wilson, Harry Nilsson, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr and Danny Kootch. The song was aptly titled. At one point, Jagger expressed displeasure with the way things were going. Kellgren reportedly told him to “sit on it.” Nothing else was said.
One senses, after awhile, that Kellgren’s command of the technological milieu that he dominates puts him out of reach of conventional adulation, yet is the source of his curious brand of fame. Gary has figured fame out. To him, fame is a series of boxes, one within the other. The biggest box is the fans. They are constantly trying to get inside the next smallest box, which contains the stars. The fans want to get backstage, they want in the hotel room, they hunger at the door of the studio. But there is another box, inside the box containing the rock stars. It is a box the fans don’t even know about. The box contains Gary Kellgren. The box is the Record Plant. Kellgren simply lies there every night on his back in the Rack Room, waiting for the stars to knock on his door, waiting for his multi-button phone to buzz.
Sooner or later it happens. This one wants a favor. That one wants him to listen to the latest cut, listen with those Ears, to see if the horns shouldn’t be brought up a little, if the bass needs more BOOM. They come to the Record Plant and pay for Gary’s marvelous machines. They pay for his Ears. It’s the true currency of celebrity cash.
Kellgren’s groupies are rock stars. His Record Plant is the small intestine in the digestive system of the rock business. His machines break music down into its nutritional components, they turn sound into electrical energy and place it on electromagnetic tape, from whence it is transferred onto plastic discs, where it is picked up by diamond styluses and becomes electrical impulses once again; these are amplified and pushed through speakers, air molecules in motion, which is what they were to begin with. The Record Plant’s machines turn rock and roll into ear food for the masses, and Gary Kellgren is the appendix of the musical digestive system.
HENDRIX – by John McDermott w/ Eddie Kramer – Warner Books 1992
JIMI HENDRIX: THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE – by Johnny Black – Thunder’s Mouth Press 1999
NO COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL: THE SAGA OF FRANK ZAPPA – by David Walley – Da Capo Press 1972
It was tougher for someone who didn’t like Frank’s music. Gary Kellgren was the man behind Zappa during the project, which was recorded at Mayfair Studios in New York. He was the one who was made to do all. Now he will admit that it was an experience.
Mayfair Studios were the best in New York, and Kellgren was the king of the advanced eight-track board. He had just been working with Jimi Hendrix – Zappa was far the other side of Jimi. The whole production became even more interesting when Frank never told anyone which tracks were which. Gary had to familiarize himself with every note and every bar. They just about pasted the whole composition together bar by bar. “It made me the best,” says Gary in retrospect. He may be right…
Gary had a great opportunity to watch Zappa work. He thought Frank a considerate boss, but too much of an android, a machine. It was some match: Kellgren the psychedelic magician, and Zappa the straight arrow.
NECESSITY IS…: THE EARLY YEARS OF FRANK ZAPPA AND THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION – by Billy James – SAF Publishing Ltd. 2000
AUDIO RECORDING FOR PROFIT: THE SOUND OF MONEY – by Chris Stone – Focal Press 2000
What followed was a cry of “Go West, Young Musician” and they did….
I went back to my experience at Record Plant and realized that our marketing formula worked from the beginning because I was totally business-oriented, and my partner, Gary Kellgren, was totally creative. Between the two of us we had everything covered. He did the mixing and made all of those decisions that related to the art of recording…
I had to discover who was real and who was a flake, and I was not involved in the creative process of making the music. My job was to make all of the decisions concerning money, to provide the funds for Gary to invest in the necessary new equipment and ambiance to make the creative end product better…
When we started to build the first Record Plant studio in 1967, my partner Gary Kellgren, one of the great audio engineers, knew in his head how a control room or the studio should sound. With a great deal of trial and error (such as putting up and tearing down walls several times after drawing the dimensions on the control room or the isolation booths on the floor with chalk), he finally got the rooms to sound the way he wanted. And then we cranked out the hits…
AUDIO RECORDING FOR PROFIT: THE SOUND OF MONEY – Appendix I – by David Goggin
There are tales told by the campfire, where rock mythology is discussed, that say the atmosphere created in that first studio and the ones to follow was so close to a good home and a fine hotel that songs were written to immortalize that special state of mind. One look around the living room environment, one listen to the cutting-edge 12-track equipment and it was hard to get Hendrix, Zappa, Buddy Miles, the Velvet Underground, Traffic, or Vanilla Fudge to leave. Luckily, the party was recorded.
It’s safe to surmise that no other “facility” has ever lent so much of a creative edge to the works of art at hand. The first album cut at Record Plant was Hendirx’s Electric Ladyland. The first big mix session was Woodstock, and the first remote job was The Concert for Bangladesh. Not bad for a start.
GRATEFUL DEAD GEAR: THE BAND’S INSTRUMENTS, SOUND SYSTEMS, AND RECORDING SESSIONS FROM 1965 TO 1995 – by Blair Jackson – Backbeat Books 2006
The Record Plant had opened with a bang around Halloween 1972, with a grand party that attracted scads of stars – including John and Yoko, who came dressed as trees – and music-industry bigwigs. The studio had a good pedigree: Owners Chris Stone and Gary Kellgren (the license on his purple Rolls Royce read GREED) already had successful Record Plant studios in New York (where Jimi Hendrix cut Electric Ladyland) and Los Angeles. In the early ‘70s, the Bay Area looked to be an unending front of hot talent, so it was natural to expand there. And rather than creating another utilitarian room in San Francisco to compete with Heider’s (who, truth be told, had sought to expand to Marin, but couldn’t get together the necessary permits for the space they were interested in), Stone and Kellgren created a “destination” studio: It was luxuriously appointed in rich woods and deep carpeting; has two nearby guest houses that could accommodate bands, their crews, and friends; on-call organic chefs; a hot tub. As Chris Stone told Heather Johnson in her book on the history of Bay Area studios, If These Halls Could Talk, “Gary decided that the most important thing was for the artist to think that he was in a living room. The greatest compliment that an artist could pay us was, ‘Hey, man, I don’t want to leave.’”
The Record Plant pioneered the concept of the “residential” studio, meaning artists would live and work there for a project’s duration…
During the August ’73 lockout of the studio, the Dead didn’t have to avail themselves of the guest houses to the degree that say, George Harrison and his entourage did when he secretly came to the Record Plant – but there were times when it was easier to crash on the premises than drive back home after a particularly long and stony late-night session. The modus operandi was standard for that era: recording basic tracks with everyone playing together, then layering in vocals and instrumental overdubs.
Guitar World – September 2008
The fledgling studio was understaffed, with Kellgren engineering sessions while overseeing the construction of Studio B next door. And so Eddie Kramer was asked to join the Record Plant staff, arriving about a month after Hendrix and Kellgren had begun working there.
Another huge attraction of the Record Plant was that it possessed one of the first Scully 12-track tape machines. Resultantly, many of the four-track Electric Ladyland masters, recorded at Olympic, were transferred over to four tracks of the Scully at the Record Plant, which yielded Hendrix a generous either extra tracks for over-dubs…
Hendrix had worked with Kellgren at Mayfair Studios in London on “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” which is the earliest Electric Ladyland track to be committed to tape…
Hendrix was very much a nocturnal creature at the time. “He was perpetually late,” Chris Stone recalls. “So, many times, Kellgren would come in early and try some new idea he’d thought of, some studio effect or other. Then, by the time Hendrix got there, Kellgren would say, ‘Hey man, listen to this.’ And he would give him double tracking or something. Hendrix would go, ‘Oh man, that’s so cool.’ And it would wind up on the record.