In conversation with GARY LUX –
Dispel the notions you have about cut-throat opportunists in the music business. At the top of the industry, there is more a comradery of purpose. To work among the successful practitioners in the studio art is a revelation. My friendship with Gary Lux is a story of that generosity and acceptance.
You have heard his work for decades. “I did the SAG Awards for twenty-four years, the Golden Globe Awards for twenty-five years, and we used to do the American Music Awards before it turned into a Grammy-like show. Basically what we did was the pre-record music because there were no bands on the site. We had music cues lined up and according to the script, and the engineer would play those cues.”
In the world of popular music, Gary has few peers. Visit his website and scroll through names like Janet Jackson, Sting, No Doubt, Ben Harper, Manhattan Transfer, Norah Jones, Foo Fighters, Aaron Neville, and Jane Monheit, to name a few. Only a person stricken by the muse early in life finds achievement at this level.
“I went to join the (high school) jazz band. There was a senior playing drums and a junior playing percussion… I’m a freshman! I would be dead before I ever (got to) play the drums in this band. So, just as I tried to join, the bass player left school, owed the band money, left his P-bass and his Kustom amp, you know with the blue fabric upholstery, and it became mine. I played bass in the jazz band, and I was terrible. Through the years, I stayed with bass. I was just lousy.” Knowing Gary, this is an exaggeration of no small order.
“In 1978, I had an opportunity to come out to California and I wanted to be in the music business. My first job was as a gofer at Evergreen Studios. I was the head gofer… I was the only gofer. I was the runner and did everything. Learning how to set-up microphones, day and night, day and night… triple sessions. Eventually I became a Second (engineer), an assistant in the control room. That’s when the lights started going on for me.”
“During the whole time I wanted to be in the music business the thought was to be a bass player, then I met Ray Brown, Chuck Domanico, Neil Stubenhaus, you know, the greatest bass players, and I would go ‘Oh my God.’”
“One day at Evergreen, they asked me to go in the studio. ‘Gary, nobody is around. We need this quick mix done for Joe Cocker for a TV show, don’t screw anything up, and just make a cassette. Somebody will come by and pick it up.’ I put the tape up, marked the board, and brought up the instruments. Here was the guitar, drums and bass. The lightbulbs went on for me. ‘I am the bass player, I am the drummer. I’m everybody!’ I made the cassette and still have it. It’s awful! It was my ‘aha’ moment, being sort of the sixth man on the basketball team and being appreciated as an equal when you’re interpreting the music. To this day, that moment is the most satisfying event of my life.”
The recording business has changed, to say the least.
“The most microphones people set up are for a vocal or guitar. They’re not used to doing many people in a room at one time. We used to do a forty or fifty piece orchestra regularly. Guys like you and I (thanks, Gary) would be the first to arrive and the last to leave. I tell the young guys the hardest part of the gig is the set-up. The easiest part of the gig… is the gig.”
“It’s a difficult business model now. When you and I started, we went into a commercial studio on the ground floor, and even though we were serving coffee and cutting Kiwis, if you didn’t do that well you weren’t going to get information from the stage guy. You had to prove yourself along the line because there is a lot of information that gets passed down. There was a code of ethics in the studio business and that model is difficult to come by.”
As for the Digital Age: “I love the tools we have, I think they are fantastic. The tools have made it easier for the masses to do things and as I say ‘The tools have made mediocrity malignant.’ We’re mixers. I’m still going to get what I get whether I’m using tape or a digital workstation. I believe that if ten mixers mix the same song, the only thing that would be the same at the end of the song is the key that it’s in. High fidelity still lives. Just depends on who is setting the standard and who is spinning the knobs.”