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INDUSTRY PROFILE - Recording Engineer Don Casale
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| Seventeen minutes and five seconds of song. Unheard of in the 60's, and although the immortal Iron Butterfly song In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida may be the most famous work engineered under the highly adept watch of recording engineer Don Casale, it was far from being the only highly regarded moment in his career. Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Don was not really interested in music any more than your average person. He did have a keen interest in tape recorders, and as a youth, figured out a way to transfer records to a tape recorder without using a microphone. One day, I happened by this studio, and since I had those interests, I wanted to find out what it was all about, Don remembers. I was between jobs at the time and I was lucky that at that time one of the sound engineers was leaving.\ The studio was called Ultra Sonic and the owner Bill Stahl soon became Don's mentor for the intricacies of the engineering process. Don admits that he was a twenty year old fish out of water in regard to studios, but due to his previous interest in taping and recording he became a quick study under Stahl's tutelage.I did a lot of listening in those days. At that time, a four-track was all that we had in the studio and we used to cut the records in the back after the recording sessions. You could get a seven inch recording of your music right there and take it home and listen to it before trying to sell it to the labels. Don assisted Stahl with several recording projects, including the remake of Sam and Dave's You Got Me Hummin' by The Hassles, whose keyboardist was a young unknown Billy Joel. Eventually, Stahl let Don engineer a recording on his own. They didn't walk out on me,Ó Don muses about his first project, whose name he can't recall. It took me a while, but I was building confidence in my abilities. Bill (Stahl) was a great guy, and he really helped with his patience and guidance. Finally, an artist from Uptight Records who had a 45 recorded by Don had Don's name put on the record as the engineer. ÒHere it said on the record ÔE-N-G Don Casale.' That was it and when that happened, it really boosted my confidence. To look on the back of that record and to actually see my name really gave me a lift.
As Don was getting more comfortable with what he was doing, Bill Stahl was carving a relationship with legendary producer of Leader Of the Pack George Shadow Morton. The association with Martin helped gain Ultra Sonic a solid amount of credibility in the industry and led to their involvement with Vanilla Fudge. The legendary Long Island-based rockers recommendations started bringing more prominent acts to the studio, including the debut album by the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, and the song Me And My Friends from the Rascals. It was at Ultra Sonic where Don also worked with the band Iron Butterfly and ended up with a direct involvement in the recording of one of rock and roll's most endearing and unique classics, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. My quote-unquote 'genius' of that recording is that I never told them that I pressed the record button. This was supposed to be a typical two and a half or three minute song. I told them to start playing while I was checking my levels. Something made me press the record button. I kept working on getting levels and it seemed like I was taking forever. I found out years later the band thought, 'what, is he stupid? How long does it take to get levels?'" After seventeen minutes and five seconds, Don hit the stop button. Iron Butterfly loved what they heard and the song paved the way for future bands from the Allman Brothers to modern jam rockers to break the molds of the typified radio length song.
After over three years of working at Ultra Sonic, Don received a call from Decca Records to come work as their head engineer. Don made the move, and while at Decca, was able to work with a number of Atlantic's well-known artists including Aretha Franklin, Delaney and Bonnie, and Petula Clark. Don's tenure at Decca was short however as he moved on to Sceptor Records after only a little over a year. At first, he did not want to make the jump to Sceptor as he didn't really like their studio. They eventually updated their equipment enough to lure Don to their company. He stayed at Sceptor for three years, working with Dionne Warwick, Tiny Tim, Morton Downey, and many others. Following his time at Sceptor, he spent a year at SoundTek in New York City, before returning to Long Island in 1976 where he became a partner in a 16-track studio. In spite of recording the multi-Grammy nominated act Sly, Slick and Wicked, Don began to soon realize that it was time to strike out on his own. Buying a classic RCA recording console from Phil Ramone that had been used in recording sessions for Elvis and Roy Orbison among many others, Don set up a studio in the basement of his Long Island home. I've been happy ever since I did that. For two years prior to that when I freelanced, I was down since I lost the studio I partnered in. Then I just got up one day, stood on my own two feet and I built the studio. Luckily, I know a lot of people in the business and the people started calling me wanting me to do their projects.
Don has been busy for the three decades since he made the decision to start his own studio, He has recorded a virtual cornucopia of acts including Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Boyd, Kevin Jeffries and Sam Bluzman Taylor. In 2000, Don advanced to using Pro-Tools, replacing the venerable old RCA console. ÒI wasn't very technical in the beginning, but I have learned to be over the years. At Decca I had a whole stack of guys helping me, but when I went on my own, I had to learn a lot more of the technical side. I spent many hours under that RCA console fixing things. Of course with the computer age you can't really fix anything, you just have to have back up.Ê Along with engineering, Don has also produced a number of the bands that he engineered since going back to his days with Decca. He also has his own publishing and management company. Don is currently building another studio in a barn in New England, exemplifying that his first love is engineering. Going back to the day when he first wandered into Ultra Sonic Studios, he knows that he made the right choice with his career path. Over the years, I thought I enjoyed the music the most. But I have begun to realize that I really love the technical side of it. It all comes together, as the technical side is a means to get the music out there. It's almost a pure science, and it keeps getting better and better over the years. Starting with the little technical things I did when I was a child, it's always been that way with me.
Don Casale's advice for musicians: You have to play out. Unless you turn out to be really super super musicians, you need to write songs that are going to attract people. You can turn out to be Steve Vai if you try hard enough, but there are not going to be too many of those. You have to keep writing and play out a lot. And you have to love it, if you don't love it I don't know how you can do it. You have to love it every minute of every
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Copyright 2005 by Music Morsels,
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Editor: Sandy Serge
Mark E. Waterbury, Scott Turner