Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flashback- 1st " Music Biz " Job

When I was in high school I got a job as an usher at Carnegie Hall. Working every night did nothing for my grades but the music was amazing.
I worked at the hall about 2-1/2 years so I would guess in that time I saw more than 250 concerts. This is where I decided I wanted to become a recording engineer.

My first show was a rough night. It was the jazz/soul group The Crusaders. When the lights went down everybody lit up. My job was to run up and down the steep balcony stairs with the flashlight telling people to put it out. I was only 17 and had a baby face. With only two or three security guards in a 5 level concert hall, backup was hard to find. This was not a good start. The job was usually easy though. I worked the balcony most nights and up there you just pointed the patron to the seat. The lights went down and it was your choice to either stay inside and listen or chill out in the hallway. After intermission we took turns going down to the bar for a break.  Most of the ushers were music students at Julliard or studying at The Art Students League. We were young, loved the music and got some pocket cash. It was a good deal. The hall has since gone union so I'd guess much has changed. I'm also sure current ushers get more than the $15 a night we were paid.

The music. Oh my god the music. All the premier orchestras, soloists and Opera singers made Carnegie Hall their New York stop. At that time Avery Fisher still had poor acoustics, and for this reason RCA Records would do many classical recordings at Carnegie. I remember watching from outside the room where they would setup their remote system.
The system was huge and impressive. A Neve console, each bucket was separate and rolled in on wheels so they could get the console through a standard door. The Tape machines were Ampex MM-1000's. Two of these beasts. The MM1000 were about 2 feet by 4 feet, 5 feet tall. I would guess they weighed over 500 lbs.
Many of the pop, rock or folk acts were recorded by the radio show " The King Biscut Flour Hour "
I liked this setup even better. A hippy school bus converted to a remote recording truck.
Always dimly lit and fitted with Tascam gear in a day when Tascam and Tapco were the only companies making Semipro recording equipment. It looked cozy. I wanted to live in that bus.

A young Bonnie Raitt, Keith Jarett and Chick Corea, Gill Scott Heron doing " Whitey on The Moon ". These concerts stand out in my mind.
The greatest moment I witnessed at Carnegie Hall was billed " The Concert Of The Century ". This concert was to raise money for Carnegie Hall, which had been scheduled for demolition before being saved by Isaac Stern. The Lineup was truly a once in a Life time experience.
The Orchestra was The New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein with Vladimir Horowitz piano,  Mstislav Rostropovich cello, Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern violin.

On June 3rd I was ushering another concert. I didn't know the act, it was Billy Joel (I had confused him with Joel Grey). There was much I didn't know that night. I didn't know Phil Ramone was in the audience. It was the night he heard Billy Live and decided to keep Billy's band for all future recordings and not use studio musicians. In a month from that night Phil and Billy would go into the studio and produce Billy's classic album The Stranger. In a year and a half I would meet them again working at A & R recording. I would become Phil's engineer and work with him for close to 10 years. I would also work on every Billy Joel pop Album in some capacity from that point on (except Storm Front produced by Mick Jones).  As I handed out programs on that June 3rd night I didn't know some 30 years later I would listen as my friends Phil Ramone and Frank Filipetti were remixing that concert at a studio where I would become Chief engineer.
Small world.
To be continued.......
© 2009 Bradshaw Leigh


  1. Great Brad! I can see it all! Keep it coming!

  2. Hey, nice blog. Would you share with us some stories about the time you worked with Phil and Billy Joel? I'm a huge BJ fan and details about his recording sessions would be really interesting.
    Congratulations again on the blog.

    Florianópolis - Brazil

  3. Hey Brad, King Biscuit Flour Hour. Now that's a blast from the past!
    Glad I was able to provide some youthful inspiration, playing albums on my portable singer record player.

    Good Luck with the blog! It's a fun read.

    Biggest sister Bananie

  4. Diane Allinson said I should follow you and I'm glad I did. Love the info about Billy and Phil. That is awesome stuff, please write more...

    (I'm the one that made the videos that she posted on her facebook page, not sure if you've seen them or not...)


  5. Jimmy
    Diane pointed me to your video as well. Nice job!