At United/Western in 1979, I had the honor of being assigned as a support technician on the Sinatra "Trilogy" album. This was a "concept album" with 3 records, representing "past, modern, and future" songs. All the "past" titles (The Song Is You, But Not for Me, I Had the Craziest Dream, It Had to Be You, Let's Face the Music and Dance, Street of Dreams, My Shining Hour, All of You, More Than You Know, and They All Laughed) were recorded at United/Western, along with Theme From New York, New York.
(As I type this, I almost can't believe that I had a part, albeit small, in these amazing recordings!)
I was only in my late 20's but was a real Sinatra fan. I knew that a lot of his great recordings had taken place at United/Western, but almost fell over when booking manager Joan Barnes announced that Mr. Sinatra would be in for about a week with a full orchestra. I immediately asked to be assigned to the date. I was responsible for tape machine setup, integration of a second mixer that was brought in, and sat in on the dates to handle technical issues and questions.
These were evening sessions that took place in Studio 1 with Ed Greene engineering. There were over 40 live musicians and a large choir, plus Frank singing live -- it was one of the largest sessions I ever saw. Almost every instrument got its own mic. The room had a 36 input Harrison desk, and an Auditronics board was brought in as a sub mixer. Everything was recorded via Dolby A to two 24-track JH-24's (one for back up), with a 2 track running at all times to capture rough mixes, etc.
This project was tremendously exciting (and intimidating) to me and the memories are etched in my mind. The set up was very involved -- lots of chairs, music stands, and mics in the studio. As you might imagine there was a great air of excitement and anticipation among everyone involved. The session players filled up the studio; Mr. Sinatra and his entourage arrived early. Lots of discussions among Sinatra, arranger Billy May, Ed Greene, and the other principals.
Pre-session, in the control room, Mr. Sinatra was standing a few few feet from me and somehow I became transfixed by his shoes, which were flawless and mirror-like. It was hard to be cool and undistracted, in his presence!
The sessions went smoothly, but at one point on the second night we began hearing loud intermittent explosions in the monitors and headphones, apparently caused by a bad mic cable. The players hated it, but with so many mic lines going every which way and such a tight schedule, there was really no way to identify the bad mic cable it really do anything about it. So everyone just hung in there and worked around it -- luckily the loud noise didn't spoil any good takes, though there was a wave of terror every time one of those loud echo-y explosions occurred.
All the musicians were in great form. Sinatra sang live on almost all takes -- sometimes in the vocal booth, sometimes in the room with everyone else. I was struck by how, during retakes, he would sing with different vocal interpretations. He would try different phrasings and different feels, but the vocals were always good, always polished sounding. There was not much joking around, but at the end of Let's Face The Music And Dance the horn players added a funny sort of mariachi line, which got laughs from the whole orchestra, and can be heard on the record.
On one of the last evenings I had stepped out of the control room for a bit and will never forget walking back up the ramp from the hallway to the control room, as New York, New York issued forth. It was astounding to see and hear that song being recorded and you can bet that every time I hear it on the radio, it takes me right back to that moment.
Sinatra was a consummate professional throughout. It was obvious to all that he was to be given maximum respect and "space" -- I never spoke with him despite being "right there" in the CR with him for many nights. I'm not sure that any of the United/Western staff spoke with him, except for Joan and Jerry Barnes, who ran the facility. Bill Putnam came down one night and said hello. (I did work up the nerve to give his business manager my 'Ol Blue Eyes LP and ask if Mr. Sinatra might autograph it, at his convenience. A few nights later it came back, with his signature.)
I've been lucky enough to sit in with a lot of legends over the years, but this was a peak experience in my life. I kept my copy the mic setup sheets, with my notes written on them. I'll try to upload the pdf here, if the site will accept the file.
Click here to view the attachment