Executive Stereo Blogs

Black Sabbath “Re-decorates the Studio”

I was lucky enough to have been one of the assistant engineers on the last Black Sabbath album with Ozzy in the band. The studio I worked in,called Sounds Interchange in downtown Toronto, was on quite a roll in 1977-78. We had just had the Rolling Stones in to work on their ‘Love You Live’ album, and as Ian Stewart, (the Stones’ road manager and sometime keyboard player..but what a player!!.)..said to me ‘You watch Eddie, every studio that the Stones go to, Black Sabbath follows shortly after..you’ll see them in about 6 months.” And right he was!!

The recording studio design market in the 70s was dominated by a gentleman named Tom Hidley, who designed our studio,  and he made very nice sounding control rooms, but his recording rooms were heavily carpeted, with lots of draperies, which created a rather “dead” sounding, but beautifully appointed room, in which the musicians had to play. Now, our studio did have a very large “live” sounding drum booth, with slate floors and the walls and ceiling were totally covered in mirrors, and this was where most of the rock bands we did would record their drums. However for Sabbath’s producer/engineer, this wasn’t “live” enough…so we moved the drums to another “live ” area in the main room, also with slate floors and a slanted wooden ceiling, which faced out into the main carpeted area. This was where we often recorded brass and wind instruments to give a more live sound. We had a large wooden drum riser built for Bill Ward’s drum kit, and after a few days of sound checks, (Sabbath did NOTHING in a hurry) …everything seemed satisfactory to the band and producer , as they were confident that this arrangement would provide the proper “room sound” for the drums. Little did we know…….

I was only one of the assistant engineers working with Sabbath on this album, and as I had been working for several days in a row, it was decided to give our most junior assistant a chance to work with the band for the weekend, and I was given the time off.  This young assistant engineer had a penchant for, shall I say, some recreational pot smoking , as did various  members of the Sabbath entourage, so when I arrived back in the studio early on  Monday afternoon, (Sabbath always started working late in the afternoon)  I was not totally surprised to see the assistant come out of the control room, into the lounge area , (where I was having a coffee) with red rimmed eyes, looking frazzled beyond words. I said “Hey Dougie…how was your weekend with the band?” He just looked back at me miserably and motioned for me to follow him through the big thick double wooden doors that led into the studio. The drums were still sitting on the riser that we had built in the live area of the studio, but now, a huge 400 square foot section of the thick shag carpet that had covered the floor, was missing and had been ripped up off the floor , leaving bits of carpet and glue everywhere , looking utterly horrendous, and  creating a very different acoustic space …very live, very spacious , but not at all like the studio designer had envisioned !  After recovering from the shock of seeing what had been done to our “World Class ” recording room, the senior engineering staff eventually decided to put in” parquet” flooring where the carpet had been ripped out, and it actually became a better sounding room thereafter.

So Sabbath got the “sound” they needed, but did end up paying for their spontaneous ” studio re-modelling”, as well as paying for  the removal of all of Ozzy’s signature comic “penis” drawings in sharpie marker , which were all over the walls in the studio and control room !!  Still Tony, Ozzy, Geezer and Bill were  hugely talented but down to earth , friendly guys that were a pleasure to work with and party with…just don’t leave them alone in your studio for too long!


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