Armin Steiner: Recording Motown in L.A.

SKF NOTE: My Carol Kaye transcript, and other of my backgrounder interviews, prompted questioning from some readers about West coast musicians recording early Motown records.

Several musicians and other music industry people told me some (many?) of those Motown recordings took place in Armin Steiner‘s garage studio in Los Angeles. Other musicians and music industry people have a different story.

With that in mind, here are two interview segments of Armin Steiner talking about recording Motown songs in his studio. The first and longest segment is from the transcript of an interview from the early ’80s by percussionist Mark Stevens and Armin Steiner. Mr. Stevens interviewed a few noted recording engineers and put together a Modern Drummer feature story on miking and recording drums.

The second segment is from a 2001 MIX magazine interview with Mr. Steiner by Maureen Droney.

Caveat: I am traveling this morning and will add my customary links to this post as soon as I can.



Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens: I find it very interesting, and I wondered if I could get you to talk about, some of the early stuff that you did. At that time, sometimes you knew who the [studio] musicians were and sometimes you didn’t. With Motown, you never were exactly sure who it was.

Armin Steiner: No. We pretty much had the same people playing most of the time.

MS: But the engineer at that point didn’t seem to get as much recognition.

AS: His name never was put on any of those early albums. I don’t know I was responsible for too much, actually.

It mostly started out in my garage studio — which was a wonderful room. It was all wood. Everything sounded good in that room. Maybe we all got spoiled. We built certain equalizers. This was 1964, I believe.

I think I was one of the first people to use a condensor microphone — a U-47, as a matter of fact — over a drumkit. Not close up. Maybe four feet over the drums.

At that time we were using particularly Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer. And in many cases we had two drummers: both Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer. And sometimes three basses.

In fact, a typical rhythm section consisted of Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Ray Pullman was playing bass, Bill Pittman was playing a Dan Electro bass. In those days that was a new instrument. That’s how they got the click. Then they would have another guy playing string bass in order to get the real low tones.

Bill Strange playing guitar, and Glen Campbell. Third guitar might be Mike Deasy.


Armin Steiner

Then they would have a percussionist in the corner. And I developed an isolation booth for the singer.

Then we would have a couple of saxes, maybe, at that time. Boy! It was a rocking rhythm section. I can remember the sound even after all these years.

This was a band that consistently played on all these records, many of which people thought had been recorded in Detroit. There was a great similarity between the room in Motown and the room out here.

We did a lot of records with The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, and all the major groups in those days. The Four Tops. It was interesting because we were experimenting in those days. There no given rule.

Armin Steiner
Armin Steiner is a self-described survivor, having achieved the kind of career longevity that, in the music business, eludes all but a select few.
5/01/2001 — Author: MAUREEN DRONEY

From that moment on, word started traveling. Motown got interested, and I was busy all the time. I had Glen Campbell, Billy Strange, Tommy Tedesco, Dennis Budamir, all these guitar players sitting there at my house. There was Ray Pohlman, one of the truly great Fender bass players and the first man to actually build a distortion device. Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Joe Osborne, Larry Knechtal, Bill Pittman, Mike Deasy and, of course, Carol Kaye. I’d get a call at three in the morning from Herb Alpert saying, “I’ve got to overdub a tambourine on this piece.” I’d be in my pajamas and I’d walk up there and we’d do it — that was that. I used to have The Supremes up there, Marvin Gaye — my mother used to cook for them. Stevie Wonder was in when he was 9 years old. People think I’m making this stuff up, but it’s true. As a matter of fact, I did a film session with Stevie awhile back, and he remembered both me and my studio.

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