There are some people you figure you’ll spend a lifetime trying to think of a way to say “thanks” to. John Cushon is one of those people. We met around 1984, when I took a few lessons with him. I can still picture him pulling into my parents’ driveway with his drums in the back, a smile on his face, and a baseball cap on his head. Honestly, I can’t remember ever NOT being friends after that. We’ve hung out together, traveled together, subbed gigs to each other, and now, made a record together.
About that … John doesn’t love it that I insist on referring to him as the “producer” of The Drummer Loves Ballads. We dicker about the technical definition (his) and the, shall we say, “spiritual” definition (mine). I can only repeat what I wrote on the CD sleeve …
“… in the end, there is no doubt he is, in fact, the producer of The Drummer Loves Ballads. Without his guidance anything good about it would be only half as good and anything bad about it would be twice as bad. But really, I think I’ll call him what I’ve always called him: one of the greatest musicians, truest friends, and finest human beings I could hope to know.”
A native of Kansas City, Kansas, and a veteran of world tours and recording studios alike, John Cushon has performed, produced, toured or recorded with an enviable roster of artists, including: Oleta Adams. John Peña, James Harrah, Wayman Teasdale, Michael Manson, Pearl Bailey, Brian Culbertson, James Ingram, Cor Bakker, Rick Braun, Bebe Winans, Sheena Easton, Claire Fischer, Brian Simpson, Issac Hayes, Candi Dulfer, Edsillia, Peter Wolf, Melissa Manchester, Jon Secada, Gerald Albright, Ben E. King, The Temptations, Sammy Cahn, Dianne Carol, Arturo Sandoval, Ricky Peterson, Paul Peterson, Christopher Cross, Melissa Manchester, Michael McDonald, Jodi Whatley, Clark Terry, The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Lionel Hampton, Marilyn Maye, Roland Orzabal, Diane Schuur, Nat Adderly, Luther Vandross, Ida McBeth, John Elliott, Milt Abel, Peter White, Steve Cardenas, Walter Bryant, Kevin Mahogany, Will Matthews, Kirk Whalum, Bill Conti, Richard Elliot, Pino Palladino, Earl Klugh, Eric Marienthal, George Benson, Esperanza Spaulding, Peabody Bryson, Steve Million, Paul Smith, Joe Cartwright, Bob Bowman, Danny Embry, Karrin Allyson, the McFadden Brothers, The Boulevard Big Band, Queen Bey, The Kansas City Symphony, The James Ward Band, Scott McDonald, Tim Brewer, Jimmy Dykes, Gerald Dunn, Alex Cordero, John Stoddard, James Genus, Russ Long, Kevin Turner, The Los Angeles Recording Orchestra, Kerry Strayer, The Munich recording Orchestra, Kim Park, and more.
John is known for his meticulous preparation, profound musicality and utmost professionalism. He is a widely sought-after teacher whose own studies have included extended stints with Gary Chester and Gary Chaffee as well as master lessons with Joe Morello and countless others.
Both Justin Wilson and his studio were built for jazz. As producer John Cushon and I discussed where to record The Drummer Loves Ballads it was important to us to find a room that would accommodate the natural warmth of the music and the authentic characteristics of the instruments. Just as important was finding an engineer who “got it” when it came to jazz.
Justin not only carried forward the same sensibilities as the late Kansas City engineering legend, Ron Ubel, but he also had an amazing room — heaven for strings in particular — and he edits like a wizard. (Seriously, watching him layer parts, adjust takes, and fine tune inserts was liking watching a magic trick: impossible to understand and amazing to behold).
Most of all, though, Justin embraced the concept of the album and became its earliest champion after John and me.
Justin Wilson grew up listening to big band records and playing stride piano with his grandmother. This not only began his love of jazz, but also of how albums were created. At age 10, he started working as a runner at Red House Recording Studios in Lawrence, Kansas. Years later, he received a degree in recording arts from Full Sail University. A two-year stint at Sony Records followed before Justin relocated to Kansas City, Missouri. There, he worked as an independent engineer with Soundtrek Studios, known at the time as Kansas City’s premier jazz studio.
Eventually, Justin and the owners of Soundtrek built a new studio, which would become Sound 81 Productions, Justin’s personal and professional studio as well as his private home. The Drummer Loves Ballads was among the final projects tracked at Sound 81 before Justin closed the physical operation to focus on freelance audio engineering, album mixing, composing, and indie game programming.
While some musicians can quote album personnel like sports stats — including who engineered, who mixed and who mastered — I am not usually one of those musicians. So Howie’s name was new to me when John Cushon suggested we hire him for the mix.
“Okay, great. John knows a great mixing engineer,” I thought.
Then I Googled him.
My response was along the lines of “What the … holy … wow!” His bio speaks for itself. But not only did I get to work with an extraordinary mixing engineer for The Drummer Loves Ballads, I got to become friends with an extraordinary person.
Howie’s job was (in his words) “to make my ears smile.”But he also made me laugh. Told me incredible stories. Helped me set up and calibrate new reference monitors by Facetime. Taught me how to listen to a mix. Talked me of the ledge when my anxiety was kicking my inner-peace’s butt. Advised me on more aspects of his side of the business than I even knew existed. Showed me something about mono vs stereo that I really don’t want to talk about. And more …
When I say “thanks for everything,” Howie, it’s a BIG “everything.”
Howard “Howie” Lindeman started at The Record Plant recording studios in New York City in 1974. His career as a producer and recording engineer took him to other A-list studios such as The Hit Factory, RCA Studios, Soundtrack Studios, Magic Venture Studios, and George Benson’s Lahaina Sound Maui. Along the way, his exceptional talent has led to 14 gold and 26 platinum albums, six Ampex Golden Reel Awards, and six Grammy Awards.
Many of the titles in his discography are generation- and genre-defining, such as Foreigner’s “Agent Provocateur” and Stevie Wonders “Songs in the Key of Life.” He has been the recording, mix, or live performance/tour front-of-house engineer for such artists as Stevie Wonder, John Lennon, Foreigner, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson and Stephanie Mills, James Ingram, Jon Secada, Frankie Valli, Kiss, Blue Oyster Cult, The Rolling Stones, Blondie, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar, Natalie Cole, Michael Bolton, Pat Benatar, the Elvis “on screen” tour concerts, Roctopia, and the Pope’s U.S. tour.
Howie currently lives in North Carolina where he operates from his “Howie’s House” mixing suite.
When Howie Lindeman came on board to mix The Drummer Loves Ballads, he said “when you get me, you get my mastering guy.” Greg Calbi has been Howie’s go-to mastering engineer for decades. Lucky me! I don’t fully understand what witchcraft Greg practices, but I do know that listening to his master tracks of the album was a revelation. It was like looking through a window you thought was already clean, and then someone comes along and really cleans it. Everything opened up and I was thrilled.
Even better, when I got a call from Greg thanking me for the opportunity to work on the project (thanking ME!) he couldn’t have been more delightful.Working with legends is rewarding. Working with legends who turn out to be just plain great people is a joy.
Greg Calbi, a managing partner and senior mastering engineer at Sterling Sound, has mastered more than 7,500 albums in his 40 years of mastering. He started his career in 1972 as an assistant studio engineer at the famed Record Plant. Eventually his path led to the mastering room. After only two years as an assistant, he began cutting vinyl for such 70s classics as John Lennon’s “Walls and Bridges,” David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
Greg joined Sterling Sound at the inception of New York’s punk music scene, mastering albums for The Ramones, Television, The Talking Heads and Patti Smith. In the mid 80s, after mastering Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” he began to add other genres to his discography, including jazz. He added to his roster such artists as Jimmy Web, Norah Jones, John Mayer, Bette Midler, Sara McLauchlan, Bill Frisell, Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker, and Branford Marsalis.
Today, Greg continues to expand his discography. Some of the acclaimed recent releases he has worked on include: St. Vincent’s “Birth In Reverse,” The Beatles “The U.S. Albums” Boxset and Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett’s “Cheek to Cheek.”
Greg was born in Yonkers, New York, and raised in Bayside, Queens. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communications at Fordham University where he studied with the ground-breaking communications theoretician Marshall McLuhan. He then earned his master’s in political media studies at the University of Massachusetts. During those years, Greg drove a cab, sold ladies shoes, and was intent on becoming a documentary filmmaker. But then someone at the Record Plant asked him to drive a truck to Duke University to record Yes on the Close to the Edge Tour, and his path to becoming one of the most renowned mastering engineers of all time was set.
Session Engineer for
I haven’t met Keaton but I sure am grateful to him. When we asked Lucy Wijnands to record the vocal for “The Shadows of Paris,” she was still in college in New York and needed to do her tracking there. She turned to Keaton, and Keaton captured Lucy’s amazing performances perfectly.
The talent in the “coming up” generation of musicians and engineers is remarkable and I suspect Keaton is just getting started.
Keaton Comiskey is a Long Island based audio engineer, sound designer and composer. He has worked on a wide variety of musical styles from folk to rap to jazz as well as forms of theater from traditional straight plays to interactive and immersive experiences. He strives to make work that bridges the gap between music, technology, storytelling and performance.
His past sound design credits include Stop Kiss, Fen, and A Robot Wrote This. He works closely with the artist O Jonny, recording and mixing his last two releases Monarch and The Hummingbird Saturday Vol. 1. Keaton is currently working on a variety of music to be released in 2021 and attempting to recreate snare drums sounds from the 80s.
Session Engineer for
Houston Person and Warren Vaché
When I asked Anne Phillips if she could help book Houston Person and Warren Vaché for The Drummer Loves Ballads, she did that and more. “I know just who to use for the session,” she said. “Pete Millrose.”
Pete was terrific to work with in every way. He is one of many people who made great contributions to this project remotely. As a post-COVID world gradually emerges, I plan to seek him out the next time I get to New York and meet him in person for the first time. He’s due for a handshake and many beverages of his choice.
Pete Millrose is a New York City pianist, film and television composer, and recording engineer with music and entertainment in his blood. His father, Victor Millrose, was a professional songwriter in the 60s and 70s who had hits with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Dusty Springfield, and Gene Pitney. Some of his songs were also covered by Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, and The Cowsills, among others. Pete’s mother managed Broadway actors. As a result, he grew up surrounded by the kind of talent he would later compose for, perform with, and record.
Initially Pete studied jazz piano with Harold Danko and pursued performing and composing. In the late 80s he began to focus on production and started River View Music, an audio recording and production house that would later become Millrose Music. Ever since, his Union Square studio has served artists such as Chaka Khan, Ossie Davis, Jane Monheit, Ben E. King, Bucky Pizzarelli, Michael Feinstein, Sheldon Harnick, John Kander, Tom Jones, Ann Hampton Callaway, Paul Shaffer, Carole Shelley, Billy Stritch, Mandy Patinkin, Anne Phillips, and countless other chart-toppers and show-stoppers.