Friday, October 24, 2014

You Meet the Coolest People at La Guardia

I was thrilled to run into one of my heroes, John Hall, at the United baggage carousel at LGA last Sunday! That would be John Hall of Orleans - one of the most refined purveyors of the two guitar attack I've ever seen, and a major hit songwriter. I first saw Orleans as a teenager at the late great Max's Kansas City, and was hooked ever since.
Then he served as Congressman for NYS district 19 from 2007 - 2011, where he fought the good fight for his constituents.
We chatted briefly. He's back to doing shows with Orleans and remains an active part of the upstate NY music scene. My sense was that as much as he had enjoyed his term in the US Congress, he had paid his dues, and was ready to put it behind him.
We talked a little about the upcoming election.
Then I had to go chasing after my wife's suitcase, and my brush with greatness was over. John Hall is surely an example of what an exceptional American can do!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jon Gordon Music Production - Your Vote Needed!

 Dear Friends:

    I am applying for a grant through the Chase Mission Main Street program, which annually awards 20 grants to small businesses.  In order to meet the requirement to compete for this grant I must receive 250 votes from people like yourself by October 17th, 2014. 
    It only takes a minute to vote and it costs nothing.  It does require that you have a Facebook profile.  Chase uses this info only to insure that people do not vote twice for the same company.  Here is the link:


    If you didn't just click that link, maybe you want to know why I am asking for your vote?  A fair question.  Read on:
    In 2005, like many smaller recording facilities, I set up shop in my current location with a pile of recording gear I had accumulated over the years, a shoestring budget, and a dream. 
    My perception was that there was a gap in the availability of affordable, professional audio production services.  My goal was to provide those services.
    Almost a decade later, I am still doing it!  I have worked for hundreds of artists and musicians, helping to make your projects a reality.  As my business has grown, I have furnished thousands of dollars of subcontracting to various local artists and composers.  I have worked on an Oscar winning film, a Grammy nominated album and composed trailers for a major sports event (2014 FIFA World Cup), among many other jobs.   I continue to be happy, proud of, and energized by the work I've done!

    This grant, should I get it, would be substantial.  What would I do with $150K instead of a shoestring?  Some items spring immediately to mind:
    1) Revamp, augment and replace aging equipment.
    2) Expand my intern program
    3) Implement a subsidized recording program for promising young
    4) Continue to find new and exciting ways to grow and expand.

    Please follow the link above and vote for Jon Gordon Music Production!


Jon Gordon

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hugh McCracken, RIP

I recently learned of the passing of studio guitar legend Hugh McCracken.   There is probably not a studio musician in New York who did not know and love him.

I first met Hugh through his brother-in-law, the late Norman Merschon.  Norman and I worked together in the band "Tycoon" for Arista Records in the late 1970's.  Norman brought me over to Hugh and Holly McCracken's East side apartment, where Hugh played us the Linn Drum demo record, which he was quite taken with at the time.

When I was a young guitar player trying to break in to the NYC session scene, Hugh gave me a couple of very nice breaks, including bringing me in to play with him on the song demo of "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard on Me", subsequently a big hit for Juice Newton. He also split his fee with me.

I worked with him on a number of jingles and records before and since. He was always very generous and self-effacing, while of course covering his own parts impeccably.  You almost didn't notice how good Hugh was, because he called so little attention to it.  Then he would play something jaw-dropping, and you'd go whoa! this guy can play.

Perhaps it is not notable in itself, but I believe we exchanged an unbroken string of Christmas cards since at least 1980.

In a business known for both its nice guys and its jerks, Hugh McCracken stood head and shoulders above the other nice guys.  I will miss him.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Some CD-R Mastering Dos and Don'ts

This blog entry comes with a MAJOR Nerd Alert!  If you're not fascinated by the subject of burning audio CD masters, READ NO FURTHER!

I was responding to a forum question about optimal CD-R burn speed for an audio master, and found I was practically writing a novel on the subject.  So I copied it over to Blogspot, and here's my two cents about audio CD burns:

The optimal writing speed is dependent on the burner and the media. For a long time with the old Sony CDR 100 mechanisms 2X was considered optimal - better than 1X. This had to do with the rate at which the plastic heated and cooled as data was being written. Slower speeds are traditionally better, but the newer high speed burner mechanisms are unstable at very slow speeds.

On my current NEC (via LaCie) burner I have standardized around 8x after some trial and error. This seems to be the slowest stable speed for this burner. Higher speeds were producing disks that some machines could not read.

One aside is that very old CD players can have difficulty reading newer 80 minute CD-Rs. This is a function of the machine not being designed to read the more densely packed 80 minute discs, and not necessarily a flaw in the CD-R itself.

Using good media is important, and the quality control of a given brand can change over time, so always be suspicious if a brand switches manufacturers. I currently use Taiyo-Yuden media and sometimes a premium disk called "Green Tunes" which is specifically for mastering.

It can give you some peace of mind to use burning software such as BIAS Peak, which will do a verify pass on the finished audio disk- i.e. it reads back the data from the CD and compares it to the files it just used as a source for the burn.  Always go for the verify pass if your burner supports it.

Another increasingly common option is to forgo the CD-R and deliver your master as a DDP file set. This can be burned onto a CD-ROM or zipped and sent to the duplicator via internet. A DDP file set is considered a more robust format because it does not depend on the vagaries of the Red-Book Standard audio CD format.  Not all burning software has this ability, so make sure it does.  In Peak it is an add-on module.

Re. Red Book audio CDs: In order to get as many minutes of music possible onto an audio CD, the actual formatting of the disk crams more data onto the disk than the same disk formatted as a CD-ROM. This makes for a more error-prone disk. That is why audio CD-R may not be the best format to deliver a master.

For my money, in addition to using premium media, an optimal burn speed and a computer verify pass, I would also proof the master over headphones before letting it go out. You'd be surprised what sometimes gets by the mastering process. Hopefully your client will see the wisdom of paying for that extra step.

So that is my accumulated wisdom on the subject. Good Luck!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Uncle Justin

Justin Gordon 1917 - 1998
an appreciation

Thanks to my new Facebook friend Carol Kaye, who encouraged me to write a piece about my late uncle, saxophonist Justin Gordon:

I didn't know my relatives on my father's side very well.  They lived in either Cleveland or California, while we were in New York.  My father at some point had abandoned his idea of becoming a rabbi, went to social work school, and horror of horrors, married a Protestant girl who would not convert!  That put a distinct chill on his relationship with his family for many years.

I recall meeting my Grandma Sylvia exactly once.  Grandpa Jack had died before I was born, although my 8 year old self struggled mightily with his full-sized violin for several years before abandoning it for the guitar.  Then there was Uncle Justin, to whom my father was always being compared unfavorably.

When I was growing up and wanted to become a musician, Uncle Justin was probably the main reason my parents didn't instantly try to get me to abandon music and turn to something actually lucrative.  Uncle Justin was the family success story.  He lived in LA and collected antique cars.  He dutifully sent money to Grandma Sylvia.  And he was a musician!

When I was younger, Uncle Justin didn't have much use for me.  I later learned that, as a child of the big band era, he had little use for most music made after about 1960, even though he played a lot of it.  He knew that my reading was poor, and that I liked the Beatles. That did it.  The gulf was too wide.

But as I started to tour and get around to his part of the country, I would visit him, which he seemed to like.  He came to see me perform once backing up Suzanne Vega, and thought I was good - or at least said so.  So a visit to Uncle Justin became a regular feature of my trips to LA.  And bit by bit, I learned some of the details of his career:

Justin played many of the reeds, but his specialties were alto sax, clarinet and flute.  He got his start as a teenager playing in movie theaters and restaurants around Cleveland in the early 1930's, but with the decline of movie theater orchestras, he moved to New York in 1939, where he played in big bands and radio orchestras.  A thrill for me was talking to society bandleader Lester Lanin who enthusiastically told me "I remember Justin Gordon!  He played his buns off!"

He served in the military in WWII, and in 1946 moved to California.  In 1949 he signed a contract with Paramount and started to work onscreen in the movies and in the studio.  One of his earliest gigs was in the onscreen orchestra of Bing Crosby's less well known brother Bob.

In approx. 1956 he began recording with bandleader Billy Vaughn, known for his "Twin Saxes" sound.  The twin saxes in question were usually Justin playing lead alto and overdubbing a second part in thirds. According to posts on, Justin boasted that he could "overdub an album in an hour".  Record dates from this period include Gale Storm, Laurindo Almeida, Pat Boone, Benny Carter, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Connie Francis, Barney Kessel, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Ella Mae Morse, and Louis Prima.

In 1959, he released an LP of standards called "Justin Gordon Swings" on the Dot label, but although it enjoyed some popularity in Germany, there was not enough of a buzz to take him away from his studio career.

On each visit to Uncle Justin, I would learn new tidbits about gigs he had done, often accompanied by tart comments about the artists.  I found out he had played on orchestra dates for Frank Sinatra, whom he liked, and Barbra Streisand, whom he did not.

I learned that he was in the on-camera orchestra in most of the Elvis Presley movies.  His comment about the King?  "I never liked Elvis's music.  But he always made sure there was good catering for the band."

Perhaps his most heard work was in a 1974 Francis Ford Coppola/Gene Hackman movie called "The Conversation" in which the Gene Hackman character was an amateur saxophonist.  There were several scenes of Gene Hackman moodily playing the alto sax in his room.  According to Justin, Gene Hackman thought he could "just pick up the sax and do his own playing".  When playing the sax proved to be a lot more daunting than expected, Justin was called in.  All the sax heard in the final movie was dubbed in by my uncle.

As time went by, Justin found the music he was called upon to play less and less to his taste, but as a consummate professional, he continued to do it on a first call level.  He made a lot of money playing the flute.  There was one period in the 60's where all the contractors were calling for electric flute.  So Justin got himself an electric flute, an amplifier and an effects box that made all sorts of crazy sounds.  He enjoyed a rep as one of the premier electric flutists in LA all the while thinking that the electric flute was the height of silliness.

In the 1970's he recorded a number of well known TV themes, including Bob Newhart and Mary Tyler Moore.  He continued to be somewhat active until his retirement in 1985.

He died of lung cancer in 1998, and is survived by his wife Fern, his son David and stepson Paul.

I am always moved when I consider how much of my uncle's story plays out against the backdrop of technological changes that drastically altered the prospects of professional musicians. His career began in the waning of the silent film era with the great die-out of movie theater orchestras and extended into the early days of synths, drum machines and digital recording.  He went where the work was and was quick to adapt and prosper.  I will always be grateful that uncle Justin was the man who made it okay for me to pursue a career in music.

Jon Gordon
September 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

Promotional Messages Versus The "Private" Facebook Message Box

re. Public messages sent to the private Facebook Message Box: Is it just me, or is this to be discouraged? 

In my line of work- music/entertainment related- Facebook has revolutionized the way we promote ourselves, and our gigs, projects, etc.  It is cheap, effective and eco-friendly.  I really enjoy having a handy way to see what my friends and colleagues are up to, and to learn about shows to attend. All in all it's a great thing!

However, lately it has become common practice by some individuals to send mass notifications to the "private" Facebook  Message box.  Every time someone does this, I get an email saying "so-and-so has sent you a message".  When I get to the message it turns out "so-and-so" is actually playing Googie's Lounge, or has started a kick-start promotion, or some such thing, and doesn't have anything specific or personal to say to me.

Forgive me, but I find this a little irritating.  Facebook has any number of very effective forums in which to promote yourself, and I feel like posting to the message box inconveniences the recipient unnecessarily.

I have occasionally indicated to posters, via private message, that I would prefer to receive their promotions by other means.  Mostly this has gone well, but on at least one occasion, I fear I may have offended an artist whom I've enjoyed recording, and whose work I like very much.

Maybe it's not such a big deal- I get promotional emails all the time and think nothing of it- (although I have set up my mail server to weed some of them out.)  It's not like the "private" FB message box is so private that I use it for serious communication anyway. Still, when all is said and done, I would prefer that people didn't do it.

Do you have an opinion on this?  I'd be curious to know what people think.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Remembering Frozen- yet another brush with greatness

This time, gentle readers, we are going to take a stroll down memory lane, to the early 1980's:
Spotting a friend's Facebook post reminded me of a period of my career as a freelance guitarist-around-town.  She was responding to this interview by Eric Abrahamsen of singer Frankie Vinci, formerly of the band Fotomaker:

Fotomaker was a vehicle for Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli, formerly of the Young Rascals. They made three albums for Atlantic in the late 1970's, but never quite caught on.  My story begins after the demise of Fotomaker, as Gene and Dino were casting about for a new vehicle.

To quote Abrahamsen's interview:

"After Lex left Fotomaker we disbanded. Dino, Gene and I kept the music going for years. We had progressive ska band called 'Modo' and we had a single release called 'I Wish I Could Dance like Fred Astaire' on the MCA/ Deli Platters label. Then we had a band called 'Frozen' which was an underground techno pop rock throw back like Devo meets David Bowie. We had a pretty good industry following. Paul Stanley from Kiss would come see us as did Deborah Harry of Blondie and Rick Ocasek from The Cars. Even Andy Warhol would frequent our shows."

That was my period with them. I played on "I Wish I Could Dance Like Fred Astaire" which was sort of Cars- like.  Gene and Dino managed to acquire some studio time at The Record Plant, and we went in with an engineer named Randy and cut the track. Automation was uncommon in those days. The mix was one of those many hands on the board mixes, where Randy assigned us all knobs we had to turn at strategic times in the song.  Gene and Dino conceived of the idea of subtly increasing the volume of the master fader at the end of the song, to add an excitement factor.  This trick is one that I started using again on mixes for industrials some years later, and it is a valuable weapon in the mixing for maximum impact game.

At some point we also cut a bunch of tracks at the original Right Track studios, which was in a smallish space on 24th Street near 6th Avenue.  When we went in there we sort of took over the place and reconfigured it to our specs.  I had played many jingle sessions there in the main room, but for Modo's sessions they commandeered a tape library room as a separate drum room for Dino, and ran mic lines there. I believe that Frankie, Gene and I were in the main room, but Gene's massive bass amp was out in the hall somewhere.  I don't believe that any of those tracks were released.  I recall being paid for the sessions with Fotomaker checks.  Fortunately the checking account lived on even though the band bit the dust.

I played a number of shows with Frozen (essentially Modo retitled), notably at the upper-west-side club Trax.  They had us dress in clothing  we picked up at Patricia Field, a trendy store at the time.  My outfit was based on a disposable white jumpsuit which I think must have been made of fiberglass- My skin was irritated for some time afterwards.  There was also a belt made of rubber matting material and red bicycle-type reflectors. In those days, my hair would have been spiked in an early 80's new-wave do.  Probably red Converse Hi-Tops to complete the look.

That was also around the time that my swimming-pool colored Fender Strat with a blood-red pickguard and mismatched chicken-head knobs came into being.  This very new-wave guitar would incongruously go on to be the main axe I played with Suzanne Vega.  It can be spotted in the Left of Center video.  I still have the guitar, which received an amazing setup a few years back from luthier Stephen Marchione.  It is still my go-to rosewood Strat.  But I digress.

Gene and Dino were a trip. They were stars who had had it all, but as band after band failed to make a name for itself, "it" was starting to fray a bit around the edges. Still they soldiered on, going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm*.  They seemed to know restaurant owners all over town, and were never at a loss for a drink or a meal.  Dino was a monster drummer- played with complete authority.  Gene had switched from guitar, which he played in the Rascals, to bass.  Frankie Vinci was quite a prolific talent, and very much fun to work with.  In that band, he sang, played keyboards, and wrote most of the songs we performed.

Until I saw my friend's post, I had sort of forgotten about this episode.  I have to say that I do not recall Paul Stanley, Deborah Harry, Rick Ocasek or Andy Warhol attending any of our shows.  But Frozen may have continued with a different guitarist after I left.

For years, I would get a call from Gene Cornish every few months, telling me that the Rascals were about to do a reunion tour, and that I was on it.  My impression was that getting Felix Cavaliere on board was the sticking point.  I guess the tour eventually did happen, but without me.  I don't recall the specific circumstances of our parting- my guess is that I simply got busy with other gigs.

The Rascals had been among my childhood idols.  Gene Cornish's aggressive guitar solo in "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" was an incomprehensible marvel to my younger self.  So it was a thrill to my twenty-something self to get to play with them.

Til next time-

Jon Gordon

* This is a paraphrase of a great Winston Churchill quote, which I learned from renowned mixer Bob Power.