Fascinated by Recording

Fascinated by Recording

You might have observed some themes running through my stories—history, race, music—but maybe you didn't notice another theme: audio recording. 

On Beale Street portrays producer Sam Phillips, shown here at Sun Records in Memphis, who recorded Elvis Presley and planted the seeds of rock ’n’ roll. 

In my most recent novel, Lord of the Mountain, recording pioneer Ralph Peer brings audio equipment to the little town of Bristol, Tennessee, where in 1927 he discovers the Carter Family and carves their voices into the grooves of a record. 

Dunker, one of my early novels, features a short kid who becomes famous by recording donut commercials, while secretly longing to be a basketball star.

And currently I’m writing a new mystery novel that hinges on the discovery of a blues recording in a record pressing plant, which leads two present-day kids back in time to Civil Rights sit-ins and demonstrations in 1963 Nashville.

The Great Loring Read 

Where did I get my interest in recording? From an audio engineer named Loring Read.

Loring was a giant, in my memory and in the green rolling chair that barely contained his 350 pounds. Grunting, sweating, he would wheel from one end of the control board to the other, tweaking dials and faders, pressing the talk-back, monitoring the metal reels as they spun. My father, an audio producer and one of Loring’s prized clients, sat next to him. Me? I was the kid in the corner, taking it all in.  

Loring worked at Radio Recorders, a legendary Hollywood recording studio where the big stars went—Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, Paul Frees, and on and on. In addition to my father’s modest projects, Loring’s jobs featured his own list of star clients: Orson Welles, Casey Kasem, Peggy Lee, Jonathan Winters.

A few years later, trained by my dad, I took his place in the client’s chair and got a closeup view of Loring at work. In those pre-digital days, editing meant splicing the tape with a razor blade—cutting it apart and reassembling it the way a surgeon might. Loring’s sausagelike hands, surprisingly graceful, would caress the tape, find the spot, and slice, usually at a 45-degree angle but sometimes, for tricky edits, on a more gradual slope. If I questioned him, he would flash me a smile and say, “Ron, always trust your doctor, your lawyer, and your engineer.”  

Loring passed away a few years ago. Through my books, in my own small way, I’m trying to keep the memory of his world alive.    

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