Shel Talmy is an American record producer that went to London in the early 1960's and wound up producing very famous recordings by The Kinks, The Who, The Bachelors, The Easybeats, and others. Shel produced and engineered classic songs such as "You Really Got Me", "Can't Explain", "My Generation", "So Tired of Waiting" and many more. He also worked with a very young David Bowie, who at the time was known as Davy Jones. He frequently used Jimmy Page as a session guitar player.
R.V.B. - Hello Mr. Talmy
S.T. - Yeah - Hi
R.V.B. - This is Rob from Long Island. How are you?
S.T. – Ok - How are you?
R.V.B. - I'm doing pretty good, I gather you're an early riser.
S.T. – Yeah, I'm a very early riser. I sleep about four hours a night. Always have (haha)
R.V.B. - A lot of people in the music business stay up all night.
S.T. – Well, I did a lot of that. Now it still only four hours a night, so it doesn't really matter to me.
R.V.B. - Well you've had a great career and the music community is proud of you. I see that you were born in Chicago.
S.T. - That is correct, yes.
R.V.B. - When you were in Chicago, what kind of music were you exposed to at an early age?
S.T. - At any early age - well let's see - pretty much everything that was on the radio at the time. The first R & B thing that caught my attention was "Gee" by The Crows. That was about ’52- I guess- when that came out. That was a revelation to me and I started seeking out other things like it. I obviously originally was exposed to stuff by the Big Band era, American Songbook, and all of that sort of thing, plus a whole lot of other stuff. I happened to like folk music too.
R.V.B. - Was the rest of your family musically inclined?
S.T. - Nope, nobody.
R.V.B. - So you started on your own and branched out on your own?
S.T. - I slowly worked it out, yeah.
R.V.B. - Did you play an instrument as a youngster?
S.T. - Yeah, I played guitar, and as I became the record producer, I realized that I would probably be a really good record producer because I wouldn't dream of producing myself as a guitarist. It was recreational - strictly.
R.V.B. - So how old were you when you moved out of Chicago?
S.T. - I was moved out of there when I was fifteen.
R.V.B. - Oh ok - so was that in the middle of high school?
S.T. – Yeah, I was in my second year of high school. Chicago had no middle schools at that point. In fact, this year they still do. I started high school at fourteen.
R.V.B. - Why did you move to L.A.?
S.T. - At fifteen, what do you think? (haha) I had a choice?
R.V.B. – Yeah, I guess not.
S.T. – Yeah, they moved and I decided to go with them.
R.V.B. - Did your father have a job there or something?
S.T. – No. My father was a dentist in Chicago and actually my mother wanted to move many years before, but as California had no reciprocity with practically anybody - including Illinois. He decided that he had better stay there till such time he thought I was old enough and we were off to California.
R.V.B. - Did you like the move?
S.T. - Oh yeah. Chicago is a nice place to be. but I have no great desire to go back there. I never liked cold weather and I never liked humidity.
R.V.B. - Well you wouldn't like it on the east coast this winter, it's horrible.
S.T. - So I understand. No, I've been to the east coast on many, many occasions, so I'm aware of what the weather is like there and I'm extremely happy living here. It's one of the very few places in the world I think I could live.
R.V.B. - Have you ever experienced an earthquake there?
S.T. - Yeah sure - it's expected (hahaha)
R.V.B. - How many have you experienced? (haha) Does it happen on a regular basis?
S.T. - I suppose only one big one. That was the one in ‘89 - I guess it was. We were living in a house built on your basic rocks so we felt virtually nothing.
R.V.B. - How did you get a involved as a engineer on the West Coast?
S.T. – Well, my job after college was... I went into KKLA TV and ABC Television. I started as a page and became floor manager in the politics of a large corporation. I ran into a guy that used to hang out at a bar where all the music people went - who was English as a matter of fact - and who had a studio. I started working for him as a training engineer and liked what it was all about and decided to go into that.
R.V.B. - Who did you work with at that time? Who were the first people that you recorded?
S.T. - You mean as an engineer?
R.V.B. - Yeah
S.T. - I did some of The Marketts. There was a whole bunch of very... Bumps Blackwell was very well known. I used to do a bunch for Rene Hall. Lots of people who did R & B things. I was only there for a year before I decided to go to London.
S.T. - Not the stuff that I did, and not the stuff that the guy that I worked for did. We worked diligently on separation. The studio - which is called Conway - was probably a twenty by thirty foot studio with a good size control room. Three track rotary pot switches. That's the way the consoles were at that point and the patch board of course... and a bare selection of auxiliary gear so…
R.V.B. - So you pretty much had everybody separated with baffles and just miked them individually?
S.T - Absolutely. We had drums certainly surrounded by baffles and the singer was in a booth and as far as I know, because I never saw anybody else do it at that point. We isolated guitar amps so they wouldn't bleed on to everything else.
R.V.B. - Right. That's the start of the way it is today. So how did you make the big move to England?
S.T. - Well, I think that it wasn't necessarily intended as a big move. A guy who I was working for I said was English, had come to the states and had done extremely well. I was twenty one or something and I thought life was passing me by - and I thought it would be nice to see England for a few weeks and work if I could. I went with the intention of staying there for about six weeks and I would up staying seventeen years because I had hits, so I decided to stay.
R.V.B. - So when you went there thinking that you were gonna be there for six weeks, did you go there with the intention of sightseeing and you found a job?
S.T. - Oh yeah, I wanted to go. I did a lot of sightseeing and I had intended to try and work just for three weeks to earn some bread because I didn't have that much. I took the precaution of taking records with me that I hadn't done because my friend at Capitol gave me some stuff to sell. I got some references of people to call, and one of the first guys I called got me an interview at Decca. I walked in and pretty much bullshitted my way into a gig and said "Here I am, I'm arguably I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread has been invented in a producer" - which I even wasn't at the time. I played them a couple of the demos I brought with me, which happened to be Lou Rawls and The Beach Boys. They said, “ great, you start tonight.” (haha)
R.V.B. - Oh wow
S.T. - That's how it all happened.
R.V.B. - Were The Kinks in there right away?
S.T – No, they were much later.
S.T. - The first band I did a hit with was called, “ The Bachelors” - who I sold probably twenty-five to thirty million records with. They had one hit here and numerous hits around the world.
R.V.B. I think I have one of their records. They sold real well in England?
S.T. - Worldwide except here. They had one major hit here, "I Wouldn't Trade You For The World".
R.V.B. - Why do you suppose that is?
S.T - Why do I suppose that is? Because America wasn't ready for an English talent at that time. It wasn't truly English, It was kind of country and western sung by three Irish guys. They weren't ready for it. Everybody else was - evidently.
R.V.B. - Did The Kinks start recording with you?
S.T. – Yes - I found The Kinks by being in the right place at the right time. I was visiting a publisher, and The Kinks manager walked in with demos. I was the only one to hear them - so I did - and took them into Pye and that's how it all began.
R.V.B. - Can you describe the studio and how you achieved that unique sound?
S.T. - Your questions make me think that you're more interested in the engineering side than anything else. Are you an engineer - or...? I'm curious why you're interested in the technical side of it?
R.V.B. – Well, you know what? I've had that Kinks album in my house when I was in my early teens because I had two older brothers.
S.T. - Which one are you talking about?
R.V.B. - I had “The Kinks Greatest Hits”. I played it over and over and wore it out. I loved “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “All Day and All of the Night”. I just like the sound of it. It has a unique sound that sets it apart from other English bands, I think.
S.T. – Well, I've been told that - obviously by many people - and the reason is obviously that I did not have English ears. I came over there with an American point of view of how to do stuff. As an engineer, I astutely pushed the envelope of how to get the most out of the equipment that was available at the time –so yes -my records did sound different and they were certainly hotter than virtually anything that was coming out in England at the time. The studio set up was, it was the Pye Studio number two - small studio. It was very much like the studio I worked in as a matter of fact in LA. I had pretty much the same equipment: Ampex machines, which were three track, and a board that was a bit more advanced. It had sliders instead of rotary pots, and good acoustics in the room. A good amount of good mikes - that all good studios had at that point, mainly Neuman and that kind of thing.
R.V.B. - Did you have anything to do with arranging anything on those songs?
S.T. - I have always been what's in the trade as referred to a “hands on” producer. I am in there from the inception to the end. When I found the band, I worked with the band... chose the material... did the arrangements... I did the sound... I did the mixing... yada yada yada. Unlike a whole lotta producers who turn up every now and then and call themselves producers, which have never thrilled me.
R.V.B. - Now obviously The Kinks have a reputation of not getting along later on in their careers. Did you run into any problems with that at that time?
S.T. - Oh yeah. Ray and Dave used to fight every now and then. I would just call a little coffee break and let them go to it - you know. The rest of us would go and drink coffee. None of us got in the middle of it. It was their problem. Let them work it out.
R.V.B. - Was that the same time that you started getting involved with "The Who"?
S.T. – Yes - The Who...
R.V.B. - They weren't The Who at the time right? They had another name?
S.T. - Well actually they were The Who by that time. They were the High Numbers first, but they had new management who called them The Who. They sought me out because of my hits with The Kinks.
R.V.B. - You did “Can't Explain” first?
S.T. – Yes. “Can't Explain” was the first one I did.
S.T. - I think Pete has said on various occasions that in order to quote unquote impress. The "I Can't Explain" was kind of a homage to The Kinks. So it was kind of Kinkish in a way, but it obviously sounded totally different because the band is totally different. I loved it when I first heard it. I thought it was a hit, so I went with it.
R.V.B. - That was Decca you with over there - right? The Decca Label.
S.T. – Initially, I was with Decca. I was, as far as I know, the first independent producer in London. I worked with them as an independent producer which meant that I got royalties. Most producers in London at that point did not get them. After they turned both Manfred Mann and Georgie Fame down - and made The Who, I brought in - I decided to branch out. Pretty much one of the first things I did was The Kinks, who I brought into Pye.
R.V.B. - Why do you think Decca turned down so many bands like that? They turned down the Beatles also.
S.T. – Yes, it's actually overblown. That's not the way it happened. Dick Rowe was in charge of A&R at the time and a producer there... I think his name was Mike Smith. Two bands came in around the same time. Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, and The Beatles. He said to Mike "You choose one". He chose the Tremeloes, so there you go. I'd like to think if I had been there - which I wasn't at the time - If I wasn’t still in LA, then I would have chosen the Beatles. Yeah, that would have been nice but it didn't happen.
R.V.B. - So how long did you stay in London producing? Because you eventually came back - obviously.
S.T. - Seventeen years
R.V.B. - Seventeen years? What were some of the other groups you worked with over there?
S.T. – Well, David Bowie I found and did a lot of stuff with, but unfortunately we were about six years ahead of the market. Manfred Mann came back to me. I had a whole bunch of years with them. Amen Corner... I had a couple of number ones with them. I did "Friday On My Mind" with the Easybeats. Pentangle... who was probably one of the best folk bands of all time. I did a number of hits with them. Lots of people... I don't remember everybody, faces a lot of people.
S.T. - A guy I knew who was his manager at the time, brought him to me and he was like seventeen. He was called Davie Jones at the time. I liked him a lot. I liked his attitude. He was brash... he was funny... he was extremely bright. I did some records with him but unfortunately, like I said, it was about six years of where the market was because when he finally hit, the stuff he was doing was very close to the stuff that I originally did with him earlier.
R.V.B. – Now did that stuff get released?
S.T. – Yes, on several occasions. What's the label that does all of the reprints over here? Shit - I can't think of the label. Yeah, it's been re-released several times.
R.V.B. - Oh I see. So what made you come back to the states?
S.T. – Ah… the WEATHER?
R.V.B. - Was it really cold and rainy and dreary over in London?
S.T. – No, but it got cold enough. I decided I really had enough of that. It was one of the prime factors. The other one was... as things do, things started changing in London. It wasn't really as much fun as it had been during the 60's. I think it's fair to say the English had an attitude that is kind of the half empty philosophy... as opposed to the half full philosophy. I got bored with all that so it was probably time to come home.
R.V.B. - So you went right back to the West Coast?
S.T. - Oh yeah , absolutely.
R.V.B. - Did you start working right away or did you take some time off?
S.T. - I did. I was doing a whole lot of other things. I actually got on to other businesses and property and stuff like that, so the business sense already changed and I wasn't real delighted with what was going on, so I did very little as a matter of fact.
R.V.B. - I see, but you DID eventually get back into the music business right? Because I see that...
R.V.B. - So how are you enjoying yourself today? What do you do to keep yourself busy?
S.T. – Um… good question. I'm still busy. I actually still have a lot of business interests and with the internet around... how could you not be amused with what's available on the internet? I do still keep myself busy. I'm in the position like lots of people these days, where I've been approached by various different people to do things. I'm in the position of waiting for them to pull their fingers out which is extremely boring.
R.V.B. - I wanted to ask you because you're so involved with the music business. What do you feel about today with the digital age and what it actually did to the music business?
S.T. – Well, I think that's not actually the question. The digital age has progressed to the point where Pro Tools is now damn near as good as any kind of sound you could get out of analog, and I would say that ninety nine point nine percent of the people couldn't tell the difference anymore. It has actually progressed to be that good. So I'm not blaming anything on digital. It's great... I love working with Pro Tools. It's so much simpler from all the machination I go through in order to get a sound. It's simple as hell these days. What I'm not entirely pleased with - in a word - is anybody who is anybody who came up around the rock era as I did, is what's passing for music. You know, unfortunately we're in a shallow period in my opinion. The situation is in fact a whole lot of things that are in the top 40 are considered music by the current generation. Rap - in my opinion - is not music. I have no problem with you calling it urban or street poetry. It's not music! Unfortunately, what is considered music... I don't think is memorable. I doubt anything in the top forty today will be hummed five years from now.
R.V.B. - I totally agree with you on that. I can't even stomach some of the stuff that's on the radio.
S.T. - It's not even... it's stupid. I mean we've been through shallow periods before. If you're at all interested in the history of music, go and see. There are periods where nothing happened. We are in one of those periods now - I think. In a 55 year run of terrific music, even though the genre changed dramatically from big band, to rock, to lots of good stuff ,and disco, as a matter of fact - and ballads and intelligent music. We had the right stuff in a 55 year run, which was brilliant. Then it sort of emulated or mirrored what was happening with education or the lack of it. There has been a ton of studies about how education has gone down the toilet. A whole slew of so-called experts will tell you that - and an I.Q., which is a standard of a hundred - has probably slipped at least ten points. I agree with that. (hahaha) So it doesn't surprise that the music business has gone the same way.
R.V.B. – Yeah, everything is politically correct now and ...
S.T. – Unfortunately, it is - yes.
R.V.B. - But as far as the internet and the piracy aspect of it... that sure puts a damper of anybody trying to do something new because as soon as you do it, it's pirated.
S.T. – Ah… the piracy part has been addressed in several ways - and it's not really as bad as it was when Napster was running full tilt. There's legislation that has been put into force as a matter of fact. The music business in general has been lobbying Washington, and various places around in the other places in the world, for more rights for people... which include producers... I'm delighted to say. So increased royalties are coming, and have been coming and it's hardly perfect, but it sure is a lot better than it was five or ten years ago.
R.V.B. – Yeah, you know me as a vinyl guy, I love to hold art in my hand. I like to watch it spin and I personally think that it’s a warmer sound. I'm one of the guys... there's a lot of us out there.
S.T. – Well, about the only record shops left in the world are vinyl shops, I'm afraid. (hahaha) You can't find a record store... I don't think there are any record stores left in LA.
R.V.B. - What seems to me what's happening is the larger record companies are eliminating CD's. they want to eliminate vinyl, and they want to control everything through the internet and through the cloud. There's no more product.
S.T. - I hate to say it Rob - nothing has changed from what they're trying to do now from what they were trying to do when I first started. You got greedy corporations who want to control everything, and they're gonna do their damndest to do it. It's a constant battle. Whether they succeed or not... I don't think at this point they got control over it, because as digital progresses, they get such arrayed in knots it's going to supersede anything they try to do.
R.V.B. – Yeah, I mean because I go to Radio Shack now to buy CDR's, and there's maybe one package left. They don't stock them anymore. Luckily, I'm a record collector and I don't really listen to today's records. I have more than enough to listen to, but I just see everything disappearing and there's no more product that you could hold on to.
S.T. - I agree with you except for the fact that there are vinyl shops and people have gone back into the business of producing vinyl... because of collectors like you, which maybe on the increase you know... I don't know. There certainly seems to be a whole bunch of you guys out there. One of the joys of the internet is how many “radio stations” are available again. There's thirty five, forty thousand at the moment. I found a couple of Doo Wop stations I love. (hahaha). It' hard to find that certainly on terrestrial radio.
R.V.B. - Yeah, it's funny that you mention that because the other day, I was sitting across the table from my wife and I typed in Doo Wop radio on google and I got a nice station. I was totally enjoying the music, and my wife's like "What do you got on over there". I said "I got Doo Wop on" because I go from one genre to another. I'll listen to Doo Wop, I'll listen to Big Bands.
S.T. - She's not a Doo Wop fan? (hahaha).
R.V.B. - I've interviewed a few guys recently, The Elogents
S.T. - Your wife's not a Doo Wop fan I take it - right?
R.V.B. - Well you know... not really. She was spoiled with satellite radio and she listened to newer stuff. I'm a little out of touch with some of the new bands. She's a little bit more in touch with it. I tend to go backwards and she tends to go forward which is not necessarily a bad thing.
S.T. - I understand. I think if I had to characterize what I do, I think I do a little bit of everything. I've had XM radio since inception, and I've got a device that gets me all the internet radio stations as long as I can connect to a wi-fi somewhere. Ah…the modern stuff? There's maybe a half a dozen of “OK”, and the rest of the stuff I don't even bother listening to which include a whole bunch of new artists I probably should listen to but don't because you know they're boring (haha).
R.V.B. - I tell you one thing, what I DO enjoy on the internet in the new age is YouTube and looking at all the old videos.
R.V.B. - Right at your fingertips. You can pull up the Kinks... anything you want.
S.T. – Yep, absolutely everybody. I'm a big jazz fan... mainly the 50's and 60's Jazz. People like June Christy is one of my favorites and there's a ton of stuff on her on YouTube which is nice... all the great songs she sang.
R.V.B. - Right, yeah she is a good singer. Well congratulations on all your accomplishments. You're Kinks work is phenomenal.
S.T. - Thank you.
R.V.B. - It's a major landmark of the 60's. You should be proud of yourself because I know the music community enjoys it.
S.T. - Well thank you... it's nice to hear that and yes - I'm pleased with what I did. I wish I had done more - which was my fault for not working the room like I should have, because at the time there was a lot of other distractions. (haha) It worked out like it did - but it was a terrific time and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
R.V.B. - Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you. I enjoyed it.
S.T. - Thanks for calling.
R.V.B. - Have a nice day
S.T. - You too, bye
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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