Phil Ramone: As Remembered By Family and Friends

May 1, 2013 9:00 AM

As Remembered By Family and Friends

Polls


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photo of Jill Dell’Abate

Jill Dell’Abate

Jill Dell’Abate – Production Manager and Contractor 1991-present
Phil had a beautiful country estate on 10 acres, complete with horses, sheep, chickens, 5 very large dogs and cats. It was a veritable menagerie and Phil loved it that way. Whenever possible, we’d have meetings at the house or record at his home studio. His office staff was also on site so we’d all end up sitting around the kitchen table yacking and pushing the slobbering Newfoundland dogs off our laps. Karen would often join us and occasionally one or more of their boys as well. We were all part of Phil’s extended family, and when I was there I was home.

photo of Troy Germano

Troy Germano

Troy Germano
I would join my father on his string sessions at A & R and Phil & my dad would set up an extra seat with the players and I would fall asleep with headphones on while they recorded. Phil recorded & mixed so many seminal records at The Hit Factory from 1983 thru 2003 and a few records here at Germano Studios in 2008 & 2009. There are so many moments & stories as I recollect now as I type. I will give you a couple of stories. Phil was recording Billy Joel at The Hit Factory in 1985 cutting basic tracks & mixing for the Greatest Hits Volume I & II. The songs recorded were "You're Only Human" and "The Night Is Still Young." They were booked in for a month and Phil asked me to do a special favor for him & Billy. He asked if it would be possible to decorate the live room as if it were a yacht club. Billy is of course an avid boatsman, as was my late father. We proceeded to turn Studio A1 @ The Hit Factory into a recording/boating experience for Phil & Billy with many boat ropes, life preservers, boating chairs, photos, dingy bumpers, etc…These were the kind of things Phil would do to make an artist comfortable in a recording studio. This was an especially important record for The Hit Factory as it was one of the first times Phil & Billy recorded basic tracks outside of A & R Studios and it was Billy Joel's first greatest hits collection of his career being released on Compact Disc. Phil had previously recorded & mixed Julian Lennon's first 2 albums in the same room so he was familiar & comfortable by us (this studio was originally part of the former Bell Sound on West 54th Street between Broadway & 8th Avenue). All I can say was Phil was an uncle to me and the relationship between himself and my dad was very special, thus he treated me like I was always part of his family. Phil had the biggest smile from ear-to-ear when he finally saw the studios' boating conversion completed.

In early 1993, Phil booked the new Hit Factory @ 421 West 54th Street to finish recording and mixing Frank Sinatra's Duets album. He brought in Al Schmitt as the recording & mixing engineer and this was the first time The Hit Factory would be part of a Sinatra album, and in a New York-Italian family this was truly a big deal. Phil had asked me to arrange for ISDN lines for the studio as he would need to record some of the artists over the ISDN lines from other cities via EDNet. This was one of the first times I would meet my new friend, Al Schmitt. The moment I remember most during the 5-week booking was when Phil was working in Studio 2 on our third floor. This studio had our custom Neve 8068 that was 72 channels with Flying Faders and was surrounded by four studio isolation booths (when I designed this studio with my dad I got the multi-booth idea from my visit to Polar Studios in Stockholm). Phil called my dad on the fifth floor one afternoon for both of us to come down to the studios while he was recording Gloria Estefan. This album had many famous duets with Barbra Streisand, Luther Vandross, Bono, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Anita Baker, etc…We did not know who he was recording that day as he previously had Anita Baker in to do her lead vocal a couple of days earlier. So we walk into the control room, the lights in the second live room were off and Phil is on the talkback in the control room, producing Gloria's vocal. Well, I thought Gloria was in our live room and I said to Phil, "Why does she sing in the dark?" Phil and my father then began laughing hysterically, they then turned the lights up and the studios' live room was completely empty as Gloria was in Crescent Moon in Florida singing over the ISDN lines. The joke was on me and the laughing was something I will never forget and cherish, as my dad was in on this with Phil Ramone. Never knew ISDN could work so well.

photo of Gary Chester

Gary Chester

Gary Chester
Phil Ramone. A man I met when I was maybe 15 years old at A&R when my father would bring me along for a session, throw me in the control room with Phil and say, “Just be quiet!” Years later when I was a budding engineer I went to a Dionne Warwick session and Phil said, “ Grab a chair and come sit next to me.” During the break my father came in and told Phil, “Hey, my son is now an engineer over at Mayfair.” Phil responded, “That’s great...Gary maybe you should sit over there on the couch.” Always loved his first reaction.

Yes, I loved Phil and through the next 40 years we had some special moments. Phil as a man: warm, caring, and always there for you if you needed him. Phil as a musician: What can you say that hasn't already been said? He knew music and he knew what worked. As he once told me, “Gary, it really always comes down to the music." But Phil as a Producer--now that was really special. His knowledge of engineering, music and people made his approach a little different. To Phil nothing was impossible. He would try anything. We did a Peter Noone album in two days. Every one played and sang live with a live mix. I still love that album. We recorded Barry Manilow Singing with the Big Bands album . Phil wanted the authentic sound so he found a mic geek and set up some of the oldest mics I had ever seen. I asked him, “ Are we really going to do this session with these old mics,” and Phil responded, " Yes, but I want you to get a second 24-track and use the mics you want, but I don’t want to see them or hear them.” I complained, “ Phil, how can I do that? “ and his so-typical Phil answer was, “ You’ll make it work”. You just had to love a man like that.

One of the last times I worked with him, we were having many drinks to celebrate the end of the project and Phil said to me,“ Gary, one thing I have to tell you is that you have to stop telling people how old you are." RIP, Phil.






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