Michael Braunstein tells how life, love and labor all married together for the Record Plant family:
There were quite a few romantic couples at the Record Plant over the years. And a few not so romantic, too.
Scooter (Sharon Dorsey) and Rock N’ Roll (James Sandweiss) were a couple, ended up getting married. Of course, one of the progenitor couples was a tragic story: Mal Evans and Frannie Hughes were a couple. You already know that’s a real … yeah, that’s a real storyline.
And then there was Deni and me, two engineers, two engineers who were very focused on being the best engineers that we could be. Deni started as a receptionist and I was quite smitten with her, but I was pretty busy (this was in December of 1974, merging into January of 1975), and she was on the front desk but I always wanted to flirt with her. I was working in Studio A with Frank Zappa, but I was always trying to take time out to … you know…you’ve got to get out of the control room for a brief period of time, whether it’s to go get a cup of coffee, just to decompress for just a minute unless you’re really, really deep into something. I would make an excuse to go up to the front office and flirt with Deni
She didn’t want to have anything to do with me. She was just very aloof. And at one point, I came up and I knelt down next to her on the floor and put my arm around her waist and flirted with her under the pretense of trying to look at The Book … You know, because the front desk people have The Book, the scheduling book, and pretty much the scheduling book was the Bible of the studio. It told you what rooms were available, who was working where. If you weren’t working, you always wanted to look at The Book to see if there’s anything coming up that you could be working on. And if you were working, you had to make sure that all the information for your session was correct, et cetera, et cetera.
So I went up to the front desk this one night and Deni literally stabbed me with a pencil in my arm that I put around her waist. I put my arm around her waist and she stabbed me with a pencil in my forearm! And I said, “You fucking stabbed me with a pencil!” And she said, “Yeah, that’s not all I’m going to stab if you don’t take your hands off me right now.” That was pretty much our first interaction. I mean, you know, because the women in the studio, for guys like me, were fair game. I’m sure that there were guys that were a lot more noble, but by and large, you ask any musician or anyone who got in the music business, they pretty much did it to get chicks. That’s, almost every musician you talk to, that’s why they started being a musician. They didn’t start being a musician to become a musical genius. Maybe Frank did, but that was about it.
That’s how Deni and I interacted at first. It was not love at first sight on her part, for sure. I was very busy but she also had a little bit of an eye on another guy and they hung out a little bit, but that kind of cooled, and I kind of moved in. By March 23rd, 1975, we had become kind of casual, Hollywood boyfriend and girlfriend, living in separate places, and then by May 1975, we had moved in together at a house on the very top of the Hollywood Hills with a view from downtown to Santa Catalina … 1701 Viewmont Drive. Ha, we were paying $425 a month. The house lists right now for 7.75 million.
Our relationship first got serious when I took Deni out to dinner at a restaurant at the corner of Santa Monica and Larrabee, right next to Larrabee Studios. “Lost on Larrabee” was the name. We went to dinner on an evening that neither of us had to work, (which was very rare) on whatever day of the week it was, March 23rd, 1975, and we had a nice dinner. Well, I thought it was romantic, anyway. I remember I had trout almondine, and Deni had chicken. Then we walked up the street, literally a block and a half or so, to her place, which was literally just 50 feet down Larrabee from Sunset, next to Turner’s Liquor. Now there may or may not have been an after-dinner Quaalude involved. I’m not sayin’, but that’s when we warmed to each other. It was a typical, rock and roll Hollywood courtship.
Yeah, and it was a very interesting relationship because we were both so focused on our work. We ate, drank, and slept music, and in a weird sort of way, yes, there was competition between us because, if you’re not working, you’re always wondering if you’re ever going to work again. That’s the life of an independent producer or engineer. You’d have to really be in the stratosphere to be the Rick Rubin or the Phil Ramone back then, who is fighting off work all the time. By and large, if you find yourself in a dry spot, you’re convinced you’re never going to work again. Ask any engineer, and that’s pretty much … I mean, hell, Oscar-winning actors and actresses wonder if they’re ever going to work again when they finish a film. That’s Hollywood.
There is that, and so you would pay attention, but as luck would have it, Deni and I always stayed busy, and when we weren’t working, we would still spend time listening to records and listening to stuff and talking about snare sounds, and talking about acoustics and stuff. I can’t say enough about how brilliant Deni is about audio.
I remember when artists would come into the studio and meet Deni, the first thing they’d want to do is sleep with her. She was hot. Plus, there was the added fact that someone in her position was a rarity. So artists — and don’t make me name ‘em — would meet Deni and it was lust at first sight. But within five minutes, all they wanted to do was to have her mix their next record, because she had this central, sexy good-looking part of her, but once you drilled down past that, you really saw what was in essence the heart of a brilliant engineer. That’s just the way it was. I saw it over and over.
Sometimes we would find ourselves each working at the same time in different studios, and you know, sometimes we would share a romantic tryst in this room or in that room. The Record Plant was the perfect place to get away for a romantic moment, wherever, with whomever, and I doubt if there was a room in the Record Plant, where somebody didn’t have sex at one point or another, I would be absolutely shocked…
But the real romance, in my opinion, our real romance was in the music. When two people are in love with the same thing, they’re in love with each other. That’s where the romance was. Every single person who worked at the Record Plant was having a love affair with the music business. That’s what made us such an incestuous, passionate family. And that doesn’t have anything to do with sex. That’s why when you are talking to Record Plant people right now forty-some years later, they have the same amount of passion for each other as they did then. It was a love affair because everybody was in love with the same thing: making those records.
It’s amazing: records at the Record Plant were not produced by an individual person or engineer. They were almost done by committee whether you liked it or not, because all the engineers and producers … After a session would finish at 2:00 in the morning, or 3:00, or 4:00, there was usually somebody around that you wanted to play your mix for. Or, “Hey man, have you heard that band in Studio A?” “No.” “Yeah, he’s in there now playing back some roughs, let’s go listen.” You’d sort of slink your way into the side door and you’d sit back and you listen to a rough mix of “Whip It.” He goes, “Wow, that’s kind of cool. Hey, Bob, how’d you do those drums?” “Well, we mounted PCMs on boards, and then we put the plywood boards over the drums.” “Wow, that’s very cool! You know, you should put a sock in the kick drum, on the blah-blah-blah,” or something, and so everybody … It was an homogeneity that really ended up, and whether you liked it or not, you were absorbing ideas and comments from all the rest of the engineers, and the after-hours collusion was astonishing. It was absolutely amazing. There wasn’t really one particular thing, but there were some stars that you kind of hung out with, some guys that were just so into it that you always wanted to hear what they were doing.
You would get guys who were brainiac engineers, technically. And then you’d have somebody who was kind of in between like me, who is kind of intuitive but at least somewhat technically proficient. Then you’d have engineers who didn’t know a fucking thing — and some of them turned out to be just as good as the guys who were technically proficient! It was astonishing, because it all worked as one giant organism. Does that make any sense?
The same worked with our relationship. We had nothing against public displays of emotion while we were a couple at the Record Plant. Packing blankets weren’t always used just for baffling the piano or the kick drum. But apart from that, we would just always talk about the projects we were doing, and share ideas about that. Like everybody else, you would just pick up stuff from each other, just like from the other engineers. If somebody was doing something, you’d notice that. There was just a family atmosphere that made everything about record making part of the family. It was the same way in our relationship. We were a couple but within a larger family.
I think Deni might have been the better engineer of the two of us. But like all engineers, we were both better at different times on different things. The project itself determines whether you’re a good engineer at any point in time. It’s not the person who is the good or the better engineer, It’s the project that makes you a good engineer. The music that comes to you is what inspires you to do this to it, to do that to it, or not. Does that make any sense? Do you know what I mean? You can’t conjure up ability and talent. You can’t conjure it up. It is conjured from without you. It is conjured up from a different source. It is drawn out of you.
One night, sitting at the Beverly Hills Hotel in one of the cottages, Peter Frampton played me, “I’m In You.” Stephen Stills and I had closed down our session and just took off to the Forum for a Peter Frampton concert. We all went back to the Record Plant, Studio B it was, and did some jamming (a song called “How’s Your Bird” — I still have a cassette of it). And later that night Frampton sat down and played us that song again, “I’m In You,” on acoustic guitar. Deni and Stephen and I were in the room and he said, “Listen, I want to play you this. I want to get your opinion on it.” He took us into the bedroom suite, pulled out an acoustic guitar and played, “I’m In You.” How many couples get to share an experience like that?
Things started to turn again, in another way, in 1977 or ‘78. We had moved into a house that Don Henley used to live in and told me about at 8511 Cole Crest, up in Laurel Canyon. David Cassidy lived there before Don. Ha! In fact, I found a prescription bottle for Quaaludes in David’s name back behind the toilet. (Side Note: In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Henley mentions that very house and that it’s where he and Glenn Frey first started writing as a team, on “Desperado”.)
Deni and I were just having more and more tensions, and we were … It was just some personal things where we were kind of being flirtatious with other people and stuff, and at one point, we just started arguing and stuff, and it didn’t seem to have any deleterious effect on our working, but we sort of did a trial separation. Deni moved out to a house on Weepah Way, just a couple blocks down the hill. That’s where Dave Mason (I was doing an album with him at the time) dropped by and over a couple shots of Glenfiddich, looked me in the eye and said, “You should just get married.” Deni moved back in and then things went south again. Deni’s father visited with us one weekend, and at breakfast at the Hollywood Holiday Inn on La Brea, also brought up the idea of marriage. We thought it over for about three minutes and got married three days later…
Yeah, there were drugs involved too, and oh, man. I remember Chris Stone calling me into his office one day, looking me straight in the eye and in the most casual way said, “Michael, do you think maybe you’re doing too much cocaine?”
Shit. Maybe it was the drugs. We were fighting, and one afternoon Deni got pretty upset about something, and I called 9-1-1, and the cops came, and they separated us and the cops told me to leave the house. We had some emotional turmoil going on and it was suggested that we go to some counseling and it worked out for a while…a short while. We ended up getting married on February 3rd, 1979. It was the 20th anniversary of the Buddy Holly crash. February 3rd, 1979, we got married, and like in many relationships, that was just sort of trying to put a band-aid on a bullet wound. We started to have troubles again and within a year, we called it quits. We got divorced. Chris Stone even referred us to a lawyer to handle the paperwork, Clair Burrell. I got custody of our Scottish Terrier.
Then a few years later we had a chance to work together again. It took awhile, but about five years later the Record Plant got us back together in a way. We found ourselves having a friendly chat in the Record Plant Jacuzzi room. In the middle of that talk, I took a call from Jim FitzPatrick, head Technical Engineer at Westlake Audio telling me they needed a studio manager at Westlake Studios. I went back to the Jacuzzi room and told Deni about it. She was a perfect fit and in a couple months, she returned the favor by hooking me up with Barry Manilow for some sessions. I ended up engineering his album “2 A.M. Paradise Café”. There was something about the album that brought Deni and me back together and I remember asking if she could be my assistant. We worked together and it was just such an amazing, pleasant, wonderful time. We had been divorced for five years. Yeah, it was a very, very emotional time too on a couple of those songs, because one of them was called, “When October Goes.” Deni’s birthday is in October, and we both kind of had tears in our eyes when we were cutting that track.
…a relationship that had been forged in that crucible of the Record Plant had remained solid after all those years. Still does.