Steve Gursky and the Birth of Disco

Ok, the headline takes some artistic license. I can authoritatively tell you that the real birth of disco was the 1974 Hues Corporation crossover hit, Rock the Boat. But Steve was part of disco history nonetheless.

In his late teens or early 20s, Steve was working Criteria Studio in Florida as a sound engineer in the late 70s. Around 1976-77, the Bee Gees went to “Funky Chateau” studio in France hoping to record their next hit. After three weeks of dinking around in the studio, they came back to America with nothing they really liked except for a bit of drum track. They then went to Criteria to finish up the song.

Well, a few years ago, on a trip to Colombia, I had a 6 hour layover in Miami. Steve picked me up and took me to a studio next to Criteria set up by some former Criteria engineers. Standing in the lobby among the gold records on the wall, I noticed the Stayin Alive gold record. I told Steve that I had read that the Bee Gees used a two bar section of 2″ tape, 20 feet long, joined the ends together and looped it in the tape for the entire song. A junior engineer at the other end of the room held up a broomstick for a tape reel to spin on so it wouldn’t get tangled up as it looped.

In a shocked voice Steve asked “WHO TOLD YOU THAT?” I explained about the article. He relaxed and with a wry grin said “I was the one holding that broomstick.” He didn’t know that the story had been made public.

I asked the questions I always had about gold records. Well, they are not made out of gold, they are records spray painted gold. Had the studio guys ever tried to play one–yes they had put one on a turntable and it did play music. It turns out the gold painted record is not actually the album it represents. When a record company has a hit, each record is a source of revenue, not to waste a sale and hang on the wall. They would find a non-hit record with the same number of tracks, stick a label in the center, and use that for the gold record.

This drum loop was also used on ‘More Than a Woman’, and Streisand’s ‘Woman in Love’.

He took me to lunch in a small modest seafood place just down the road from Criteria, and as I sat there, I imagined that Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, and many others had likely eaten there while on break from recording. That visit to the studio, and the stories he told, were more exciting to me than a trip to disney is for a kid.

Gettin’ Busy at the Shalom Home

I visited Professor Lyons from time to time in his office. I think he really enjoyed hanging around law school with his door open and having students visit.

On one occasion, he got onto the subject of a friend or family member living at the Sholom Home, a nursing home by the state fairgrounds. This person would tell him about things they heard about or saw there. At one point he said “You wouldn’t believe the things that go on over there.” He then looked over his reading glasses at me, raised his eyebrows and gave me a meaningful glance. Apparently such activities were entirely of an illicit nature. I was much humored.

Wish you were here

Both the single and album of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ became one of my favorite songs and albums over a period of years, and  almost against my will, in the decades following its 1975 release. Through the good graces of high school friends, I attended many great rock concerts from 1974 to 1977. Led Zeppelin, Robin Trower, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, The Who, and the Guess Who.

Prior to many of these concerts, and I remember it most clearly in the old Met Center, the Front of Hall guys would play this meditative album over the sound system until the act came on stage. I recall not liking it at the time, and when you are eagerly awaiting the explosion of of Whole Lotta Love, ambient music rankles.

It seemed the album was omnipresent during my high school years of 1975 to 1977. A couple of classmates and cross country teammates were obsessed with it and quoted lyrics in the school hallways and made much of the admittedly brilliant ‘burning man’ cover art, and the deeper philosophical implications thereof.

In the fullness of time, I learned the album was inspired by Syd Barrett, an original Pink Floyd band member, who was stricken with schizophrenia and was unable to continue as a musician. It was a song of loss, longing, melancholy. Ironically, while the band was mixing down the album, Syd visited the studio but was so disruptive they escorted him out–begging the question of just how badly did they wish he was there. Floyd’s prior effort, ‘Dark side of the Moon’ also took inspiration from Syd’s illness, the moon being associated with lunacy in former times.

And a few years ago, it became linked to my dearly departed friend, Steve Gursky. More on this remarkable man in other posts, but I will simply note that his brother, Loren, played the song on acoustic guitar and sang it at Steve’s funeral gathering. He said it was the hardest song he ever had to play, but that he just had to do it for his older brother.

And I now present you with another priceless treasure from youtube, a cover of the song from an extremely talented young woman–even more melancholy than the Pink Floyd version, if such a thing can be humanly possible. She has put multiple versions of it on youtube. She started with the sheet music, and now appears to have memorised it. Looks like its getting under her skin too.

This is for you, Steve. I truly do wish you were here.

Boz Skaggs, soundtrack of my Vo-Tech years

I attended Area 916 Vocational-Technical institute from roughly 1977 to 1978. I earned a two-year programming certificate qualifying me to program mainframes in COBOL. Out of all my over-educated years in school, this was hands down the most enjoyable learning institution I attended, due to the good friendships, the relaxed atmosphere, and many enjoyable parties. Due to its independent study competence based program, and the fact that I got high school credit for attending it in high school, I spent about a year and a half there.

It represented for me at the time a big expansion of my scope of experience, which I often viewed with a wide-eyed fascination. Learning the principles of computing, new friends, romance, and attending parties with classmates who lived in apartments! I was living at home and apartment living seemed the height of adult sophistication.

And behind all that, the music of Boz Skaggs. In 1976 he teamed up with session musicians that later formed the band Toto, and created his masterpiece, Silk Degrees. While the ‘Lido Shuffle’ topped the charts, I much preferred ‘We’re All Alone’, dubbed with the detested appellation “MOR” by a clueless wickipedia author, and the peerless slow-dancer, ‘Harbor lights’.

I recall some 30 odd years ago, a callow young man who would take a beautiful young woman to the dance floor, slow dance to Harbor Lights, become intoxicated in a cloud of pheromones, and enter a dreamlike state of bliss…