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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2013/06/25
by Mike Gruenberg

Mack Emerman

In My Life

A number of years ago, my wife and I went to a concert at Madison Square Garden. I believe it was Neil Young. When Neil came on stage with his back-up band, I turned to my wife and said. “This will be a great concert.”

She looked at me and inquired, “How do you know?”

“Because I recognize the lead guitarist, Steve Cropper and the bass player, Duck Dunn in the back-up band. Those two guys are ½ of Booker T and the MG’s and have also been involved with the greatest musicians ever to record music” I said.

Similarly, a number of years later, we went to see Bert Jansch at a small venue in Virginia shortly before Bert passed away. The opening act that night was Pegi Young, and her back-up band, called The Survivors. Pegi, by the way is Neil’s wife.

I kept looking at the keyboard player since he looked so familiar. He was excellent and pretty much carried the group throughout the evening. It turned out, he was Spooner Oldham. Spooner, a Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame musician has toured and recorded with the greatest artists of my generation including Neil Young and is responsible for writing the Box Tops hit, “Cry Like A Baby”. His musical resume is clearly Rock’n’Roll royalty, much the same as Steve Cropper and the late Duck Dunn.

What all of this means is that the artist that stands before you on stage or records a hit record can never, ever do it all by themselves. Record producers, back-up singers, musical instrument techs, roadies and a myriad amount of people at the record company all contribute to the final polished product that you see onstage or hear through your stereo.

Of course, once the songs for the album are selected to be recorded and the artist enters the studio to record those gems, a whole new chapter of the journey of the music to your ears will be written. Among the people you do not know that contributed to the music you are hearing and seeing are the folks at the recording studio, We all know Abbey Road studios in England which is the now famous place that churned out virtually all of the Beatles hits as well as many of Paul McCartney’s and George Harrison’s solo albums.

In the U.S., A&R studios in NY, Chess Records studio in Chicago, Capitol Records studio, A&M Records and Gold Star in L.A. are known among the music community for their ability to provide artists with the best facilities to record their music. I thought of these studios when I recently learned of the passing of Mack Emerman, founder of Criteria Studios in Miami.

In 1959, Mack got some funding from his father and bought an empty lot in North Miami and literally built a studio from the ground up. At the time, he was a jazz aficionado and attended many of the jazz clubs in Miami where he recorded the music from those shows. He was then able to connect with the legendary Tom Dowd from Atlantic Records in the 60’s and soon this little studio in Miami not only rivaled its big city competitors, but pretty much left them all in the dust. As Dowd told New Times: “Between 1967 and 1975, you couldn’t get into Criteria with a shoehorn.”

Think about this, during that time period, “Layla” by Derek & The Dominos,” Hotel California” by the Eagles, “Saturday Night Fever” by the Bee Gees, “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac and “Eat A Peach” by the Allman Brothers were among the many albums recorded there. Mack’s influence on the music business is undeniable. He was truly the guy you didn’t know that made an incredible difference in the music we all bought. In his own right, he was a giant in the business of recording music.

I remember when Jimi Hendrix helped to design and created the impetus to opened Electric Ladyland studios on West 8th street in Greenwich Village in New York. According to written accounts of Jimi’s activities at the time, he was most proud and happiest when he worked at his studio. Much like Criteria in Miami, Electric Ladyland also attracted the best of the best to record their albums there.

Guys like Mack and Jimi and all the people who toil endlessly in recording studios around the world striving to get that perfect song married to flawless musicianship so we can hear and enjoy a finished product on my stereo, i-tunes or radio, I say thank you. Your work is appreciated.

Criteria, now called the Hit Factory is still in operation in Miami.

Here is a representative list of the many artists that have walked through the doors at Criteria and recorded music there:

• 2 Live Crew
• 10,000 Maniacs
ABBA
• AC/DC
• Aerosmith
• Alejandro Sanz
• The Allman Brothers
• Andy Gibb
• Aretha Franklin
• Bee Gees
• Billy Joel
• Black Sabbath
• Bob Dylan
• Bob Marley
• Bob Seger
• Bootsy Collins
• Brook Benton
• Candy
• Charred Walls of the Damned
• Chicago
• Comateens
• Crosby, Stills and Nash
• David Bowie
• Derek and the Dominos
• Dr. Dre
• The Eagles
• Eric Clapton
• Expose
• Fleetwood Mac
• Gang of Four
• Gloria Estefan
• Grand Funk Railroad
• Jackie Gleason
• James Brown
• John Cougar Mellencamp
• John Denver
• Julio Iglesias
• Lenny Kravitz
• Less Than Jake
• Lynyrd Skynyrd
• Manassas
• Marilyn Manson
• Meatloaf
• Mink DeVille
• The Nails
• N.O.R.E.
• R.E.M.
• R. Kelly
• The Romantics
• Soda Stereo
• Will to Power
• Wishbone Ash
• Yngwie J. Malmsteen

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