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Working Class Audio Episode #342 with Steve Sykes Thumbnail.png

Interview with Steve Sykes on Music, Engineering & More...



Originally from Philadelphia, Steve has been in the music business practically from birth.  His mother was a booking agent for jazz musicians and bands in the 50’s.  As a young child, he was exposed to live performances by artists such as Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Nina Simone and Jimmy Smith in Philadelphia, as well as Buddy Rich concerts in New York.  Steve taught himself to play guitar as a young teenager and at the age of 13, he recorded with his first band “The Thorns” at Sound Plus Studios (which shortly thereafter became the legendary Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia).  In the subsequent years, Steve spent time at Sigma Sound Studios recording with his musician friends and witnessing the birth of “The Sound of Philadelphia”.
Steve’s teenage years were spent playing in a few different bands around the Philadelphia music scene, one of which included his high school friend Stanley Clarke.  In his late teens he became a member of the blues band “Sweet Stavin Chain” who were signed by Ahmet Ertegun to Cotillion Records – a newly formed division of Atlantic Records.  They were one of the hottest local Philadelphia bands at the time and played up and down the east cost at venues such as the legendary Electric Factory in Philadelphia, Fillmore East in New York and at various east coast music festivals.  The band opened for the likes of Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention, Jimi Hendrix and The Who.  They recorded their self-titled debut album for Cotillion in 1969 at Atlantic Studios in New York.
While still in Philadelphia, Steve played with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (“I Put A Spell On You”) on a tour of the east coast and with the live band for comedian Moms Mabley.  He was hired by producer John Madara (Danny And The Juniors) to play on Brian Ingland’s album with fellow performers Daryl Hall and John Oats.
Tired of life in Philadelphia, and looking for new musical horizons, Steve headed to Los Angeles.  On the journey, he stopped in Denver for a break from driving.  While noodling on a guitar at a music store, he met Larry Dunn and Philip Bailey who upon hearing Steve’s guitar talents, asked him to sit in on their gig for that evening.  Larry and Philip were so impressed with Steve’s playing that he quickly became part of their band “Friends & Love” who were one of the hottest bands in the Denver area at the time.  They played many local Colorado clubs and venues.  Larry and Phillip later on joined Earth, Wind & Fire and moved to L.A. while Steve’s stop in Denver lasted for nine years.
During this time in Colorado, Steve honed his studio playing chops as well as those as an arranger, chart writer and some conducting while playing weekly on radio jingles for producer Dik Darnell.  He conducted members of the Denver Symphony Orchestra on some of the jingle sessions. The musicians for those jingle sessions became the band “The Family Circle Of Music” Produced by Dik Darnell and they quickly garnered huge popularity in the Denver area, catching the eye of Jim Guercio who signed them to his label Caribou Records.  They recorded an album at the newly built Caribou Ranch studios. The band toured as the opening act for the 1975 US summer tour by The Beach Boys, Chicago and Fleetwood Mac.  During his last years in Denver, Steve learned to play drums and worked as a drummer in various R&B bands. 
This was necessitated by an unfortunate hand accident that for a time, made Steve think he might never be able to play guitar again.
By 1979, Steve’s hand injuries had healed, he was back to playing guitar and it was time for him to complete his move to Los Angeles.  Upon arriving in L.A., Steve quickly became a first call session guitarist and played sessions for producers such as Ron Fair, Phil Spector, Mike Chapman, Robbie Porter and Tom Dowd.  Artists he played for include Dusty Springfield, Nick Gilder, Chubby Checker and Bobby Vinton.  He also played on many of the scoring sessions for the TV soap “Days Of Our Lives”.  One of the most influential producers Steve worked with was Mike Chapman (Blondie, The Knack, Sweet, Pat Benatar). Steve caught the engineering bug from Mike.
He was hired to play guitar on various movie scores by composer David Campbell and worked on a score for Dutch filmmaker Rene Daalder.  Rene enjoyed working with Steve and saw his interest in recording, so when he moved back to Holland to shoot a movie project, he gave Steve the alarm code and key to his studio and told him to treat it as his own.  Steve spent the next nine months immersed in the studio almost day and night learning everything he could about recording and mixing.  He read equipment manuals about multitrack tape machine alignment, signal flow, microphone techniques and how to get great sounds on tape.  He brought in his musician friends to record them and recorded demos for Dave Alvin & The Blasters and The Babys, among others. 
In 1983, Steve moved to Miami and was the head of A&R, producer and engineer for indie label “TSOM (The Sound of Miami)”.  After a year of the Miami scene, he moved back to L.A. where engineering and mixing became his focus, rather than playing guitar.  One of the first major albums he recorded was “Street Called Desire” by René & Angela.  The album was a top ten R&B hit, went platinum and the singles “ Save Your Love For #1” and “Your Smile” were number one hits on the R&B charts.  He continued his collaboration with Angela (Winbush) and recorded and mixed the Winbush produced album for the Isley Brothers, “Smooth Sailin’” which scored a top 10 R&B hit with the title track.  Steve also recorded and mixed Angela’s debut solo album “Sharp” which peaked at number seven on the R&B charts and the first single “Angel” reached number one.  The album as well as “Angel” were nominated for a Soul Train Music Award in 1988.  He engineered tracks for the hit album “Get Here” by Brenda Russell which included the hit singles “Piano in the Dark” and “Get Here” and earned three Grammy Nominations.  
That same year, Steve re-connected with his high school friend Stanley Clarke and he recorded and mixed Stanley’s “If This Bass Could Only Talk” album, the first of many projects Steve and Stanley would work on.  The album featured a host of musical greats including Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Allan Holdsworth and George Duke. Later collaborations with Stanley included recording and mixing “East River Drive”, “Live At The Greek”, “3” with George Duke and many movie projects.
As well as making records, Steve has recorded and mixed many movie and TV scores.  In the mid ‘80’s, he mixed a couple of seasons of the show “Miami Vice” with composer Tim Truman.  The show was well known for featuring music at the forefront and for being one of the first to broadcast in stereo sound.  Some of the many scores Steve mixed include “Passenger 57”, “Leap Of Faith”, “Police Academy 7”, “What’s Love Got To Do With It (The Tina Turner Story)” and “Poetic Justice.”
Steve’s knowledge of diverse musical styles is demonstrated in his wide list of credits which include many Latin artists.  He has worked with superstars Enrique Iglesias, Luis Fonsi and Cristian Castro, Puerto Rican songstress Ednita Nazario, Thalía, Maria Conchita Alonso and Argentinian ska rockers “Los Fabulosos Cadillacs”.  Many of these albums went gold or platinum.  After mixing a couple of albums for platinum selling Spanish rock band Seguridad Social, they asked him to come to Spain to produce an album.  That collaboration resulted in the hit album “Camino Vertical”.  A year later, Steve again headed to Spain to produce another album for the band, “Va Por Ti”.  His international projects also include many for Japanese clients and he has made numerous trips to Japan to record and mix.  Among his Japanese projects are the number one hit and platinum album “Love Again” for popular band Globe and teenage superstar Rie Miyazawa’s first album.  Steve won a Japanese recording award for his work on Mari Ijima’s album “Good Medicine” in 1996.  Recently Steve mixed a best of album for Italian star Umberto Tozzi with producer Greg Mathieson.
Other musical genres Steve has worked in extensively are jazz and smooth jazz.  He has recorded and mixed for most of the major artists on the smooth jazz charts including multiple albums for artists including The Rippingtons, David Benoit, Mindi Abair, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Wayman Tisdale, Peter White, Paul Taylor, Everette Harp, Brian Culbertson, Diane Schuur, Eric Marienthal and Warren Hill.  He mixed an album for reggae group Black Uhuru which went to the top of the Billboard World Music charts.  He recorded tracks for two albums by Lalah Hathaway, both of which had hit singles on the Adult R&B and Hot R&B charts.  Steve recorded and mixed the reunion album for jazz fusion band Seawind.  He recorded and mixed two albums for singer Miki Howard.  “Miki Sings Billie” was her tribute album to legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday and featured full orchestra recordings by Steve at Capitol Studios.  In 2008, Steve recorded and mixed Al Jarreau’s top Contemporary Jazz Christmas album “Christmas”. 
Recently Steve has recorded tracks for celebrity DJ “DJ Cassidy”, whose first single “Calling All Hearts” features Robin Thicke and Jessie J.  Cassidy’s album “Paradise Royale” hosts a who’s who of the hottest studio musicians and performers in the world including drummer John “JR” Robinson, guitarists Paul Jackson Jr and Nile Rodgers, bassists Marcus Miller, Freddie Washington, Verdine White and Bobby Watson.  Among the performers on this album were Larry Dunn and Philip Bailey, thus reuniting Steve with his former band mates. This time Steve was the engineer and not the guitar player. In an issue of Electronic Musician magazine, Steve gives an in depth interview where he explains some of the recording techniques, studios and equipment he used in the making of this album.

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