Famed Gold Star Recording Studio inspires San Diego-bred musical ‘33⅓’


San Diego’s Brad Ross and Jonathan Rosenberg didn’t have to look far for source material for “33⅓ — House of Dreams,” their fledgling musical about one of the most celebrated independent recording studios in rock and pop-music history.

Stan Ross, Brad’s father and an expert audio engineer, co-founded Gold Star Recording Studio in 1950 at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood. It became the studio of choice for Phil Spector, whose famed “Wall of Sound” production technique was created at Gold Star. So were such Spector-produced classics as The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”

All told, more than 100 Top 40 hits were recorded at Gold Star. A sampling includes: Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba”; Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and “C’mon Everybody”; The Champs’ “Tequila”; Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd”; Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe”; Hugh Masekela’s “Grazin’ in the Grass”; and Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s “Express Yourself.”

Stan Ross and fellow Gold Star founder David S. Gold closed the famed studio in 1984 and it burned down later that year. In a fascinating local twist, Ross and Gold were hired in 1974 to come to Santee and build what is now operating as Twinstar Recording Studio. Twinstar is virtually identical to Gold Star, minus Gold Star’s one-of-a-kind echo chamber.

“I always wanted to do something special to remember Gold Star and my father, who died in 2011,” said Brad Ross, a San Diego dentist who enlisted the help of Rosenberg, his longtime patient and friend. Both are musicians and have launched a fundraising drive to bring their hit songs-packed musical to life on stage, ideally in San Diego.

A labor of love for the younger Ross and Rosenberg, “33⅓” is special enough that San Diego Repertory Theatre honcho Sam Woodhouse hopes the Rep will host the musical’s debut, once enough funding is secured.

“We don’t have a deal, and we’re not announcing that we’re producing the show, but we’re working on finding a way to make it happen,” Woodhouse said. “I really hope we can.”

He spoke animatedly about the invitation-only workshop production he saw of “33⅓” last summer in La Jolla. Woodhouse was sufficiently impressed by the musical’s unique storyline and audience-pleasing potential that he hopes to include “33⅓” as part of the Rep’s 2018-19 season — possibly even as its opening production.

Doing so will be largely contingent on whether Ross and Rosenberg can obtain an estimated $150,000 in underwriting. To raise $25,000 in initial seed money, the two recently launched an online Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign (at that includes filmed testimonials about Gold Star from Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson, Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and others who regularly recorded there and are happy to sing the studio’s praises. Nearly $10,000 has been raised so far.

Woodhouse’s interest is shared by San Diego Ballet Artistic Director Javier Velasco. He directed and choreographed the “33⅓” workshop production, for which his frequent creative partner Steve Gunderson served as musical arranger. Both are eager to be involved with getting it on stage.

“I’m extremely enthusiastic about the piece,” Velasco said. “A lot of times — when you’re dealing with these types of stories — it’s about someone who was a genius, like Tina Turner. But this is a story about people who helped other people create and who made this space, Gold Star, where people could create.

“And that seems like a unique, untold story that keeps it from becoming just another jukebox musical or a revue of greatest hits from the 1950s to 1970s. With ‘33⅓,’ there’s actually an examination of the creation.”

Despite the many hit singles made there, Gold Star is just as significant for the memorable albums that were produced at the studio.

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass recorded their first six albums at Gold Star. Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys recorded parts of their landmark “Pet Sounds” and other albums there. Spector produced the Ramones’ “End of the Century” and Leonard Cohen’s “Death of a Ladies Man” there. For good measure, the music of the prime time TV cartoon group Alvin and the Chipmunks was born at Gold Star.

Gold Star is also where former San Diegan Kim Fowley produced the debut album by the all-girl band the Runaways and the San Diego-bred band Iron Butterfly recorded “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

Other past and present San Diego artists who recorded at Gold Star range from punk band The Zeros to guitar greats Mundell Lowe and Barney Kessel (the latter a key member of Spector’s famed Wrecking Crew studio band at Gold Star).

“We’re a couple of San Diego guys who have a passion for rock ’n’ roll and the legacy of rock ’n’ roll,” said Rosenberg in a recent joint interview with Ross.

“This will not be a typical jukebox musical, because the story we’re telling is so compelling. We have the best San Diego has to offer with Javier Velasco and Steve Gundersen. We’re really excited, and they are, too.”

Twitter @georgevarga