Ed Stasium, whose recording credits include Talking Heads, the Ramones, Gladys Knight and many more, rocks on
Some of the esteemed producer and recording engineer’s many other credits include Mick Jagger, Living Colour, Joan Jett, The Misfits, Kool & The Gang, Freddie Mercury, Carly Simon, Ben Vereen, Motorhead and Soul Asylum
Ed Stasium’s goal has remained happily unchanged in the nearly 50 years he has worked as a recording engineer and album producer for such varied artists as Talking Heads, Ramones, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Mick Jagger, Living Colour, Kool & The Gang and gospel-music queen Shirley Caesar.
“I just put up the microphones and do my best to capture the band’s essence,” said the former New Yorker, who now works out of his suburban home studio in San Diego’s North County.
“I love what I do. I can work at home in my underwear, if I want! I’ve put so much effort into everything I do, whether it’s Mick Jagger or a local band here in San Diego doing a demo. And I’ve been very lucky, being at the right place at the right time.”
Just how well Stasium does his job is demonstrated by how quickly some of his high-profile collaborators responded to a request for comments — and by how highly they sing his praises.
“When you’re talking about great record producers, Ed ticks all the boxes,” said Blondie drummer Clem Burke, whose other band, Empty Hearts, has made two albums with Stasium.
“Ed is creative, technical, objective and professional, and he is always adding a little bit of his special sauce in the final production.”
Burke’s enthusiasm is shared by fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and fellow drummer Chris Frantz and by former Rod Stewart/Mick Jagger guitarist Stevie Salas.
“Eddie is a legend!” said Oceanside native Salas. “He’s just the coolest guy who shines with any kind of music. And, despite everything he’s done, he’s never egotistical.”
Frantz is equally effusive.
A co-founder of the bands Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club with his Coronado-born wife, Tina Weymouth, Frantz singles Stasium out in his 2020 book, “Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina.”
“Ed was our secret weapon,” he writes in “Remain in Love.” "(He was) full of encouragement and positive reinforcement, which is what a young band needs when recording their first album.”
Speaking from his and Weymouth’s New England home recently, Frantz happily elaborated on Stasium’s attributes.
‘Ed helped us all’
“Ed really made the first Talking Heads album so much better in every way,” the drummer said. “He was very encouraging, and we really looked to him for guidance and approval. Ed really saved the day for us.
“He was also working with the Ramones at that time, and — not too long after that — with Living Colour. Those three bands alone, in downtown New York City, really covered all the bases, musically. And Ed helped us all.”
As unassuming as he is accomplished, Stasium is quick to downplay his role while praising the talents of the legendary artists he has worked with.
His mission with the Ramones, Talking Heads and Living Colour was the same as with his many other musical clients, past and present. He sought to be as sensitive, empathetic and unobtrusive as possible to let the vision of each artist shine through unimpeded.
“The Ramones, Talking Heads and Living Colour absolutely did not sound like anybody else, which was very cool,” Stasium, 72, said.
“I was just doing my thing, recording, mixing, and having the best time of my life, and I still am. What else could I ask for in life?”
He let out a knowing laugh.
“Who knew, back then, the Ramones would be so influential and that their records would go gold and platinum, more than 40 years after they were released?” Stasium mused. “Who knew?”
All told, this bearded recording master has worked on more than a dozen albums and compilations by the pioneering Ramones alone, including the landmark “Leave Home” and “Rocket to Russia,” both released in 1977.
The Ramones’ raw, concise songs created an enduring template for punk-rock in the mid-1970s. So did the shake-the-rafters volume levels at which the band performed — and recorded.
“I’ve never told anybody I’ve worked with to turn down. I’ve never asked or even suggested anybody turn down. And I’ve never asked a drummer to play softer’,” said Stasium, who contributed guitar parts to several Ramones’ albums.
“I have asked guitarists to change the settings on their amps. But, as an engineer, you have a fader and a (mixing) console. You can turn things up and down, and you can adjust the microphone attenuation.”
Stasium, who is mulling the possibility of writing his memoir, laughed again.
“In a recording studio,” he noted, “you can accommodate a jet engine — which was probably the same volume Johnny (Ramone) was playing his guitar at!”
Stasium also played a pivotal role on three of Talking Heads’ standout albums, “Talking Heads: 77,” “More Songs About Buildings and Food” and “The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.” And he produced, engineered and mixed Living Colour’s first three albums, “Vivid,” “Time’s Up” and “Biscuits.”
‘Invaluable to Living Colour’
Released in 1988 and buoyed by the Grammy Award-winning hit song “Cult of Personality,” the “Vivid” album was a catapult to international stardom for Living Colour. It was the first Black band in the U.S. to achieve stardom performing hard rock and heavy metal.
Stasium’s devotion, attention to detail and eclecticism immediately impressed Living Colour’s virtuoso guitarist, Vernon Reid. Friends for more than three decades now, the two met when they were both working on Mick Jagger’s second solo album, 1987’s “Primitive Cool.”
“My first impression of Ed was that he was a cool, affable guy,” Reid said.
The guitarist chuckled as he recalled the unlikely way in which he and Stasium bonded 35 years ago.
“I was talking to Ed about obscure bands I liked,” Reid said. “I mentioned (the New Jersey funk group) Skull Snaps, whose (1973) song, ‘It’s a New Day,’ is a legendary rare-groove track that’s been sampled by a lot of hip-hop artists. Ed looked at me and said: ‘That was my first engineering job!’ I immediately saw him in a different light. It’s funny we connected on something so obscure.”
Stasium’s bigger claim to fame in 1973 was mixing the Gladys Knight & The Pips classic “Midnight Train to Georgia.” He was all of 22 at the time.
“I know!” Reid said, with a touch of awe in his voice.
“Ed is not a braggadocious guy. His personality is not: ‘You’re new to this game, I’m the pro, blah-blah-blah.’ I spent a lot of time with Ed on our ‘Vivid’ album and learned a lot about producing from him. He is not a bossy, drill sergeant producer; he is more like a partner and adviser. He came up with great ideas, but he was also open to my ideas.
“There were other producers, who were bigger names, interested in working with us. But Ed was the perfect guy. He was incredibly supportive, and he was invaluable to Living Colour.”
‘Midnight Train’ in New Jersey
Stasium mixed “Midnight Train to Georgia” in a tiny basement recording studio in New Jersey, using a 16-track Langevin console. Knight and The Pips had recorded their vocals in Detroit at the Motown Records studio. Stasium oversaw the small group of New York session musicians who recorded the guitar, bass, drum and keyboard tracks, then combined what they did with Knight and The Pips’ singing.
“ ‘Midnight Train’ was done in 1973,” Stasium said. “Wow, I’m old!”
It was the first chart-topping, million-selling record he worked on. Hearing it for the first time on the radio remains a vivid memory.
“My first wife, Debbie, and our newborn son, Jason, were living with me in my parents’ house in New Jersey,” said Stasium, a Garden State native.
“I was washing dishes in our kitchen and, all of a sudden, the radio station I had on started playing ‘Midnight Train to Georgia.’ It was an incredible experience, one of those moments you never forget, and it sounded good!
“I still get compliments on that drum sound on ‘Midnight Train.’ I had no idea what I was doing!”
Like many baby boomers who grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s, Stasium was bit by the music bug early on.
He grew up in a home where records were constantly being played, primarily classics by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, but also newer releases by such rising young stars as Harry Belafonte and Elvis Presley.
In 1959, at the age of 10, Stasium began taking piano lessons. His epiphany came at a New Year’s Eve party the same year, when a friend of his parents showed him how to use a basic reel-to-reel tape recorder.
“He put on a blank reel, recorded my voice, and played it back,” Stasium said. “That was a defining moment for me. Then, my aunt got me a radio and I started listening to Top 40, and it was all over.”
Or, rather, it was just beginning.
Armed with a Chet Atkins-styled Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar he got when he was 11, Stasium began teaching himself how to play songs by pioneering California surf-rock band The Ventures.
‘Girls and rock ‘n’ roll’
Then he saw The Beatles make their U.S. TV debut in 1964. It was an even more pivotal moment for the aspiring young musician, who was already intrigued by the sound of recordings and curious about how, and why, they sounded the way they did.
“I had a guitar, I started playing Beatles songs and, as a freshman in high school, I started forming bands,” Stasium said. “Forget about doing schoolwork! From then on, it was all about girls and rock ‘n’ roll. My parents were very disappointed in me.”
By the late 1960s, Stasium was regularly attending concerts at New York’s fabled Fillmore East. His first show there was a triple-bill of Vanilla Fudge, The Yardbirds and Tiny Tim. He returned to the Fillmore soon thereafter with his girlfriend for a triple-bill of the Janis Joplin-led Big Brother & The Holding Company, Albert King and Tim Buckley.
“After that,” Stasium said, “I went to the Fillmore almost every weekend. I saw Joni Mitchell play there, from the third row, and I fell in love!”
In the summer of 1969, Stasium was one of the several hundred thousand young music fans to attend the Woodstock festival in upstate New York. But he was the only one who went on to oversee the recording of albums by two acts that performed at Woodstock, Richie Havens and Sha Na Na.
In 1970, Stasium’s rock band, Brandywine, recorded its first and only album, “Aged,” and he subsequently built his first home recording studio. From there, it was a natural evolution for him to become involved in the craft of making albums, first as an audio engineer and mixer, then as a producer. As his reputation grew, he found himself being hired to do do all three jobs concurrently.
Early recording sessions with Skull Snaps and the then-little-known Kool & The Gang led to Stasium mixing “Midnight Train to Georgia,” followed by more work for Gladys Knight & The Pips. Then came albums by everyone from The Chambers Brothers and Sha Na Na to the funk and disco group The Fatback Band, jazz saxophonist Eric Kloss and “Country Porn” comedian Chinga Chavin.
Stasium was instrumental in helping the Power Station become one of New York’s — and the world’s — premier recording studios. But what really put him on the map was his work with the Ramones and Talking Heads nearly 50 years ago.
In the intervening years he has worked with an impressive array of artists from the U.S. (Marshall Crenshaw, The Smithereens, Carly Simon, The Reverend Horton Heat), England (The Pretenders, Motorhead, The Bee Gees, Julian Cope), Canada (Garolou, Robert Charlebois, Jeff Healey), and beyond.
Some of his most recent recording projects include sessions with Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus and a U.S. State Department-sponsored collaboration, “American Music Abroad.” The latter teams the Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Native American duo Sihasin with the Peruvian blues-rock band Uchpa, whose members sing in the Quechuan language.
“We did the session via Zoom, two bands of Indigenous people from opposite sides of the world, and it turned out really well,” said Stasium, who this summer will helm recordings by The Long Ryders, Maui troubadour Paul West and New Jersey rocker Tom Kanach.
“Honestly, I still don’t know what I’m doing,” Stasium insisted. “I just turn the knobs.”
But he knew exactly what he was doing in 1988, when he almost singlehandedly convinced MTV and the heads of major record labels to begin including closed captions for the song lyrics in music videos.
“My daughter, Sarah, who is now 45 and is soon coming to live with me, was born completely deaf,” Stasium said. “I had MTV on at home, and — while Living Colour’s ‘Cult of Personality’ video was playing — Sarah signed to me: ‘What are they talking about? What are the lyrics about?’
“No videos were closed-captioned back then, even though there was a law that anything shown on TV screens larger than 13 inches needed to be closed-captioned. Because ‘Cult of Personality’ was a big hit then, I could knock on (executives’) doors and they’d talk to me. They wouldn’t now.”
A man on a mission, Stasium persuaded MTV and Epic Records — the company to which Living Colour was signed — to add closed captions to music videos. He then successfully lobbied other record companies.
“It worked,” Stasium said. “And the first video MTV aired with closed captions was ‘Cult of Personality.’ Then, everyone else started including closed captions in their videos. That made my daughter very happy and proud.”
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