Gold Star Recording Studios was a trailblazing studio that changed the course of modern music through technology and hosting pioneering producers. The studio showcased David S. Gold’s custom-designed and hand-crafted technology and Stan Ross’ relentless creativity and groundbreaking methods to raise the use of the recording studio to an art form. These studios pioneered and popularized recording techniques and effects that define modern music. The first platinum album was recorded here and innovative audio effects and techniques like phasing, flanging, automatic double-tracking were perfected here.
The producer who led the way was Phil Spector. He took the role of producer to new heights with a string of hits by the Ronettes, the Crystals, and the Righteous Brothers these hits used a process called “wall of sound”, most of his recordings from 1962 through 1965 were recorded for his Philles label at Gold Star Studios. This studio opened in 1950 at 6252 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. It was named after founders, David S. Gold and Stan Ross (STAn Ross).
Spector used far more instruments than was customary—three or four pianos with several guitars playing more or less the same chords amid a welter of percussion—and he encouraged engineer Larry Levine to swamp everything in echo, seeking to convey intense emotion through texture, atmosphere, and rhythm, reverberating in the walls of Gold Star’s ‘perfect’ echo chambers – the walls in “The Wall of Sound”.
The studio was moderately sized and it did not have air-conditioning, so Spector’s sessions were not comfortable. The sessions were unforgettable to the performers who began to trust Spector’s unorthodox requests because he made hits. Levine and arranger Jack Nitzche along with a group of top session musicians who led the West Coast recording scene for the next 10 years. There were drummers like Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine, and countless percussionists. The string section was made up of bass players Carole Kaye and Larry Knechtal, guitarists Barney Kessel, Tommy Tedesco, and Bill Strange. Members of this group of studio musicians became known as the Wrecking Crew.
Phil Spector has been quoted saying that the pinnacle of this technique is heard on his production of “River Deep Mountain High”, by Tina Turner:
Listening to a track like this its impossible to miss the large amount of instruments playing with reverb on everything. There could be as many as three bass players, three guitarists, a strings section, and a brass section. There could be multiple layers of backing vocals (one layer singing “ooohs” and another in harmony with Tina).
When Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ composer-producer, heard Spector’s records, he began to make many of his group’s records at Gold Star, using similar methods and the industry followed, hoping to replicate the sound.
It is said, Sonny and Cher met while performing backing vocals on a Spector session at Gold Star. Legendary West Coast Jazz artists such as Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Oscar Moore, The Hi-Los and the classic swing bands such as Louis Bellson’s also recorded there. Between 1950 and 1984, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Brian Wilson, Sonny & Cher, Buffalo Springfield, Duane Eddy, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, The Ronettes, Dick Dale, The Righteous Brothers, Iron Butterfly, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, The Runaways’ Joan Jett and Cheri Currie, Meat Loaf, The Champs, The Baha Marimba Band…even Alvin & The Chipmunks among dozens of others recorded in this studio.
Gold Star Studios’ was a cornerstone of innovation in the entertainment industry due to is Hollywood location. It’s effect was felt on music, film, television, radio and even Broadway artists.
The studio was recording ‘home’ of ABC-TV’s first prime-time Rock & Roll Show ‘Shindig’; Gold Star Studios hosted virtually every major pop artist of the 1960s. And into the 80’s it became a haven for established artists like Bobby Darin, The Who, The Monkees, The Band, The Go Go’s, The Ramones, The Association, Art Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Tommy Boyce and others.
Major record label restrictions, did not hamper the sessions and Gold Star’s anything-goes “recording-is-art’ approach ultimately changed the course of modern music and modern recording studio design as it competed with New York, Nashville and Memphis for America’s recording industry capital title. Gold Star Studios pioneered the single most important innovation in 20th Century music: what Sir George Martin, producer of the Beatles called “the recording-studio-as-instrument”. Although it burned down in the late 80’s and was replaced by a strip mall its place in music history deserves to be remembered.