North Hollywood, CA (February 25, 2019)—Anyone who watched this year’s In Memoriam segment on the GRAMMY Awards telecast surely noticed the inclusion of revered producer, engineer and mixer David Bianco, who passed away in June at the age of 64. Bianco had a long list of credits including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, AC/DC and Tom Petty, with whom he won a GRAMMY for the 1996 Wildflowers album. Bianco owned Dave’s Room in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, not far from the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.
In the wake of Bianco’s passing, his sons reached out to some of his friends and associates to see if they could find a way to keep the studio running. Paul Figueroa, known to many as Fig, and David Spreng, who first met Bianco on a Dylan session, stepped up. Late last year, they reopened Dave’s Room for business.
The one-room facility started life in the 1970s as a recording studio purpose-built by producer and engineer Freddie Piro, who named it Mama Jo’s after his mother. Piro worked extensively with the band Ambrosia, whose first album was engineered by Alan Parsons. (Piro produced their second release.) Piro also played on the first Alan Parsons Project album, some of which was recorded at Mama Jo’s. The studio fell into disrepair and was saved by producer/engineers David Bianco and Michael Belfer in 2006.
Fig first met Bianco at Sound City Studios. His band, signed to Virgin, had recorded its second album there but Fig quit, joined Sound City as a runner and was soon an assistant engineer, working with numerous clients, including Bianco, with whom he developed an enduring working relationship.
One day, Bianco called, Fig recalls. “He said, ‘I’ve found this spot, do you want to come check it out?’ It was the old Mama Jo’s.”
The facility was—and still is—set up for musicians to all record simultaneously. “There’s a piano booth, a vocal booth, a hallway you can tuck a bass amp in, and you can get an extra amp in the lounge,” says Fig.
“If I wasn’t busy on something, Dave would drag me in on a session. I got to work with him on a Blues Traveler record. The band would jam something out, John Popper would come in, listen to it, drive around with a rough mix, come back at 8:30 and throw vocals and a lot of harmonica on it. A couple of overdubs and it was ready to mix. It was a great space for a band to spread out and do their thing in private.”
Bianco’s death came as a shock. “We were great friends,” says Fig, who was in the process of getting married when he got the news in June. They had been together at Fig’s small bachelor party just days earlier. “On the Wednesday, I got a phone call; he had suffered a massive stroke. And I got married that next Saturday.”
Taking ownership of Dave’s Room proved challenging. “I’m a producer and a mixer, so jumping through all the administrative hoops was a whole other thing—and being booked at the same time. Finally, on September 1, everything was nailed down and we took over the lease,” Fig reports.
Fig and Spreng set about getting the place ready for business again. While cleaning, he says, “I picked up the doormat. ‘Mama Jo’s 1974’ was carved into the concrete. I’ve been coming here since 2006 and Ihad never seen that.”
Both engineers have moved substantial portions of their respective collections of equipment and instruments into the studio. Spreng (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Smashing Pumpkins) "brought in vintage tube stuff like Altecs and some really cool mics," said Fig. "Not only is he a great drummer and a great engineer, producer and mixer, but he collects amazing drums, too, and he brought in vintage Ludwig and Gretsch drumkits.”
Years earlier, Fig had moved the piano from his parents’ old jazz club, Donte’s, into Dave’s Place. “Precision Piano stripped it down to the soundboard, rebuilt the whole thing and it’s a monster. Bianco had Ian McLagan from Small Faces in to do a record and he fell in love with it. It’s still in there.”
Fig continues, “I had some 1176s, a handful of dbx 160Xs and a couple of Distressors. I brought my Shadow Hills and Aurora stuff. I found a [Yamaha] PM1000, all Class A with the mods and direct outs, and transformer ins and outs, and I brought that in. We reorganized the patch bays, got the racks all loaded. Now we’ve got 66 mic pre’s, 29 compressors, some API 550s, Pultecs, GML.”
The gear list closely follows Bianco’s central philosophy: “He was such a fan of the front end. And his thing was to keep it simple— just compress it a little and get it to tape.”
There’s no longer a tape machine but, Fig says, “We’ve got Pro Tools summed through an Audient Sumo, so there are 16 channels of analog summing to two channels. There’s no console to maintain. There’s a C24 [control surface] but there’s all this Class A stuff. So we can move fast—if we had time to sit and wait for the tape to rewind, it would be great, but there’s no time.”
A session with Paul Stanley and his band after the reopening certainly achieved a lot in a short time. “They tracked everything live: two keyboard players, a percussionist, drummer, guitar, bass and singing. Every cable was out, every single XLR in the building was filled,” he reports. “They worked quickly. They were in for a few days and they got all their tracks together.”
Billy Corgan was also in for a while recently. Tool booked time in the studio in the lead up to recording their recently announced new record. In recent years, Bianco had Exene Cervenka in, and Billy Gibbons visited with Austin Hanks. Steve Earle worked there, as well as Dave Vanian from The Damned. Lucinda Williams loves the place, reports Fig, whose work there includes three months of engineering with Alice in Chains during the making of The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, produced by Nick Raskulinecz, another Sound City alum.
But for all the recent changes, Fig and Spreng have stayed focused on retaining what Bianco really wanted for the studio: “Dave wanted the place to be a comfortable place to create.”
Dave’s Room • www.davesroom.net