St. Petersburg, FL (October 1, 2018)—Musician, producer and studio owner Paul Curcio, perhaps best known for recording Metallica’s debut album Kill ‘Em All, died of heart failure on September 10 in St. Petersburg, FL, at age 74. His death was confirmed by his daughter to Billboard on September 27.
Curcio, born in Rochester, NY, was a guitarist and co-founded the Mojo Men, a psychedelic folk-rock four-piece, in Miami, FL, where he attended university. After relocating from Florida to San Francisco in 1964 the band enjoyed singles chart success with 1966’s “Dance With Me,” produced by Sylvester (Sly Stone) Stewart, and a Van Dyke Parks-produced cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Sit Down, I Think I Love You,” in 1967.
In 1968, Curcio established Pacific Recording in San Mateo, south of San Francisco. The facility was largely put together by two members of the Grateful Dead’s sound crew, Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor. In Blair Jackson’s book Grateful Dead Gear, Matthews recalls that Pacific Recording at that time “had an old Altec board from McCune’s, with giant rotary faders.” They began recording the Dead’s classic third album, Aoxomoxoa, in fall 1968.
The Grateful Dead famously racked up significant recording costs on the project after abandoning its initial 8-track sessions following the arrival of an Ampex MM-1000 16-track machine at Pacific Recording. It was the first in the Bay Area and the second in the country (the first went to Columbia Studios in L.A.). The studio’s chief engineer, Ron Wickersham, was also a design engineer at Ampex, located in nearby San Carlos.
Wickersham, who designed and built a multitrack recording console to manage the extra tracks, left after less than a year to join the Grateful Dead’s sound team and co-found the Alembic instrument company, where he still works alongside his wife and company CEO, Susan, whom he met at Pacific Recording. The Dead had a falling out with Curcio, who later sued the band, and the band finished the album at San Francisco’s Pacific High Recording, which Alembic acquired in 1971.
Santana recorded the demo that got it a deal with Columbia and its eponymous debut album, plus a track on follow-up album Abraxas, at Pacific Recording. Blue Cheer, the Doobie Brothers, Linda Rondstadt, Taj Mahal, Crazy Horse, Herbie Hancock and others also worked at the facility.
According to Curcio’s online resume, he left Pacific Recording in 1978 and set up and ran Arrow Recording Studio in Santa Rosa, CA, until 1982, before returning to his hometown and establishing Music America Studios. The following year, he was approached by Metallica’s manager, Jon “Jonny Z” Zazula, founder of Megaforce Records.
In a Billboard interview, Curcio recalled that Zazula chose him and Music America to record Metallica’s debut album because he offered the band an inexpensive rate—reportedly $15,000 for 17 days. The sessions began May 10, 1983. Kill ‘Em All, which heralded the arrival of thrash metal in the US, initially sold slowly, but was certified triple-Platinum in 1999.
“The actual studio was in the basement of this huge old colonial-type of clubhouse,” recalled Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich in a 2008 interview with Metal Hammer. “On the second ﬂoor, there was a huge ballroom; perfect for getting a good drum sound.”
In the interview, Ulrich claimed the place was haunted: “I had to have someone else up there the whole time I was recording. My cymbals would start spinning for no reason, —- like that. It was scary.”