Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Motown Sound Man - Russ Terrana (Part 1)

As promised last week, here is a very special article put together by FH Reader Joe Klein, profiling one of those great, unsung heroes of Motown and the '60's.

As our Salute to the '60's continues through the end of the month (we'll have our final countdown next week!), we wanted to be sure to share with you this special "behind the scenes" look at some of the folks and circumstances that brought us some of this great, classic music.

VERY special thanks to Joe for all his hard work on this one ... so big it'll run in three parts over the next three days.  Enjoy!


As promised, inspired by the recent Forgotten Hits countdown of the top 100 Motown hits of the 60's, here's the story about the first recording session my old friend, Motown engineer-extraordinaire RUSS TERRANA worked as a pro ... and the first session he worked for Motown Records, both of which took place in 1966, the very peak of the golden years of the Detroit music scene! I spent over an hour on the phone with Russ getting the story. To get some additional details, I also spoke with ED WOLFRUM, another recognized engineer of the era, who is one of Russ' closest friends to this day. When Russ began his remarkable run as a sound engineer over 47 years ago, the modest and gifted rookie had no way of knowing that he was about to embark on a decades-long journey that would land him in the middle of page after page of pop music history!

I'm presenting the story in three parts, exclusively here on FORGOTTEN HITS! So, as one of the monster hit songs recorded by Russ says, "Get Ready!" Here's part one of the story of my friend RUSS TERRANA, the MOTOWN SOUND MAN.

Early in the spring of 1966, Detroit native RUSS TERRANA, a young musician at the time, started working as a sound engineer at Golden World recording studio, owned by local music entrepreneurs ED WINGATE and JOANNE BRATTON (widow of boxing champion Johnny Bratton). The two also owned Detroit's upstart GOLDEN WORLD RECORDS, which enjoyed success in the mid-60's with artists such as EDWIN STARR, THE REFLECTIONS, THE FLAMING EMBERS, THE SAN REMO STRINGS and several other lesser known acts. THE CAPITOLS, SHADES OF BLUE, THE DRAMATICS, GEORGE CLINTON and PARLIAMENT were just a few of the other artists who recorded at Golden WorldRuss, along with his brother Ralph, were members of a band named THE SUNLINERS that Wingate and Bratton had signed a couple years earlier. The group became one of the hottest white bands in Detroit in the mid-60s, and recorded several songs at Golden World's studio. The label released one single by the band, "The Swinging Kind," in the fall of 1965.
 The Sunliners in Times Square, circa 1965

Russ got the "recording bug" while working in Golden World and a few other Detroit studios with the group, but his interest in the technical
side of the music business started earlier. One of his first loves since childhood was electronics. In the fall of 1963, Russ enrolled in a Detroit area technical school, the Electronics Institute Of Technology, to learn about electronics and earn his B.S. degree. For over two years, he juggled his time between playing with The Sunliners, attending classes at E.I.T. and studying. When recording with the band, Russ would jockey between the studio's sound booth and control room, where he became determined to master the array of knobs, switches and buttons on the console that controlled the sound. When The Sunliners were recording at Golden World, Russ became fast-friends with Golden World engineer ED WOLFRUM, who quickly took a liking to Russ, sharing his passion for electronics and the art of sound recording. "I knew Russ was a natural from the moment I met him," Wolfrum declares.  
Following The Sunliners recording sessions, Russ continued to visit Golden World's studio on a regular basis, hanging out at sessions where he absorbed tidbits of knowledge and technique. Russ assisted Wolfrum with various engineering tasks and running the control board during several recording and mixing sessions, acting in the role of a present day "intern." His natural gifts quickly became obvious to all those around him. In early March of 1966, Russ completed his studies at E.I.T. The single that Golden World had released by The Sunliners months earlier had not been a hit. So, a few weeks after receiving his engineering degree, he, along with Ralph, decided to leave the band and pursue their interests on the "other side of the recording studio glass." Russ wanted to work as an engineer and Ralph wanted to own his own studio (a goal that would be realized in the months to come).  
Ralph and Russ Terrana in the late 60's

Armed with his degree in electronics and the skills he picked up at Golden World, Russ decided it was time to find his first paying job as a recording engineer. He had enjoyed working (without pay) at Golden World, and its owners "Uncle Ed" and Joanne were fond of him. Russ, however had dreams of going "straight to the majors." He decided to try and get signed with Detroit's big boys, and headed over to the offices of Motown Records to apply for an engineer job. But there was an unexpected roadblock between him and the team he was so anxious to join.

Russ was still signed to Golden World as an artist, as part of The Sunliners. The Motown staff was aware of the band, and Russ thought that this would work in his favor. But while interviewing for the job, he was asked if he was still signed to another label. When he said he was still signed to Golden World as a recording artist, he was sent to speak with Ralph Seltzer, the company's comptroller and
contract administrator. Seltzer told Russ that the company would hire him, but only if he got released from his contract with Ed Wingate, who was Berry Gordy's biggest competitor in Detroit at the time. Determined to land the position, Russ headed straight from Motown to Golden World to ask Wingate for a release from his contract.   
Golden World was busier than ever and the company's fortunes were improving as its roster of artists were having success on the record charts and acts from other labels were booking sessions there as well. The studio's small staff of producers and engineers, especially Wolfrum, were struggling to keep up. "It was great having Russ around the studio during those wild days," says Wolfrum. "It was so busy back in '65 and '66 that any help we could get with the workload was welcome. Russ was always eager to work when he showed up and had a great attitude, so I was always happy to see him." In fact, Wolfrum and another Golden World engineer (who was also a producer) named BOB d’ORLEANS had been rallying Wingate and Bratton to add Russ to the staff for a few months. "Bob and I both knew Russ was a star," Wolfrum recalls.''I had a strong feeling that if Ed and Joanne didn't hire Russ, another studio would. He was that good."    
After a short drive from Motown, Russ arrived at Wingate's office and asked to be released from his artist's contract with Golden World. Russ had just left The Sunliners and didn't expect that Ed would object. But Wingate had another idea. He suggested that Russ come work for Golden World instead of Motown. As Russ remembers it, "It was kind of a surprise when Uncle Ed asked me if I wanted to work for him." What Wingate said next was even more unexpected. "He told me that he would match whatever Berry was offering to pay. I thought about it for a few seconds and decided to take a shot. I gave him a figure that was a few bucks higher than the Motown offer, and  Ed went for it!" Wingate hired Russ on the spot. Wolfrum and d'Orleans' campaign to get Russ hired by the studio had succeeded. Wolfrum remarks, "I prayed that Russ would get the job one day, and was really thrilled when those prayers were answered!
Russ and Ed Wolfrum in the70's

When Russ arrived at the studio for his first session as a paid engineer a few days later, a black artist walked in and told Russ that he had a recording session scheduled with Bob d'Orleans. Russ recognized him from other sessions and seeing him in clubs in Detroit. It was EDWIN STARR, who had already had the big hit AGENT DOUBLE-O SOUL on Golden World’s RIC-TIC label several months earlier. "He walked in the studio and asked where Bob was,” recalls Russ. Bob and Ed Wingate enjoyed hanging out at the race track on occasions and, apparently, this was one of them. Bob was nowhere to be found.

Russ continues, “I told Edwin that Bob was at the track with Ed. So Edwin asked me if I could handle the session. It was my first paid session and I really wasn't all that sure of what I was doing, but I wasn't about to tell Edwin that. 'Sure. No problem!' I said, crossing my fingers. Then he said we should get started. I was flying by the seat of my pants for that whole first date but, somehow, I pulled it off, and Edwin was really happy with what we recorded. He wanted to work with me at all of his sessions after that.” 
Russ doesn’t recall which song (or songs) were recorded at the session. Ed Wolfrum thinks that it was one of Starr's other pre-Motown hits (possibly "Headline News", "I'll Love You Forever" or "S.O.S"), while Ralph Terrana suggests one of the songs may have been the song "It's My Turn Now" that was recorded that day.
 Publicity Photo of Edwinn Starr from the 60's

Notwithstanding which track (or tracks) were recorded that day, with that first "official" recording session, Russ was off and running! He was the new hot-shot within the hallowed halls of Golden World. Soon, he would become Golden World's golden boy, recording hits and working with hit-makers nearly every day. By summer's end in 1966, Russ was the master of his domain at studio. It was the peak of the golden years of the Detroit music scene, and Russ was riding the big waves. Immersed in an endless parade of recording sessions during those wild, heady days, Russ was simply too busy to realize that a big change was happening behind-the-scenes that would take the music business by storm ... and take him along for the wild ride!


Coming up in Part Two ... a few of the very interesting events leading up to the acquisition of Golden World by Motown Records and the story of Russ' first recording session as a Motown engineer, a date that would be a truly historic one in the annals of Motown history! 
Read it here tomorrow ... exclusively ... in FORGOTTEN HITS!

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© Copyright 2013 by Joe Klein. 
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For a very cool "page by page" tour and history of Golden World, click here: