Gene Meros: Star Support
by Mark Bounds
(from The Music Monthly, 11/22/1990)
It is a safe bet to assume that most of the people who are reading this have never heard of Gene Meros. As they say at the track, however, it's a "sure thing" to assume that the vast majority (if not all) of the people reading this have heard the artists who's sound he has been an integral part of.
Do any of the following sound familiar? Kiss, Van Halen, or the Doobie Brothers? How about Pablo Cruise, Steve Cropper, or Yvonne Elliman?What about Leon Russell, Amy Grant, or Bryan Adams?
Gene Meros had a hand in releases by all of them…and many more!
An engineer by trade for many years, Meros was part of the house staff at Larrabee Sound in Los Angeles, where scores of big name acts come in to record and mix their material. Seems like a long way from Brooklyn Park, MD, doesn't it? But this hometown boy made good in a big way.
"I started out a Flite Three here in Baltimore as an engineer," he remembers. "I tried to get something going here in town, but I ended up leaving and going to L.A. for a while. You can only do so much here. Somebody once said, 'Why should people make records here? There's really only two or three cities in the country that turn out stuff on a major level.' That was a new thought to me. I had always figured that sooner or later Baltimore would have a music scene, but…"
During three years at Flite Three, he worked mainly on media projects. The area has always been a hotbed for those types of productions (jingles, commercials, and the like). Frequently jauntng to L.A. to score string and horn parts for projects back east, Meros eventually decided to stay on the left coast. Luck went with him. "I got a job at Larrabee Sound in my first month out there," he recalls. The enginerr's chair was barely warm before he was working with four guys from New York who brought newmeaning to the usage of grease paint. He explains: "I worked with KISS on the Dressed to Kill album. I did a lot of rough mixes with them, including some sessions for their Hotter Than Hell release. I didn't realize how good of a deal it really was, then. Idid an album promo with the then unknown KISS. This was before the advent of video, so bands would have promos done to showcase their music. They were pretty wild."
It turns out that KISS producer Neil Bogart requested Gene's services-Bogart using him as musical interpreter in the studio. "Neil was more of a marketing genius than a producer," he continues. "He would kinda talk through me and say, 'Tell them to do this' or 'Tell them to do that.' He didn't really communicate in musical terms, so he would use me to communicate musically to the band and the others involved. I remember when we went in and cut "Rock and Roll All Nite" and ""AnythingFor My Baby." Then they went back to New York and finished the project."
From there he went on to work with such session stalwarts as Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones. As Meros tells it, "I went and worked at Clover, which was kinda the whole Stax scene when they moved out to the coast. I had already worked with Steve previously on a Yvonne Elliman albbum. Then I did a soundtrack with Booker T. for a movie. That was a good time. It was mostly back alley jazz, with Jim Horn on sax. I was staff engineer on that."
After the Clover recording gig, Gene entered the studio with Leon Russell. Another Meros, Gene's brother Mike (now with the Beach Boys), was a player with Russell-composer of well-known songs like "Tightrope" and "Lady Blue." Work on the Americana LP commenced, and Gene was again involved. His memories of that particular project are punctuated by rock and roll bad boy Kim Fowley, who was in on the project as well. Apparently, he was brought in for "motivation" purposes, but, as isusually the case with the notorious Fowley, there was an eventual "falling out."
Meanwhile Gene, was on the move again, this time to the hallowed halls of one of L.A.'s hottest properties when it comes to recording music-Sunset Sound.
Enlisted as second engineer, Gene worked with production mega-man Ted Templeman and engineer extraordinaire Donn Landee on Van Halen's Women and Children First and Fair Warning albums. Recounting what it was like working on those particular recording, he leans back smiling and says, "Now that stuff was a lot of fun! I remember that Women and Children First was real spontaneous, and it happened a lot faster than the other one. We went in and did it in about four days. It was like total energy and real quick.It had more of a wide-open live sound, whereas Fair Warning was more of a painful process. There was much more experimentation going on. It was done in a different way. There was more time spent on arranging things in the studio, getting sounds, and laying down the various tracks. Edward (Van Halen) was getting more and more into studio techniques at that time, whereas before, they would just come in and bang 'em out without even thinking about how they were recorded. But by the time Fair Warning was recorded
, Edward was more interested in the ins and outs of studio technology, and he went on to build his own studio right after that record."
Next on Gene's agenda was a studio stint with the Doobie Brothers and their One Step Closer album. "That one was produced by Ted, too," he rememgbers, "but by then Donn Landee went his separate way, and so Jim Isaacson was the engineer, and I was the assistant engineer. There was a real creative feeling at Sunset Sound during that time. It was great to be a part of it."
During the same period, Meros worked with Pablo Cruise. On this occasion, not only did he lend his engineering expertise , but he played sax on the Part of the Game album as well. Matter of fact, Gene got the nod over Jim Horn to do a sax solo on the record. "I kept mumbling about the sax solo," he relates with a chesire grin. "There was something wrong on there that they didn't quite like. Bill Schnee was producing, and he said to me 'Why don't you get out there and play if you think you can dobetter?' So I did, and they kept the solo. That was the thing that validated me as a musician I just lucked out, I guess." Of course, if you're good then you make your own luck. Such seems to have been the case for Gene. Plus, it didn't hurt to be in the right place at the right time. "I would always be there as an engineer," he states, "and at the end of a project, if they needed a sax player, then I was the closest one." Proximity is definitely a plus.
Sax stints continued, as did the engineering on records by Nicolette Larson (Radioland), and Peter Allen (Bi-Coastal). On Allen's LP, Meros met up with yet another prolific producer and music maker, David Foster. As he tells it, "I had known David for a long time. I worked with him, Steve Lukather, Jeff Porcaro, Jay Graydon, and Lee Skylar years before. Of course, Steve and Jeff went on to form the groups Toto. But it was funny, because at the time all these guys were doing session work, and part of thatwas doing cartoon music. They were an incredible band. I still have tapes that I did with them somewhere."
Canadian idol Bryan Adams was next for Meros. This time he was an engineer on the mixdown of the artist's debut album. "He had done the album in Canada," he adds, "and he came down to mix it at Sunset. As it happens, he needed a sax player on the record, so I got to play on it, too."
At this point, Gene's resume is looking like a quick who's who of the L.A. music scene. Modest to the end, however, he is quick to keep a tight leash on his ego. "When you're working at a place like Sunset," he claims, "it all falls into place. And at that time, there were a lot of people doing records there-about three at a time. So to be there was to be associated with that stuff." And he was glad to oblige.
Secular / Gospel singer Amy Grant was the next recording Meros was involved with. He comments: "At the time, they wanted her to crossover from the gospel stuff into the mainstream.. I played sax on a couple of the cuts and it was kinda controversial to her backers. They thought that the sax was a satanic instrument." Say What?!! "They were a little worried that a sax was on a gospel record. It was real conservative white gospel. So they were a little uptight." As it turns out, the staunchtraditionalists were proven wrong, and their fears about the fate of the album were quickly dashed when the record went gold before it was even on a major label. Imagine the amount of units moved when you consider that the main distributiion points were Christian book stores! Add to that a Grammy Award, and it's easy to see why the Age to Age LP ranks among Gene's crowning achievements as an engineer and player.
Meros always had his eye on the role of producer, and it soon became a reality. After all, he had learned the ropes, and he had learned them while working side by side with some of the industry's most heralded soundmakers. Ironically, he was once again reunited (sort of) with Kim Fowley on an album by the hard rockers, Tsunami. Not only was this a unique situation in that the band was a Japanese act, but it was the first time a metal act appeared on the Enigma label. "I was actually the co-producer,"he cites. "Really, Kim Fowley was there too, but he had some problems with those that were involved, and they took his name off of it." Some things (or people, as the case may be) never change.
London, another Fowley find, was a hair-sprayed rock act that Gene was hired to engineer. "That band actually made the charts in England," he says. "I think it was actually the number one import album for a while. They sort of played on the image thing-the androgynous look. But they hustled and got some airplay. They were actually pretty good."
Yet another tale Meros has to tell is his association with the now-platimum band Poison. A group that (yup, your guessed it) was found by Fowley. "Yeah," he chuckles, "I worked with them," he continues in a sly tone. And when he relayed the particulars, I knew why. "I did some work with them when they were called Paris. I was there when Kim changed their name from Paris to Poison. And I did sound for them at their first L.A. gig, too. We did pre-production work with them, and they offeredKim, I think, $2,000 and a couple of point (shares in the sales of the LP) to do the record, but he turned it down. Had he stayed, and had I landed the gig, we would probably have split 3 points, and we would've both made about a million on that first album." Ouch! Too bad for Gene that the cat didn't drag him in on that deal!!
Then there's the story of the Fowley straw that broke the camel's back (and most likely Kim's bank account)…another big-break-turned-near miss in the form of a group of guys who call themselves Motley Crue. But that's something that Meros would prefer not to speculate about. Can you blame him?
With his feet firmly planted on terra firma, Gene is still actively involved in the media business, with a good job and steady salary as an engineer with WDCA Channel 20 in Washington. There, he also keeps his musical chops in check, doing sax work on news and sporting event themes. It's a task that he finds analogous to mixing in the music business. One of his primary functions at the station is to bring the beloved Arsenio Hall Show from the satellites to tyour living rooms.
Ultimately, in television, Gene would like to enter the world of editing, a skill that he went to school to master. It's a field that he sees as challenging and fulfilling. But the musical itch remains. "I'm always looking for the next KISS or Van Halen," he claims with a sense of conviction. "For some odd reason, one of my main skills is intuitively falling into these bands that are just about to make it, or just about to do a better album. I don't know why I end up in these situations, but I always have. I'd like to learn the business enough to get with and stay with one of these bands for the long haul so that the realization pays off in the end."
Gene Meros has a track record that speaks for itself. He has the ability, plus a knack for turning up in situations that click. "I like to think that the work that I did was a positive contribution to what was being recorded at the time," he understates.
Take a close look at the music you've listened to over the years. You'll find him there.