June 24, 2024


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Book review: Jim Gaines as told to Lee Zimmerman – Thirty Years Behind The Glass – 2023: Video, Cover

What do Santana, Huey Lewis & the News, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Luther Allison, Albert Collins, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Tower of Power, John Lee Hooker, Journey, the Neville Brothers, and Royal Southern Brotherhood all have in common?

They all had recording projects spearheaded by Jim Gaines, one of the finest recording engineers and producers in the music business. In a little more than 200 pages, Gaines shares a raft of stories from various stages of his illustrious career, giving readers an inside look at the recording business.

Born to a sharecropper family in Arkansas, the family had little money. Gaines learned to pick cotton at a young age. When his family moved to Memphis, he was quite happy to leave the cotton fields in the rear view mirror. With his girlfriend pregnant, he took an entry level position with a Memphis firm that created radio jingles. Gaines soon found plenty of appeal in the work, especially when it came to recording the singers and mixing the tapes. As time went on, his skills grew to the point he was running the Memphis studio in addition overseeing a second facility in Dallas, Texas.

As luck would have it, Gaines often worked with two musicians who frequently provided instrumental backing for the jingles, Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper, who had not yet hit stardom as Booker T. & the MGs. Cropper and Gaines quickly hit it off, leading to an offer to begin working at Stax Records. Working several nights a week, Gaines experienced first hand the rapid growth at the label as stars like Otis Redding began to change the musical landscape. But when Al Bell was brought in to run the label, Gaines was not comfortable with the new direction, so he went to work for Cropper at his TMI production company.

As word of his talents spread, opportunity came knocking again. Wally Heider had two well-known studios in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He made repeated offers to Gaines, finally convincing him to move to the Bay area studio. For Gaines, it was a decision that launched his career. As the recording scene in Memphis began to fade, Gaines was working with hit-making acts at one of the top recording studios in the country.

Early on, he got to work with Tower of Power, the great funk band with a killer horn section. He also engineered Van Morrison’s Saint Dominic’s Preview album. One of his “behind the scenes” stories involved the Grateful Dead booking the studio, but only their road crew showed up with their ladies and two tanks of nitrous oxide. Gaines would repeatedly spin a Dead album all night as the group got stoned. Another night, as he was leaving work, Graham Nash stopped him. Nash was working on a project in another studio room. He asked Gaines if he could help with a few things. Gaines agreed and upon entering the studio, discovered their engineer was passed out on the control console.

Author Zimmerman, a distinguished writer for numerous music publications, keeps the story moving, as Gaines moves around the country, working at the best studios while achieving chart success and multiple Grammy Award nods. At one point, he moves to Oregon, fed up with the recording industry, and ends up owning a windshield repair franchise.

Soon Huey Lewis enticed Gaines into returning to San Francisco to engineer tracks for what became his top-selling Picture This album. No sooner had Gaines finished that project when his services were requested by guitarists Ronnie Montrose and Carlos Santana. From that point on, his life became an endless stream of long nights in the studio with a mixture of artists that spanned the scale of notoriety.

To his credit, Gaines share some of the darker moments of his career as well. One marriage fell victim to those long nights in the studio. His relationship with Lewis blew up when Lewis requested his presence for a session, but Gaines was already in the middle of a project, so he declined the offer. It caused a rift that took years to get over. Out of kindness, Gaines leaves names out of some recollections that recount moments of artists exhibiting less than stellar behavior.

By the end of the book, one can only marvel at the impact Jim Gaines has had on popular music. His easy-going manner certainly comes through on the pages, providing telling insight into why his services have been in such high demand, not to mentioned the many awards his projects have received. Anyone with more than a passing interest in modern music should read this fine autobiography!

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