Steve Addabbo has had the privilege of being part of the New York music scene for the course of a lifetme. His career achievements as a mix engineer are impressive, including being tapped to mix Dylan's Bootleg Series #10 "Another Self Portrait" and Bootleg 12 "The Cutting Edge."
He's coming to Weber Hall in July as a performer. If the rehearsals are any indicator, this will be a truly memorable night. In 2016 he released his first full-length album, Out of Nothing, with 14 songs written or co-written by him.
EN: You grew up in the Bronx and came of age during a really vibrant time in the music scene. What was your career path up till you opened the Shelter Island studio in your basement on the East end of Long Island?
Steve Addabbo: I started in 9th grade forming a high school band. We played dances, did the senior show in the auditorium, won a couple of local battle of the bands. Then I went to Stony Brook University as an electrical engineering major and also started taking music courses. I declared a double major in music/engineering my sophomore year. My neighbor (Ron Fierstein) on my dorm hall had a band in Brooklyn, we started writing original material and performing together as a folk duo around campus. We merged the rock band with our acoustic act and formed “Arbuckle”. One of the band members worked for Billboard. He knew of some producers looking to produce a young band..We did our first album at Media Sound on 57th Street NY, opened once for Bruce Springsteen in Philadelphia after his first album (he drew 300 people ). After the band dissolved I toured with my own trio doing clubs in the Midwest., joined a show band ”The Happenings” of “See You in September” fame. They eventually did a recording session at “The Hit Factory” recording studio in NYC. This was when I realized I needed to get a job in a studio and get off the road.
With my electronics background the studio hired me immediately as a tech. This was 1977. I later worked for Sterling Sound Mastering and also a small east side studio named Celestial Sounds where I began to do demos and engineer recordings. My ex-band mate Fierstein had gone to law school but wanted to be in the music business. We formed a company AGF Entertainment and looked for a new artist to record and manage. We found Suzanne Vega... Long story short, I co-produced her first two albums. We had a huge international hit with “Luka”. I wound up buying all the equipment from Celestial Sounds and opened up the first version of Shelter Island Sound in the basement of my newly acquired home on Shelter Island.
EN: You had the privilege of mixing two of the last three Bob Dylan bootleg series albums. When did you first take an interest in his music? How did this particular project come about?
SA: I was musical since the second grade maybe earlier. I played the viola for a year in third grade but it wasn’t until I took guitar lessons about 5 years later that I stuck with it. The Beatles hit when I was in 8th grade and that was it!!
The work on the Dylan bootlegs came about through my relationship with the executive producer and former Columbia records A&R man, Steve Berkowitz. Steve and I met during Shawn Colvin’s Columbia days. He was her product manager. In 1993 he brought Jeff Buckley to me and the result was the recently released ”You and I”. When the idea for “Another Self Portrait” was hatched, the original tapes had to be remixed, I had mixed the B side (“Meet Me in the Morning”, an unreleased version) of “Duquense Whistle”. The Dylan camp liked it and gave me the “Another Self Portrait” project which two years later lead to the mammoth “The Cutting Edge” 18 CD project.
EN: You've produced and/or mixed for a lot of great artists including Jeff Buckley, Eric Andersen whom you occasionally perform with, Bobby McFerrin, Suzanne Vega, Olivia Newton-John and others. Can you briefly share a memorable anecdote from maybe three of these experiences?
|Steve in the mixing room at Abbey Road Studios.|
With Eric we had a session booked for Rick Danko to come down and play bass. It might have been for the A Danko, Andersen and Fjeld album. Rick was scheduled for 9 or 10 p.m. He finally showed around 1 a.m. It didn’t matter. As soon as he put on the bass I wasn’t pissed any more.
During Shawn Colvin’s first album we had a session booked for Bruce Hornsby to play piano. Bruce has a very distinctive piano sound. Before the session I was concerned on how to get that sound. We put up many different combinations of mics, spending a lot of time prepping for the session. It turns out it didn’t really matter. As soon as he sat at the piano, he sounded like Bruce Hornsby. Lesson learned!
EN: What was your favorite aspect of assembling The Cutting Edge bootleg set?
SA: Listening to the chatter in between takes and also realizing why Bob Dylan is so amazing. He was always on!!! Even the takes at 4 in the morning when the producer was half asleep. Bob is Bob and will always be Bob!
EN: How long have you worked with Eric? What makes Eric such a special person?
SA: I met Eric in the late 80’s but had been a fan since his Blue River album in 1972.
Eric has always had an uncompromising approach to his music and art. He continues to explore what interests him and doesn’t try to be anyone other than who he is. This is what makes a true artist.
We have known each other for thirty years and we still have a great time together whether we are playing a show or having dinner or taking a train.
EN: Whose music do you listen to today?
SA: I mostly enjoy listening to SiriusXM The Loft, WPKN out of Bridgeport Ct. I don’t spend a lot of time listening when I am out of the studio. It’s a hazard of working in music. When I get home I don’t play a lot of new music. I do enjoy hearing things I haven’t heard before but I don’t have a lot of time to hunt out new artists. There is so much out there, it is hard to weed through it all. Some younger artists I do enjoy include Caitlin Canty and Ana Egge. I can always listen to Mark Knopfler and Jackson Browne.
EN: What's your take on the Rolling Stone Top 100 Albums list and other lists like that? What's the real measure of a great album?
SA: Lists are a way of categorizing what has been successful, hopefully for the right reasons. In the end like any entertainment business, music has a “what have you done lately” attitude. I believe each artist has a core of material that defines them. To sustain that kind of creativity and relevance over a lifetime is nearly impossible.
A great album stands the test of time and connects with many types of listeners. How an album achieves that is one of the great mysteries of record production. Songwriting is a very tricky craft and probably the hardest part of the whole business. Without a great song that is finely crafted we have nothing.
You do the same things in the studio with different ingredients and once in a long while you get lucky.
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The concert is July 23. You can purchase tickets here at EventBrite.com.
To learn more about Steve Addabbo visit www.steveaddabbo.com
Meantime, life goes on all around you. We'll see you there.