These days Gary Tanin is known for his work as a producer, mastering engineer and collaborator with Sam Llanas. But, Tanin has been making music since he was a kid and released his first single when he was 15 years old.
A solo LP followed in 1972 and soon after, Tanin put a band together and created "Otto and the Elevators," a selection of 10 of his songs that was recorded in 1973 and ‘74 and issued in ‘75.
The record is a wide-ranging affair, with a mix of bluesy rock and roll ("Up Down Lovin’), ballads ("Love Me For Tonight"), country-tinged tunes ("I’ll Still Be Here," "Can You Believe Me"), funk ("Boss Rat") and the quirky "Motorhead," which I promise you will not sound like you expect it to.
In recent years, Tanin has slowly been remastering and reissuing his oeuvre and it’s now time for "Otto and the Elevators" to return to shops. This time, instead of a straight-up CD reissue, Tanin has added a twist.
When you buy the 40th anniversary reissue, you get a copy of the CD, inserted into the shrink wrap of an original vinyl pressing of the LP.
We asked Tanin about "Otto and the Elevators" and why he’s reissuing it now.
OnMilwaukee.com: Give us a little history of Otto and the Elevators.
Gary Tanin: My band "The Elevators" were all pros who had been young, seasoned studio session players. I already had a history of working in recording studios since high school. I had a band called Medius that recorded a single while I was a high school senior, in 1969. I continued my recording interest after graduation in mid-1970 by going to work at ARCO Studios, the first four-track studio in Milwaukee.
I met Dave Phillips while I was as an apprentice engineer at ARCO, Dave recommended drummer Danny Shmitt and I recruited two members from a band called "Winfield Road," Jef Eaton and Willie Pionke, to fill out the rhythm section. I had played the bar circuit for a bit with another lineup of musicians while starting to work out all the new material I was writing. The songs were those that made it on to the "Otto" album.
OMC: You were still pretty young when this record was made, weren’t you?
GT: I would have been 19 and 20 years old when I had written the material for the album, (circa) 1972-73. On my 21st birthday we were completing final rehearsals with the band prior to the sessions set for early November. "Otto & the Elevators" was recorded and mixed November through December 1973.
OMC: What was it like making the record back then?
GT: Unique to this 1973 recording was the use of the very new ARP 2600 synthesizer. Because of my having met synth wizard Roger Powell earlier that year at an ARP Synthesizer demo, I ended up using one of the first ARP 2600 synthesizers available in the Midwest.
We also had a full string section and horn section – all of which had to be rehearsed before we spent any time in the studio. CBC Canada's Edmund Assaly wrote the charts and conducted the quartet. The album was recorded in 30 hours, start to finish. That meant all overdubs, rhythm tracks, vocals, strings, horns and mixing to final master. And it had to be designed to be able to be recorded using eight tracks. No punch-ins where possible, except to re-record the whole track.
Original vinyl masters were done by the great Verner Ruvalds at Chicago Stereo Mastering in January 1974.
But that was how it was done. Truly unbelievable by today's standards.
OMC: How did the record do?
GT: The record received great regional support with airplay, reviews and advertising at a time when a local artist could get played next to Paul McCartney's new Wings release. FM and AM radio were in a different universe then. Radio stations – WRKR, WNUW, WQFM, WBKV, WMIL, WZMF – were playing cuts from "Otto & The Elevators, and the promotional campaign by Vera Records and its rollout were designed with RCA Records Pete Stocke, who later went on to Warner Bros. records.
OMC: Why did you decide to do this reissue now?
GT: I considered a 20-year anniversary release, but was working on a new record at the time called "Sublime Nation" in 1993, so the next natural date would have been the 30th anniversary in 2003 which, didn't seem right for a number of reasons. Mainly, a re-interest in vinyl records was only beginning its upswing. The 40th anniversary seemed appropriate because of the resurgent interest in vinyl records and because I was fortunate to have lived long enough.
OMC: What was involved in getting it ready for its re-release?
GT: The master tapes from the original vinyl release were mastered for CD format very carefully. It was more important to stay true to the character of the original analog recordings than to engage in the futility of the loudness war. I feel the CD version is very true to the original mastering of the vinyl version. The LPs which are packaged with the new CDs are actual old stock from the original second pressing by Vera Records in 1975.
OMC: Do you have more back catalog you intend to reissue or have you mostly done it all now?
GT: I have numerous songwriting demo tapes from the 1970s with co-writers Gary Holland, Junior Brantley (Short Stuff, Fabulous Thunderbirds) and others that sometime may make their way to a release. More likely, I'll record some of those better songs we wrote together on an upcoming record. As far as released legacy product, it's pretty much all been re-released in some form.
OMC: What are you currently working on in terms of new projects?
GT: Sam Llanas has an all-new studio recording that we started this year. We are currently recording final vocals for that record which is expected to be released in 2014. I also produced, mixed and mastered the audio from the eTown Hall performance of "A Day for Grace," which will be available on DVD. In 2014, plans are to continue to evolve the play ("A Day for Grace") that Sam's music appears in.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.