Our Motown Heritage (Part 23)
The Way You Do 1960's Recordings

by Robert Dennis

The tape machines had no brakes - one wrong move and tape went flying everywhere. Bob recounts the Way You Do the Things You Do mishap.
The professional tape recorders of the mid-60's were nothing less than monsters.  The machines had two large metal reels that could hold 2500 feet of tape.  The tape machine had powerful reel motors driving the spindles that held the heavy tape reels.  The machine would wind up the motors to over 2000 rpm and the tape would fully rewind in very short order. The only real problem was that there were effectively no brakes - there was no stopping on a dime with this workhorse machine.

If the tape was in a fast wind mode, pushing the stop button engaged weak mechanical brakes that never seemed to say in adjustment.  The correct way to stop a tape that was rewinding, was to throw it into fast-forward to slow down the tape.  You then let the tape stop and just start forward. At that time, and only at that time, you pushed the "stop" button.  If you pushed 'stop" before the tape reversed direction you would throw a loop of tape, and if the reels were moving fast enough, snap the tape.

These tape machines were mounted in racks.  If you failed to tighten the hold-down knob properly the reel could let loose during a fast wind. Fortunately the acetate-based tape we used at the time would cleanly break and not stretch. If, however, the tape was going fast enough, there could be several little pieces.  The "repair" was to splice the tape back together using splicing tape.  Even if it wound up to be in little pieces, it still could be put back together with splicing tape.

The master recordings, when I first started engineering, were 3 tracks and the tape had a width of 1/2 inch. Berry Gordy had a master recorder and a mixer installed in his office and could record or mix without going down to the studio.  In early 1964, Berry was producing the Temptations first gold record, The Way You Do The Things You Do.  He decided to dub the vocals in his office.  He got the group in his office and they did the vocals for the tune. The recording went well, and then it happened.

Berry pushed the stop button on the tape machine while the tape was quickly moving and a tape loop formed and SNAP.  Twenty little pieces of tape all over the floor.

Berry calmly asked every one to leave the office and he locked the door.  For the entire afternoon Berry was crawling around the floor finding all the little pieces of tape, carefully fitting them together and taping them together with splicing tape. It worked, and the repaired tape was mixed to make a number one record for the Temptations.  Berry also, for some reason,  stopped doing vocal overdubs in his office.



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