WILL THE REAL BOB DENNIS PLEASE
INTERVIEW + PHOTOS
BY PT QUINN
BOB DENNIS, SEATED AT
THE SSL CONSOLE IN THE DISC STUDIO A
|Id heard about the man
over 20 years ago when me and my musician friends came of age. Us local Detroit guys
had grown up listening to the amazing Motown music that came out of Hitsville U.S.A. down
on West Grand Blvd past the the former General Motors building. All that cool music
like Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Supremes, Temptations, the Parlament... the list goes
on and on. Just about anybody who was serious about playing music and recording in
the local Detroit scene had heard about the legend, the teacher, the writer, and recording
engineer Bob Dennis. A guy who had worked for Motown as an engineer.
That studio of greatness and maker of timeless beauty. Much of what was
produced there will sound just as fresh far into the future as it was in its heyday and
now. Its in the music and the mix baby. Bob would master greatness on
the disk lathe, the master mold to which vinyl records were made. 45s and 33s were
the norm in the early sixties, and my older sister had every Motown 45 ever made.
Stacks and stacks of 45 rpm records with the big hole in the middle. You could pile
up a whole bunch on the typical teenagers record player. We Motor city baby boomers
loved our local heros who made the international scene with their wonderful music and Bob
was there! - in the mix, working the pallete of sonic energy. He told me recently
that music was like a painting and all the sound was color and balance. An
important complement to the music is the record.
|Bob was born in Detroit 54 years
ago and raised by his engineering illustrator mother and grandmother on Detroits
east side. His father left when he was just a toddler, and Bob has only seen him
perhaps only a half dozen times since. Young Bob went to Cass Technical School where
he was enrolled in their electronics program paving the way for his future career in music
production. He married as a young man to his high school sweetheart Anita and
started a family. The result of that union produced 5 children. The couple's first child
Marthanna died tragically at the age of 5 of meningitis. His second daughter Teresa
currently works with the business end of his empire as does second son Daniel. First
son Robert is employed in the automotive industry . Bobs last son is named
Robb. He takes pride in mentioning that all his children were born 2 years apart so
its easy to remember their ages. Former wife Anita is now deceased and Bob is
a single man. Bobs first job at Motown as an electronics technician began the
day after he and Anita were married. Bob was only 17! By the time he turned
18, he was made mastering engineer. Not a bad start for a green kid. He ended
up being involved in 37 gold records with Motown working with the likes of legendary
songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland who themselves penned dozens of top ten hits.
|The recording complex he built
in Eastpoint Michigan has 3 recording suites, a recording engineering school, and 2
e-magazines. Affectionally called "The Disc" or "Superdisc",
its really The Disc Ltd and The Recording Institute of Detroit. When I caught
up with Bob for this interview, he was at the Disc working with his latest discovery of a
young band called Giftvs (pronounced Gift-us). Check their website at http://www.giftvs.com. Even though Bob is
semi retired, he still is at the Disc 5 days a week. The first thing I noticed is
that young musicians and students satellite around him. Drawn to the master, the creator
of dreams. After giving me a tour of the facilities, we settled down in his office
for this interview. He was very candid in what he had to say. Here it is.......
What sparked your interest in becoming a recording engineer? Bob Dennis:
Basically electronics and goofing around with a friend who was also into it. We made
our first record when I was in junior high school at my friend's house. I tried
broadcasting and didnt like it at all. I played music for 5 years. What
instrument? The trumpet. Recording really appealed to me because it melds
music with electronics.
|PT: How did the
Disc come about? Bob: Well, I worked for Motown for 5
years and got frustrated because they gave me a job as mastering and quality control
supervisor, and didnt want me hanging out at the studio, even on my own time.
So I left them and worked with the production writing team
Holland-Dozier-Holland that made the original Supremes hits in the 63 to
65 period. They captured about 71/2 % of the singles market at the time.
Theyre second as a songwriting team only to Lennon and McCartney.
Songs like "Where did our Love go", "Baby Love",
"Stop in the name of Love" and others. I think they had 50 different songs
go gold. I helped them set up a recording studio and got into areas I hadnt
been in before. I actually became a recording engineer when I worked for them.
I started this company called "Superdisc" in 1974. At the time we
were in a downslide in the economy. There were recording engineers who were driving
taxicabs and other kinds of things to make money. I wanted to stay in the business.
So I got the opportunity from the Hollands to use their facility and start my
own recording services company there after they went out of business. Later on we
moved over here into our current location. Its our 25th year here.
were recording engineers who were driving taxicabs and other kinds of things to make
money. I wanted to stay in the business.
are some of the well known bands you worked with? Bob: Some
of the more talented guys like (drummer) Muruga. Ive done a lot of recording
for George Clinton. I produced and co-wrote a song for the "P-Funk
Allstars." I was in charge of all of Georges recording at the time.
I didnt get behind the board as much but did a lot of out of town sessions and
stuff. [I worked with] A lot of new artists who needed direction more then just a
recording engineer. Ive recorded "The Four Tops"; Ive mastered
for Bob Seger; Its hard to mention them all. I did mastering for a lot
of Motown acts earlier - acts like "The Temptations", Mary Wells",
"The Supremes", "The Contours" and the like. Lots of other stuff
what have you. In my own studio I like to get into projects with new artists.
Ive worked with artists who didnt make it like the other ones who were well
established. I do have engineering credits on 37 gold records. Most of that was
pre-heavy metal days.
consider myself first a writer, second a teacher and 3rd a recording engineer &
|PT: How did you come to
start The Recording Institute of Detroit? Bob: It was in 1975.
There was a company out of New York called The Recording Institiute of America. They were
installing schools throughout the country in a network, and we had the opportunity to be
instructors for them. It was at the time 50 bucks a week extra I could put into my
family. They dont exist any more. The states wanted them to be licensed, and
they didnt want to set up shops in each of the states. The outgrowth of the
school came from me working for the RIA. I turned Superdisc into a school and got it
licensed. What got me interested in teaching was my desire to become a writer.
When I was in grade school I would try to write poetry and short stories. I
wasnt very good. I remember sitting down for an Alice Cooper thing and tried
to rewrite a couple of his songs. It was a laborious thing. Something creative
opened up in me. I wrote something like 30 songs in a week. Ive been
writing ever since. I had written technical manuals for employee training, but I
started writing songs and recording them. I consider myself first a writer, second a
teacher, and third a producer and recording engineer.
us something about recordingeq.com Bob: It started out as a
magazine called "Engineer Quarterly." It had articles written by me and
other staff members. It was a promotional tool. It was a free magazine that
was distributed to about 35 music stores. The magazine blossomed where it became a
monthly. It got to be about 25 or 30 pages long. Then it diminished down to be
a quarterly again. Three years ago I became interested in the web more from the
viewpoint of surfing the web. Two years ago I started the online magazine and
decided not to print anymore of these things, just put it online and Ive been loving
it ever since.
|PT: What about
Alexander Magazine? Bob: Recordingeq.com is a freebie on the web.
Alexander was established for training over the web, a subscription magazine. Obviously
its not the same as being behind a recording console, but you can tell them a lot of
stuff. One thing I noticed over the years is that while hands on training is
critical to somebody being able to do something, but if the student doesnt have
enough knowledge about the workings of the system before they put their hands on it, they
really dont walk away with any kind of authority. They may go to a different console
at another studio and maybe not even know how to operate the thing. There has to be
a balance between information about something and the hands on application. The idea
behind Alexander is to give the student the theory of recording. It comes from the
viewpoint of instructon from a structured course through the intermediate to the advanced
levels. Ive written 10 textbooks on recording, 3300 pages including a complete
audio dictionary. On the web I began writing some interactive stuff and was very
happy with it, but people were not very enthused and I found out why....the mentality of
someone going to the web is theyre stuck. They want to know something about a
specific area. They want basic and advanced immediate information. Everything about
bam ! - plus all the other stuff. Theyll eventually get to all the other stuff
of course. I structured this in a magazine format so a student can follow the chain
all the up to the advanced level. Also we have general study modules and textbooks
online so people can design their own study on the web. At this point we have about
650 pages of text on there and weve got 3000 more pages to go.
written 10 textbooks on recording, 3300 pages including a complete audio dictionary.
|PT: So you
have subscribers from around the world? Bob: From every
country imaginable. Some I have not even heard of. Weve got Norway,
Spain, Russia, Mexico, even China and India.
backing the Waterford (Michigan) hard rock band Giftvs. Whats so special about
them that impresses you? Bob: Well, theyre extremely
talented. Theyre hard workers and particularly the lead singer Jeremy Lafferty
who spurs most of the songs. He loves to showoff and I think thats pretty good
for a stage personality. In the CD that we just released, the songs were arranged in
the order of which they were written. The first song Jeremy wrote when he was 15 !
The band has got to have almost 500 songs. When you have been in the industry
as long as I have, you now the vast majority of the success is the songs. You can
have a group with only 10 or 15 songs for a CD, and maybe get one that is a hit record.
But the question is can that band come up with a follow up? Many are one hit
wonders. The first thing that attracted me to the band was the depth of their
writting. I heard a lot of their music before I approached them to work with.
Performance wise theyre just great. Anything goes on a performance, and they
really get the crowd going. To top it all off..they look great. This coming
from guys under 21. They have a long time to establish themselves and hopefully ride
the crest of stardom.
|PT: If you
could change something about yourself what would it be? Bob: Thats
a very good question. Maybe getting into some better habits. Things like
keeping the weight down, not smoking, and things of that nature. Maybe being more
responsible about things. Maybe my organizational skills. I see a direct
conflict between that and creativity. I came to the conclusion that Im more
creative than business like. (Ha Ha!)
2000, by PT Quinn, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Recording Engineer's Quarterly with author permission
USE OF THIS ARTICLE SUBJECT
TO USER AGREEMENT