The Producer

Back in my day – I mean my first time around as a musician – making a record meant gathering the band around a microphone and playing your heart out. We’d work out all the arrangements and rehearse the hell out of any tune we wanted to record, you know feel it in our bones before we ever walked into the studio. The idea was to get it down as quickly as possible. We always figured every time we had to do another take, the tune would lose a little something. Somewhere along the way things changed.

The New Polka Kings – everybody was calling us NPK by this point – walked into T-West Sounds on September 14, 1982. I remember the date because it was my birthday. Our crazy-assed manager Bananas Foster really came through for us and set up a recording deal. We were over the moon. NPK was headed for the big time or so we thought.

Timing was perfect, too. Me and Staashu had been working at the Bottle & Can to make ends meet and I guess you know the story, the strike and all that. We had just found out the wigs who ran the joint decided to shut down Canadian operations completely and move to Mexico. That meant no more straight job to fall back on for me and Staash. It also meant hundreds of good men and women without work, but that’s another story.

T-West Sounds was located in an old coach house behind a kitchen contractor on Ossington Avenue, south of Dundas. The place was discreet, I guess you could say. The entrance was from the alley. There was no sign, just a number spray-painted on the door. Lots of big acts recorded there over the years and no one was the wiser.

The record company sent up a producer from LA, a guy who called himself Ricky Diamond. He had his name on all kinds of big records. The guy was a piece of work though, let me tell you. He showed up with his poofed-up hair, his black Armani suit, his cocaine, and his bad attitude. We shook hands all around, and Diamond handed me and Staash binders.

What are these?

Your songs. Learn them.

We already got songs.

Yeah, I heard the demo that Bananas guy sent down. Is that really his name? It doesn’t matter. We’ll be recording these instead.

Um, the idea is, we’re the band and we do our songs, eh.

Yeah well, I’m the producer, and we’ll be recording these, ok?

No it’s not ok.

Look Dudas, my job is to make a record that will sell and that’s what I’m fucking going to do. If you think this is about you, you’re just wrong.

We got off to a bad start and it went downhill from there. Next thing we found out we couldn’t record together as a band. Ricky planned to lay down individual tracks and build up his “sound” behind the mixing board. To him, we were just raw material. Then he tells us he was bringing in session musicians from LA.

Fuck that.

Take a breath Staashu.

This is bullshit.

Listen, we’re here, we should give this guy a chance.

Jesus Lazy, he’s sucking the soul from this band and we haven’t played a note yet.

Bananas Foster wandered in, all smiles. We dragged him outside for a conference.

Do you want a list of the hit records this guy produced? He knows what he’s doing.

You think we don’t? It’s our goddamned band.

Of course its your band, but these guys are in the business of taking a sound and adapting it for a larger audience. That’s what we all want, right? You want to eek out a living playing bars for the next 10 years?

I just want to make a record.

You’re in the big leagues now. You got to make compromises.

Screw compromises.

And you did sign a contract. They have final say on everything.

Come on man.

Look, you got to give the guy a chance.

We tried. You need to know that. We showed up and did what this guy wanted for 3 days, but we hated every minute of it. You also got to know this Diamond guy may have been a famous pop music producer but he was also a grade A asshole. It wasn’t just me and Staash, either. Maggie was pissed off. Ndidi and Boom-Boom were totally frustrated too because they were being pushed to the sidelines in favour of session players.

By the third day, Staash was beside himself. I’d known him most of his life and I never seen him angry like that. Diamond had him recording a concertina break over and over and over, and well, Staash was right, he had it nailed.

Alright Dudas, one more time. Let’s get it right this time please.

Diamond insisted on calling Staashu by his last name. I think he did it on purpose to rattle Staash’s chains.

Finally, Staashu took off his concertina and his headset and called together the band.

You know I love you guys, right?

No doubt Staash. Take a break, man. Have a beer.

Laze, look after my concertina, will you?

What are you going to do Staashu? Just don’t…

Hey Dudas, what are waiting for. Time is money, man.

Staash gave me a big hug and walked over to the door separating the booth from the players. He stepped into the room as Ricky Diamond was snorting back a long line of cocaine.

What are you doing Dudas? Get back out there.

Ricky Diamond didn’t see the haymaker until Staashu’s fist smashed into his nose. One was plenty enough, but Staash took two more shots, knocking Diamond into the mixing board.

Staashu stood over the producer, staring him down, blood in his eyes.

That’s Mister Dudas to you.

Staashu dusted himself off, saluted us through the glass, and left the building.

The rest of us quietly put away our instruments in silence. Diamond pulled himself up, stared at us for a minute, then stormed off. We never saw him again.

That, my friend, was the beginning and the end of our recording career.