Glen Kolotkin
The Coast-to-Coast Career of a Recording Journeyman

By Blair Jackson

 

photo: Eleonora Alberto 2000

Long Island-based Glen Kolotkin is hardly a household name in the recording business, but over the course of more than three decades as an engineer and occasional producer he’s worked on scores of fine albums in many different genres. Just a partial list of his engineering credits includes such artists as Moby Grape, Janis Joplin, Barbra Streisand, Santana, Captain Beefheart, Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, Eric Anderson, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Jett, Lionel Hampton, Paul Winter, Pete Seeger, Sonny Rollins, Taj Mahal, Vernon Reid and the Lovin’ Spoonful. Acts he’s produced or co-produced include the Electric Flag, the original stable of Beserkley Records bands (Greg Kihn, Earth Quake, Jonathan Richman and The Rubinoos), The Ramones, Duke Jupiter, cellist Eugene Friesen, The Stompers and Fairchild. (You can find fairly complete credit listings for Kolotkin and hundreds of other engineers on the All Music Guide’s site on the Web at www.allmusic.com.)

Kolotkin was born in Philadelphia but was raised mostly on Long Island. He was a staff engineer for Columbia Studios in New York beginning in the late ’60s, later moving to Columbia facilities in Los Angeles and San Francisco before becoming an independent in the mid-’70s. He moved back to New York in the late ’70s and has been active in recording there ever since. Kolotkin’s most recent engineering triumph was working on three tracks on Santana’s google-Platinum Supernatural album.

I caught up with Kolotkin shortly after Supernatural’s triumph at this year’s Grammy Awards.

What was happening musically in Long Island when you were 10?
Doo-wop. In fact, some friends of mine and I had our own group. And this is how I first got into recording. Our group had never heard ourselves, so I bought a 78 disc-cutting machine. Tape recorders were very expensive in those days. So we started to record the group and that’s where it started for me. When groups in high school found out I knew how to do this, they all wanted to record, so they’d come over to my house and we’d record them.

Were you technically inclined? Were you a ham radio guy?
Yeah, I was always interested in electronics, ham radios. But this was more interesting. We needed two microphones, one for the lead singer and one for the backgrounds. I got my first 2-channel mixer around that time. I think I got it at Lafayette Electronics or some place like that.

Lafayette was sort of the Radio Shack of its day?
Exactly. At this point, I didn’t really think of recording as a career. But then it sort of gradually became my work. I was in the Army and they sent me to radio school, and then they put me in charge of a radio station in Germany. Then, when I got out of the service, my uncle asked me what I wanted to do and I said, “I’d like to make records.” So he suggested I call some recording studios, and I did. I got out the Manhattan Yellow Pages and the first studio listed was A-1 Sound Studios, and I called up Herb Abramson over there, and believe it or not he gave me my first job in 1965.

Nice and easy. I assume that’s the Herb Abramson of Atlantic Records fame?
Right. A-1 used to be Atlantic Studios, and when Herb broke up with Ahmet Ertegun, Herb got the studio and Ahmet got the record company. It was a small 4-track studio on 56th Street. A record Herb did around that time was “High Heeled Sneakers,” and Tommy Tucker was hanging around the studio, along with various other groups coming through there. Herb couldn’t do all the work, so I started doing sessions, with his training of course.

So was this was the classic three three-hour session blocks regimen?
Yes. Most of the groups we were cutting were small groups and it wasn’t through the union. I remember we had the Four Tops come in. They had come from Detroit and needed to do some overdubs, so we worked on that. In fact, that was the first session I did.

After that 4-track studio I went to a 2-track studio, Nola Penthouse Studio, in the Steinway Building, where we were doing big jazz sessions. Tom Nola used to record Jerry Mulligan and Ahmed Jamal, all these jazz players. Tom Nola wasn’t interested in doing rock ’n’ roll, so I would do that work. We’d record the band, put the tape on again and copy that and add the vocals. Then we’d master it there; they had Scully lathes in the back.

After Nola’s, I answered a blind ad in the New York Times: “Major record company needs experienced engineers.” I answered that and I got a job in the remixing department of Columbia Studios. At that time, all the Columbia acts were already working with people they’d been with at the studios, so they started booking me with outside clients. So I ended up doing a lot of stuff for other labels, but at Columbia Studios. Like I worked with Melanie for Buddah Records.

One day they booked me with an artist and they didn’t tell me who it was. They gave me the setup but not the name. They said they didn’t even know who it was, but it was someone who needed some mixing done. So when the time came, in walks Jimi Hendrix with an armload of tapes! He’d been trying to mix the album that became Electric Ladyland for the longest time and he wasn’t happy, so I was the last stop. So we worked on that for about two weeks and we got along really well. In fact, he asked me if I wanted to leave Columbia and join him, but I was happy there and decided to stay.

Columbia was 8-track at this time?
Right, they had Ampex machines and Columbia built its own consoles at that time. It was funny, I saw one of those old consoles not too long ago and it looks like something that should be in the Smithsonian. It’s hard to believe we worked on Jimi Hendrix on that console. [Laughs] It really looked dated. Although at least this one had sliding faders. Some of the other ones there still had rotary faders. But I remember there was a Pultec on each channel for EQ and LA-2A’s, so they were pretty good.

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Reprinted with permission from Mix Magazine, August, 2000
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