My favorite TV show for the last few years has been, “ Mad Men. “ This show takes me back to the exact era when I fell in love with making music in the studio.
In 1963 I was a sophomore in High School. I was developing quite a reputation for being a good bass player and all around musician in my hometown of Dundee, Illinois, in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. In nearby Cary, I started teaching private lessons at a music store/ school owned by my first Mad Man, Richard Truntlage. Dick Truntlage was not the dapper Don Draper style Mad Man, but was in fact a dead ringer for actor Rich Sommer who has played media buyer Harry Crane on Mad Men since the beginning of the show. Dick was a little bit pudgy, with horn rimmed glasses and didn’t dress the part; didn’t have the sharp GQ image of Don Draper. But like Don, Dick’s lifestyle was similar to the earlier episodes of “Mad Men” when Don lived in the suburbs with his beautiful wife and kids and took the train into the big city everyday. Mr. Trentlage was successful enough that he invested the rewards from his prosperous deal with Leo Burnett Advertising to start Cary Music Center . I was lucky enough to one of his music teachers.
One day Dick asked some of the other teachers and me to come to music store after hours to rehearse for a “recording session”. His idea was to use this young group of wanna-be professional musicians to be a folk style hootenanny group to play and sing his jingle to introduce “Hot Apple Pie at McDonalds”. A few days later this group of teenage musicians joined a few additional pro studio musicians at Chicago’s Sound Studios right in the heart of the advertising industry on Michigan Avenue.
This wasn’t my first time in a professional studio. A year before this I played acoustic bass on a folk single at another amazing studio-Boulevard Recording which was large enough to record a full orchestra. Boulevard had a live echo chamber and I can still recall how amazed I was when I heard that first playback on their huge Altec “Voice of the Theater” speakers. I was hooked.
But this day we were at Sound Studio, a more modern, more technically advanced studio. Instead of the huge live echo chamber, Sound Studios used a EMT plates to add reverberation. And in the control room was an ultra high tech looking console with the name Neve on the meter bridge. Years later when I became friends with Rupert Neve, I found out this console was his first large Neve music desk sold in America. So with us musicians in the studio under the leadership of Mr. Trentlage, we started working on a “head” arrangement of his song. To me it sounded a lot like “Down By the Riverside” – but I was there to play bass, not to offer my ideas about Dick’s musical concepts—Big Lesson!
As we were getting closer to recording the first take, several men came into the Control Room. If my memory is correct, they looked just like Don Draper. They started offering ideas over the talk back and wanted changes in the way the band was playing. “Faster, maybe more of a 2 beat, lose the turn around, can we make the spot a 30? “We need more time for the “Donut! I later learned that was how advertising worked. But it was all new stuff to a sophomore wanna-be pro musician and I loved every second of it.
We were recording state- of- the -art for 1963 on an Ampex 4 track recorder. When the Mad Men were happy with the band track, Dick asked a few of us who were singers to join the session singers and sing the hook: “Now you can have Hot Apple Pie at McDonald’s. Mc Donald’s now has Hot Apple Pie, etc….” The guys in the expensive suits seemed happy. We packed up our instruments and went back to suburbs. I felt better than I had ever felt up to that day. I was in love.
A few days later I heard the commercial on WGN, the number one radio station in Chicago. Three weeks later I received my session check through the musicians union which I had joined when I was 14. Thirteen weeks later I received my first residual check for Hot Apple Pie. Being paid again for having the best time of my life seemed to me at 16 what I should do for a career. 53 years later I feel so lucky to have had this experience with a Mad Man. Dick Trentlage gave me the opportunity to experience the precision and flexibility needed to work in media production; to work as a team to meet a goal and create a finished product on time and on a budget. Don Draper,the fictional Mad Man, would understand what I’m talking about – so did Dick Trentlage – my first, but not last real Mad Man.