Greg Trampe • 61 or so... year history
MUSICIAN, RECORDING STUDIO OWNER, PRODUCER, ENGINEER, GRAPHIC DESIGNER, HOPEFUL GOLFING ACE, BUILDER OF THINGS
This is a very lengthy outline of a life-long personal journey in music. Read this at your own risk as endless boredom may ensue.
To chronicle ones own journey is difficult, without putting pen to paper. In this case, the blathering memories from my brain,
forged into my boney analog digits, to become bits within the cloud.
1955 - Born.
1961 - I started strumming on a guitar.
1962 - I started banging on the piano.
1963 - 1967 - My parents were listening to Sinatra, Elvis, Martin, Como, Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass - Whipped Cream and other Delights. They also had music nights once in a while at home. My ears bussed. My mom could sing harmony to anything, I usually sat close to her, guessing what her mouth would have to say next. Many times I was under the baby grand piano with her sitting on the bench, rolling a toy car back and forth. I was really just taking in those audio images bounding off the sound board into my ears.
My brother listened to everything including Bluegrass, Classical, Jazz and old Country. I liked Rock and R&B at the time. I think this infusion of sounds and styles helped me in my future field of engineering and music production. I learned guitar by ear for the most part, on my Dads acoustic Edmond guitar. I also used a Mel Bay chord book along with "Fun with the Guitar" as did Chet Atkins. Little did I know that Mel Bay Publications would become one of my biggest customers.
1968 - I was talked into playing the oboe during my tenure at Plymouth Junior High School in 8th grade. No one else wanted to, for obvious reasons. I liked making the reeds and being in the front of the band. It was excruciating but incredible at the same time. I found that I could hear when each musician was in or out of tune, and I knew I could fix them. Instead, the band director, with incredible patience, had that relentless task.
I bought my first stereo system, a Masterwork, with a Garrard turntable from Webster Records. With the purchase they gave me two albums; Creedence Clearwater Revival (Green River) and The Monkees (The Monkees.) I still have the stereo, in the garage, it still works. It was worth the sixty mile walk, in the snowy blizzard, up-hill both ways, carrying that huge box, to last Fifty years!
1969 - I bought my first drum set for $110 with grass cutting money, the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. With headphones, I learned quickly how to play the drums. My poor mother.
197o - I started singing in the choir in 10th grade at Webster Groves High School. Mostly because my brother said I would meet a lot of girls.
I started experimenting with recording on a cheap Radio Shack reel to reel tape recorder.
1971 - My first band was Good Finger in high school, just for fun. Greg Trampe, drums - Ulf Duus, vocal (exchange student) - Paul Smith, guitar - Don't remember, played bass. We played at least one gig, at school, in the choir room. I recorded that day!
The church my folks belonged to was across the street from the high school. The organist Dolly Hoyer let me play the pipe organ, with "the pedal to the metal" that made the little pipes vibrate and jump around. "Smoke On The Water" on a church organ in an empty stone church. Wow, I fell in love with acoustics.
1972 - My first electric guitar was a Kent, I loved it, I still have it! Constant jamming with everyone at school, during school, after school, in the church basement, before and after everything, playing Beatles, Byrds, Woodstock tunes, CSNY etc. Most of my friends were smarter and got jobs and quit jamming. I didn't. I couldn't.
1973 - As a senior in high school I knew I wanted to be in the music business, but I wasn't sure how. I was constantly in the practice rooms before and after choir playing piano or guitar. One day I found John Tindel playing a blues boogie kind of riff on piano in one of the rooms. I was struck by how cool it was and he said someone showed it to him. That experience, and others helped kick us both into careers in music. Jump ahead some 45 years, in December of 2017 in Santa Cruz, CA, John and I got together for the first time since that day. We connected on Facebook and found out each others stories. John as a professional musician, and my recording and production career. The interesting part is; because I chose the choir, and that piano riff I learned from John, that came from some random guy, that turned out to have been the original work of Johnnie Johnson who played with Chuck Berry. In 2003, two years before Johnnies death, I recorded a project with Johnnie and many other artists. Included in the endeavor; Bonnie Raitt, John Sebastian, Johnny Rivers, Bruce Hornsby, Gus Thornton, Kenny Rice, Mama's Pride, Gene Ackmann (producer) and many others. That record was unfortunately never released for a variety of legal and other reasons. However, I played an organ solo along side of Bruce, Johnnie and Bonnie. How cool! I recorded Johnnie another couple of times, one was on a Susan Tedeschi (Trucks) record.
1975 - I started writing music and recording everything that made a sound. I also fried chicken at a local KFC to support my habit. I started an acoustic duo with a guy. We did a couple of gigs but it didn't work out for any number of reasons. One reason might have been that he ironed his underwear and socks before one of those gigs. I think that scared the crap outta me!
1976 - I bought a Martin D-12-20 from Mike Fazio at Fazio's Frets and Friends. Then a Fender Precision Bass from Scotty's Music. Then an Ovation 6 string. And, the beat went on... An analog Korg PolySix keyboard, A Yamaha DX-7 and a couple more guitars.
1977 - I put a guitar duo together called; Trampe and Nast with my friend Mark, played clubs for a couple of years, it was fun.
1978 - My first basement studio was called GST Music, on 17 Ponca Trail in Kirkwood, Missouri. It was in a house purchased from Ron Stevens and Joy Grdnic. Both were disc jockeys on local radio stations and had started building a studio in the basement. A very creative, small, intimate, noisy, leaky and awesome place. I spent 10 years building that business.
I started a solo gig with my guitar and my Sony 2 track reel to reel tape recorder. In my studio, I recorded myself playing guitar and singing to a click-track. then I played backup tracks with drums, bass, piano and backing vocals. Then mixing out my guitar and vocal to have a sound-track. I recorded more than 60 songs, then I played guitar and sang live. No one else was doing that yet and it went over really well! I sounded like a full band, so I worked a lot. I learned a whole lot about recording. I also met way more girls than I did in choir. My writing picked up big because of some of those girls I met, if you know what I mean. I bought a Tascam A3340S 4 track reel to reel.
1979 - While I liked playing in clubs, the excitement for me was on the production side. Recording gave me an emotional high that is hard to explain. I bought a Tascam 80-8, 8 track reel to reel recorder. I used it so much over the years, I put new heads on it 3 times. Those were the days before drum computers, MIDI or anything digital. Everything had to be played by hand, it was a very creative time. I recorded a lot of bands, but I also found a lucrative niche with songwriters, recording all the music for them by myself. I would listen to their material, usually a cassette tape of guitar and vocal, or piano and vocal. I would lay down tracks just like I recorded my gig tapes. Sometimes they would come back and sing a lead vocal track. Sometimes I would, or I'd hire out if I needed a female vocal. Then I would over-dub the background vocals and mix it for them. It normally took about 8-12 hours for the whole process. I charged $175 - $250 per song depending upon the complexity of the tune. Minimum wage in those days was about $2.90 per hour, so this was way better than frying chicken.
Some friends and I put a new band together, Greylark... Greg Trampe, guitar/vocal - Mark Nast, guitar/vocal - Linda Lange Chicoineau, guitar/vocal and Rick Rahmberg, bass. We were pretty darned good but you know how bands go.
1980 - 1986 - These were some intoxicating years, meaning busy and otherwise. I was playing clubs four nights a week as well as some day gigs. Writing and recording. I wrote songs just so I could record more. I was sending out songwriter demos to publishing and record companies and ended up with a production deal with a small label, BB Records. My job was to produce their stable of artists at a studio of my choice. I made my home base
Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN. Studio C at the time was brand new and a state-of-the-art 52 input MCI recording console with automation. Some of their credits at the time were...
ZZ Top, AeroSmith, The BarKays, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert King, Issac Hayes, The Gin Blossoms, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, etc. You get the idea. At 24 years old I was working along side some pretty big dogs. I learned the bulk of my craft from some incredible engineers like Joe Hardy and John Hampton which gave me a huge edge back at my place in St. Louis. Jimmy Gaines, engineer and producer for Stevie Ray Vaughn, Journey, Huey Lewis, Santana to name just a minor few, also worked out of Ardent. Just being in that environment was incredible. Just hanging out in the lobby, going out for food and goofing around with all the artists and other engineers was an incredible learning experience. The stories I could tell... but I won't, and you wouldn't believe them anyway.
Analog tape editing, tape delay loops, plate reverbs, echo chambers and environmental experimentation to come up with new sounds. We recorded drums in a semi-trailer in the parking lot once. I was mixing a tune one night, and I heard some strange sounds coming over the monitors. Someone was walking around in one of the echo chambers, I left it on the record. Ardent had 3 recording rooms running all the time. We would borrow band members, staff and whatever famous or infamous artists we could find to record hand-claps, crowd sings, etc. on our individual projects. I bounced around from St. Louis to Memphis for about five years while perfecting my own place back in St. Louis.
Some of the engineers and musicians I used on recording sessions at Ardent were; Joe Hardy, engineer, bass (ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Keith Sykes, Ry Cooder, Depeche Mode, Brooks & Dunn, Amy Grant, Steve Earle, .38 Special) - Jimi Jamison, vocals (Survivor, Cobra) - Andrew Love, saxophone (The Memphis Horns, Doobie Brothers, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Jimmy Buffett, Robert Cray) - Jack Holder, guitar (Survivor, Black Oak Arkansas) - Eddie Degarmo (Degarmo and Key) - John Hampton, engineer, drums (Stevie Ray Vaughan, The White Stripes, Travis Tritt, Gin Blossoms, George Thorogood, The Replacements) - Michael (Briggs) Briggnardello, bass (Blake Shelton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Trace Adkins, Vince Gill, Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan, Amy Grant etc.) - Ken Turner, bass vocal (The Blackwood Brothers) - Ned Davis, pedal steel and dobro (Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Rabbit)
1982 - I bought a Frankenstein Fender Stratocaster from Jack Holder while he was playing it during a session at Ardent. He had a huge collection of vintage Strats, so I picked it up for $300 cash on the spot. It had been pasted together from parts from abused frustrations in the studio. The neck was from an Eric Clapton, the electronics from a Tom Petty. I used Jack quite often in Memphis as a session musician, in many different styles.
I broke down and bought my first drum machine, a LinnDrum for $1,200. Expensive because there were very few, and it was still totally hand made.
1987 - I started drawing out rough plans for my new studio. My 20 minutes of junior college really came in handy.
1988 - I started building the new studio, Music Masters at 2322 Marconi Avenue, St. Louis, MO. I designed it myself combining some of the elements from the different studios I had worked in previously. I took the shell of a warehouse and built the studio within. I traded out future studio time with a number of people to help with the hard labor, but otherwise did most of the work myself. Rick Rohmberg (framing), Rick Furgerson (control room windows, studio wall and way more), Bob Briedenbach (doors, jams), Antech Labs (patch-bays, wiring, etc.) I had many other helpers for the heavy stuff. I built the cabinetry with the eighty year old Redwood from the cooling tower I tore off of the roof. The whole studio took one year to complete. Music Masters with little fanfare, opened April of 1989.
I bought a Tascam 1" 16 track analog recorder before the move. A local band Acousticity on Blueberry Hill Records, was my last project before moving into my long-time (25 years) location on "The Hill" in St. Louis. Scott Nienhaus was part of this band. He was my first paying customer, recording at my parents house in Webster Groves, MO about 1976. He was my last customer at the Ponca Trail studio in Kirkwood, MO in 1988, and my very last customer with the band Younger Than Yesterday from the St. Louis, MO Marconi Avenue Music Masters studio, July 2013, 36 years later.
Somewhere during this period, I bought my early 70's Martin D-35 from Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. The perfect acoustic guitar. Also, a Korg T-2 keyboard and a Yamaha RY-30 drum machine.
1989 - 2013 - I bought a digital tape Alesis A-DAT system that could record up to 48 tracks. Then came the ProTools software recording system. 8 billion track hard drive digital. I worked day and night for years. Being open 24/7 was deadly at times. I started accepting and training interns to keep up, one of those was Jason McEntire who stayed for quite a while. Another was Jack Petracek who at first worked freelance, then continued on salary for over 10 years. One of the best moves I ever made was hiring Shelley Delayne. She came straight from college, began at the front desk, and ended up being the graphic design and internet goddess. She did everything, nothing was beneath her. We jumped into an early web presence in the (k) modem days USRobotics Courier, 9,600 bits which really put us ahead. We started computer typesetting, artwork layout and design very early with Macintosh computers and Syquest removable hard drives. Our customer base could now depend on us to produce everything at one location. The production business was incredible. Music Masters was a very early adopter of this new product called a "compact disc." I think you've heard of it!
Since the late 70's I had been pitching songs to publishing companies in Nashville. Out of nowhere and on my birthday in 1992, my identical mirror image twin boys, Alex and Nick were born. The songwriting part of my career was put on hold, so I pushed heavily into recording. During the day, Studio B became day-care. It was sound-proof duh, and I used a baby monitor on the Studio A recording console while I ran sessions and then ran home, then back again. Many of my customers chased them around the studio, and even let them play their instruments. Thanks Joe Weber! It was a great environment for them while growing up.
2009 - Some of the most productive years came after the 2008 financial crisis which hit pretty much everyone. A very creative time for many songwriters who needed time to recover from financial and relationship woes, and had a lot of pain to write about. The cyclical nature of the economy, and the normal rotation of the stock market, has a contrarian correlation to the recording business. Make new product when times are bad and money is tight, so you are ready for the replication and selling cycle to follow. The stock market took off with the help of QE1 the week of March 13, 2009, when the market put in a bottom. In November of 2010, with the second round of QE, money really started to flow.
2010 - 2011 - Some dramatic life changes reared their ugly heads. Blind-sided by divorce and dating again after 28 years of marriage, though not my idea, was incredibly interesting. Identifying who the valuable people were in my life was extremely positive. Eliminating the manipulation, the negativity and those that lacked communication skills was even healthier. I came to understand that the huge amount of time I spent with my boys, was the best achievement of my life.
2012 - Moving to a high-rise apartment across from Forest Park was cool. Seeing my first Tesla Model S in the underground parking garage, plugged into the wall, inspired my foray into speculating in growth stocks. Tesla's stock was $26.00 at the time. As of this writing it's a mere $312.00. This began a new addiction for me trading disruptive stocks with something new to say. Game-changing stock charts are emotionally charged, mathematical traits of rhythm and harmonic distortions, very similar to music. Completely methodical when one does their homework. "Thank you Mom."
2013 A - Back surgery became a treacherous trail that had to be traveled in March of 2013. Once while in Boston, I had to take a cab one block to a restaurant, because I couldn't walk that far. Surgery was one of the best choices I ever made. Going from a wheelchair to chasing that little white ball around, was quite a journey. Much of this year was spent recovering! Recovery gave me a lot of time to traipse carefully with a toe in the murky waters of the stock market learning pool. A very deep dark pool indeed, filled with
monstrous creatures promising to devour you. Yum!
2013 B - In the stock market, one should sell their positions into strength. So after a few record setting studio years in a row, and a thirty-six plus year-long run, I knew it was time for a change. I closed the Music Masters studio in St. Louis and moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I set up studio #4 for my own in-house productions. My goal, to record only a handful of projects per year, I guess I'll never stop completely. Traveling is really great. Golfing with my new back is really really great. Trading while traveling and golfing is really really really great!
2014 etc. - One of the largest takeaways post recording career are... Sitting in Powell Hall listening to the beautiful acoustics of one of the best rooms in the world. Though I'm not a classical virtuoso, even I can become engaged by the realm of insane quality of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. I'm enthralled by how many of those musicians went through my studio doors over the years. Young and old playing together at the top of their game. I look through the audience and in the line at the bar. I see how many additional past customers are there enjoying the music and those magical elixirs. During one performance, a jazz trio whom I had worked with many times, was set up in the middle of the orchestra. I was in the front row of the balcony, and noticed one of them on stage was texting on the sly, while the symphony played on. So I texted him and said "Really? get to work!" He started looking around knowing I was in the house, with a big smile on his face! He was only a few bars from coming in...
Another huge takeaway is The Sheldon Auditorium given my relationship with smaller and more diverse styles. The recognition from the stage is interesting at times, but my preference is being back stage in the Green Room, talking and listening to my friends as they warm up for the show. One of my favorite times was in 2014 with guitarists; Bucky Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola, and Vinny Raniolo. Sitting, practicing on the couch playing fast ridiculous riffs trying to out-do one another, just for fun. It was better than the show later out front, which was truly incredible.
Jazz at the Bistro with my relationship within the Jazz community, was where many of my compadres wore holes in the old stage. The newly re-built room is beautifully different, and very warm. Most every night the audiences are filled with past customers. Some of the performers are even children of past customers. The old place, with all of its flaws, sounded better and had more life. The new place your drinks come faster, and the food is warmer because the staff can actually get to the tables.
The Muny in Forest Park gave me loads of demo work. One of my customers had a long run there as the star of the show, so the word got around quickly. The Muny Kids made a home at Music Masters for a long many years.
Every establishment with live music... The most significant takeaway, is the simple fact that I'm not buried in the studio recording late-night projects anymore. Instead out listening, honoring and enjoying what I've loved for so long. SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC!
My Facebook feed is filled with musicians and bands that passed through or passed out in my studio. There are so many of them just killing' it throughout the global music scene. Social media has been the perfect vehicle to keep track of friends and customers from everywhere. How fortunate for me to have been touched by the multitudes of amazingly creative individuals. Thank you all, your studio secrets are safe with me... Peace my friends!