The saga of Modern Voices and Backdoor Studios
I first met Chris Pati in 1973. It was at band rehearsal at Great Hollow Middle School in Nesconset, NY. I was faking it on clarinet secretly wanting to be part of the percussion section and Chris, whose name was already buzzing around, was the unbelievable snare drum player in that section. I remember the conductor, Murray Houlioff chatting with Chris’ father back stage one concert, praising his son’s extraordinary proficiency on the drums and recommending that he send his boy to some advanced school of music as soon as possible. Anyway, Chris was a year younger than me and the only time I saw him was during band rehearsal. I spoke to him a few times and we hit it off right away. It’s that Italian connection. From the first time I heard his name I knew him. He was going to be an important influence in my life but just when, I didn’t know. The following year I was transferred to Nesaquake Junior High in St. James. Chris, because of the zoning of where he lived was still stuck at Great Hollow. We didn’t meet again until I was in 11th grade, four years later! By that time,1978, we were both attending high school at Smithtown East. Since we were both in the high school’s symphonic band we were able to hang out. Chris of course was the most exceptional music student in the school and he was given the task to arrange various musical events through out the school year. One such event was called CARE IN. It was a variety show that featured comedy skits, various bands, dancing etc…The proceeds went to help the homeless or ended up in some school officials pocket. Who knows? While Chris was writing out arrangements mostly because the music teachers couldn’t transcribe the funky synchopations off of records very well, I was at home playing drums and singing along with Zappa, Steely Dan, The Beatles etc. The basic influences.
Even though I presumably played clarinet in band I was always practicing on a marimba which the school actually let me take home one summer. My music teacher Mr. Sobol didn’t get it. "There’s already too many percussionist". "Play that clarinet Tabacco". As my 12th grade year progressed Chris and I started to hang out more and more. One day he asked me if I would be interested in playing drums for CARE IN. I flipped out and jumped at the opportunity. Though my reading abilities always sucked, I could pick up on the cues real fast. The show was a "pissa" as kids would say back in 1979. And with the exception of me falling in love with an unbelievable flute player by the name of Linda O’Donnell, I had the time of my life. Finally, someone gave me a chance to play a drum set…Yes!…In a group no less. The CARE IN show went off without a hitch and I was soon recognized as a decent drummer. I started to play in some local bands and the future looked bright.
Later that year Chris invited me to a session he was offered in NYC. Basically, he was to sub for the legendary Steve Gadd, the most in demand drummer who was playing on every hit record at the time. The music to be played would be a fusion piece with lots of fast, odd rhythms and unison lines. I can’t remember the composer but the people in the studio were fairly friendly. It was a cool environment that instantly clicked for me. This was the first real studio I was ever in and I was most impressed with the little red lights on the mixing console and a clear plexi-glass harpsichord they had in one of the live rooms. Not sure why but when Chris was playing the snare drum for the engineer to get a sound, the engineer actually asked me what I thought of the equalization on the snare. I told him I thought he should add more treble. He concurred. That was a good boost of confidence and I’m sure it influenced my engineering skills. The session went smooth and considering Chris had never heard this piece, he executed his drum part perfectly. The bass player, the legendary Anthony Jackson, who had just finished playing on Steely Dan’s Gaucho album had a difficult time with the chart. In fact, he later talked to us and I remember him saying to Chris "It’s drummers like you that make sessions happen." Not a bad compliment for a seventeen year old.
That summer Chris invited me to play at a music camp at Commack High School South, where I learned about arranging for brass and woodwinds. Chris wrote his own piece which at the time sounded pretty advanced and amazing. Especially with those Earth Wind and Fire rhythms and George Duke sounding chord changes. Me on the other hand, scribbled out a big band arrangement of Zappa’s America Drinks and Goes Home. It sounded surprisingly decent considering I knew nothing about orchestration. I even got to sing it with the band! The only problem was, when I sang into the microphone nothing came out of the speakers! It was like a bad dream. You couldn’t hear me above the band but I kept on going, crooning away, enjoying the power of the music rubbing the air.
To top it off, all the kids were depressed that day because the main music teacher who taught us couldn’t make the show because he had a heart attack the night before. Chris’ mom who later died that year of heart failure was in attendance and my mom was too. All in all, it was a good musical experience. That was the last time I would sing in front of an audience until 1990 when I played at the cafe, Classy Coffee with Fuzzy Gray Logic. In the meantime, it was off to Stony Brook college come September.
Just before my university induction, Chris introduced me to a little reel to reel machine that would soon change my life. It was called an AKAI GX 4000-D sound on sound machine. In a nut shell, it allowed me to record more than one part and thus I could assemble ideas and instantly hear back my own tunes. (For more detailed info on this subject check out The Akai Years 1979-84.) Life went on. I recorded a lot of ideas and learned about balancing the levels between instruments in a mix. At my sister’s insistence I answered a newspaper ad looking for a drummer who could sing. I went to the audition and passed with flying colors. The group, residing in Northport, was called Phaedra. The leader was a clean cut guitarist by the name of Dan Connell. He had made a 45 (a single) of one of his original tunes and that alone was impressive. It was a pretty straight ahead song (not my cup of tea) but it was as close as I could get to being in the music business at that point. So the band booked some gigs on Long Island and we practiced some of Dan’s originals along side music by Devo (Whip it!), The Who (Behind Blue Eyes), Tom Petty (Refugee), Black Sabbath (Paranoid), The Ramones (Chinese Hump) and a bunch of other stuff I was not a true fan of. It was good practice though for a skill I would eventually use with the Beatles’ tribute band, Mostly Moptop.
In 1981 Chris found himself at the music department at Stony Brook. He passed all the initial entrance exams with flying colors and to this day I think he holds the record for getting the highest score. Next thing I know he was in my counter point class and also in composition class with me and Nick DiMauro! Chris didn’t show up for much college because at that time him and his guitar playing brother John landed a development deal with Columbia Records but for reasons not to clear me, the deal fell through and Chris never returned. Occasionally during my third year of college I would see Chris mopping the floors at a cheap department store in the Smithhaven Mall called McCrorys. Some one as talented as Chris Pati mopping floors? What chance did I have making it in the music world? It didn’t look good. After awhile, we lost contact but my friendship with Nick DiMauro grew tighter. As soon as I graduated college in 1983 I went to work for Pam Rent A Car which was a crappy job just down the road from where I lived in St. James. As mundane as it was, the job gave me money to buy all my 8 track, reel to reel equipment. On July 14 1986, I officially quit.
That evening I found myself cleaning out my room when all of a sudden I came across a "stickum" pink piece of paper with these words written on them: Stop pulling it. Your grandmother is spitting up orange fanta and she needs lavender toilet paper. It was dated July 14th 1986! This was a note I had on my wall since 1979. It was written by Chris and somehow after a few years ended up at the bottom of a desk draw. I showed this paper to my mother and sister. We all took it for a sign. "Call up Chris!", my sister would bug me to no end! And so a few months later, with no job, no direction, I did some research and got up the nerve to call him. He was working at a 24 track studio called Backdoor, in Huntington Station. I knew as soon as I made this call, my life was going to change. It was one of those defining moments you have in life. Of course I was a bit nervous at first but as soon as we spoke, it was like we were never apart. I heard some groovy dance music playing in the back ground while Chris spoke excitedly about some holographic idea he was working on. It all sounded magical. But then again Chris was always a magical kind of guy. I drove out to Huntington Station one day in January of 1987, totally broke and holding on to a sweaty cassette of some of the music Nick DiMauro and I completed at my house in St. James. I showed up at the studio on time and waited. He was a bit late and I felt nauseous, but in a good way. When I saw Chris he looked different because he now had a beard which gave the illusion he actually had a chin. Anyway, we shook hands and he led me to the back where the studio entrance was. Little did I know I would learn so much here and even end up sleeping on the couch for 2 years.
The studio was overwhelming. A real professional mixing console, a 24 track tape machine, a control room, drums with microphones on each drum, sound proofing, the works! And his music was unbelievable. I couldn’t get over the separation of his mixes. He asked me to play him some stuff and I was real shy. Eventually, I got up the nerve and played him a Dan Robinson tune Day Gone By, Nick and I recorded. He was impressed. Then, I played him a bunch of original songs. Again, he impressed and loved the hook for "You May End Up In Wyandanch". In fact, he later told me that I that I depressed him a bit because he felt he hadn’t written anything worthwhile in a long time and I obviously progressed many times over since our last Akai encounter. Even his girlfriend at the time, Sherry-Jean Waite was impressed. She actually liked my voice. We clicked right away. I left that night feeling so inspired and wired I couldn’t’ sleep. Chris had the coolest life. He recorded people, did his own tunes, had a great relationship and he still had no problem dealing with my musical inexperience. He was nice enough to let me into his professional world without a hitch. As fate would have it, Dave Young, his assistant engineer had just left and I was the perfect replacement. I spent that winter learning the ropes of 24 track engineering and watching countless movies at Chris and Sherry’s apartment. It was at this apartment in Kings Park, 100 feet away from the Long Island Railroad tracks that Chris revealed to me his dream about holograms.
Apparently, he had an out of body experience that took him over the airfield at Fairchild Republic Airport in Farmingdale, NY. It was there that he witnessed what appeared to be a huge cube floating in space with bizarre alien symbols flashing on and off it. Something was holding him back and he was unable to turn around to see how it was projected. However, slowly each day he would remember little bits of information concerning the projection of a solid object in space. Eventually he put together a prospectus and a semi vague schematic of how such an operation could be done. Obviously, the impact of a holographic device would certainly change the entertainment world and would also be beneficial to the medical world, the resale world etc. His first application of this new devise would be to put together a rock group and broadcast live concerts right into people’s living room in 3D. The name of this group was called Modern Voices. There were three members to this group. Chris, Sherry and a fellow by the name of Joe Quinlan who went on his separate way by the time I showed up. Chris had already been in contact with the late Star Trek producer Gene Roddenberry but he wasn’t sure if Chris’ ideas were quite feasible yet. He also kept in contact with a Professor Dunn who had a holographic lab in England. At one point when Chris was going to fly to England he got a message from Professor Dunn saying that his lab was destroyed by some unknown political forces and this would set him back 6 months. Shortly there after Jacque Smith of 3rd Dimension Ltd. a leading manufacturer of holograms contacted Chris and set up an appointment to meet at the Holiday Inn in Old Westbury. Sherry and I were invited to come along. It was there we were shown the finest new holograms to reach the United States. One was a skull. The other was gun with a floating bullet. These are pretty commonplace now, but for the time they were the best the holographic items the world had to offer. According to Jacque we were the first Americans to see them. I forget what transpired at this meeting. Probably a lot of promises and schemes too big to actually put together in one sitting. A month passed and there was no word form Jacque. Meanwhile Sherry and Chris’ relationship was beginning to show some signs of deterioration but I was too blind and overwhelmed by the studio to notice. Sherry went to the hospital a lot back then mainly to have cysts removed. Sherry was an excellent commercial singer with a great sense of humor. When I first worked with her we sang the back ups for World A Way. While I was doing my part I saw Sherry through the control window and I swear to God, she looked like Chris’ mom who had died in 1979. I stood there teary eyed. Chris came into the room and knew what I was seeing. He said matter of fact, "She looks like my mother doesn’t she?" I went home that night feeling a little spooked. Chris had already recorded three songs for Sherry to sing on. I played them some ideas I had for a fourth tune. One of them was Postcards of Places. Sherry liked the idea so I finished it and Chris was nice enough to record it and use it as a Modern Voices tune. He played a great drum track while I was laying down the chords. His guitar solo was exceptionally melodic and I loved it. At first we weren’t sure about it’s continuity. It had a lot of ups and down. We broke for some chicken and broccoli and came back to listen. Yeah, it was great. Now, being an expert passive aggressive sort of fellow, I found myself at the studio assisting Chris on many sessions and slowly working on my own ideas. Chris would pay me now and then for a session but basically I didn’t want anything but free recording time. I got it. Consequently, I began to spend more time there than at my parent’s home. I would bring all my clothes over and crash on the sofa whenever a session went late.
Meanwhile, the little 8-track studio in my bedroom in St. James got less and less use. Nick DiMauro and Paul Michael Barkan found themselves working with Dan Robinson and setting up their own studio in Stony Brook. They left a piece of paper in my St. James bedroom when they finally took back the equipment they owned. It read: It was fun. Goodbye and good luck – you’re gonna need it.
Chris, Sherry and I would hang out in the afternoon and watch videos about aliens or the movie Amadeus or go to the library to do some research on patents for Holographic ideas. There were none like Chris’. In fact, one time all three of us went to visit a top physicist at Stony Brook University, John Berman. It was a bizarre evening. Three musicians talking to a top physicist. Actually, Chris did most of the talking. He presented Mr. Berman with his holographic perspective and he was quite impressed. Chris was rambling off all these physics terms and ideas and Berman just stood there and shook his head. He asked Chris if he had studied physics in college. "No", he replied, "Only in high school". According to Berman, Chris had a better understanding of physics than his graduate students. He also speculated that the idea of shooting lasers into to the air so they could intersect and form colored dots out of phase cancellation made perfect sense but it might cause a negative effect on the air molecules. Not to mention needing a super computer to calculate the positioning of a billion dots to make up a solid looking object in space. Nonetheless to Berman’s knowledge, no one had tried this technique and he wished Chris a lot of luck.
Around this time Chris and I collaborated on a piece call Time Walker. This was a real techno pop idea with a middle section literally written by taking a piece of music paper and throwing darts at it. Wherever the darts landed on the paper would determine the chords to be used. It worked! We all sang on it. Now we had four MV songs in the can. Simultaneously, Chris’ old friend David Plattner (Linda Goldstein’s husband (Bobby McFerrin’s manager & producer)) had just parted ways with one Yosef Oxenhandler (Yo Blue as he was known in the music world). Yo was a friendly, shady kind of character who played a blue electric violin. Chris had recorded some songs with him previous to my involvement at the studio. Yo made his living as an entrepreneur and was a key figure in putting together a platinum deal with some Middle East King. Chris and I were always talking about having a ridiculous studio where people could record and live at. Yo was interested too. He wanted to start up a company by the name of Chromeatone Entertainment. All he needed was a bunch of money to solidify the legal end of the deal. Those people who would invest at ground level would receive a decent percentage of stock in the company. Chris would be one of the officers and Yo was the President. We scouted out a beautiful mansion in Laurel Hollow (an affluent region on the North Shore of Long Island). The place had a spiral staircase, marble kitchen floor, an steel octagnol gazebo, a view of Long Island sound, thirty rooms (some with jacuzzis), the works. The whole scene was too exciting for words. Yo had the legal papers drawn up and stock certificates would be in the mail as soon the monies were received. Chris and I managed to raise fifty grand. My father, my sister, Nick’s brother Gian, Dave Seigel and some other friends invested. This was it. This was going to launch Modern Voices. The stock certificates were in the mail. Meanwhile, Chris and Sherry had split up, Rebbie Jackson’s single, which was mostly recorded at Backdoor was released on CBS Records and a fellow by the name of Herb Horton was back into the picture. Herb was an old acquaintance of Chris’. He looked like Leonardo DaVinci and lived from what I could tell as a solitary figure with very few close friends. He was an extraordinary engineer able to fix and understand anything just by glimpsing a schematic. He was always in the process of designing a mixing console to end all mixing consoles and was keen on digital technology. He thought Chris’ ideas for projecting holograms was feasible with the right work space and money. One night out of the blue we received a call from Herb. He was on his way to the studio with a few well to do associates. That’s how he left it. We waited that night, and sure enough Herb showed up with two fellows, one I believe was a doctor and the other I can’t remember. Herb told us that he had an invitation to visit a fellow by the name of Robert Fondiller. Herb told Fondiller about Chris’ hologram idea. He was quickly intrigued and wanted to meet Chris. It was a cold, crystal starry night and the ride to Fondilier’s place seemed magical. Herb kept saying things about destiny and it sounded exciting. Chris and I noticed that this trip was heading toward Farmingdale, driving along Route 110. In fact, we were heading toward the airfield where Chris had that amazing vision of the floating cube. How about that?
The car pulled to the right and stopped at a vitamin building directly across from where the airfield was. This definitely sent chills through me. Chris just smiled. We walked into the building and were greeted by a man who appeared to be in his late 60s. This was Robert Fondiller. As it turns out Fondiller was an aid to President Reagan and also the inventor of many devices. One such device was the white out apparatus you can find on electric typewriters. Anyway, we sat down and quickly a discussion about holograms came up. Fondiller simply liked Chris’ idea, and called him knowingly "a bright one". He offered 2000 square feet of work space to Chris and would supply all the engineers. Fondiller had a smile that was somewhat scary and we wondered when he was going to take off his mask and reveal the alien he was.
Thus, the holographic episode never came to fruition. Sherry had left Modern Voices and Chris and I held some auditions for a new lead singer. One such singer who caught our eyes and our ears was Karli Ostling. Karli clicked with us right away and Chris and I wrote the song Jewel In The Heart for her. We managed to convince hard rocker guitarist, Paul Kayne to play the solo on it which he did while simultaneously working with Chris and me on his record with Rhett Forrester called Even The Score. Later that year we penned New Ways which again featured Karli on lead vocals and Chris doing some screaming interjections.
Sometime around the summer of 1988 my sister Laura gave Chris and I tickets to see the Geraldo Rivera show in Manhattan. We thought it would be fun so off we went. Little did we know it was going to be one of the most infamous talk shows in TV history, This is the show where skin heads pick a fight with the other guests and Geraldo gets his nose broke etc… It was scary. Geraldo was wailing on some kid and there was mayhem everywhere. The amount of coverage this show got was phenomenal. And Chris and I were there! In fact, you can see the both of us sitting right behind and between Geraldo and his bloody nose. We were duly inspired after this historic event to write Love Over Matter. This would be the last collaboration I’d do with Chris until the Souled Out stuff with Nick DiMauro. We never continued Modern Voices as a group but Chris still uses the name as his studio and production company.
MORE BACKDOOR REMEMBRANCES
In 1988, Chris and I needed money. There was a stock market crash, in Nov. of 1987, the Laurel Hollow mansion deal collapsed, Yo was no where to be found and suddenly Chris found himself producing an album for Rhett Forrester, a singer in the vain of David Coverdale / Robert Plant. Rhett’s side kick was none other than guitarist Paul Kayen a local musician who knew Chris from way back. I helped engineer this album and got paid very little considering it was coming out on Rampage Records a subsidiary of Rhino Records, a respectable oldies revival label then, eventually to be a giant in the music industry. The album was recorded arranged and mixed during the month of January 1988. The mixes for this heavy metal album were exceptional refined. It had the balls, with lots of guitar and screaming but the clarity of the whole mix was intact. A high fidelity heavy metal recording. The mixes were shipped to Rampage and Rhett and Paul were gone. A few months later we were sent a promo copy of the CD and a very sexist video for the first single Assume the Position. Not only was the video trashy, the CD was remixed and sounded awful. All our hard work went for nothing. It sounded like every other record. They didn’t even tell the producer. Someone knew they could make money re-mixing the tracks so they sent a fee to Rampage and got the money. We were disallusioned and ultimately because of Rhett’s irresponsible attitude the record went nowhere. Some years later Rhett was murdered and those original recordings still have yet to see the light of day.
Around the same time, Chris and I had finished work on a few songs with Susan DeVita. Susan through a series of odd connections was fortunate enough to get interest with world re-known producer Arif Mardin. Arif liked what her heard and signed her to a production deal (Denise Productions) that unfortunately did not include Chris who’s production and arrangement work made her tunes shine. Consequently, Chris and Susan had a falling out. It was an uncomfortable moment for me being that I was madly in love with Susan but I somehow was able to distance myself from the situation and stay on my musical path. Eventually, after having parted ways with Arif’s production company, Susan would come back to the studio in 1991 to once again record her great songs with Chris. Many more sessions would pass by my ears and occasionally I would answer the phone and a woman by the name of Marci Geller would call for Sherry. She called a bunch of times during 87-88 and it was at Chris’ surprise party that I first met her and her co-writing friend Meryl Mathews. I didn’t talk much to Marci and I would never had dreamed that I’d live in the same house with her and her husband Gian DiMauro in 1992. Who would have guessed? I did however get the feeling I’d be working with Meryl Mathews. And sure enough we eventually formed Fuzzy Gray Matter (Later changed to Fuzzy Gray Logic) and have been working on and off ever since. Anyway, Marci wanted to record some tunes at the studio and wanted Chris to produce them. She had an offer from Panther records to record a dance number but she turned it down in order to work with Chris. One day Marci told Chris she wanted to put out her record independently. The song "Shake You Up" (a kooky techno dance number) was already in the can, along with three other tunes. Chris agreed with Marci. I believe that night Meryl told us about a piano student she was teaching who had tons of money and may be interested in investing in an up and coming record company. Sure enough she wasn’t lying. The guy’s name was Joe Remson. Joe was a tall, quiet guy who initially wanted to put out Donna Bach and Meryl Mathews great R&B song, "Second Story Love". However, since Marci was already deeply involved with the dance scene, and very out going, it made the most sense to release her record.
On my birthday (February 26th) of 1989 we (with the help from Nick DiMauro and Stu Best) edited "Shake You Up" and made extended remixes of the song. The photo for the 12’ record was done by photographer Ebet Roberts and Marci had a bunch of track gigs lined up in the tri-state area. Backdoor Records got her on a TV show called dance party USA and a bunch of radio stations picked up the song. Along the way we spent money on a promotion company called "Best Performance" who did nothing but let Shake You Up records sit in an office and then there was a highly touted meeting with Herb Rosen one of the most influential radio promoters in the country. Not sure what Herb did for Shake You Up but he did suggest Marci show more cleavage!
The rest is as they say, HISTORY.