storing away

United Western Recorders

United Western Recorders was a renowned recording studio complex in Hollywood, California, which became one of the most successful independent recording studios in the world in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Established in the late 1950s by audio engineer Bill Putnam, the complex operated as United Western Recorders from 1957 to 1985, when Putnam sold it to partner Allen Sides, who renamed it Ocean Way Recording.

Prior to his move to California, Putnam had founded the prestigious Universal Recording studio in Chicago, Illinois. A pioneer of many modern recording techniques, Putnam built Universal into one of the most sought-after studios in the country and became well-known for his UREI recording equipment and custom-made Universal Audio mixing consoles, which were bought by many major recording studios.

After relocating to Hollywood in 1957, and with the backing of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, Putnam first purchased the United Studio at 6050 Sunset Boulevard. In 1961 he purchased the neighbouring Western Studio at 6000 Sunset, creating the United Western complex.

The two studio complexes, separated by a parking lot, operated more or less independently. United was favoured by 'older' artists such as Crosby, Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole and Ray Charles, as well as the young Fleetwoods, while Western soon became a favoured recording venue for the new generation of pop-rock musicians and producers, such as Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, Phil Spector and The Mamas And The Papas,

United consisted of two large rooms; the larger United 'A' was approximately 45' x 65' x 22', with United 'B' being slightly smaller. Western copied this layout, with of the very large Western 1 and the somewhat smaller Western 2. Both buildings also had a third, smaller recording room, as well as several dubbing and mastering suites. But even the small rooms provided a sumptuous sound -- Western 3, which measures only 34' x 14', was used by Brian Wilson for much of the recording of The Beach Boys' masterpiece, Pet Sounds.

Putnam also assembled a talented staff, some of whom went on to become major names in their own right, notably Bones Howe, Lee Hershberg, Chuck Britz,Wally Heider, one of the pioneers of mobile recording and later of Wally Heider Recorders.

In the early Sixties, the canny Putnam scored a significant coup when major US record labels began to release stereophonic recordings in large numbers. According to Allen Sides, when stereo first appeared in the late 1950s, the cost-conscious major labels were initially uninterested, feeling that the market for the new format was limited, and that stereo mixdowns were a waste of time and money. Putnam however foresaw the coming importance of stereo and, at his own expense, he began making simultaneous mono and stereo mixdowns, storing away the stereo versions of these recordings, which at the time were released only in mono.

When stereo took off in the early Sixties, none of the major US labels had any significant back-catalogue of stereo material, but Putnam had by this time amassed a very valuable stockpile of more than two-and-a-half years' worth of stereo recordings by scores of major acts. The value of this stockpile can be estimated from Sides' statement that United Western was at this time bringing in around US$200,000 per month in studio billings -- equivalent to perhaps US$1 million per month today. The major labels approached Putnam hoping to buy the stereo tape stockpile, but he struck a far more lucrative deal, in which the labels repaid him for the (far more expensive) studio time he had used in making the stereo mixes.

The United Western complex produced some of the biggest hit records of the pop era. Frank Sinatra made all his famous Reprise recordings -- including hits like "It Was a Very Good Year", "That's Life" and "Strangers In The Night" -- in United A, and his Reprise records offices were located upstairs. Ray Charles cut his epoch-making country-soul crossover hit "I Can't Stop Loving You" and the LP Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music at United B. As well as the classic Pet Sounds, Western 3 was the venue for the recording of many other chart-topping pop hits, including The Mamas And The Papas' "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday".

It is claimed that, from the Fifties to the present, United Western Recorders has produced more hits than any other studio in America. As well as those noted above, other famous artists who have recorded there include Elvis Presley, Bobby Vee, The Fifth Dimension, The Righteous Brothers, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Tom Petty, R.E.M., k.d. lang, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt. The studio complex has reportedly also earned more technical excellence awards and more "Best Engineering" Grammy awards than any other studio in the world.

In 1970, Jack Herschorn purchased the Universal Audio mixing console and a number of other pieces of equipment from that studio including UA LA-76A and LA-76B limiting amplifiers, UA vacuum tube power amplifiers (which were actually Dynakit Stereo 70 and 50 watt mono amplifier kits assembled into rack mount chassis), Fairchild Conax sibilance controllers, Langevin graphic equalisers and Cinema Engineering filters, all originally installed in United Studio A in 1957. This equipment was shipped to Vancouver, Canada, and installed in Aragon Studios which he owned at the time, later renamed Mushroom Studios. Installation of the equipment in Vancouver was supervised by Charlie Richmond.

In 1999, Allen Sides sold the Western section of the complex to computer magnate Rick Adams, who renamed it Cello Studios. The equipment inventory was also purchased from Ocean Way Recording, including a collection of rare vintage microphones, as well as vintage 'outboard' gear including valuable studio effects units such as the legendary Fairchild 670 limiters, no longer made, which were a crucial element of the sound of many classic pop recordings of the Fifties and Sixties. While the building was modified to accommodate the new facility's needs, the studios themselves have not been altered in any way since Bill Putnam's original design.

During this period, the studio played host to artists such as Alanis Morissette, Natalie Merchant, Elton John, R.E.M., Bette Midler, Barenaked Ladies, Stone Temple Pilots, Matthew Sweet, Mötley Crüe, Green Day and Blink 182.

At the beginning of 2006 Cello Studios was purchased by EastWest producer Doug Rogers and renamed EastWest Studios. Rogers is extensively remodelling the non-technical areas of the famous studio with superstar designer Philippe Starck


Cogan, Jim and William Clark
Temples Of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios
(Chronicle Books, 2003)
ISBN 0-8118-3394-1
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