How They Used to Make Records

By Andy Prieboy


It was a very hot day. Chas T. Gray and I were in his garage and had the door opened to let in some cooler 100-degree air. As he puffed away on his cigarette, I was transported back to the 1980s: It smelled like Wall of Voodoo : superheated Los Angeles pavement, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke. Lots of cigarette smoke. All that was missing was the aroma of Budweiser. 

‘Help me move this” Chas said, breaking me out of my reverie. After lifting some dusty garage clutter, we found what we were looking for: a few battered, beaten road cases with Wall of Voodoo stenciled on them. 

We undid the locks, and lifted the lid and... oh my god! Nestled among all the forgotten toys that Chas had bought during the many tours, an ominous little rubber monkey leered at us. His hand seemed to present the real treasure: Behold! A thirty-five-year-old Wall of Voodoo live tape.

“Don’t touch a thing!" I said and took the above photo.  

We carefully removed the box and opened it. I held the tape while Chas read the yellowed tracksheet found inside listing the song titles and other forgotten details. I spewed a cascade of shocked four-letter-words. With the garage door open and being very close to the sidewalk, people passing by couldn't help but notice two old guys marveling at the incredibly heavy, round metallic object they held. 

A 22-year-old musician stopped on the sidewalk, and said "Hey! Is that how they used to make records!?” 

After a quick explanation, he left. Chas looked at me, shook his head, and said ”He didn't know even what to call ‘tape’."

After an hour of sweating, schlepping, lifting, and opening road cases, storage bins, and cardboard boxes, we stood and admired our archaeological haul: Live tapes! 24 track reels! Two track mixes! 8 track demos. Two track masters! There were even demos from 1983, made back when it was just Wall of Two Dudes, Chas and Marc.

These were recordings that we had assumed had been swept away in the many Voodoo Tsunamis. They were presumed lost, stolen, or destroyed. And yet, astonishingly, here they were. 

I thought of all the hard work, of all the laughter, and difficulties contained in these boxes. 

A moment passed when Chas broke me out of my trance again

“These tapes are wrecked!" said Chas. "They can't possibly be any good. So now what?" 

“We call Bill Smith," I said,” and tell him to fire up his oven.


First You Need an Oven

In a cramped office above the historic Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood, multiple Grammy nominated producer/engineer Bill Smith now saves recorded music from obliteration. While almost lost among the many vintage recording machines, Bill knows how to preserve anything captured on obsolete, long-vanished gear, be it digital or analog. 

But to save music on old tape reels is not so easy. You have to bake the tapes. And that requires an oven. Who the hell has an oven like that? Bill does. 

Why bake? Well, it's a story you won't like. In a nutshell, tapes used to be coated in whale oil to keep them from absorbing moisture in the air. Anything recorded before 1973 was done with the help of slaughtered innocent aquatic mammals. 

See? I told you you wouldn't like it. 

Thankfully, The Endangered Species Act of 73’ shitcanned that horrific detail. So, the record industry carried on without whale oil and all seemed well. However, years go by, and guess-fuckin’what! Those oil-less tapes won’t play. Without Free Willy's essential fluids, the tapes have absorbed atmospheric moisture and are now covered in a microscopic glop. Worse, they sludge up the tape machines and render them useless. 

But! Through trial and error - and lord knows whose tapes they ruined finding out - someone figured out that baking the reels at 130F for 12 hours transformed that gunk into the glory that is popular music. 



Bill’s roster of clients ranges from the immortals to the merely mortal, like ourselves. We were lucky: he had enough time to bake Voodoo just before being called away to broil My Little Pony. 

It was an anxious two-week wait, but once he was done, he called us in, and played some rough mixes. 

We asked him on the spot to mix the rest. He agreed. 



Bill booked time for us to mix in Ocean Way Studio A downstairs. This was once the playground of kings. The hallways are lined with large photos of Frank, Sammy, Deano, Nat King Cole, Count Bassie, and Duke Ellington. 

But the studio's glory days are long over. In fact, the week we started, the Real Estate Consortium that owned it closed the doors to the public. Bands from off the street? Peanuts! Not worth the bother. So, historically speaking, it looks like Wall of Voodoo was the fitting end to this once-storied location. 

And if that isn’t a let-down enough, the main room looked a little tired. Direct boxes and headphones were being stored in a big orange plastic beer tub. And, as you know, once the orange beer tubs show up, it’s time to move on. 



All the same, sitting in the control room was old-school delicious! It felt great to be back with Chas in the Nasa-like environment created by a rare 72 Input Focusrite board.  

I imagined showing this board off to that 22-year-old musician kid and saying 
"Now, son, this is called a Focusrite How-They-Used-to-Make-Records-Machine” 



While the ghosts of Sammy and Deano roamed the hallways, Marc Moreland's virtuosity dominated and shepherded the sessions. In the 90 minutes of live songs, there was not one moment where Marc’s tone wasn't pure, exacting, and soaring. There was not one mistake or missed entry. Inspired, we tried our best to ensure every mix properly illustrated the depth of his brilliance. Sharing his lost gifts with our friends, fans, and his family became the reason why this collection is our first release. 

As far as who made the most mistakes, hit the most wrong notes, and came in too early or too late… well, that was me. 


We would like to thank Bill Smith for his incredible expertise and unwavering dedication to seeing this project through. And since he is also very fun to work with, we look forward to doing more work with him in the near future. 

And finally, we Voodoos stand on our chairs to cheer our art director, Jessie Winch, who created this site, did the beautiful artwork, mounted the lyrics, organized all our tasks, and put the songs up. And she accomplished these Herculean tasks right after surviving open heart surgery with the attendant — and frightening — challenges that accompany it.