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The Historic Darress Theater in Boonton, NJ

The Darress Theater

The Darress Theater

A beautiful, historic performance space in Boonton, NJ

100 years old in 2019

The Darress Theater in Boonton, NJ, has a lot of stories to tell. For one, it is 100 years old this year! The theater has been around since 1919, and is the last reverse-theater seating in the country. We sat down with Tom Timberbrook who has owned the theater since 1980 to get an inside scoop on the secrets the theater has to tell.

MUSICXPLORER — Tom,  Can you give us some history on the theater?

Tom — The theater was built in 1919 by architect, Charles Darress. It started primarily as a vaudeville theater, then did silent films, and magic shows that even included the brother of Harry Houdini.

What is reverse-theater seating?

Tom — Reverse means that the audience enters from the stage instead of the rear. The reason the Darress was made this way was because the location is on a steep slant and on a big rock. As far as I understand, they couldn’t dig down deeper, and it was the only way to build the theater. Otherwise, people would be climbing three flights of stairs and then walking down to their seats. The theater is solid, poured concrete that’s 18 to 22 inches thick on average.

How did you become the owner?

Tom — I had gone to film school and was operating a graphics store and doing still photography up the street from the theater. My friend told me that it was for sale, and so we went and checked it out. I thought it was a great place and had potential to become a PBS channel type.

The theater has a lot of character. Have there been a lot of changes since you bought it?

Tom — The theater has been updated from its original layout. We had a lot of work to do get it in the state that it is now. The theater used to hold over 1,000 seats, but we modified it to where the capacity is now 635 seats. There are four private balcony boxes with six seats in each and 200 seats in the mezzanine, and the remaining seats are in the main balcony. We added a lounge for artists that can be used as a VIP area for fans to meet them and sign autographs. We also have a recording room.

A view of the stage from the balcony.

The Darress Theater stage, as seen from the balcony

Tom, you mentioned the Darress was originally a Vaudeville theater. What acts played there?

TomBurns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, Mae West, and others that were popular back in the day. The vaudeville acts would take the train and stop at theaters along the way. A popular myth is, people think that George Burns met Gracie Allen here, but actually, they met at the Lyceum Theater up the street.

Wow. I never knew that about George Burns. That’s pretty cool.

Tom — The Darress may not take credit for where Burns met Allen, but some of their first performances were here. George had fond memories of the theater, and he talks about us in his book, Gracie — A Love Story, and how Boonton started their career. George came back to visit Boonton and the theater several times over his life. He had even sent me a letter years ago before he passed away. In it he stated that he wanted to stop by when he was in the area to be our MC for a show.

I wonder how many people from the Boonton area knew that. That is amazing. You mentioned that the theater did silent films and magic shows. What happened after the silent films ended?

Tom — After the vaudeville and silent film era ended, the theater continued with magic shows, and added talking movies when they were released. Then later on in the 1970’s, they were showing X-rated movies and then the theater closed for a few years. We wanted to bring the theater back to the glory and respect it once had. We changed the name back to Darress, as it has not been called that for a long time, even though at the front of the theater, by the roof line, the name is largely engraved in concrete.

What performers and shows have you brought here?

Tom — One our first performers, was folk singer Elaine Silver. Our first live play on stage was a benefit for the Riverside Hospital, called, “If I Can’t Live Forever, I’ll Die.” It was a fundraiser for them and was our first experience working with a hospital and working in live theater. It was more than what I had done before and was a great experience. The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey started here as well.

How did the Baroque Orchestra start in Boonton?

TomBob Butts started the orchestra. He had been working for a graphics company across the street doing music for their car ads, and was here to have his picture taken on the stage for a news article. He said out of the blue that he’d love to start an orchestra, and I said, “Well, why not?” So that’s how that started; and then right away we were into auditions and rehearsals. For the next several years, we were doing concerts on a regular basis until they had gotten bigger and were more upscale, becoming more formal with tuxedos. Bob is a very talented conductor and is an amazing musician to watch. We have talked about doing a reunion concert here and hope to do it before we sell the theater.

So it’s still a pretty versatile theater?

Tom — Absolutely. We still have magicians perform, we have film screenings, and still do theatrical productions. We also show classic movies from time to time. Just recently, we started showing the old silent films, starting with Metropolis, and will be showing Nosferatu and others. We have an organist and the organ has a Leslie speaker in it, so that sounds really great. We have done wrestling and boxing matches, and still do a lot of concerts. Jazz artist Rio Clemente and other folk artists such as Peter, Paul, and Mary have played here. We even had The Three Tenors. I have to say the tribute bands that play here are amazing.

My friends in Damn the Torpedoes will be playing here again this October.

I read that Swampadelica did some recording here.

Tom — Yeah, Damian Calcagne and the band recorded several of their albums here in the mid to late 1990’s. One of the recordings that was really cool was when they would come in at 10 at night and leave at 11 in the morning. They would record all night, and we would make breakfast for them. They walked around the whole building just checking out the sound and said to me, “You really need to listen and check out the sounds we are getting.” They were really excited at what they were recording. They used my concrete room where our projectors were and even had their singer, Nadine, in the coal bin that was in the basement and recorded her from there!

Sounds like they had fun for sure. I can imagine just by what I have seen, that there are so many areas in which to record. The acoustics in here must be really great. I know Hot Tuna and other artists love the acoustics at the Tabernacle in Mt. Tabor because of the acoustics.

Tom — In my opinion, the concrete structure helps to give it better acoustics. I believe it has better acoustics than the Mt. Tabor Tabernacle or the Met.

There are a lot of mixing boards and other equipment in here. Did you have any knowledge of how to use it all?

Tom — It was really trial and error. I got into the sound and the quality of it only after we started to really work on the theater. I know what I like and I know what I hear. I try to learn from what I hear from other people, and I do listen to people that know what they’re talking about.

What kind of recording equipment do you have?

Tom — For the stage area, we have a small CFX 12 channel Mackie for people that need a quick presentation and a Ramsa 6900 (only 11 of these were ever made) for the concerts, and these are located in the balcony. The studio area has another Ramsa board for recording small stuff for interviews or a film. There are three Yamahas, the 2404 on the main floor for the concerts, and a 1203 to use for fade in and out for videos.

Why are you selling the theater?

Tom — It’s our time to leave, and we have been the proud owners for a very long time, and we must move on. My wife is very involved with spinning and weaving, and because we breed Alpacas, and that’s a whole other world for us. Part of the family has bought a farm in Arkansas so that we can expand, and that will be where we go next. The theater needs new blood and energy.

Have you had any offers?

Tom — There have been a number of parties interested, but people come away thinking it’s too much work and since there is a lot of capability and equipment, plus it takes more than one person to operate. I multitask, and you really need more than one person to work here to get things done. We have a group that is really interested, but they are comparing it to the Welmont Theater in Montclair; however, that is more or less just a concert theater, where our theater has so many more uses.

Are there any plans for the 100th anniversary?

Tom — We have been talking about it. I don’t have anything planned yet, but when we do it, it will be a spontaneous event.

Do you think there would be a big turn out if you do it?

Tom — I think so. There is a lot of history in Boonton, plenty of places to park, and more parking becoming available. Boonton also has a lot of restaurants.

I love Boonton. It is my favorite town I have ever lived in, and there is so much character.

Tom — Loyad Charelton has a walking tour of Boonton with a lot of information that makes it very interesting. There is so much to see.

I have read an article in HauntedHouses.com that the theater is haunted. Is it?

Tom — Over the years people have come in felt and seen things. I myself, have seen small orbs and things like that. I think they are people that are stuck and have not moved on. Nothing bad or negative has ever happened. A lot of spirits have come in to experience the emotions inside this historic landmark.

Thanks, Tom, for taking the time to talk to MusicXplorer.


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Wally Heider UA610 Studio Mixing Console

Wally Heider UA610 Console

Wally Heider UA610 Console

A famous mixing console with a big-name rock-and-roll history

Originally located at Wally Heider’s Studio C, 245 Hyde St., San Francisco

Wally Heider started life in Oregon in 1922 and went on to college to become a lawyer. Finding law was not giving him the satisfaction he was looking for, it wasn’t long before Wally decided to follow his dream — working in music. Aching for a job in Hollywood and to be with his mentor, Bill Putnam (commonly known as the father of modern recording), of United Western Studios in Hollywood (a varied, talented musician), Heider began his music vocation. He went on to open his first recording studio in 1969 in San Francisco at 245 Hyde Street. He quickly built up a reputation as an in-demand recording engineer in his own right, producing high-quality work.

The UA610 Console at Audio Garden

Wally Heider UA610 Studio Mixing Console at Audio Garden
Frank DeMedio built all of the studio’s custom gear and console. He used  UA610 (Universal Audio) amplifiers to build the console. It has 24 channels with 8 channel monitor and cue, military grade switches and level controls, and one preamp for everything in a channel. The monitor speakers were modeled after Putnam’s design. It included the Altec 604-E speakers, powered by McIntosh 275 Tube power amps.

This famous console has a lot of history. This is where Jefferson Airplane recorded their first album, Volunteers. Other well-know artists such as Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Santana and many more started here as well. Perhaps the most famous recording at Studio C was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young‘s album, Deja Vu. Creedence Clearwater Revival was so impressed with the studio that they named their record Cosmo’s Factory after the Studio.

Bill Halverson, Stephen Barncard, and Glyn Johns were other well-known engineers who were on staff at Studio C at the time.

Wally Heider, Recording Engineer Extraordinaire

Heider’s work spanned from the Big-Band era to rock bands, for which he was best known during the 1960’s. Regardless of the eccentricities requested by various rock bands, he was quite accommodating for any need they had, nevertheless of how silly it seemed. Such as when Grace Slick wanted to sing surrounded by light at a Jefferson Airplane session, Heider brought in a ring of lighted cans in the studio.

Heider had planned to build four studios — A and B on the ground floor and C and D upstairs. Studio B was never finished and became a game room. Audio Garden has recently acquired all of Studio C and part of D.

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Rockslide Studios in Andover, NJ

Jimi Alan — Rockslide Studios

Jimi Alan — Rockslide Studios

A comfortable demo shop in Andover, NJ

Jimi Alan, Owner and Engineer of Rockslide Studios

Jimi Alan, a skilled guitarist and engineer from New Jersey. Jimi’s primary focus is the lead guitarist for an original, favorite local New Jersey band, Bubba Grouch. He is also the lead guitarist for the highly recognized and popular Tom Petty tribute band, Damn the Torpedoes. Notwithstanding, he is also an engineer for his own Rockslide Studios that has been in existence for over 25 years. His high attention and good ear to detail has made him a talented engineer who has worked with a lot of musicians, including Chad Szeliga, a former member of Breaking Benjamin and the band Tantric.

MUSICXPLORER — Jimi, you are well known for being a focused guitar player. How did you come about wanting to be more involved in the engineering and recording side?

Jimi — In the beginning I just wanted to learn how to play songs and be able to play the songs right. As I got older, I became more interested in how the songs were created and to pick them apart. So I decided to look at Van Halen’s first record to try to understand how they got this glorious sound. Really, what better album to start with?

How did you go about starting the desire of recording?

Jimi — When I was 23, my wife bought me a Tascam Porta 01 (A four-track recorder that uses a standard cassette tape). I thought it was amazing, and I knew I really wanted to get into recording and engineering. I was learning how to use it in between doing gigs. I was getting a little more serious as time went on, and I started putting things together in my garage to use as a studio. I was learning this at my own pace and having a great time doing it. There was only so much I could do with Porta 01, so in 1996 I upgraded to the Tascam 6/88.

What is a 6/88?

Jimi — It is an 8 track cassette recorder with a 20 channel built-in mixer—it was was a good tool. I used it at the beginning, but still had the tape hiss thing that you don’t get in digital recording. The 6/88 was a complex machine to me and eventually I learned how to use it.

What did you learn from the Tascams at this point?

Jimi — I was getting better at recording. Both Tascam units gave gave me the ability to learn how to commit instruments to certain tracks. Bringing in instruments to the mixer and committing them to certain tracks, you will always lose something every time you mix, because you can only record so much at one time. You’re limited to only eight tracks to use to record on the 6/88. For example, if I recorded on tracks 1 through 6 and condensed them in stereo to tracks 7 and 8, I now lose two tracks to the committed mixed tracks 7 and 8 (this is called bouncing) and now I only have six tracks available for recording. Now that you have those committed tracks, all the original tracks are lost. One through 6 would be overwritten to record new tracks, and 7 and 8 would be the two mixed, committed tracks that are kept to continue with recording. Both of these Tascam units were my first real experience at multi-tracking.

So you were finally understanding what an engineer meant?

Jimi — Yeah, things were becoming more clear to me. Being an audio engineer is a totally different animal than setting up sound to do a show. An engineer isn’t always about getting the sounds. An engineer is a guy that can overcome the obstacles and rectify situations and make it work. I always had junk gear and wasn’t afraid to take things apart so that I could understand more. I really had the bug at this point and started hanging out with people who knew about recording. I continued to read and started to take some Online courses in studio engineering, and then one day, I decided to go to Showplace Studios and watch Ben Elliott do his magic.

Who is Ben Elliott and how did you meet him?

Jimi — Ben is the chief engineer and producer at Showplace Studios in Dover, NJ. I think I met Ben through an online course I had taken. One day I sort of invited myself into the studio and just watched him.

He had no Issues with that?

Jimi — I guess not. I just sat in the back of the room and watched and listened for about six months. It was fascinating. I watched Ben pick up a lot of the tiniest little things that an ordinary person would not catch.

Sounds like a cool dude? Did he teach you?

Jimi — Yeah, he is very cool. I wouldn’t say that Ben taught me in the normal sense of the word; but it got to the point where he would ask me things as a second person that was there just to ask a trusted ear. I took that real personal and felt that he could trust me. I then started to ask him questions and he asked me “Why don’t you go out and buy a cheap Pro Tools rig?” So I went and bought Pro Tools  (Version 5). I learned a lot over those six months with him.

What is Pro Tools?

Jimi — Pro Tools is a digital audio software program that you are able to use through a PC. It is made by Avid Technologies.

So this was your next step at becoming a better engineer? Were you doing any recording?

Jimi — Yes, I was learning Pro Tools. It was a new animal to me because it was using a computer with a mouse- it was point and click. I was just not used to using a mouse man. It was weird to me- it was digital, no sliders or knobs! I was used to the old-fashioned way of recording and mixing. Back then, Pro Tools was free and you just bought the hardware. I had to learn about routing the signal from the source to its destination and whatever devices it had to go through to get there- being preamps, compression, or an equalizer before it gets to that destination. I was getting pretty good with it after a few months.

I was also going to the open mic thing that Brian Yelinko was doing with Shari and Jenny Spiro around 1999-2000. One night I was watching this dude who was a singer/songwriter/guitarist. He was awesome man. His name was Ceiro Patty. I thought this guy would be great for me to record. I thought to myself, I wonder if I could be friends with this guy.

What happened?

Jimi — I just pitched it to him and said, “Dude, your shit is awesome, and I want to record you. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I’d like to record you,” and he was like, “Cool, sure.” We met at my studio the next week. The studio was a makeshift situation at the time. We even had to use blankets to wrap them around to make it perform like a vocal booth. That was odd! We did a lot of live demos. It was the perfect thing to do as a starting point for recording. It only required two tracks because it was just recording guitar and vocals. It was a great learning experience and my first real stab at recording.

Where did you go from there?

Jimi — I decided I wanted to do more- I wanted to record my own stuff. I wanted to record myself playing all the instruments and learn more at the same time. My goal was for me to record myself doing everything. I upgraded to Pro Tools 7. I also wanted to get back to something physical I can control. I wanted to get back to twisting knobs and sliders- I didn’t want to use a mouse.

What instruments did you have to use?

Jimi — I first started with all my guitars and different amps that I had. I then moved onto the bass, piano, and later I bought a drum kit. I’ve always struggled with the bass. I can’t seem to always get the desired tone.

I know there are a lot of different ways to record guitars and amps. But drums, there are so many different pieces to a kit at any time. What did you do there?

Jimi — Drums are my favorite and the hardest because of the phase relationships. By phase relationship, I mean one microphone will be on, say the snare, and another microphone on the floor tom. It will pick up another different sound off the snare. The problem is, you’ve got a whole bunch of microphones that can pick up a different frequency of the snare; where the waves are also hitting the mic in a different time, where another different sound is coming out. So, you have to make sure where all those microphones are, and that you have all those phases worked out. I spent a lot of time recording with drums and microphones. After a few months, I finally learned what I needed and wanted to record a song.

Have you done demo recordings for other musicians?

Jimi — I have done a lot, and still do demos for people, some have come out really well. One of the last demos I did was for this dude, Casey Honig and his friend Chad Szeliga (Breaking Benjamin, Black Label Society, and Scott Stapp). I also do demos for kids who can’t afford studio time and are intimidated. It’s a real pleasure to see their faces light up after we have finished doing a recording.

How did you hook up with Casey and Chad?

Jimi — I ran into Casey at a gig one night and we talked about recording and then we hooked up at my studio. Casey brought Chad over to play drums. Chad is a phenomenal drummer who had a lot of great ideas. It was an awesome session. I think Chad is now with Black Star Riders. We did Casey’s whole record here. Their stuff was very emotional and powerful. It was real good, but I think they wanted something more edgy than I could do. I’m also old school and don’t use headphones as most engineers do. I go with my ear, and I like the open air in the room.

How is it working with the kids?

Jimi — I love working with them. I usually have them load in on Friday and plan it out. Saturday we record, and if they want to, they can practice. Sunday we go through the mix and make them sound good. The kids are still learning and make mistakes so I clean the tracks up, rerecord parts if we need to, then give them the finished product, and watch their faces light up. I want to give them the best thing I can give them, because they are still learning and it makes them happy.

What do you enjoy the most out of recording?

Jimi — I love recording a full band. The one thing I dislike the most is editing. I’d rather have people record live.

I hear ya, too much editing makes it sound manufactured, and not real or organic.

Jimi — Yeah, it’s not real. I could make a record with me doing all the instruments, but what fun is that? When I’m recording for people, I have a lot of them say, “Hey, you can fix that right? You have Pro Tools. We screwed this part up.” I often tell them, “Yeah, I could I guess, but just play it as if you’re in a live band.”

Do you advertise?

Jimi — I do have my website, but it’s really word of mouth and friends. I never advertise and have never called this a professional studio. The studio is not a real studio. I’d really call it a demo shop.

How did you come up with the name Rockslide Studios?

Jimi — It’s a real cool name isn’t it? We were drinking some beers out in my backyard one day and were looking at the giant rock slide that’s back there and we thought that would be a real cool name for the studio.

How would you descibe your studio in three words?

Jimi — Comfortable Demo Shop, beacuse that is exactly what it is. It’s a great comfortable place for people to come.

Thanks Jimi for taking the time to discuss what it takes to be an engineer and your personal history with it.

We will catch up with Jimi in the Bubba Grouch interview coming soon.

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Audio Gardern, Northern NJ Recording Studio

Audio Garden

Audio Garden

Audio Garden is a recording studio in Northern New Jersey, that has been around since 2000, created by engineer/musician Brian Yelinko.

A studio different from any other

Early in 2018, the studio started receiving a major renovation with the objective of becoming one of the best studios on the East Coast. We met up with Brian to get the history of how it all began, to get some insight on where it is going, and to find out what is going to make the studio different from any other.

MUSICXPLORER — Brian, give us the rundown on how Audio Garden all began.

Brian — In 1997 while working nearby at Showplace Studios I saw what was going on there, and it really amazed me at the awesome vintage gear that they had in their inventory. Most of all, I heard what Ben Elliott’s vintage gear sounded like.  After experiencing that, I really got the bug to dive into vintage audio gear and to learn as much as I could to make my own studio. I started selling off assets of the business I had to acquire as much vintage audio gear as I could get my hands on. When I started Audio Garden back in 2000, I was well in to collecting vintage audio gear and figured it was time to start a studio of my own.  I continued to collect vintage gear and expand Audio Garden through 2012, but we had some setbacks and really didn’t getting moving again until this past year. But the mission of collecting great gear didn’t stop!

How did you come up with the name Audio Garden?

Brian — I was on a skiing vacation in Vermont and the name just popped in my head as I was having a great Vermont beer, Long Trail Ale I believe it was, and then I went and bought every dot com that had anything that had the Audio Garden name in it that I thought we might need. I then trademarked the name since most all of the people I asked really liked the name Audio Garden.

What is going on with Audio Garden right now?

Brian — Audio Garden is currently going through a major renovation and our goal is to be different than other studios. Maybe even be one of the best recording studios on the East Coast, a place Artists should be looking forward to going. We hired John Edwards, a well known designer/builder to help create our studio and it’s looking like it will be pretty special. It should be completed by the fall.

You mentioned you have a lot of vintage gear. Are you going to have state of the art gear as well?

Brian — That’s a great question. We have over 150 really great and obscure vintage amps… Fender, Gibson, Marshall etc. including some newer amps too.  We also have well over 150 vintage microphones like Telefunken, Neumann, AKG, Sennheiser, Coles, and RCA. Also some newer necessities like Royer and Shure, but mostly we have vintage equipment. But to answer your question, we have a pretty good selection of modern processing gear as well. We want the artist to be able to choose from a wide selection of gear to create their recording, utilizing the special gear that was available to artists they may have looked to for inspiration as well as keeping up with the current go-to-pieces.

What kind of recording consoles do you have?

Brian — We have a 32 channel Helios that will be going through a complete restoration and upgrade, and we recently procured Wally Heider’s UA 610 console that was used in his famous Hyde Street, San Francisco Studio C. In our new studio that’s under construction, we’re commissioning a 40 channel Neve 8088 console that Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow were looking at that I managed to get my hands on, as well as a 40 channel Trident A Range, and a tube Altec 250SU. Each of these consoles all made some really fantastic sounding records and we hope to do that and more for our Artists.

How are you going to get your name out there so that people know you have this great studio?

Brian — We prefer to gain attention through word-of-mouth referral, although we already have a lot of interested new and previous clients, so I think it’ll grow from there.

How is Audio Garden going to be different, how will it be a studio artists will want come to? What is your goal with Audio Garden once it’s completed with the renovations?

Brian — For starters, it will be different by not being a studio that is a strictly audio and rate centered, meaning we’re not going to be charging you an hourly rate for “x”, which is typically how average studios work. We want to be a studio that is customer focused, where artists come and get so much more value out of us than just a great recording. Our other main focus is to develop and produce new talent. We want to be a world-class-studio and have clients feel like they can trust us to give them exactly what they want, and and then deliver more. Our employees are going to be top-notch experienced professionals who are going to be as excited with the process and finished product as the artist will be.
We are also going to have great technicians who will be able to not just repair client’s equipment, but be able to correct design flaws, or upgrade their gear, beyond what the manufacturer can do. Terry Wayne is going to be our lead technician. He is basically a scientist in this field with an amazing amount of knowledge regarding audio and studio gear. Dennis D’Amico of I Do Music is our in-house producer partner that has worked many great names. We could talk about Dennis until the sun comes up and probably longer!

What are you going to be offering to the client that’s going to really want them to come to your studio, more than anybody else’s, how will it stand out?

Brian — We will have our own record label at Audio Garden, it will be secured so that no one unauthorized can download the Artist’s music and steal their creative works. Most importantly, we want the Artists to get the revenue they deserve out of their product. Something relatively new we are implementing is having cameras and live switchers in the studio so that the fans can watch the recording while its being made, to help the Artists engage their audience before the product is actually released. Artists will also have the video component for use in other ways if they want. It’s obvious that people want more interaction with the Artists these days so by being able to give them other product they want, be it vinyl records, studio out takes etc., the Artists can have more ways of being profitable and promoting themselves.

Describe Audio Garden in three words.

Brian — Audio Garden in three words, hmmm. I would say Artist Centered Productions or Artist Centered Video and Recordings. I guess that’s more than three words!

Thanks Brian for taking the time to talk to MusicXplorer. We are excited about what Audio Garden is doing. We will catch up with you later in the year after the studio is up and running…

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