“I’m not the Smithereens. I’m Ed.”
Ed Stasium said this nearly an hour into our interview when it was clear he was not just any Ed, but Ed the award-winning music producer, engineer, mixer. Our conversation had wandered tangentially down a few pathways of his life and work. The walls along the stairs that lead down to his music studio are lined with platinum and gold records, Grammy Awards, photographs and priceless mementos of rock ‘n’ roll history.
We are sitting in the music studio of Stasium’s modest log home overlooking a lake in Southwest Colorado. The wind is whipping the chimes into such
a frenzy that he closes the door, blocking out the scent of summer’s first raindrops, teasing the parched, dry land. I suddenly realize the Smithereens might not be the Smithereens without Ed.
He described his work as akin to a film director’s: guiding the creative process. A producer listens to demos and rehearsals, helping a band decide which songs to record. Ed isn’t a songwriter, but he knows what sounds good. He’s not a member of a band, although he’s played guitar with some of the finest. And he’s most famously known as the “Henry Kissinger of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” for helping reach a peace accord between Phil Spector and Johnny Ramone at Hollywood’s
infamous Tropicana Hotel in 1979. Spector, during an all night recording session at Gold Star Studios, had forced Johnny to play the opening chord to “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” dozens of times and Johnny threatened to quit work on the album End of the Century. Seymour Stein of Sire Records, upon hearing of this dilemma asked Stasium to solve the problem. Ed set up a meeting with the Ramones and Spector in Joey’s freezing cold, darkened hotel room on a hot Spring day and brokered a deal between the mad genius producer and the band.
Stasium is credited as Musical Director on the album.
Stasium is not a producer like Phil Spector – who considered himself equally star maker and musical genius. Stasium is not about Stasium. He’s about the music and making it the best that it can be. He doesn’t have a signature sound or style. Yes, he’s a musician, but he considers himself more craftsman than artist or visionary.
He’s a collaborator, a member of the team.
“Frank Zappa said that art is making something out of nothing and selling it,” Stasium said. “I don’t make something out of nothing. I use an existing entity and build this vision.”
That vision has included everything from Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” to the local Durango group, “Fuzzy Killing Machine.” Stasium was the founding chief engineer of Power Station, the legendary studio on 53rd Street in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. He then went on to pursue an independent career recording and producing such diverse artists as Talking Heads, Julian Cope, Peter Wolf, Mick Jagger, Jeff Healey, Joan Jett, Marshall Crenshaw, Living Colour, Soul Asylum, Motorhead and The Hoodoo Gurus. Just to name a few.
Stasium has been making music and playing guitar since he was a young boy growing up in New Jersey. He recorded and mixed music on tape recorders, experimenting with multitracking in his parent’s basement. He played with various bands in New Jersey and had his first music deal in 1971 with the band Brandywine. Their album was released the same week as the The Who’s Who’s Next.
“We were the only white group recording at Brunswick Records, which was more well-known for Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Jackie Wilson and Lavern Baker. And we had terrible songs,” Stasium said. Yet their album was engineered by Bruce Swedien who went on to record, mix and assistant produce Michael Jackson’s Thriller with Quincy Jones.
But it was Stasium’s experience recording at Brunswick and his work with Tony Camillo and Tony Bongiovi, owners of Venture Sound Studios, where he received his first hands-on experience in professional recording and earned his first Gold Record. Today, he is waiting for his download award for the number of Ramones’ hits that fill iPods around the world.
After meeting with Stasium and listening to just a few of the stories he can share about his life in music, it’s clear that he very well may be the Kevin Bacon of the music world; the music business could have six degrees of Ed Stasium. Name almost any well-known musician, and he’s worked with them, or worked with someone who worked with them, producing, mixing and engineering music, whether analog or digital.
Today, Stasium does it all from his computer in his home studio in Southwest Colorado, and he’s available for hire. Perhaps the next song or album he produces will provide the newest Grammy for his collection.