An abandoned building hidden behind an auto repair shop is an unlikely place to discover a remnant of rock ‘n’ roll history.
The nondescript cinderblock structure off North State Road in Briarcliff Manor sits quietly in a storage yard amidst a jumble of vehicles and metal parts.
Nearly half a century ago, this site echoed with the sounds of some of rock’s most revered bands, lured by the very anonymity of the place – and by the wizard who ran the small recording studio there. .
mike scott first set up the studio in the early 1970s behind his father’s car dealership as a rehearsal space for his band, Wizard. Other groups soon followed as word spread.
He quickly put his performance days behind him and started Recording Studios Wizardembarks on the purchase of a high-end console and multitrack audio equipment to record and mix master tapes for people like Hall and Oates, Mountain with Leslie West and Corky Laing, Melanie, Pierre Frampton, Steve Marriott and humble pie.
Scott credits Ian Hunter’s confidence in his engineering with the breakthrough that made Wizard’s reputation soar. The former Mott the Hoople frontman rehearsed and recorded frequently with Scott, including the 1983 album, “All vouchers are taken.”
“One of the main things about my studio was its secrecy,” Scott said recently. “We kept the lid on everything, no one ever knew anything was going on there until it was already gone. When Foreigner came to work on Foreigner 4, can you imagine what it would have been like if everyone knew they were writing and rehearsing behind a Volvo dealership in Briarcliff Manor?
Bands flocked to Wizard for his laid-back attitude and knack for nailing their authentic sound.
“What we had was a big studio,” Scott recalls. “We had three rooms in a semi-circle around the control room, as our approach was to capture as many pieces of the band as possible live, while separating the instruments as much as possible. So we put the drums in one room, we put the grand piano in another room — we had a Steinway grand piano, we put it in a separate room — and then we put the guitars and the lead vocals in the room front.”
Scott had Wizard’s drum room designed with a wall constructed of granite, marble, and brick to control the echo.
Sometimes a recording session would take an unorthodox turn, like the night he went out on the roof to record vocals for Melanie’s cover of the Four Seasons hit, “Rag Doll.”
“I set up a vocal mic and headphones for each of us and sat in a chair and she sang the song over there,” Scott said. “She wanted atmosphere, so I created the atmosphere.”
During the recording session, Husband and producer of Mélanie, Pierre Schekeryk, came out of the bathroom shouting, “I know what we need, sleigh bells!” And in fact, sleigh bells were mixed in his version of “Rag Doll”.
Other rock luminaries who have recorded or rehearsed at The Wizard include Al Koperthe Isley Brothers and Ronin – made up of members of Linda Ronstadt’s backing band. The studio has also recorded tracks by jazz fusion guitar virtuosos Al DiMeola and John McLoughlin.
Scott closed the studio in the late 1980s after the property was sold.
It didn’t take long for his next career move: hitting the road in Europe as a sound engineer for Deep Purple, Mountain and Meatloaf. It was the start of a long string of gigs that included audio engineering for Mariah Carey and Grammy-nominated work with Kenneth Brian Edmonds, aka Babyface.
Scott also worked on Hall and Oates’ platinum selling album, “Ooh Yeah”, at Hall’s home in Pawling, NY.
‘In the middle of nowhere’
Bob Hansman gave guitar lessons in a room upstairs at Wizards, away from the recording sessions that were happening downstairs. But sometimes a guitarist came in for an impromptu jam session — including Frampton.
“Oh man, we played all night, it was great fun,” Hansmann said of the night he exchanged licks with the British rock star. “I don’t even remember what we played, one thing in another. We just brainstormed all night.
Hansmann still marvels at Scott’s success in attracting top performers to the “middle of nowhere”.
“He was able to run with the big dogs,” Hansmann said. “He managed to establish himself as someone worthy of respect in very, very powerful circles in the music world, like CBS and Atlantic. You just didn’t expect that in this area, and Mike has said, “Why not”, and he did.
Warren Hammer was assistant engineer and studio director at Wizard who worked on Al De Miola’s “Tour De Force” album and other projects at the studio.
“If the engineering was good and the console was good, people would relate to it,” he said, noting the studio’s remote location.
Hammer, who lives in Ossining, later worked as a technician on live events and as a technical director at Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts. He noted that several Wizard alumni later became renowned in the field, including legendary studio designer Francois Manzella and Grammy Award-winning sound engineer Phil Magnotti.
Always in the mix
Despite working with some of the genre’s most talented artists, Scott was never starstruck.
“You have to understand something about me,” he said. “I was talking about the music and the work, not the glitz. I was about to be an engineer.
Scott is still about to be an engineer, recording and mixing music in his studio in putnam valley.
The rock music industry is not the same, and it’s not just because of the transition from analog to digital technology.
“The spirit of music was to write music for a cause and to be able to stand on a box and shout your opinion there,” Scott said. “Now the culture has become very regulated and confined…and everything you hear is almost the same thing all the time.”
“We had so many great writers in the past, we don’t have that anymore,” he said. There are very few very good songwriters. Where are the Bob Dylans, the Elton Johns, the John Lennons, the George Harrisons and Carole Kings?
Scott added: “I still believe one hundred percent in the purpose of what we started long before Woodstock, and in Woodstock, and continued. I believe what we said then was right.
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