Playback by Jim Malloy
A review by Jane Baxter, Trew Audio Marketing Coordinator
Jim Malloy enjoyed a long and decorated career as a Recording Engineer in Los Angeles and later Nashville and is revered for his skill in capturing big sound from any size group or artist. “Playback” combines Jim’s stories of recording stars from every musical persuasion and the technical means for capturing their talents in the pre-digital recording days of the 50s and 60s. This collection of stories is a kind of “liner notes” for a career album of recording greatness.
Part personal history and part technical guide, “Playback” gives insights into the real people, famous and not so, Malloy recorded and the way they accomplished their work. He is careful to dictate mic type, room set up, mic placement and track use as he recounts his sessions. At times you feel as though you are reading someone’s personal journal exploring the not so well known sides of many recording artists. Yet this book never feels gossipy, instead demonstrating over and over the real passion Jim had for his work regardless of the celebrity status of his subject.
Classical, Jazz, Orchestral, Rhythm & Blues, Country, Mariachi bands, Pop – Malloy recorded whatever he could get his hands on. His resume reads like a who’s who of popular music for the last 40 years. Herb Alpert, before he hit it big, used Jim to splice edit their Jan & Dean master recordings off the spool so they could reuse the remainder. His work with Henry Mancini brought him a Grammy. Ike and Tina recorded with bodyguards in his studio. Malloy worked with Sam Cooke the night he was killed. Elvis tried to get him fired so that he could hire him full time. Chet Atkins lured him to Nashville after Duane Eddy recommended him and Malloy remixed hits from Jim Reeves posthumous work tapes keeping Reeves atop the charts for 5 years after his death.
No matter if he was standing his ground against Benny Goodman’s plan to use just two mics to record his 10 piece band simultaneously or aptly fulfilling Bing Crosby’s command that Jim quickly yet perfectly record one take on each song as Mr. Crosby’s plane awaited, Malloy was ever the recording professional and was ultimately respected for his recording skill.
Jim recorded before there was the option to “fix it in the mix.” He developed and relied on an incredible ear for mic placement and creating presence, a head for track choice and room set up as well as the craft of slicing and splicing tape. Yes, I said tape.
He makes great effort to thank those that helped him along the way and considers himself incredibly lucky to have been at the right place at the right time -repeatedly. Moreover he demonstrates his openness to all requirements of the journey toward becoming a skilled recording engineer in an era before degree programs or how-to books for audio recording.
Respect for the talent and skill of an artist balanced with a deep conviction to get the best sound capture possible formed the two legs of Malloy’s tuning fork for mastering a great recording engineering career. You’ll enjoy this read whether you love music history, sound recording or the art of perfecting a craft.