Friday, July 5, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich — In Conversation with Sound Engineer Ed Stasium

by G. Jack Urso



EAT VINYL DEATH!

Ed Stasium, sound engineer for Hot Hero Sandwich, wore a button with those words during the recording sessions with the Hot Hero Band. Somewhere between a curse and a challenge, “Eat Vinyl Death” is a battle cry, a call to arms, and a reminder that rebellion is always at the heart of Rock and Roll.

Nothing demonstrates the power of Rock and Roll more than the music for Hot Hero Sandwich. Despite no recordings being released, every Hot Hero fan will acknowledge the show’s memory was nursed along for four decades by the remembered snippets and snatches of songs produced in the recording studio. The music made no allowances for being a Saturday morning kid’s show. It was straight-ahead, hard-driving, Rock and Roll. The music didn’t pander or preach. It PUNCHED!

Helping to create that sound was Ed Stasium. If you haven’t heard of Ed before, but have been alive the last fifty years, then, yes, you have heard Ed Stasium before. In fact, you’ve been listening to Ed most of your life. Just before he hooked up with Hot Hero in 1979, Ed engineered the first album for the Talking Heads, Talking Heads: 77, and the Ramones’ second album, Leave Home, the first of many Ramones albums to come. Ed also engineered and/or produced albums by Motörhead, the Smithereens, Living Colour, Peter Wolf, The Replacements, and many, many more. Ed Stasium very literally engineered the soundtrack for Baby Boomer/Gen Xer lives.

For Hot Hero Sandwich, Ed Stasium was the sound engineer in the recording studio with music director Felix Pappalardi and The Hot Hero Band, helping to give the Hot Hero sound just the touch it needed to sound authentic to teenagers who can spot a phony a mile away.  As I’ve noted in other articles, the soundtrack for the show has been what sustained the show’s memory decades. The catchy melodies, hard-driving guitars, steady-thumping bass, pulse-pounding drums, and soaring solos, were a far-cry from the corporate, tin-can, pop music packaged for mass consumption on other TV shows. This was our music played the way we wanted to hear it. When Casey Kasem came on during the opening credits, it was as if it was just another break on American Top 40.

Working on a TV show and putting music to video was new ground for Ed at the time, but, as a practical matter, engineering the sound for a kick-ass rock band for a TV show is, except for certain unique tasks, is much like any other project. Whether it’s the Ramones, the Talking Heads, or the Hot Hero Band, for an engineer, a four-person band is a four-person band. Ed didn’t dial down his efforts just because it was a TV show. Ed’s dial starts at 11. That’s why great artists kept coming back to him, because Ed brought the same level of dedication to his craft whether it was a Saturday morning TV show or a ground-breaking album by a legendary band.

Ed Stasium’s name first popped up during my conversation with Jimmy Biondolillo, the music coordinator for Hot Hero Sandwich. As I have been gathering material for a profile of Felix Pappalardi for the Hot Hero Sandwich Project, as soon as I heard of Ed’s involvement with the show I knew I had to speak to him. Fortunately, Hot Hero Band bassist Robert Brissette was still in contact with Ed and hooked me up for one of the most educational and enjoyable interviews I’ve had.

A small selection of albums Ed Stasium engineered, produced, and/or mixed.
Get ready audiophiles and Rock and Roll historians! First, Ed takes us on a deep dive into the recording world in New York City in the 1970s, reviews exactly what a sound engineer does, discusses how he got involved with Hot Hero Sandwich, provides insight into Felix Pappalardi’s role with the show, and talks Space: 1999.

Hey, anything from the 70s is fair game for the Hot Hero Sandwich Project!

So, Rock and Roll fans, point your speakers down, turn the volume up to 11, and get ready to blast off — we’re about to visit Rock and Roll: 1979!

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Liner Notes on Sound Engineering

Ed Stasium at work in Mediasound, NYC, 1970 (Edstasium.com).
Ae13U: Ed, thank you so much for speaking with me today. It’s really going to fill in more pieces of the Hot Hero puzzle. Although the show Emmy awards, there were no recordings, no cassettes, vinyl, or VHS, no articles in Rolling Stone or even Teen Beat, yet ask most Hot Hero fans and they will tell you that music kept the series’ memory alive. Without that music component provided by Felix Pappalardi, the Hot Hero Band, and yourself, I’m not sure we would be speaking today.

Ed Stasium: I did not even know an Emmy was won by the show.

Ae13U: Oh yeah, a couple. One for Outstanding Children's Entertainment Series and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children's Programming, plus nominations in several other categories [Note: Please see Hot Hero Sandwich — A Second Serving! 1980 Daytime Emmy Awards for more information.]

OK, to get started, Bruce and Carole Hart made a point to hire young people, so I have to ask, how old were you during the series production in 1979?

Ed Stasium: I guess I was 30 years old.  Yeah. I was born in September of ‘49.

Ae13U: For those of us outside the industry, how would you define what a sound engineer does? I’m sure you could write book.

Ed Stasium: There’s a lot involved, but basically, when I was in an engineer position, and not producing, I would, you know, set up the microphones and make sure that everything was recorded onto the tape. We there was tape at one time. You have an assistant working with you and you would have the talent of making things sound good. I suppose, making sure it was done properly, making sure it's sounded good, that there's no distortion. Basically plugging a mic in and getting it onto tape clean and you sound right. From there once [you have] all the elements, you need to use multi tracks. Back in the day, probably with the Hot Hero stuff that was a 24-track tape machine and we would record in stages.

Some people still think records are made with the band will just go out to a studio to record. That doesn't happen. I mean, that that happened with the first Beatles record and all the Sinatra stuff and Count Basie stuff and Louis Prima . . . that's all live, right, the early Sinatra, not the later stuff, but that was all live in the studio.

Ae13U: Old school indeed. It had its own set of challenges.

Ed Stasium: The engineer’s job was to make sure, especially during those days, there would be no multi-track. You were mixing two mono or stereo, Mono in the early days. You would have an assortment of microphones put into a desk, a mixer board, whatever you want to call it, which would convert the microphone signal to audio, and that audio would go on to, in the early days, a disc.

Ae13U: Right, right before tape. We’re so used to editing audio using software, people forget we had to use a razor blade and tape to cut and splice audio back then. When I tell my students that, they look at me like I’m from the Stone Age.

[laughter]

Ed Stasium: Oh, man, you know cutting tape saved my life! My engineer and I were in London coming back on that terrible date, December 21st or 22nd, 1988.  I ended up spending a whole extra day editing songs together over the budget and we didn't make the flight, so it saved our lives.

[Note: Stasium is referring to Pan AM Flight 103 which exploded on Dec. 21, 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland, due to a bomb placed by Libyan terrorists.]

Ae13U: There, but for the grace of God . . .

Ed Stasium: So, the engineer basically makes sure everything is set up and then you mix. Now back in the early days with all the Sinatra stuff at Capital Records, or wherever they were doing those recordings, he [the engineer] would actually do the mix with the different microphones live. You have to know cues . . . sometimes the producer would be there with you and you'd be following cues as to what instrument would be featured for a solo, the piano, or a saxophone, or trumpet, and you place them in the room where it would sound the best.

Ae13U: It sounds like you must have a really strong working knowledge of how all the different brands of equipment work.

Ed Stasium: Well, it's all the same. It really is. You know, a preamp is a preamp. They sound differently, but they don't operate differently. You know you have your input volume or attenuation whatever you want to call it and get it onto the tape —nice and clean — and then you now, especially with Hot Hero, you know 24 track. So you do the backing track, you do the band — your drums, the guitar, bass, and then you would overdub anything else on top of that, vocals, percussion, keyboards, whatever you would do.

In one particular session with Stephen Stills I remember doing . . . I think we did “Love the One You're With” and he had played all the he played all of the instruments on that at Mediasound . . .  he did everything on it. I don't know if he did a live vocal in the show or he did sync.

Stephen Stills’ performance of “Love the One Your With” on episode 4 of Hot Hero Sandwich.

Ae13U: It was all lip synced. I think you probably could hear him singing while he was up there performing, but the mic was turned off because they had all that neon. If the mics and instruments were plugged in, it would create too much interference. 

Ed Stasium: I don't think I ever saw any of the shows. I was just in the studio recording this stuff and I was probably doing other work as well at that time.

Ae13U: Stephen Stills appeared there as a favor for Felix Pappalardi, according to Mike Ratti.

Ed Stasium: Oh, OK. 

Ae13U: All the guest music appearances, including Stephen Stills, have been uploaded to the Hot Hero Sandwich YouTube channel.

Ed Stasium: Oh, you do? I haven't checked that out.

Ae13U: They were recorded by the same crew in Studio 8-H at Rockefeller Center that also filmed the musical acts on Saturday Night Live, so there’s some great work going on there.

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Hot Hero Sandwich: 1999!

One little-known fact about the Hot Hero Sandwich Central YouTube channel is that it was built upon an older channel dedicated to clips from Space: 1999 (which I have written about elsewhere on Aeolus 13 Umbra in “Space: 1999 — The Complete Series Review”). In my research on Hot Hero, reading through all the TV Guides, I discovered that one show that was often on in the afternoons after Hot Hero, and sometimes on the same channel, was Space: 1999. So, I removed the content and rebranded it Hot Hero Sandwich Central and most of the subscribers stayed.

When I revealed this to Ed, he SUDDENLY ran off camera and then returned with . . . Well, take a look below as we discuss our mutual fandom for another 70s TV show.



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ON AIR

Ae13U: OK, before we got sidetracked on Space: 1999, we were talking about the recording process for Hot Hero . . .

Ed Stasium: Oh yeah, well, I didn't get to recording the band, doing the overdubs, and then you go into a mixing stage where you would take all the elements that you've recorded onto the 24-track tape and then you would you would mix it. You'd reduce it. You'd reduction that into what was probably a mono mix. I don't think at that time stereo TV had really caught on yet. So, I think that we would do a mono mix of the material of the band . . .  of the track. Maybe we’d get a stereo mix, but I don't think so. I think it was probably all mono and we would listen on little Auratone speakers to simulate a television speaker.

Ae13U: Those TV speakers were pretty crappy compared to what we have today.

Ed Stasium: I remember that one of the things that the television wanted back then was to put a little more bass, a little more bottom end, in the mix because when you would mix you'd adjust the treble and the base in the mid-range to where it would sound good. So, we listen on these small Auratone speakers and they always want the bass a little bit more prominent because of the back then there were the we didn't have, you know, [Dolby]  5.1 or any type of stereo speakers hooked up to your TV. You just had the television speaker — a little crappy 3-inch speaker. So, you wanted it to sound good on those suckers.

Ae13U: Jimmy Biondolillo also mentioned that in his interview with me. Those old TV speakers were tiny. I remember it well.

Ed Stasium: I remember having a TV monitor in the control room when we did the theme song because they had already shot the video for the opening. I think the band either played to it or we did to a click track, but it was the first time I ever worked with video and music together.

Ae13U: The opening credits were actually directed by John Nicolella, who was a director and producer for Miami Vice just a few years later. [Note: For background on the opening credits, please read Hot Hero Sandwich — Short Take on John Nicolella, Consultant/Location Producer]

Episode 7 opening credits.

OK, moving along, so right before Hot Hero you worked with the Ramones and the Talking Heads and a bunch of other great bands you were involved with in Sire Records. I'm wondering, listening to band’s music and other pieces on the show, and maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but were there any kind of aural cues, set-ups, techniques, or whatever, that you may have brought over from your previous engineering gigs to help make the Hot Hero sound?

Ed Stasium: Good question, but in my experience it's always make sure it's in tune. Make sure everything's in time, make sure there are no mistakes in the performance, so you will just want to make it as good as you possibly can. And you know, [regarding the Hot Hero Sandwich sessions] we weren't making albums here. We are doing quick sessions, very fast sessions. Got to get it done quick. I don't think the budget was all that much, you know, working with Felix was great. He would guide them.

Also, I was the engineer, right? So, I didn't do anything more special than I did, except, listening in mono probably was the exception because I would always mix in stereo, although in my early, earlier days I would make a mono and stereo mix, I think probably up until around ‘78 or so. So, we would make a mono and a stereo mix for the DJ for a single, especially. There would be a mono mix on one side, on the other there'd be a stereo mix. On the other side, so just making sure that it popped out of a small [TV] speaker, like I just mentioned our last bit of the conversation.

Ae13U: Right, mono sound, and through small speakers, still had to be taken into consideration.

The entrance to Mediasound in NYC.
Ed Stasium: We worked in two different studios. I remember we worked at Mediasound worked at Mediasound at Studio A, up in the lounge as well, and we also worked in the studio called RPM. We did a lot of work at RPM and we tracked I remember tracking the band there as well. They had a nice Neve console as they did in Studio A and Studio B at Mediasound.  I don't know why I did get into Mediasound because I was not a staff member. We gave RPM a lot of work doing Hot Hero there. We did a lot of overdubs. I think we probably did some mixing there as well because I remember Bob Mason, the owner, he gave me a bonus check for all the time Hot Hero spent in the studio . . . It was amazing. I was like, “What? Are you kidding me?”

[laughter]

They said you deserve it and for bringing the work in here. I ended up doing a lot of work at RPM over the years. Even on the second Living Colour record back in 1991, the Time’s Up, record. We did all the overdubs we tracked in LA at A&M Studios . . . Then we went to RPM and we did all of the overdubs and all the vocals, all the guitar overdubs, all the overdubs, there at RPM when Bob Mason still owned the place.

The Hot Hero Band in rehearsal at RPM Studio in Greenwich Village, 1979. Left to right: Richie Annunziato, Robert Brissette, and Mike Ratti (photo credit, Rich Annunziato).

[Note: Robert Brissette discusses sessions in RPM Studios in The Hot Hero Band — On the Flip Side with Bassist Robert Brissette. Photos of the band at RPM are available at Hot Hero Sandwich — On the Flip Side with Guitarist Richie Annunizato.]

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Ae13U: How did you get hired to be Felix Pappalardi’s sound engineer on the show. Had you worked with him previously?

Ed Stasium: I had not. I had not met Felix, but I was a big fan of Felix because he had produced he had produced Disraeli Gears by Creem, and Wheels of Fire, and I think he did some stuff on Goodbye as well [Note: Pappalardi is listed as producer on all those albums.] — he produced some of those tracks. But you know, Disraeli Gears was a ground breaking record for Cream. It sounded great. It was engineered by the great Tom Dowd and Felix had produced that, and so I knew his name and also he had been in Mountain with Leslie West and Corky Lang, and those are really good records — and I believe he produced those as well. You know, he and Gail wrote some of those songs, Theme from an Imaginary Western, which is really great stuff. So, I always, like, thrilled to be there.

Susan Planer, the late great. Susan Planer, a great friend, tragically killed in a car accident in in the 90s, going to a high school reunion up in upstate New York. They slipped on some black ice and everybody survived except her. She the car flipped or something. She broke her neck. Died instantly. Real, real tragic, but a great friend. [Note: Susan Planer was the influential and well-respected general manager of the legendary Mediasound Studios in NYC.]

Susan Planer at Mediasound in an undated photo
(Mediasound Studios NYC Facebook Group).
Now, I have a long since storied career which I won't even get into, but I ended up coming back, I was l in Canada.  I was working at the studio Warren Heights — an infamous recording studio in the Laurentian Mountains. You know everybody rushing all their records there. I was on staff for approximately just under a year, did some great stuff, met that a lot of great people, hung around with the Bee Gees when they were doing the Children of the World [1976] which some of the songs ended up on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

I came back to New York to do an audio consultation for a telethon [with] Geraldo Rivera. The drummer, my friend Alan Swartzberg, was a musical director and he called me up and said “Ed, would you come down and be the audio consultation for . . . it was called “One to One.” There was even a One to One benefit concert at Madison Square Garden. It was to benefit . . . Geraldo was working for ABC-TV at the time in Manhattan and he did an exposé about this place called Willowbrook — It was a big exposé — It was a home for handicapped children. He went in there and did the exposé, the kids were lying in bed in their feces and urine and just horrible situation. So he started this “One to One” telethon and concerts. John Lennon played at the concert at the Garden.

Ae13U: Right, the Willowbrook exposé. I recall reading about that. That was groundbreaking. [Note: Rivera won a Peabody Award for the report in 1972.]

Ed Stasium: At this One to One telethon, I think it was broadcast on WOR, but it was held at the in the ABC studios up there on 66th, like Amsterdam, I think it was some or somewhere around there, I ended up living on 78th between Amsterdam and Columbus in the 80s and 90s. But I think it was up there somewhere. So when I went to this telethon, I left Canada for a few days and came down, stayed at my mom's house, rented a car or I probably borrowed her car, I ran into an old friend, Tony Bongiovi, who I met in 1972, and Bon Jovi and the previous manager of Mediasound, was the manager of Mediasound, Bob Walters, building a new studio, which was to be named Power Station. I was the first person on staff. They paid my moving expenses. I came down.

And then for different reasons, I left Power Station and the winter, I think it was November of ’77, and I went independent. And because I had been doing some work at Mediasound with Tony, Tony Bongiovi, I became friends with Susan Planer, and Susan when I went independent, she started getting me gigs. My recollection is that Jimmy Biondolillo, I think he asked Susan for a recommendation for an engineer, and Susan approached me.

Being independent I was not on staff but I doing a lot of work there. As a matter of fact, when I went independent in late 77 and all through 78, I did the Ramones Road to Ruin at Mediasound, as an independent. I suppose I was one of the first independent engineer cats, you know at that time everybody was on staff, you know, [Bob] Clearmountain was at Power Station . . . Ronnie Saint Germain . . . b
ut I believe Susan Planer got me involved with Jimmy Biondolillo.

Ae13U: Which led your involvement on the show. Are there are anecdotes or stories about Felix during your time with him that may give us further insight into his dedication to the show or his craft?

Ed Stasium: He was very knowledgeable. He's a talented musician, talented producer . . . I don't remember any particular stories or incidents that happened. I just remember that we got on really well and we worked really well together. We complimented each other and you know, I would suggest something once in a while and Felix would, “Great idea! Yeah, let’s do that.”

But he pretty much let me do my job and he did his job and we were a team. I wish we could have done more work, but we never did. I think I was in touch with him. I probably still have a number of his in one of my address books.

Then he was tragically killed by Gail [Delta Collins, Pappalardi’s wife]. She’s passed away, not recently . . .

Ae13U: About a decade ago, I think. [Note: In 2013.]

Ed Stasium: She was kind of a trip . . . Gail was a trip.

Ae13U: It was a complicated relationship. In any event, this does help paint a larger picture. Did you have any further contact with the Harts after Hot Hero Sandwich?

Ed Stasium: As a matter of fact, she [Carole Hart] offered me some work recording Sesame Street stuff, but I couldn't do it because I was kind of busy doing Rock ‘n Roll at the time.

Ae13U: Well, considering some of the legendary albums you worked on, I think we Hot Hero fans can let that slide. Ed — I think I’ve taken enough of your time. Thank you so much for helping us learn a bit more about Felix, the Harts, Hot Hero, sound engineering, and your own fascinating career!

Ed Stasium: OK, Jack. Peace and love!

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Concluding Thoughts

Ed Stasium at home. Nice set-up Ed! (Edstasium.com).
Knowing Ed Stasium’s discography, and discovering how much he engineered the soundtrack of my life, I grew incredibly nervous about our interview; however, Ed couldn’t have been more kind and gracious. Considering that the show was just one small short-lived gig that probably didn’t even last six months out of a 50-plus year career, I thought I would be lucky if Ed even remembered the series. Yet, not only did Ed recall the show and his work on it, he gave us a bit of a tour of rock history — history that some of which he produced himself. As a historian, this type of primary source research is absolutely invaluable.

And, after all this, if you still continue to doubt the life-altering power of Rock and Roll, my good friend, all I have to say is:

EAT VINYL DEATH!

And, also in the spirit of Ed,

Peace and Love!

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Tales from the Hot Hero Sandwich Archives: Disraeli Gears

Ed Stasium’s reference to Creem’s Disraeli Gears in his interview recalls a story how the album played a part in Felix Pappalardi joining Hot Hero Sandwich.  A Nov. 4, 1979, Record World article includes the following passage where Carole Hart tells the story how they came to hire Pappalardi:

“We were breakfasting with a friend who's a psychic just about the time we were looking for a music director and she said, ‘Carole, I see the name Felix behind your head.’ Bruce and our film editor simultaneously said Pappalardi. We called him in Nantucket and he was working for us the next night.”

When I saw the reference Carole makes to “our film editor” I knew that could only possibly be Patrick McMahon, the film editor for Hot Hero Sandwich, later married to series writer Sherry Coben (both of whom have previously been interviewed for Hot Hero Sandwich — A Second Serving! A Retrospective Interview).

Reaching out to Pat for a little background, he graciously shared with me that he was indeed the film editor friend of the Harts referred to in the article. The psychic was a friend of his, Judy Needle from Ashville, NC, who he introduced to the Harts. At the time, the Harts were just about to fire the music director they hired for Hot Hero Sandwich, Gary Sherman, who, while certainly competent and experienced, being in his late forties he may have been a little out of touch with the late 70s teen zeitgeist. This was noted in Hot Hero Sandwich — In Conversation with Music Coordinator Jimmy Biondolillo, in which Jimmy discusses his interview with the Harts and Pappalardi.

The Harts were unfamiliar with Pappalardi's work as a producer, so McMahon lent them his copy of Disraeli Gears. Loving the album, the Harts tracked Pappalardi down in Nantucket and a week later he was hired and at work on the show.

McMahon, however, never did get his album back . . . but I think he let the Harts slide.

●          ●          ●
 

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich — On the Flip Side with Drummer Mike Ratti, Part II

by G. Jack Urso

 

Mike Ratti, drummer for the Hot Hero Band, has been instrumental in helping me navigate the complicated and complex nature of the music business. Whenever I have a question about the music for the series, people in the industry, how things got done, and how they’ve change, Mike has been my go-to man. A master raconteur, Mike always has a story or two to illustrate his point, and he paints those stories with details that make a writer’s job much easier.

After having focused on other aspects of the series in the past year, the Hot Hero Sandwich Project returns its attention back on the music with interviews with Music Coordinator Jimmy Biondolillo and Sound Engineer Ed Stasium, and an upcoming feature highlighting Hot Hero Sandwich’s Music Director, the legendary Felix Pappalardi of the band Mountain and producer of some of the era’s top Rock acts, including Creem, The Youngbloods, and Hot Tuna, among many others.

In this interview, Mike gives us some background on the industry of the era leading up to the Seventies and reveals how Hot Hero Sandwich producers Bruce and Carole Hart inadvertently got Mike Ratti fired and along the way we’ll encounter Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ted Nugent, and find out how Stephen Stills came to perform on the show.
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The Way We Were

Ae13U: Mike, can you give me some background on what the recording session was like leading up to the Seventies. From my limited understanding, the musicians seemed to have had less input than the executives in the past than by the late 70s when the bands, at least the big ones, began to exert more control.

Mike Ratti: It was set up that you go into a studio. You had to have somebody engineer it. You had to have somebody produce it, meaning you had to have somebody representing the record label and all the powers to be, why you were in that room, and then you had to have somebody document that — a contractor.

Caricature of Mike Ratti by Hot Hero Sandwich writer Sherry Coben (1979).
Every session was like that in the music business, no matter who you were. As the business became as popular as it did in the late 50s, now 60s, where now you're having bands and musicians, it wasn't a free-for-all. They didn't allow musicians, managers, agents, to be a part of it. It was like when you come into the room — look at all those old pictures of The Beatles [in a studio], what’s everyone wearing?

Ae13U: Suits and ties.

Mike Ratti: Because it was, you know, even across the pond, it was the same way.

Ae13U: Right.

Mike Ratti: More and more of the business became more and more of, I mean the big money, the big concerts, the big bands, and then I'd say some probably somewhere in the 70s it started to change over where you know we're not going in with the producer, the contractor, we're bringing in our own bands . . . with the Byrds, with the Mamas and the Papas, with Led Zeppelin. . . . You did not need a contractor or a producer hired from the label.

Ae13U: So, by 1979, during the production of Hot Hero Sandwich, that was the waning days of the old model, or maybe it was surpassed by then?

Mike Ratti: Yeah, it could be a window of years, but yes, that’s exactly as you say Jack.

Ae13U: By now I've got nearly every scene of Hot Hero memorized, including the music and the bumpers.

On most series, the soundtrack music would be played by contracting musicians, but during my research the only actual music I hear on the series, besides the guest performances and some music videos [like Donovan’s “I Love My Shirt], is music the Hot Hero Band itself performs, the songs, bumpers, and instrumentals — no one else, correct?

Mike Ratti: Right. I was there every recording session. I was there every meeting — and “I” meaning “we” [referring to the Hot Hero Band] . . . We’re not here to discredit anyone, just set the record straight.

Ae13U: Having a house band for the show really changed the old way of doing things, particularly with Felix on board.
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Come Together . . .

Ae13U:  Alright, let's pick up the story when the Hot Hero Band was brought together. This somehow involved the Rex Smith Band, right?

Rex, 1977: Lars Hanson, Lou Vandora, Rex Smith, Orville David, and Mike Ratti.
Mike Ratti: The Rex Band with Rex Smith and myself, we were disbanded by the management company Leber and Krebs [Note: founded by legendary managers Stan Leber and David Krebs] for Rex to go on to do Sooner or Later [1979 TV movie] with the Harts. I think I might have told you this story, but we got fired because we played Madison Square Garden. That's where, that's where Bruce and Carol [Hart] in the audience saw Rex.

Ae13U: Fired? I didn’t hear that story before!

Mike Ratti: Oh, what? You've never heard that story?

Ae13U: I never heard that story!

Mike Ratti:  Oh, alright. Sit back . . . so, the band Rex [fronted by Rex Smith] was on tour, right? First of all, let me back up. We were managed by Leber-Krebs. Leber-Krebs were a big management company, which back in the 70s and 80s had to have. You couldn't play the game, be a part of this, unless you had a manager or management company. They were the ones that had the contacts with everybody.

Ae13U: Right.

Mike Ratti: They managed . . . Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, AC/DC . . . Humble Pie when they [both] were in the states. So, they acted as the management company when the band was here. When they were overseas, they had their own management company and that's how the business was.

So, they [Leber-Krebs] had signed Rex a deal with CBS Records for five albums. In other words, they said the CBS records we have this artist, we have this band, we're going to put them out there, our responsibility, we take all the financial end, whatever . . . Well, we did one album and went on tour for a year. Did another album and went on tour for a year . . . and we were on tour with Ted Nugent and the co-headliners were Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Ae13U: Oh, man, what a ticket!

Mike Ratti: So, we were on tour. We were the opening act for those two bands each night since they were co-headliners. One band would end the night, then, the next night, the other band would close. We played with them into October of 1977 and we were hanging out with Lynyrd Skynyrd that night, they said, yeah, “We'll see you up in New York at Madison Square Garden.” November 10th was the date. Same building, three bands. “We'll [Lynyrd Skynyrd] see you up at the Garden because we're heading to whichever gigs you guys are heading.”


Back up north two days later, we're on the road, it was October 20th and we got word the plane went down and there was the accident [which killed three members of the band and serious hurt the others]. So, my first thought is. “Uh oh, there goes the gig in Madison Square Garden. My family's not going to be able to come and see me.”

Ae13U: What happened afterwards?

Mike Ratti: We're still playing, working our way up because we're getting closer to the city.

That was brought up at some point. I couldn't tell you exactly when and it was. It was that the show was going on. Ron Delsener, the Big New York promoter, said, “The show will go on with Ted Nugent and Rex, and that's what I said to everybody, “We're going to get the shit kicked out of us. They’re gonna boo us. They’re gonna boo us!”

Ae13U: Replacing Lynyrd Skynyrd under those circumstances, not a good position.

Mike Ratti: We were like, “Oh, man! Oh, man!” So, we finally we did that date. We did, it went over.  I mean, people were still talking. WNEW and Allison Steele [legendary NY DJ] raved about it the next day on the radio. She said that opening act . . . I've never seen a band like that . . . we got RAVE reviews.

It was in November, November 10th, We played couple of shows after that and then came the holidays . . .

Ae13U: November 10th, what year would that be?

Mike Ratti:  1977. November 10 is the same day as the first episode of Hot Hero Sandwich [Nov. 10, 1979]. That's why this day means a lot to me — same day.

A ticket for the Nov. 10, 1977 show Lynyrd Sknyrd never made.
(Uncle G's Classic Rock Concert Memories).
Ae13U: So [after the holidays] in 78, we go into practice for a third album. They decide to send us up to Woodstock [NY] and rehearse and record what we're doing with Eddie Offord, a big producer, he produced Yes.  So, he had a studio, I believe it was at Levon Helm’s barn, the one that burnt down.

So, we're recording and we're doing the songs that we're preparing for the third album live to see how it sounds. Eddie is just recording us and its big barn, and we're up there for a couple of weeks and around February we take some time off — and this is as early spring — I get a phone call from Leber-Krebs management at my parents’ house, which I don't live there, I just happen to be there raking the leaves, and I'm thinking it is an emergency or something's wrong, right? I didn't even know they had my parents’ number.

And I was told, “Hi Mike . . . We're having a meeting. We need everybody there. You have to come in.” I said, “OK, when?” She said “Tomorrow! But I need to get in touch with Lou [Lou Van Dora, guitar] and Lars Hanson [guitar and keyboards].” Well, Lou is on vacation in Brunswick, Georgia, where he’s from, and Lars, I think is in the city somewhere. I could track them down. I asked what about Rex? She said, don't worry about Rex.

So, I call up Lou and he jumps on the plate and we went back in that office for meeting the very next day . . . and it's the band minus Rex Smith, and we're having a meeting with David Craft at his office. He says, “Guys I know we're preparing for third album, you’re working hard, you know, we gave it a good shot . . .” I’m biting my lip because I don't like the way that sounds.

So, we're sitting there and he says, “What we decided to do was disband the group . . . we're going to go a different route with Rex . . . we have an opportunity for him to be in a made-for-TV movie special and we're going to go that route.”

So, of course, we say, what about the band? Basically, then he thought we didn't want to accept what he was saying. He said, “Look, the band is over. I'm putting him into a major TV movie.”

And we asked how did this come about? He said, “He [Rex Smith] was discovered one at one of the shows when you played Madison Square Garden [Nov. 10, 1977]. There were writers and producers out there that like what they saw and approached us. They tracked us down and gave us a pitch of what they would like to do.”

We were asking the questions and then at that point he said, “Look, the meeting is over. We’ll settle up everything.” I asked, I said “David when can we expect our last paycheck?” And he looked at his wrist — he did not have a watch on —and said “Last week.”

Ae13U: Ouch! “It’s a Long Way to the Top If You Want to Rock and Roll,” huh? Were Robert Brissette and Mark Cunningham [bassist and guitarist, respectively, for the Hot Hero Band] in on this?

Mike Ratti: No. This is leading up to that. This is how it led to Hot Hero. Robert played with Rex in the band Tricks. He was asked to be in this band, but he went back to college and he said no, I'm not quitting school again, so he passed on it to be the bass player. We got Orville Davis to be the bass player. Mark Cunningham was the guitar player when Rex did the demos in a band called The Flying Tigers, which was right before this deal, he [Smith] brought tapes up to New York and got the deal, got people interested. Mark was the guitar player. It didn't work out. Mark went his way . . . with Rick Derringer, we continued as Rex.

Ae13U: OK, got it.

Rex Smith, including the Hot Hero Band’s Mark Cunningham, Robert Brissette, and Mike Ratti, burn up the air waves in this promotional music video for the track “Superhero” from the album Forever.

Mike Ratti:  So we were told that these people in the audience said that's the guy [Rex Smith] we want for our movie and they tracked him down.

Ae13U: Let me get this straight. They saw the band Rex perform at MSG on Nov. 10, 1977. Thought Rex Smith would be perfect for their movie, reached out to the Leber-Krebs management company, who, based on that offer, decided they were going to disband the Rex band, correct?

Mike Ratti: Yes, based on he was going to make a movie, they were going to pay for everything. Now, could they have kept the band? Probably. Was that important to them, though? No, the band was still then trying to do something, but they're saying we want to do this. We're going to put him in the studio. We have the songs written to the movie. [Note: By Stephen Lawrence and Bruce Hart who also wrote the Hot Hero Sandwich theme song.]

All of a sudden it was like a “win” situation for that office based on business. They got somebody here jumping in on their bandwagon and all of a sudden they don't have to pay any money for this, — and now they did not need us. We didn't need mean anything to them.

Ae13U: “Welcome to the Rock and Roll business boys. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Check out a segment of music from the Rex performance on Nov. 10, 1977!

Mike Ratti: So Rex was brought into Carole and Bruce’s stable because they saw us play November 10th, 1977, at Madison Square Garden. With that, they then did the Sooner or Later movie with all of those hits and that album went gold, and who produced it? Charlie Calello.

Ae13U: Jimmy Biondolillo’s mentor! Now it all comes together. Jimmy sat in on those sessions and that’s how Bruce and Carole met Jimmy. [Note: Jimmy Biondolillo became the music coordinator for Hot Hero Sandwich. See his interview with the Project for more information.]

Mike Ratti: Right. Now fast-forward less than a year and now the Harts have the Hot Hero thing that they're working on and they decide they need a band. Wouldn't it be great to have a band? The kids would love that.

They didn’t want to get studio musicians — old guys — so the Harts said, not putting words into their mouths, but what about the band and the musicians we used in the movie [Sooner or Later]?

Mike Ratti during the Rex Era.
Ae13U: Although there was a band with Rex in the movie, they decided not to use anyone from the Rex band itself? Seems kind of pointless.

Mike Ratti: Well . . . I had the part but I blew it Jack. I had to do a reading with Rex and Bruce. They [his agency] sent me. The agent said, “This is his drummer. This is his look. He can talk. He's not an actor . . . I just hung out with him for an hour, just observing him. He's the perfect guy for you. He's the perfect drummer.”

Well, he came and walked into the room with the first. Bruce says, “OK, here's the line Mikey. Just go off and do it.” And I go, “Uh . . . Uh.”

“NEXT!”

Ae13U: [Laughter]. Ah, the limelight . . .

Mike Ratti: Everybody that was in the band [in Sooner or Later] were actors, except for Mark [Cunningham]. Rex brought Mark in because, he said, “Look, I want something legit and he does play and I've worked with him.”

I think I think he felt bad that it didn't work out with Mark with the right band and Rex just reached out and said, “Hey, I got this little bit for you. You'll be on screen, you know, you get paid. You know how to play the guitar. It’ll be the real deal.”

And that's how Mark was brought in. They reached out to Mark based on that and said we need some musicians, do you know anybody? It’s going to be kind of like Sooner or Later, except it's going to be a TV show for kids. Mark reached out to some people and they all said, “What?”

Don't forget this is 1979, right?

Ae13U: Right.

Mike Ratti:  All the musicians are, “I'm gonna make it. I'm gonna be Led Zeppelin. Don't tell me what to do. I'm not going to do a TV show!” So, TV and music were separate in those days, there was no marriage like it is today. It was totally separate.

There were a couple of people that turned it down. He reached out to myself, to Robert [Brissette] and Ritchie [Annunizato], his childhood friend, and that’s how the Hot Hero Band became. Again, based on November 10th, 1977, when we played Madison Square Garden.

Ae13U: Fantastic!

Mike Ratti: If the Harts didn’t see that performance, there would be no Sooner or Later, there would be no Hot Hero.

Ae13U: The two are really intertwined. It was about that time when Felix Pappalardi was tapped for Hot Hero Sandwich. According to a Nov. 24, 1979, Record World article, Carole Hart said she was with a psychic friend, along with Bruce and their film editor [presumably Hot Hero editor Patrick McMahon] who said she saw the name “Felix,” and they all immediately knew that must be Felix Pappalardi!

Mike Ratti: I could see how that definitely happened. Felix Pappalardi was now with Leber-Krebs [who managed Rex Smith] and David Krebs was dealing with Carole.

Ae13U: Ok, so things are coming full circle. Regarding the details going on in the recording sessions for the show, there was the band, Felix, the engineer Ed Stasium. Jimmy Biondolillo was there at times as well, right?

Mike Ratti: Jimmy did come in a few times and I remember him sitting in the control room sitting next to Felix. He [Jimmy] had to document that [the session work] to NBC, the Harts, their people, Local 802, AFTRA — they all had to have, “What the hell did you do?” Felix didn’t do that. We didn’t do that. Did Jimmy do that? I’m going to say yes. Musical directors [like Felix] had nothing to do with it.

Ae13U: I know that the musical guests were the Harts picks, but did Felix have any input there?

Mike Ratti: Stephen Stills [Episode 4] was a favor for Felix.

Ae13U: Really? That’s news!

Mike Ratti: They were best friends in Greenwich Village back in the early 60s. He came in to do that as a favor. How do I know that? My path crossed with Stephen Stills when I was in LA with Rex doing what his one of his final albums in the early/late 80s, that was right after Hot Hero, and I was in an all-night supermarket, they called it the supermarket of the stars, and who was in line in front of me, Stephen Stills! I tapped him on the shoulder and I told him who I was, and he said, “Yeah, I remember that show. I did that for my buddy Felix Pappalardi. That was a favor.” So yeah, he did that as a favor for Felix.

Stephen Stills performing “Sugar Babe” on episode 4 of Hot Hero Sandwich.

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Concluding Thoughts

As Mike Ratti details above, the Rock and Roll road is a rough one. Success can lead to failure, tragedy to opportunity, and along the way are the suits who will sell you out for the next big thing. So, why would anyone willingly go through this?

Well, for over 40 years the memory of Hot Hero Sandwich has been sustained by the performances of the band. No records, cassettes, or singles. No VHS, CDs, or DVDs, just music that was played over tiny TV speakers and then forgotten — except that it wasn’t. Probably every Hot Hero fan could recall the theme song, or the other songs, long before the internet. It's a credit to the songwriters, the band, and Felix Pappalardi.

That’s not just music. That, true believers, is magic — and it doesn’t come in a suit. 

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