Im Steve Conrad
I grew up in both southern and northern California, and Chicago.
At age 7, I was inspired to play guitar after watching the Chantays record the surf hit "Pipeline" at Wentzel's Music Town, 13117 Lakewood Blvd, Downey California - back in 1962. My mom was a major R&B record collector and would drag me from record store to record store all over the LA area . http://acerecords.co.uk/intoxica-strange-and-sleazy-instrumental-sounds-from-the-socal-suburbs
Downey is in Los Angeles County, ten miles from Downtown Los Angeles, and is famous for three things. One is the oldest existing standard McDonald’s. The second would have to be the Carpenters. The singing stars who appealed to the silent majority with the ordinary taste. The third is Wenzel’s Music Town. Downey Records was in the back of Wenzel’s Music Town, a record store serving Southern California's music lovers for 40 years. Downey Records achieved notoriety with recordings like the Chantays’ ‘Pipeline’ and the Rumblers’ ‘Boss.’ Since the Wenzels retired in 2002, only the McDonalds is still open for business.
Wenzel’s Music Town sat at 13117 Lakewood Blvd., just inside the Downey city line, and was one of the best collector’s record stores in Southern California. Tom and Maxine Wenzel ran Wenzel’s as an “oldies” store from 1972, until they retired, but it was at this location that Tom’s father, Bill, and his older brother, Jack, ran the Downey studio and record label from 1959 until the late 60s.
The store was divided in two halves, with the more interesting stuff through to the left, through a doorway with a velvet rope across it. Permission was needed to pass the rope, and when I visited in 1978 I was surrounded by four walls racked out with 45s, and was unsupervised. I didn’t know it then but this was the actual room that the recordings had been held in. A collector who knew the store had told me to go to the bathroom, and look up above my head. There, on a rickety old shelf piled high, were the original master tapes from the Downey studio and label. It became part of the experience of visiting Wenzels. The last time I saw those tapes was in 1991, when I interviewed Tom Wenzel for Goldmine Magazine, and the masters remained there in the dark, protected from the California sun, until the store closed. Now, after all these years, we are presenting these wonderful recordings in this series. Very many have never been heard before.
INTOXICA! is the first in a series presenting the Downey output by genre. Even more interestingly, the first comp out of the gate is an instrumental collection, but not a surf comp. No Pipeline here. The Downey vaults have been trawled thoroughly in order to bring straight-from-the-masters quality (and in the doing of it, discovering that the released sides were only the tip of an iceberg!). This collection features instrumentals from the gamut of young bands from the California beach communities and as far east as Las Vegas; cabaret acts from the lounges of Lake Tahoe and Palm Springs; mixed in with some great R&B names who used Downey’s studio and cut some fine instros of their own. The theme that links them all together is a quirky sense of cinematic drama and fun, a certain sleaziness, a love of analogue tape echo, and all recorded in an experimental fashion the equal of Joe Meek, who was working contemporaneously in London.
This collection will appeal to the instrumental collector, and the lover of lounge-sleaze. This comp has oodles of rare sides and seven unreleased gems. Familiar names likes the Revels, Rumblers, Nevegans and Hustlers rub shoulders with the R&B of Chuck Higgins and Little Caesar. A treat for connoisseurs of the strange!
- See more at: http://acerecords.co.uk/intoxica-strange-and-sleazy-instrumental-sounds-from-the-socal-suburbs#sthash.YTFluICr.dpuf
My family lived around the corner from Wentzel's on Woodruff, near Rio San Gabriel elementary school in Downey, CA. - this was only a few blocks away from Paul Bigsby's shop on Phlox Street ( he was a motorcycle mechanic who built guitars for Merle Travis and invented the Bigsby Vibrato) http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/Forgotten_Heroes_Paul_Bigsby
- also home of the Carpenters, and Dave Alvin and The Blasters, and North American Rockwell - who designed the Apollo command module that orbited the Moon. http://www.losangeles.com/nightlife/records.html
My Father worked for General Motor's Ball Bearing division, and he once visited Leo Fender in 1959, to sell him Ball Bearings for a guitar vibrato prototype that never left his R&D lab.
and GM moved our family around the country every few years - so it was rather like being an Army brat.
Between 1962-63 We lived in Glendora, California - and my older brother was friends with a younger brother of the local surf band - the Surfaris (Wipe Out)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Surfaris
Then in mid 1963 we moved to Cupertino, CA
Been playing guitar since 1967, Performed in the Santa Cruz / San Jose , CA area in the late 1960s, ( I saw bulk of the San Francisco bands live in the park in their heyday) then I lived in Chicago in 1970 - 1978, - used to sit in and play blues at Kingston mines coffee house in Chicago), The Quiet knight, Aaron Russo's Electric Playground.
(1972 - Darien, Illinois - with my 1961 SG Special, 1971 Plush "Twin Reverb" atop a 1968 Fender Dual Showman cab loaded with JBL D130F 15" speakers.
Thats me on the far right performing at Northern Illinois University with "Eugene Buxley band" - a southern rock /CSNY type band.
After college at NIU (DeKalb, Illinois), I moved back to Los Angeles. I wrote and performed the incidental music for a cult SCI-FI film "LazerBlast", which aired a lot on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laserblast
At the same time I toured the southwest in a rock band called Rocket 88 - whose members went on to big time with Ratt, and Wang Chung. http://www.jeffnaideau.com/inmemory.htm
Here's a site with MP3 recordings of that band at a live gig in Flagstaff , AZ from 1979: http://www.lovedrums.com/audio/Rocket88/
A pic of me during that time
Eventually I became service manager at Valley Arts Guitar in Studio City, CA just off Laurel Canyon. I started in Amp repair, then worked in Guitar repair too.
I set up and built Guitars and Basses for the top LA Session players :
I suppose you could say I was a member of the "pit crew" for "The LA Wrecking Crew" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wrecking_Crew_(music)
Jay Graydon, Larry Carlton, Tommy Tedesco, Dennis Budimer, Carol Kaye, Steve Lukather, Tim May, Mitch Holder, Lee Ritenour, Robben Ford, Christopher Cross, Duane Eddy, Allan Holdsworth, Mike Sembello,Stevie Ray Vaughan, Frank Zappa, Devo, Oingo Boingo - rewired their studios too. http://www.valleyarts.com/shopnamm.htm
Pic below is from 1981, the Valley Arts Guitar repair department located upstairs above the store below. I'm on the right. Bob Kerr is on the left, filing frets on a Martin D-28. My '61 SG Special is on the bench in the foreground, The view is from the Client waiting area - a dutch door with a shelf.
Around the corner to the right was a complete guitar workshop and paint booth.
A crew of 3 talented Luthiers from Michoacan province Mexico did a lot of beautiful work. Manuel Rios , Ramon, and Rujelio. Dudley Gimpel was there too. Building a custom 335 for Larry Carlton ( Dudley soon left to become principal luthier for Ernie Ball / Music Man , where he still works today, designing all the models for EVH, Steve Morse, John Petrucci, Luke, Albert Lee, etc). Stevie Freyette worked right beside me in Amp repair in the early 1980's prior to moving over to MusicTech, then founding VHT amps in 1988 after an initial capitalization from Andy Brauer rentals.
I attended the 1983 Winter NAMM Show where MIDI was introduced jointly by Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits and Jim Mothersbaugh of Roland US. Jim Mothersbaugh ( with Roland Jupiter 6) and Dave Smith ( with SCI Prophet 600) in the first public showing of MIDI at Winter NAMM show, January 1983
Recently discovered I can be seen in the background in a photo at Jeff Rona's web site - (Yellow Circle) http://jeffrona.com/2013/01/midi-from-the-inside/
Impressed with this achievement, a week later I urged the owners of Valley Arts Guitar create a Keyboard department, where the sales revenue from Yamaha DX-7 Synths help VA fund the initial manufacturing of Valley Arts Guitar's California Pro series.www.hendrixguitars.com/ValleyArts.htm
I worked with Frank Zappa's guitar tech Midget Sloatman - (He's 6'5" !!) http://www.guitarplayer.com/article/guitars-frank-zappa/jul-06/21622
Many people worked on FZ's gear - While working at Valley Arts I worked on nearly Everybody's gear between years 1980 - 1986. I took over Paul Rivera's role at the shop, as he had left in 1979 to work for Pignose, then Yamaha, then Fender. It was a wonderful time, low pay, yet rewarding for being part of a great team with Mike McGuire, Al Carness, Martin Miranda, Stevie Freyette (VHT), Dudley Gimpel (Ernie Ball / MusicMan).
I worked on Jimmie Vaughan's gear too, and when his brother Stevie Ray came to LA to record his first demos at Jackson Browne's LA studio - I set up his '61 Strat.
Here's a video of David Bowie live 1983, I built the red Strat guitar played by Earl Slick:(though I would have tuned it a bit more had I been his guitar tech at that show) Begins at the 1:53 mark.David Bowie - Cat People (Serious Moonlight)
(The video's owner prevents external embedding)
Sadly the Valley Arts Store and shop was destroyed by a Fire in 1991. Samick had a contract to make import budget versions of VA Strats, the fine print in the contract stated Samick could make the whole VA line should production cease in the USA - which it did after the fire. Major bummer.
In 1986, I got married and thru my local rep for Dr Ts MIDI Sequencer for the Commodore 64,
I left Valley Arts and music to work at NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab to focus on Electronics where I performed radiation testing on components for deep space probes (Galileo, Magellen, Hubble Telescope, Mars Pathfinder) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_Propulsion_Laboratoryhttp://solarsystem.nasa.gov/galileo/
It was a time of focus on heavy technical challenges, and thru JPL, I was able to audit/sit in on many engineering classes at Cal Tech http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Institute_of_Technology
( The popular TV show "Big Bang Theory" closely resembles my own life at that time!)
My career was on a path of becoming an international specialist in Radiaton Effects in Semiconductors - to the level that I designed and installed several robotic semi-conductor radiation effects test systems for NASA , as well as spending time in France supporting ESA - the euro version of NASA at the Centre d’Etudes de Gramat (France)
But regarding music, it became clear my 1st wife was not thrilled about supporting my past, present, future music career - so I restored British Sports cars while, learning CAD and PC board design.
In the mid 90's I decided to follow my passion, and got divorced, and worked to return back to music / audio as a career as the Technical Director at Machine Head Studios in Venice, CAhttp://www.machinehead.com
This is major LA post production sound design studio that produced all the music and multichannel audio sound effects for TV commercials for Lexus, CocaCola, Budweiser Frogs. I played guitar on many of those. And I performed on the soundtracks for the trailer films for Batman & Robin , Multiplicity with Michael Keaton
I moved to San Luis Obispo in 1999 to work for Ernie Ball / Music Man, to cultivate an electronics division and support instrument amplifiers.
I worked on several interesting projects there - Here's me with all the limited production Spinal Tap MusicMan Mr Horsepower guitars with working Tachometer to measure how fast you are playing - I designed the PC boards and personally hand wired each one.
Since 2001, I've been at Ultra Stereo Labs Inc. www.USLINC.COM
I'm an electronic design engineer, creating DSP digital audio processing equipment for the Cinema industry. We are a rival to Dolby. Our company has designed equipment which has won Academy Awards in Technical Achievement. http://www.uslinc.com/about_us.html#3
I have a passion for creative invention, and feel quite fortunate to be able to be employed at an innovative local company, as well as reactivate my music career on the side here on the central california coast - performing as lead guitarist in a few local bands.
My day gig I design PC Boards - like this:http://www.uslinc.com/products-feature_ramdom.html
and we sell versions to other manufacturers, like DTS, Crown, Dolby.
Today I continue to help many audio / instrument companies with PCB design -
Here's a random sampling of products I've had a hand in co-designinghttp://www.studiosixdigital.com/iaudiointerface2/http://www.rackvax.com/http://www.uslinc.com:8880/products-sound_grandmenu.html
In 2009 I was employed as a consultant by Tronical / Gibson to assist in Gibson Dark Fire Guitar production issues in Nashville.
(CLICK FOR MORE DETAILS) http://www.vguitarforums.com/smf/index.php?action=downloads;sa=downfile&id=23
Here we are at 2009 NAMM in the Gibson bus with Tronical team and Craig Anderton.
(Detailed doc here)http://www.vguitarforums.com/smf/index.php?action=downloads;sa=downfile&id=23
and currently perform as lead guitarist in a local surf band "The Dentures" https://www.facebook.com/TheDentures