• Bert Drake, Chris Maio


    Musicians

    CHRIS: So, my name is Chris Maio and I am the Music Mixer here and I am also the guitarist in the band and I have known Ron. I worked with him for 12 years, day in and day out.

    BERT: Right. Bert Drake. I am the Music Recordist and I’m another engineer here in the studio. I have known Ron 21 years. I got here in ‘91 until the time he left in 2012. I worked with him, I saw him every day. He was in the same department as I was and yeah, every day.

    CHRIS: It… a nightmare. I mean, you’ve got to understand, it’s like the band is full of professionals, right, and everybody has played and everybody is top-notch. And then you have one guy who’s a complete amateur, but insists that he is great. And he would not play his part, so the… the parts were written so that it involves everybody. But he wouldn’t play his part. So then he would get written out of parts so that it didn’t matter even if he didn’t play his part. It… it… the band would still be the same… the same band. And then he started sort of being well, he’ll just be… become an announcer, or like a, you know he’ll cut the band off. But charts are written for the band. You don’t need somebody to cut them off. The band knows when to cut off.

    BERT: Except for Ron because I remember one time we were playing in England and occasionally we’d have a backing track playing— in this case we did. And it’s about 16 bars from the end of the song. And Ron steps out from behind his band stand and he does the big gesture like, I’m going to cut everybody off. Everybody’s watching me right, okay. And he does this big gesture to cut the band off and I’m looking at him going “no, no, no, no” because I didn’t know if we had a, you know, a choir behind us, I didn’t know if they would follow him or not.

    But they knew the song fortunately, and he goes to cut the band like this and there are still 8 bars of music to go. I remember going, what a fool. And I’m playing and he cuts the band off and nobody stops and he looks around and he gets this… this like… like this weird furiousness on his face, like we all slighted him or, you know, spurned him or something like that. He took it personally. And then he kind of got red and… and he turned around, you know, kind of made his way back to the band stand and he didn’t try to cut it off a second time, fortunately but, alright, that happened.

    BERT: Okay, well I’m… I record, I do the recording, I’m the recording engineer in this studio. Didn’t record Ron very often. We… we didn’t use him very often because he didn’t have a great sound. [CHRIS: Maybe once a year?] Yeah, maybe. Anyway, but the times I did record him, of all the people I’ve recorded over the years, it’s a lot of people. We’ve done, you know, a number of albums, and thousands of videos, and we’ve had a lot of very, very talented people in the studio, you know, great artists. Ron was not one of them. But the thing about all the great artists was they were easy to work with. You know, then they had generous spirits, they were trying to get, you know, a great product with you. They were professional. They acted professional, and they could get their job done.

    Ron required so much attention. Like, I mean coddling and, like I had to almost hold his hand through it, and he’d… he’d, need us. Like it’d take fifteen minutes before I could even roll tape, because he’d take his shoes off, he’d put his shoes on. “I need more reverb,” “That’s too much reverb!” And, just, “How’s that Ron, is that okay, okay good can you hear everything?” And it would take us, you know, like fifteen minutes just to get to the point where we could roll tape.

    And then, generally what we used Ron for was some kind of a jazzy sort of solo type of thing which was kind of his bag. But, you know, like I say, it often was a… a struggle because his chops weren’t very good. He didn’t practice, and he didn’t keep his skill up at all. So, what that meant for me is, “Okay, Ron,” you know, “Take 10. Take 20.” Like, we would go over a short section over and over and over, and over and over. And, you know, the thing was, he’d obviously… he was getting frustrated because he couldn’t pull it off, he couldn’t do his thing. And so his… his demeanor would change as we’d go through it. And he’d start… he’d… he’d start yelling at me—I don’t know if you guys heard it through the glass. [CHRIS: Oh yeah, yeah, I could hear him through the door. Yeah.] He’s just… he is just a real, I can’t swear but I would… I would use swear words to describe what he was doing.

    But he would launch into this, and this is really another in… indicator of… of Ron’s temperament and viewpoint about other people. Like his default setting was antagonistic jerk, and he’d really, you know, fall into that completely by the end of one of his recording sessions. He’d be yelling at me, and… you know my job is to try and coax a performance out of a performer, capture the best thing I can. So, I wouldn’t, you know, I would definitely not try to antagonize him. I’m trying to like, “Okay, Ron, well you know, that was pretty close, we’re almost there. One more time, okay?” And it basically would devolve to the point where I’d just go, okay, I’ve got, I don’t know, 30 takes here on, you know, Pro Tools, I’m sure I can cobble together something. “Okay, Ron. Great man! That sounded terrific!” you know “Thanks! Good Night.”

    CHRIS: And when, and then he… he would walk out of the recording room and I’d be in here mixing, and he comes out and he’s like frazzled. Like I’ve never seen him before you know. And then he’s like, “Okay, well, I think we could piece something together.” And then he… he would give me his pieced-together recording of Ron. And then I have special software which allows me to manipulate a performance so that I… I could stretch notes, I can shorten notes, I can make sure it’s on pitch. I can [BERT: That was the big thing, yeah.] handle the vibrato of the notes. Just so, so literally you could take a performance and make it something that was actually never played, but should have been. And… and that’s what you had to do to Ron. You actually had to have special software to manipulate his performance so it was okay.

    CHRIS: Well, I mean, I could… I’ll tell you on the food. Like for myself, I grew up in an Italian family. Food is of prime importance, okay. The food here is fantastic, okay, and also very catering. I’m… I happen to be vegan and so I require a special diet. That diet is completely taken care of. I don’t even have to think about it. Everything… everything I need, you know, no meat, no dairy, no gluten. It’s all taken care of. I… I don’t have to go out of my way to… to provide.

    BERT: Alright, so I wasn’t Italian but I grew up in the restaurant business. My parents have owned a restaurant since, like 1974. I of course, you know, was always running around the kitchen and trying not to burn stuff, but I was in kitchens and worked in kitchens and that was the job I had for many years and I was either going to be a musician or a chef.

    BERT: The food here is really, really good. It’s not just prepared well but the quality of the food itself, I mean I’ve eaten all around the world and whenever I am away, it’s like I can’t wait to go back and have a, you know, one of the great salads we have here, or some of the great soups. We have organic produce, really high quality beef and chicken, the eggs are from a local grower who doesn’t use pesticides and stuff. It’s quality food. It’s prepared really well. It’s really fresh and, I mean I have… I have worked in so many places that, you know, you have to maintain a certain quality of food in a restaurant otherwise your patrons aren’t going to be there, but this is way above and beyond good food. It’s really high quality food. It’s awesome.

    CHRIS: And it’s as much as you want.

    BERT: Yeah, and I mean… yeah.

    CHRIS: I mean it’s just, you can just have as much food as you want. Nobody’s, you know…

    BERT: Italian. So that’s… it’s such a… a bizarre claim to make. The food here is so good. I… yeah.

    BERT: Before I joined staff, I was working two jobs at least. I was… for a while I was a doorman at a, you know, swanky place in LA. And it was good, I was making cash money and had some benefits, and I was also working in bands, sometimes out for a while getting paid. A lot of times working in a band trying to make, you know, the big break. But it was like, scrambled. Rush, you know. It was a little desperate. Like, you’re always looking for the next gig, looking, you know, to make sure you got everything covered for, you know, for the next couple of months.

    My apartment was like, it was in a great section of town. But it was, the building was kind of run-down, it was not any great shakes. And… and I was working a lot, and a long time, like, I’d, you know, I’d work a full day and then I’d go and either rehearse, or practice, or go take lessons or whatever for another eight hours, and you know I was definitely working two jobs to do that.

    Okay. And my standard of living was nothing like what I’m able to… to enjoy right now. It really wasn’t, and it could never have been. And so what, you know kind of what I can compare it to is at times I’d be on the road you’d get a per diem as part of your, you know as part of the band thing and that was to cover your… your basic living expenses. And you were getting like a check for your salary. But, yeah, I don’t make a lot of cash here. But I have a beautiful apartment, all my uniform parts are provided to me. I’ve got everything I need as a musician and as an engineer to produce awesome music. Okay, it’s like, it’s all here.

    How did Ron Miscavige treat people?

    CHRIS: Well I can certainly tell you about that—feel free to—I would be mixing here on a daily basis. Ron would walk in and he’d say, “Ay, f’n guinea.” I’m Italian, that’s offensive. I’ve heard him call the, the Jewish fellow who works there, he called him “sheeny”. I’ve heard him call Germans “kikes”. The “n” word for one of the black singers we had, very rude, never tell it to her face of course, just joke around with the band and laugh about it. I mean, what are some of the other things?

    BERT: Well, just in the overall way he… he had like a contempt for people, right. There’s… there’s kind of a strange, like he… he felt… well, okay, one thing was he really played up this thing of, you know… and this was only meant purely as an offensive thing to say but, he also kind of lived by it, which was, “Women are meant to serve men.” I think I mentioned earlier about how, in the kitchen he would you know, prepare food but he’d leave a huge mess, knowing somebody else would have to clean it up, and knowing it was going to be, you know, one of the other musicians who gave a damn about how the place looked. But that’s kind of an indicator of… of his view of other people. And there was something else I wanted to mention that I think was really relevant. Go ahead.

    CHRIS: I… I could tell you, like, okay we… we’d be working and somebody would say they have to use the restroom and he… he would say, and he would yell loud, “Oh, crap in your pants like a real man,” like just to try and… to try [BERT: Like it’s funny or something.] and like…

    CHRIS: …and then he would laugh. And then to try and get the… the person to be… to feel, like, embarrassed, or like, you know it was really crass. And, okay. One time we were at a hall, we had just gotten done with a gig, we were back stage, I was walking with Ron. And he takes a wrapper off of a food particle, whatever, and he throws it on the floor. So I look at him, “Ron?” and he says, “Ah, it gives somebody a job.” Who?

    CHRIS: Sure.

    BERT: I mean I had a motorcycle for a while until I rode it into the ground. But, I used to drive it in every day. You know, at the time I was like, whatever… ten miles away. I could have made a left at Albuquerque instead or something. You know, it’s like, this is where I wanted to be, right?

    CHRIS: Yeah. I mean, I see my family every year. In fact, just back in December I was two… two weeks in South Africa. So, I mean, sure, yeah, you know. It’s… that’s just the way it is.

    BERT: Because he’s a… he must just be a bitter, like… just…

    CHRIS: You see the thing with Ron is that he’s about himself. And that really, that’s kind of the crux of Ron, is like—imagine a person who doesn’t want to work, who’s arrogant and is all about themselves. And that’s Ron, okay. And that’s what it was like working with Ron. It was about, “What can you do for me? How can you help me?” But yet the work that we do here is about helping other people. That’s why we’re here. So, for Ron to be here, it just doesn’t make any sense. Like it… it… the two clashed. You know he… he wants to be helped but yet our purpose is… is to help other people. So, it really… it’s a strange puzzle.