Saturday, April 20, 2024

RIP Hank Cicalo, Recording Engineer Who Worked on All of Carole King’s Hit Albums of the 70s


Hank Cicalo died January 31st age 92. He was an incredibly important and famous recording engineer who worked with producer Lou Adler making Carole King’s “Tapestry” album as well as the five other chart hits she had in the early 70s including Music, Rhymes and Reason, Fantasy, Thoroughbred, and Wrap Around Joy.

Kind said on Instagram, “Hank Cicalo produced my album Fantasy. What more can I say?”

A lot, actually. Cicalo had already had a long and storied career before meeting Carole. His first Grammy nomination was for engineering the classic “Mission Impossible” theme. He worked over the years with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Cannonball Adderley and many others including George Harrison’s “33 1/3.” Cicalo came from the Wrecking Crew, also, which gives him dozens of credits on top 10 hits. He engineered all of the Monkees’ albums, which is how he met King and Gerry Goffin. They wrote several Monkees hits including “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

“Tapestry” held the position of being the best selling album of all time until Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” It was on the charts for more than a decade and continues to be a best seller. Adler was the producer, but it was Cicalo who gave King’s solo records their warm, cozy sound. His contribution would be akin to Geoff Emerick’s with George Martin on the Beatles records.

Harvey Kubernick interviewed Cicalo in 2008. This is what he remembered about “Tapestry”:

“On ‘Tapestry’ Lou and I did quite a few things. There was a thing about the middle of Carole’s voice where it’s almost warmth with a little edge. I always wanted to capture that. I thought her piano playing was great, she would sing, and she was such a writer and performer, she knew when to lay out and when to hit it. So that was always great. Then, when her vocals came when you mixed them, the spaces were always in the right places. Everything was supporting her voice and that piano. That’s where the nucleus of the whole album was.

“My thing with drums, in a record I did, Russ Kunkel on this, I always wanted to get the cymbals. Years ago it was one microphone over the top. That kind of thing. But because of the brushes and light cymbal work, and if you listen to those records you will hear it. It’s there. The hi-hat was very important top these records or any of these records. That’s how you sub divide the bar. Musicians don’t listen to that but they feel it. So to me it was always important people could hear what was in the phones.

“Lou was the kind of guy, as a producer, first of all he had an incredible feeling for songs. He could listen to a tune and go ‘that’s that’s not. Let’s go on to the next one.’ And the way he would work it was amazing. We were mixing the album, I had some other projects going, but about the second week of mixing, we re-mixed some things, I wanted to mix some things, Lou wanted to mix some things and one night we came down, pretty much finished it, let’s listen to it from the top in one of the editing rooms in the back at A&M. Third room. We listened to the album late at night. Play the whole thing down. The second engineer was there. Lights low, and I said to myself ‘this sounds great!’ I don’t mean great engineering. I mean the tunes. It started hitting. I turned around to Lou, we walked out, went to the hallway, and I told Lou, ‘Something is goin’ on here.’ ‘Yea…It’s pretty good…’ That was the first time we really struck on it. All these things, but when we sat down and listened to it then we realized it was something better than normal. A great record coming. And that’s when I felt it and I think that’s when he felt it that night.

“The studio had a Howard Holzer special made console. His board you could really punch it. The only thing I had to worry about was tape there was no noise reduction in those days. So much easier now. Everything was supporting that voice and that piano. That’s where the nucleus of the whole album was. No matter what happened in that room, it had to support it. You got to remember whole period everything was moving from two track tapes. I met Carole when she wrote songs for the Monkees, whom I did 4 or 5 albums with. The writer becoming the recording artist or star seemed to be a natural path for people performing as side people. And then they made an album suddenly becoming a star or an artist or performer. And see them grow, but we were all growing the producers, the record companies. The progression was natural.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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