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A work in progress – Updated Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It’s tricky compressing 72 years into a short Biography.  So I’ve skipped over most of the minutia in an attempt to offer a ‘feel’ for what my life has been like.  It’s certainly been a long and varied journey and gratefully, it’s never been boring.  I’ve been gifted with a great life populated by great artists.  This web site is the start of yet another chapter of this amazing story.  A place where I can share my life freely.  As a friend of mine once said “Anything offered freely is worth just exactly that … ‘nothing’ … you can take it and use it as you see fit, or ignore it and find your own path.”   I offer my story in that spirit!

John Haeny


Born and Schooled

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Little Johnny and his Teddy

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska of Italian (50%), English, French and Irish heritage.  As an orphan I was adopted at the age of 5 months.  My adopted parents were Martha and Vern Anderson.  When I was 9 years old my father Vern suddenly died of a cardiac condition at the young age of 36.  Martha remarried George Haeny (a Chemist, who owned his own Pharmacy) and my surname was changed to Haeny. George died of Alzheimer’s in 1993.  Martha survived until she was 97 and also died of Alzheimer’s in June of 2012.

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Once upon a time ‘Haeny Pharmacy’

My first home was in Sioux City, Iowa.  Then, in succession, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Lake Minnetonka, all in Minnesota.  I graduated from Mound High School in Mound, Minnesota on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota.  While in High School I worked as a stock boy at the local chemist (a skill I learned while working for my step-father, George in his drug store, Haeny Pharmacy.  Now a Mini-Mart in Minneapolis.) and for the local photographer shooting and printing weddings.  I was the High School photographer for the school yearbooks and also the local newspaper and won a number of state wide awards for my photography.  Within weeks of my High School graduation I was on the road to Brooks Institute of Photography In Santa Barbara, California.

As I neared the end of my studies at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California I enrolled in a Motion Picture Unit. I quickly gravitated to the sound booth and spent endless hours messing around, not only to figure out how to make things work, but also sorting, cleaning and trying to create a more efficient department.

The seed is planted

I suppose like many, my romance with sound started when I was quite young. Not only was I interested in music, playing accordion and keyboards, I was always active with high school musical ensembles. I also had an early mono hi-fi and a little tape recorder. Every time I found a speaker lying around, I’d stick it in a shoebox and hot-wire it into my hi-fi. My theory then was ‘more is better.’ I’m pretty sure it sounded horrid, as there were speakers strung out all over my bedroom. I thought it was really quite amazing what you could do some ‘found loudspeakers’, cardboard boxes and lamp cord. I also had a very early model of a home tape recorder and I could frequently be found in my closet with the microphone taped to a music stand, trying to think of something interesting to say so I could discover how to record my voice.

The first job
BoyEngineer

The Boy Engineer

After Brook Institute I returned to Minneapolis and got a job at KTCA TV, part of the start-up of what was to eventually become PBS. Once again, I found myself in the sound department ‘messing about’ with the gear. After leaving KTCA, I got a job with Empire Photosound in Minneapolis as a photographer. Empire Photosound did industrial motion pictures and also produced corporate presentations. They also had a sound department, and I ended up doing all of their sound design, long before that term had been invented. As it happened, a small local recording company parked their gear in the Empire Photosound studio. I couldn’t geep my hands off it and before anyone realized what was happening, I was running cables down the hall and up the stairs to record various jazz musicians and folk ensembles on their large shooting stage. Obviously a pattern was starting to emerge!

Ultimately, I left Empire Photosound to work as the recording engineer for that small recoding company which was called Gaiety Recording. They had a great Ampex 351-2 in a road case, plus a collection of vintage valve microphones that people would kill for today. Most of the work they did was recording high school choirs and bands for fundraising LPs. I cut my teeth on location recordings. I was young and strong and had an insatiable appetite for learning the craft.

I also managed and produced the recordings of a number of young folk groups active in the Twin Cities music scene during those days.  This was a very important and formative time for me.  During these years I learned a great deal that gave me a ‘leg up’ when I decided to pursue music and engineering as a career.

Off to the ‘Big Time’
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Coast Recording – 960 Bush Street

When my time in Minneapolis had run its course, I stuffed everything I owned in my car and headed back to California with the dream of observing a real Hollywood recording session. I’ll never forget how, after driving straight through from Minneapolis to Los Angles, I checked into a cheap motel behind Grauman’s Chinese Theater off Hollywood boulevard. After throwing all the boxes I had in the car into the room, I collapsed on that musty bed and cried myself to sleep. The next day was a perfect crystal clear California morning and it was, once again, time for a fresh start. As it turned out I had an acquaintance that worked for United and Western Studios in Hollywood. I submitted my job application.  At that time, they used a written test created by Bill Putnam. Apparently I had, mostly on my own, learned enough to outrank many of the staff engineers working for the company at that time. The effort I invested in Minneapolis working for virtually nothing started paying off. They hired me on the spot and had me doing tape copies for a few weeks in Hollywood and then they shipped me off to San Francisco to their Coast Recorders studio facility.  Coast Recorders was in an old movie theater at 960 Bush Street.  Downstairs was one of the first topless bars in the country. Frequently we had to schedule our sessions around the sound system playing full bore for the Go-Go dancers.  And the stories I could tell of recording sessions being interrupted by paddy wagons arresting buxom waitresses clutching tablecloths to their ample bosoms! Apparently, they had started a ‘Business Man’s Luncheon’ featuring topless waitresses.  It was an exciting and vibrant time in San Francisco in those days, in more ways than one.

This was also the time when the San Francisco music scene was starting to explode, so I had the opportunity to work with Bobby Freeman, The Beau Brummels, Sly Stone (then a local radio DJ, Sylvester Stuart), The Great Society (soon to become The Jefferson Airplane), and The Tiki’s (Harpers Bizarre).  I did heaps and heaps of demos and singles, many of which I still have stashed on my library as lacquer acetate references.

For the most part, I’m self-taught. I gobbled up any articles I could find about recording, examining in the greatest of detail any photographs of a ‘real’ recoding session I get my hands on, which developed a skill I have to this day. A couple of minutes in a studio and I can draw up

the studio set-up including the microphones being used and their placement to about 90% accuracy. I also had the great opportunity of learning by doing.  In those days it was so much easier than it is today. You frequently had to record to one track while live mixing a final mix directly to tape with, perhaps, a 12 input mixer. I had to learn to mix, control my levels and know what a VU meter meant.

Scully12Track

Scully 12 Track Recorder

It was standard practice that immediately after the mix I went into the mastering room to cut  lacquer references (no cassettes, and rarely reel to reel tape copies). If anything was wrong with the mix, I discovered it pretty fast and frequently … quite painfully. I didn’t have individual channel EQs and compressors were very limited. Virtually everything had to be patched in as outboard gear. It was, in retrospect, an amazing way to learn: start simple and grow along with the opportunities and the technology. I moved from mono to stereo to three track to four track to eight track to twelve track (yes…there were 12 track Scully’s at Mediasound Studios in New York), to 16 track and finally to 24 track and beyond.

I really didn’t have any mentors, as such, but I had good ears and I listened closely to the work of great talents such as the legendary RCA classical engineer Lewis W. Layton and the amazing Al Schmitt. I tried to figure out what they were doing and experimented until I discovered my own take on what I had heard them do. If you do that for long enough, work hard enough and have enough passion, in time, as you hone your skills, you will develop your own voice as a recording engineer.

“The Times They Are A Changing”
The "House Hippy" at RCA in Hollywood - 1966

The ‘House Hippy’ at RCA in Hollywood

It wasn’t long before I found myself caught up in a sea change of engineers. Up until that point, music engineers were mostly from the broadcast industry. They were generally older, male, wore loud Hawaiian shirts, had pencil protectors in their bulging pockets and smoked cigars. All of a sudden there appeared a new breed of engineers who were the same age as the artists, traveled in the same social circles, shared their politics and social consciousness. We were brothers and sisters of the same tribe, a new order of the arts, as it were. I’m proud to say that I was amongst the first of that group. I was the ‘house hippy’ and youngest staff mixer ever for RCA in Hollywood, before I went back to United and Western Studios. I had long hair, a beard, wore blue jeans, worked in moccasins and, of course, smoked the evil weed.John Haeny W & N1970004

It was the start of a new music, a new social order, a new type of artist, and I had the great good fortune of having a front and center ticket to the revolution. I also had the great privilege of playing a small, but important supporting role in the new musical drama. Those were amazing, heady and unforgettable days. It was a huge party, everyone was making money and we were all having a ball making music with our closest friends.

A great way to earn and learn

Around that time I found myself back at United and Western recorders in Hollywood, hired by Bill Putnam.  Those were great and heady years with ‘The Mama’s and the Papa’s’ in one studio and Bill Putnam recording Frank Sinatra in Studio ‘A’ at United (with me cross legged in the corner of the studio or control room soaking it all up).  Everywhere you turned there were hit records, hit producers and engineers and huge recording stars.  The sounds in the hallways were frankly … amazing!  I wouldn’t trade those days for all the money in the world.  There is no counting how much I learned ‘on the job’ in those days.

We had a team of set-up guys who would work ahead of us doing the physical set-up of the rooms including the stands, mikes and the plug ins.  We all were really good at drawing up our studio set-ups in advance.  The technical guys would set up my four track Ampex 351-4 for the day early in he morning.   First thing in the day I might start in United ‘B’ on a jingle with 4 singers and a 14 piece orchestra from 9 am to 12 noon.  Then an hour for lunch, grab my tape machine, roll it down the hall, down the sidewalk on Sunset Boulevard, over the curbs, across the street and then up the sidewalk and into Western One for a Bobby Darin session with Bobby and a 35 piece orchestra from 1 pm until 4pm.  Then a bite of dinner, grab the machine, head back down the sidewalk back to United Studio ‘A’ for a session with Bill Medly with a 40 piece orchestra between 6pm and 9pm and frequently overtime or a double session.  It was amazing that I survived when I think back to those days.   What a great way to learn and what a brilliant musical experience.  You had to know how to use your microphone, your room, your set-up, and you hand to learn to mix by the seat of your pants or you were a dead…and indeed I learned! In some ways that was when I did some of my best work.

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Mark Abramson, Judy Collins recording “Wildflowers” – Western One

The next decade or so was a whirlwind of activity.  I guessed that I had ‘arrived’…but I was never entirely sure.  I had become acquainted with Elektra Records when Mark Abramson, the producer of Judy Collins and Jac Holzman the president and owner of Elektra records booked Western Studio One for a Judy Collins album.  We hit it off so well that when we completed the live recording they hired me and took me back to Elektra in New York for the editing and mixing of what was to become Judy Collins “Wildflowers”  which went on to become my first Gold Album. I spent a long time at Elektra Records, eventually becoming their Chief Engineer, building studios, supervising label activities on both coasts including all engineering, being responsible for the quality control of the four Columbia pressing plants distributed across the country and occasionally producing my own projects.  It was vibrant and extraordinary time. But eventually my relationship with Elektra would run it’s course. We both had a good run…but it was time for me to move on.

Time to move on

Bruce Botnick had made much of his early career at Sunset Sound, a studio that I loved working in.  Bruce had left Sunset Sound and had come to work for Elektra.  Bruce wanted my job (of course, it was a great job…who can blame him) and I was tiring of the position, the responsibility and the corporate intrigue.  So I left Elektra, Bruce took my place at Elektra and I moved over to Sunset Sound to fill his old role.  Musical chairs, engineer style!

John Boylan recording Linda Ronstadt

John Boylan recording Linda Ronstadt

My time at Sunset was exceptional.  I was working on two or three projects a day with some weeks hitting 120 hours.  They were paying me $6 per hour straight time and $9 per hour overtime.  Money was never a big priority for me … it was always about the work.  I was young, strong, motivated and I should add … very stoned!  It was during that time when I amassed a large portion of my credits.  Very little money, but great opportunities and much industry acclaim.

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Sunset Sound – Studio One (Early Days)

The time was to come when I realized that money was becoming an issue!  I was bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars of work to Sunset Sound but they were only paying me peanuts.  It was great experience for me and perhaps an even greater value for them so things had to change.  I went independent in the days when most engineers were affiliated with a studio.

It was the early days of a shift in how things were to be done in the future.  All of a sudden I released I held all the cards with the studios.  The artist and producers came to me and asked me to select the studios.  For many more years I continued to work at Sunset Sound because, simply put, their rooms, chambers, consoles and microphone collection was the best in town.  As time progressed it became necessary for me to expand beyond Sunset Sound.  That was never a problem because I’ve always been able to get what I want out of just about any studio.  I suspect that’s because all my ‘basic training’ in Minneapolis was doing remotes.  They were not exactly easy but work is work!  If you work hard, have talent, you usually get a pretty good result.  So I became a ‘studio gypsy’.  That lasted for many more years and then, almost overnight, everything changed.  But not exactly for the better!

The US economy fell apart.  There was the oil embargo and lines for fuel miles long.  The Record Companies, after decades of making more and more money each year with rivers of champagne and limousines rolling down the streets of Hollywood and New York, all of a sudden had to pull in their heads.  Budgets got tighter.  Record companies discovering, developing and supporting artists stopped cold.  The accountants took over the music business.  My contacts had always been with the Record Companies, usually working on assignment, or at the discretion of their artists.  Now third parties started making records and taking them to the Record Companies as completed product.  The accountants would evaluate them and if the price was right and the value was good…only then would they the make a commitment.  It was a quantum shift in the way the industry worked and I wasn’t equipped professionally and emotionally to adapt.  So I left on an extended hiatus, financed by the sale of a house and along with that house, a lifestyle I could no longer afford.

I went through a long period of messing around while having what might be called a ‘mid-life crisis’ (disco roller skating, believe it or not with a 20′ reticulated python around my neck.  Yes you can stop laughing now.  Drinking, doing drugs and much more that I really don’t want to go into here, right now.  Needless to say I know the meaning of walking the dark and wild side on the streets of many of the worlds biggest cities, totally alone). The time eventually came when I realized I had turned my back on the only thing I was really good at doing.  So I tried to re-enter the industry but the gap I left behind had been filled by younger and perhaps, more talented people.  Certainly more ambitious people.  It was time for me to reconsider my life and ultimate make a lateral shift in my career.   So thus began my second career (or was it my third … I’ve lost count) into Television and ultimately Motion Pictures as a Sound Designer and Mixer.

If you want to make an omelet you must be prepared to break a few eggs!

But before anything could happen, there were some cataclysmic personal changes I had to endure.  I finally had to come face to face with myself, my demons and my ghosts, all gathered to great me at the end of a very long and very dark hall.  The path was going to be obtuse and it was far from clear about what I had to do before anything could happen.  Unknown to me there were some cataclysmic personal changes I was going to have to endure that would allow me to move forward.  I finally had to come face to face with myself, my demons, my ghosts, all gathered to great me at the end of a very long and a very dark hall.

Everyone knew I was a ‘stoner’.  There was never any question about whether I was stoned or not, it was just about the degrees of being stoned.  I was also what’s called a functional drug addict.  I could do good work no matter how messed up I was.  (But of course, years down the road, I have to live with the thought about just what could I have done if I wouldn’t have been drug affected … to my dying day I’ll never have the answer to that question.)  In those days not only was it accepted to be stoned, after all everyone else was, it was almost a badge of membership to the ‘club’ to be a stoner.  But you see, here’s the problem, and I believe this to be true, some of us have a genetic predisposition towards addiction.  Most people can use drugs and drink and that’s simply the end of it.  Then there are some of us who use drugs and drink and that’s just the beginning of it!  Clearly I belong to the latter group.  It was also that, despite my professional success, my personal and emotional life was a wasteland.  I lived in mortal fear of being disclosed as a ‘fake’ and a ‘fraudster’.   It seemed the more successful I became the less comfortable with my success I was.  Emotionally it was a heartbreaking period.  I had gained everything I had ever dreamed of and yet I had nothing.  To add to the pain, I felt it was all my fault … that I was somehow less than everyone else … broken, damaged goods.

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Century City Medical Plaza

I’ve learned that the drugs helped me avoid confronting myself by anesthetizing the pain.  Pain which had the potential to end my life.  So in some sick way, my addiction actually saved my life.  But inevitably the day came when I hit the wall!  And I hit it really hard!  It was an overdose of near fatal proportions.  My doctor later told me that while I was in the emergency room, I was in-fact, walking that fine line between life and death.  That doctor, to this day, remains the one singular person most responsible for saving my life.  Apparently I had called him during the early stages of the overdose and he had called the ambulance, directing which hospital I was to be taken to and committed me to the Drug and Alcohol recovery unit.  Although I couldn’t possible see it, he was giving me clarity when there was none to be found within myself.  When I finally regained consciousness, some two days later, I found myself in a chemical dependency ward at a major LA hospital with a truly well intentioned man lurking over my bed saying “Don’t worry Darlin’, you’ll be just fine when you are released from here in only 28 days.”

It took them a good while to peal me off the ceiling of that room!  I roared down the hall to the public phone like a madman, got my doctor on the phone and asked him “what the fuck is going on, what the fuck am I doing here when all I need is a little R&R”.  He was a beautiful and a gentle man who had known me for decades so he just gently reminded me “that I had a problem with drugs and alcohol and we both knew it.  I was in the right place and it was now the right time for me to confront my problems and get my life back on track”.

The staff later told me that I went into that room like a Lion and came out like a Lamb.  I was to discover, much later, that I was apparently one of the lucky ones who was able to accept the disease of addition and was struck teachable, which was, as it turns out, the first step in recovery.  The following years were a long hard road, painful and humbling, but I knew there had to be a better way to live and I was committed to finding it.  As I write this, that was over 29 years ago and during the last 29 years I’ve managed to stay clean and sober and rebuild my life from scratch.  It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, but it was possible!

I spent the next year sleeping and going to meetings and counseling.  But the time was to come when I needed to get back to work.  My family had been supportive, but I need to earn back my self-respect by making my own way.  Because I had dropped out of the  Music Industry years before, those who remembered me only remembered the trouble, not the talent.  So I had no choice but to commit to a lateral shift in my career.

The years of struggle start paying off!

During those early years of recovery I found myself not only unemployed, but unemployable!  I had cut a wide swathe through my career and had left plenty of wreckage in my wake.  Many people who I had helped establish major careers wouldn’t even return my phone calls.  So I went to AA meetings and worked on my early recovery.  I also learned that I had the habit of answering people who asked me who I was … by telling them what I did.  I had lost myself to my career.  It was time for a change and I had to learn to stop defining myself by  my career, which I had pretty much trashed anyway … and focus on rediscovering my humanity.  Being out of work I had plenty of time on my hands so I focused on putting that time to good use.  If time was the only currency I had, then I was determined to spend it wisely.

I wrote loads of resumes and turned in piles of job applications … and along with that suffered plenty of rejection.  Finally I found a job working at a video post-production facility in the San Fernando Valley.  The only reason I got the job was because of my music chops.  The owner was a rich eccentric elderly man who’s wife fancied herself a singer.  Sadly her singing was pathetic (I’m really trying hard to restrain myself here).  In any event, he would cut these expensive tracks with some of LA’s finest musicians and then, in his home studio, record endless variations of the vocals, hand them to me to mix at his studio in the Valley in the dark of the night when the studio was quiet.   When he was happy with the results he would give the singles away with his companies product (God knows no one would pay to hear this  poor dear old lady sing).  It was humbling work … but what I got in return (other than a few bucks an hour) was wonderful practical training in audio post-production which was, in the end, to become the ground work for a big lateral shift that was, unknown to me,  just around the corner.  I had fallen a long way from the heights I had experienced, but only in hindsight can I now understand that it was the fall that had to happen if I was to survive and grow!

The Long Road Back

Ultimately the work I had been doing in early recovery, although foundational, was just allowing me to hang on.  My career wasn’t moving forward and I was underwater with bills.  (Try not filing or paying your State and Federal Income Tax for 5 years and see how your guts feel every time you go to the mailbox.)  I wasn’t particularly driven to regain what I had lost … but for self-respect, I needed to start doing significant work.

As has so often happened in my life, fate intervened.  One of my resumes’ went to the massive Hollywood audio post production organization Todd-AO-Studios.  The Sound Effects mixer for “Cheers” had been called away from the mix so he could attend the birth of his first child.  Somehow my resume’ had floated to the top of the pile and it was pulled of at random.  So I got the call to fill in that mixing chair Todd-AO Buildingon short notice.  I think that many times life happens in somewhat random manner … the secret is to be prepared when your number is called.  And I was.  That sometimes painful slog at the small post production facility in the San Fernando valley paid off.  I thought I might be a bit over my head mixing on a three man desk for a major network sitcom, but the work was easy and the session went well.  I also kept my personal insecurities to myself.  I had worked for about 6 months for Warner Brothers on one of their mixing stages in the music chair for a raft of Arron Spelling television shows (“Love Boat” “Knots Landing”, etc.).  That short job had provided me with my IATSE card (without which you DO NOT work in Hollywood). I must have made a good impression because  next day I became a ‘first call’ substitute mixer at Todd-AO Studios.  After a number of mixing calls I was approached about a position that had opened up in Todd-AO’s electronic sound editorial department.  I accepted provided that I could also continue to do mixing when they were short handed.  They agreed and I became the first staff member to be employed in both the Sound Editorial and the Sound Mixing departments.

What was to happen over the years is a small novel in itself, but that one random call ultimately turned into a Senior Editor and middle level technology manager with Todd-AO that lasted for a bit over 10 years.  Up to then most of my work had been on a project by project basis.  It was a revelation just how quickly the money piles up when you get paid, and paid well, 52 weeks of the year for a decade.  So in one fated move I established a new career for myself, paid all my debts and became financially settled.  All of which allowed me to concentrate on my sobriety and, at long last … I finally started to grow up!

Stay tuned….to be continued:

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