The MASTER of Mastering.
Herbie Powers is a guy whose name is said with great respect among musicians and record collectors all over the world. He
has become legendary for his trademark, comments and remarks that he always put on "his" records. He is also the guy who
turned the vinyl records he mastered into a loud and pumping bass experience.
Herbie Powers is a guy whose name isn't that well known for the broad masses - BUT for us vinyl junkies and 12" single
DISCOholics - He's the MASTER... of Mastering!
Except for his "trademark" he often wrote small messages to the artists or us - the people finding his remarks. For example; on Ednah Holt's "Serious, Sirius, Space party", a song that was written by his friend Kenton Nix, he wrote "Hi Kenny" & "It's HOT". On Natasha King's "AM - FM" - "Hot grooves", on "What I got is what you need" by Unique he even did this little love gesture to his wife - "Herbie (loves = a heart) Angie" and on the top dance music group C+C Music Factory's "Gonna make you sweat" he wrote - "It's Pumped". The last one refers to a nickname of his - "Pump". A name he got from the great pumping bass in his mastered records.
Herbie started out at the famous Frankford/Wayne mastering lab in the late 70's and he has been mastering records
ever since. These days he runs his own mastering plant in downtown New York, a place called Powers House of Sound.
And he is still as busy today as in the Disco era - everybody wants him to master their records.
There isn't that much written or told about this mysterious guy with these small smiley's =) and messages. But one who has had the pleasure to speak to the man, is my friend Chuck Miller, a writer/columnist of Goldmine Magazine. He has sent me this piece he wrote to give all of you the chance to find out more about Herbie. So here's his article...
Herbie Was Here: Stories of the mysterious messages in the runoff grooves
Let's take a look at a vinyl record. 45, LP, it doesn't matter. If you look at the dead wax, the area between when the last song ends and the paper label begins, you'll find some stamper numbers, or maybe some alphanumeric code decipherable only to a record company insider.
But sometimes there's a message inscribed in the dead wax. Almost as if just before printing, somebody slipped into the
pressing room, took a nail and etched a cryptic message into the runoff grooves. Forget backwards masking, reverse artwork
letters or barefoot strolls across Abbey Road. Vinyl graffiti in the dead wax may indeed be the last true conspiracy.
In the late 1970's and early 1980's, hundreds of 12-inch dance singles that were pressed at the Frankford/Wayne mastering plant in New York City contained the signature of Herb Powers, Jr. Go find an early 1980's 12-inch New York City dance club record. If you look into the dead wax and see "Herbie Jr.," along with an accompanying smiley face, you've found a record mastered by Herb Powers, Jr.
Powers was a former club DJ who joined Frankford/Wayne in 1976, learning the art of mastering records. "Back then the job entailed converting the music from half-inch tape to vinyl. I started putting my name on the dead wax on the first record, because I wanted to keep track of what I was doing. A lot of times, record companies did not give you credit on the records. It was a way for me to know that I actually mastered that record. It was also a way to tell that the record wasn't a reproduction made by a bootlegger."
By the late 1970's and early 1980's, Powers mastered some of the greatest New York City dance hits of the time - tracks like Run-D.M.C.'s "Rock Box" (Profile 7045), UTFO's "Roxanne, Roxanne" (Select 62254), the Beastie Boys' "Rock Hard" (Def Jam DJ002), and Keith Silverflash's "Funky Space Player" (Silver Flash Funk 21801), among others.
Sometimes the dead wax graffiti was little more than his nickname, the smiley face and a stamp from Frankford/Wayne. But before long, Powers would put his wife's name on the record... then his kids' names... then messages about the record and its artist. "I started putting messages in around 1977, a year into my mastering career, when I got comfortable with what I was doing, comfortable with the client base that I had. For Tommy Boy, if you're doing their first record, and you're working together with the person and you say, ‘you know something, I really like this song. Let's write something in the grooves about it.' That's something that happens as you get to know the people, the producers, the record company execs, the presidents, stuff like that. There were people that said they would not accept the record unless I enscribed something in there. Because they knew then that I did it. And on Cutting Records, I would put down Aldo, who was the owner of that label, he would always ask me to put his wife and kids' names on the record. It was a good luck thing for him."
In addition to his work with independent labels, Powers also mastered records for major labels like A&M, MCA, Columbia and RCA. "We had to keep the writing at a minimum with the major labels, because major labels were very picky as to what was in the grooves. Especially MCA. They didn't even want you to write your name. They were very picky. They used to send us memos saying, ‘The only thing that should be in the groove is the actual scribe number of the record.' But I would do it anyway. Some major labels didn't care at all."
If you own a copy of the Jonzun Crew's "Pack Jam" (Tommy Boy 826), you might see little Pac-Men in the runoff grooves. Once again, that was Herb Powers having fun. "Jellybean Benitez was working with a group called Nunk, on Prism Records, and one of their tracks had a lot of leadout. He wanted me to write almost a book. It starts at one end of the leadout and just kept going. We had a very sharp tool that looks like a dentist's drill. You have to have a very steady hand and a good eye, to sit there and draw it in. We're not using any magnifiers or anything, it's all free hand. One small slip into the groove, and you'd have to remaster the entire record. That happened at least twice in ten years at Frankford/Wayne. It's a very high pressure business - you don't want mistakes, because you don't have time to do it again."
And one day, when Powers took a week's vacation, another masterer at Frankford/Wayne enscribed their own contribution to
the Herbie legend. "I was on vacation, and Tom Coyne had to cut Run-D.M.C.'s "Hollis Crew" (Profile 7058) for me.
He told me afterward, ‘Wait until you see this record, you're gonna be so mad, I totally dissed you!'"
After ten years with Frankford/Wayne, Powers moved to another mastering plant, the Hit Factory. He now operates Herb
Powers House of Sound, his own Manhattan mastering plant. "Because of being a businessman and having so much
pressure on me from the managerial standing and engineering and clients and everything, my work load has increased dramatically
- I hate to say it, but I probably won't get a chance to cut any more. Cutting takes a lot of time, it's a very intense
skill. I'm trying to train my assistant to be as good as I was. There needs to be some new good mastering engineer who knows
how to cut records. Just like I think there's still a need for people to learn how to edit tapes with a razor blade. I have
digital editors, I have the whole nine yards, I have computer editing systems, but I still walk over to a tape with a razor
blade and people go like, ‘You're gonna cut that?!?' I say, ‘Hey, I've been doing this for 20 years, that's how we used to
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All records below include Herbie's famous "smiley", but all other inscriptions are stated where there are any...
CLICK to hear some Herbie mastered songs...
All night passion
Inscriptions; "HERBIE :-) ANGIE"
Inscriptions; "IT FEELS HOT"
Gonna get over you
Keep in touch (body to body)
Shades of Love
Love's gonna get you
Inscriptions; "WHAT'S UP KENNY"
Inscriptions; "HI KENNY !"
Serious, Sirius, Space party
Inscriptions; "HI KENNY" + "IT'S HOT" + "CHAR"
They only come out at night
What I got is what you need
Inscriptions; "HERBIE (loves = a heart) ANGIE" + "A FRESH MARTINELLI / TODD MIX"
You're the one for me
Inscriptions; "Hi GERRY, PHYLLIS AND MIKE"
June 5'th, 2000 - Got the following mail...
So, Herbie is still as hard working as ever and his small notes is always a pleasure to find in any vinyl record that has
passed his skilled hands...
the MASTER of Mastering !
to Chuck Miller for sending me his piece from Goldmine
and the scan of Herbie's vinyl signing.
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