This is a brief story, but the experience was one I will never forget.
In the mid 1980’s I often did service calls for Indigo Ranch Studios. Founded by Richard Kaplan and The Moody Blues in the 70’s, Indigo was high in the hills above the beach city of Malibu. You reached the rustic facility by turning off Pacific Coast Highway and following a narrow winding road past the ranch owned by actress Mary Crosby (Bing’s daughter). After leaving the ocean’s edge, it was a long steep climb. I usually glimpsed rabbits and deer on the little road, and driving it in a heavy rainstorm could be quite an experience.
The 60 acre property included “Little El Capitan”, a massive rock formation (similar to the Yosemite landmark), on the northwest boundary. There was a small stream, an 80 foot waterfall, and fruit orchards. When the weather was clear, you could see Catalina Island. The property had once been a hunting lodge in the early 1900s, and it is said that John Barrymore lived there at times in the 1930s – likely a true story, since the road to the studio is named after him.
Digital recording was still unknown and the word“discrete” had not yet entered the audio lexicon, but even then, the “Ranch” was known as a treasure trove of vintage gear. The racks were filled with Pultecs, Fairchilds, and Teletronix models including an LA-2 (without the “A” suffix), and even an ultra rare LA-1. The tape machines were 3M and the console was a custom Aengus, designed by Deane Jensen, founder of Jensen Transformers.
I always enjoyed working up at the Ranch. The skies seemed bright blue every day, the sun kissed ocean air was a delight, and the views were awesome. Indigo also had an amazing client list, and you never know whom you might see up there. Besides the Moody Blues, Neil Diamond, van Morrison, The Beach Boys, and Neil Young recorded there. Olivia Newton-John’s Totally Hot was mixed there.
One afternoon I was in the main control room, repairing an LA-2A, with my tools and test gear sitting atop the producer’s desk. With my mind occupied by test voltage numbers and fault finding theories, I didn’t really pay attention when someone quietly stepped into the room and took a seat at the back. Like a mechanic in an auto shop, I often found myself being observed by curious strangers as I worked. Usually, I tried my best to ignore them.
The room remained silent as I probed test points to troubleshoot the unit. I was grateful that instead of bothering me with the usual questions the spectator had the sense not to disturb a creative soul at work, and watched me without making a sound.
As I closed up the LA-2A and got up to reinstall it in the rack, I caught a glimpse of my silent visitor – none other than Bob Dylan! He shyly smiled, but I was dumbstruck – totally at a loss for words. Luckily, Richard Kaplan stepped into the room just then and, taking in the scene, calmed my nerves by introducing me to Mr. Dylan, who shook my hand.
That’s the end of the story, but I must add a personal comment. Though my parents were “folkies” in the 60’s and I was a big fan of rock and soul while growing up, somehow, though he was an icon for my generation, I knew little about Dylan’s music, and owned few of his records. Writing this story at the age of 55, I find myself a recent covert to his discography, amazed at the depth, genius, and sheer quantity of songs the man was written and sung. Though Ihave been lucky to meet many artists and celebrities over the years, few have affected me as much as this brief encounter did. Meeting Bob Dylan was a real honor and it gives me pleasure to think that for a short while, my small repair task somehow captured the interest of the man.
(Indigo closed in about 2005 and sadly, the original building was destroyed by the big fires that ravaged Malibu in 2007.)