Tom Werman and Gary Ladinsky
Recollections of the first cheap trick 12-string bass recording
To many 12-string bassists, Tom Werman and Gary Ladinsky are no strangers. As producer and engineer respectively of Cheap Trick's 1978 album "Heaven Tonight", Werman and Ladinsky get the credit for being first to ever record Cheap Trick’s 12-string bass thunder. This album, along with its follow-up "Dream Police", provided the world with a new and gigantic-sounding instrument that most of us at that time could not identify. Our curiosity led to our discovery of the 12-string bass, and none of us have ever been the same since.
Tom Werman has produced some of the most famous albums of all time including records by Mötley Crüe, Ted Nugent, Poison and Twisted Sister, just to name a few. His work has earned him many gold and platinum records and the reputation of being the master of heavy metal production. After 23 years Tom and his wife Suky decided to leave the L.A. music industry behind and return to their New England roots. There they opened Stonover Farm Bed & Breakfast in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. These days Tom can be found up early making breakfast for his guests and attending to the business of their B&B. It is reported that he makes a wonderful omelet.
Gary began his pro audio career in 1971 as a recording engineer with The Record Plant Recording Studio in Los Angeles. After many years as an assistant engineer and engineer he left The Plant to go off on his own. During this time he worked with Tom on many of the albums that Tom produced, as well as working with many other producers and artists. In 1983 Gary started Design FX Audio, a company dedicated exclusively to serving the recording community with equipment and full support. While running Design FX he has worked as a scoring mixer on many motion pictures and television shows.
How did you guys get involved with Cheap Trick?
Tom: Jack Douglas called me while I was doing A&R for Epic and tipped me off to them. Being a big fan of Jack’s work with Aerosmith, I hopped on a plane to Quincy, Illinois, where I saw them play at a packed club in a strip mall. So I signed them.
Gary: Tom Werman hired me to work with him on the Heaven Tonight record. That was our first record together and we subsequently made 10 or 11 more records with Cheap Trick and other artists.
What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you think back to the "Heaven Tonight" sessions?
Tom: How much fun we all had, and how great the songs were. Working with the band was a pleasure, and I rarely had any of the studio difficulties I encountered with other bands.
Gary: I had a great time working with Tom and the band on the "Heaven Tonight" record. They were fun, spontaneous, creative, hard working, talented musicians.
What was the feeling at the time about the album you were trying to make?
Tom: We were just trying to do justice to the songs, and Rick was feeling more adventurous about arrangements. They were very receptive to my musical suggestions - it was a healthy collaboration.
Did you have a clear cut direction going in or was the canvas more open to spontaneity?
Tom: The band would always come into an album with lots of song fragments – a verse here, a chorus there, and sometimes we just took a great verse and matched it with a great chorus, with a little lyric editing. The sessions were pretty spontaneous.
Gary: I believe we had 30 days to make this record before they left on tour, and we used every bit of it. Once the tracking dates were done, which probably was 10-12 days, it was overdubs and overdubs followed by more overdubs. The bass was probably redone on most tracks along with the guitars. The progression was bass, guitars, keys, miscellaneous, vocals, background vocals.
Did you know that Tom Petersson had a new toy - the first 12-string bass?
Tom: I was surprised by the odd assortment of bass guitars, and delighted at the way they sounded.
What was your first impression of the 12-string bass?
Gary: I remember that it was problematic in the sense that it took up so much of the musical spectrum with its overtones, etc. That is, it was always fighting with the rhythm guitars.
Tom: I loved it, because in terms of frequencies it was both above and below the guitars. Also, Tom played it half like a bass and half like a guitar.
Did you have any previous experience recording a multi-course bass like an 8-string?
Tom: No. Up to that point, all basses had four thick strings.
The 12 was equipped with a quadraphonic pickup that would allow each string group to be sent to a different amplifier. Was this feature used at all in the studio?
Tom: I didn’t know that until you told me. I think Petersson played both the 8-string and the 12-string through a Hi-Watt stack (for the highs) and Gallien-Krueger cabinets (for the lows). The result was great.
So not only was the Quad function not used live, but it was never used in the studio either?
Gary: We did try several amps trying to find one that could present the bass in a compact and clear sound, and there were no quad outputs used.
The "Heaven Tonight" liner notes never specified which songs included the 12, therefore there is a lot of disagreement on this subject. Can you tell us exactly which songs include 12-string bass tracks?
Tom: Regrettably, I cannot. But I’m sure Tom Petersson can. If he didn’t use the 12, he would use the Thunderbird in most cases.
Gary: I cannot remember exactly what bass was recorded on what song. I can say that this was the first experience I had had with more than four strings on a bass. We did record either an 8-string or 12-string. It really is fuzzy as to which was which.
Since a 12 had never before been recorded there was no precedent in regards to recording techniques. Was there a lot of trial and error in finding sonic real estate for it?
Tom: As I said above, it made room nicely for the guitars, and I had always been concerned about mid-range buildup (voice, snare, multiple guitars all trying to be heard but all occupying the same frequency range).
Do you remember what amps Tom was using in the studio?
Tom: Only the ones he used with the 12.
Gary: As I recall the best set-up was an Ampeg amp with a Neumann 47FET up close with the amp volume very low. It was difficult to record but it was a very unique and “cool” sound. We took a direct out and recorded it separate on its own track, along with the mono amp track.
After "Heaven Tonight" you produced Cheap Trick's next studio album "Dream Police". By this point Tom Petersson had toured with the 12-string bass. What was done differently regarding the 12 for these sessions?
Tom: I think Tom continued to use an assortment of instruments on that album, just as he had on the first two. He was very comfortable with his instruments and was a fine bass player.
Did Tom use the Quad 12 on the "Dream Police" album, and if so what songs?
Tom: Do not remember.
Was the song "Gonna Raise Hell" actually recorded using the Alembic 8-string?
Tom: I think it was – and I think we used a shotgun mike suspended from the ceiling, about 20 feet from the speakers.
Have you recorded any 12-string bassists since Cheap Trick?
Tom: No – only a few fretless basses.
Gary: I have not recorded anyone else since then with an 8 or 12-string bass.
Finally Tom, if I stay at your B&B and steal a towel, will I be arrested?
Tom: Absolutely, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us! Sometimes dragging up memories from 30 years ago can be a bit of a chore but through the fog of time you have both been able to reveal some truths and dispel some myths about the first sessions with a 12-string bass. Those records will always hold a special place for 12-string bassists and Cheap Trick fans alike.
Editor’s note: This Philip Snyder interview with Tom Werman and Gary Ladinsky was originally published on June 1, 2008.
Modern Recording Magazine - August 1979 Issue
Recommended reading: For additional details about Tom Werman and Gary Ladinski’s work with Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent and Blue Oyster Cult, Modern Recording Magazine published an 8-page article with Tom Werman in 1978.
Details about the technical aspects of Werman’s work were fresh in his mind at that time, making for a much fuller explanation of how the band was recorded and why things were done in certain ways. While there is no mention of the 12-string bass in this article, it is definitely a worthwhile read.
Big Star#3, Spring 1978
Big Star music newsletter was published in Buffalo, New York and distributed locally. This issue contains 24 pages, two of which are devoted to a Cheap Trick interview.
When asked, “After working with two producers, Jack Douglas and Tom Werman, who do you feel handled the group best?”, Tom Petersson stated, “I’ll put it to you this way and let you guess which is which. One guy was unbelievably great. One guy didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”
In his book Still Competition, Robert Lawson writes, “After twenty years of emphatically stating that In Color was too slick, too commercial, and too radio friendly (with all the blame pointed towards producer Tom Werman), the band actually re-recorded the album in full, with Steve Albini manning the desk.” (Page 29)
Tom Werman produced three platinum-selling albums for Cheap Trick.