That Norfolk sound

There are a handful of record producers whose work you can identify from the first few notes, who simply don’t sound like everyone else: Sam Phillips, almost certainly; Creed Taylor, pretty consistently; Phil Spector, absolutely.

And then there’s Frank Guida, who died this weekend in Virginia Beach at the age of 84, after having made some of the most distinctive sounds ever to grunge up your radio. Some of us budding Snooty Audiophiles, back around the time they started trying to sell quadraphonics, got the notion that Guida simply was in over his head, that had he had better equipment or greater skill his records wouldn’t sound so much like they were recorded during a kegger in a pup tent.

How wrong we were. In the 1980s, Steve Hoffman assembled a Gary “U.S.” Bonds compilation for MCA, and with decades of accumulated muck cleared away, we could hear the real muck Guida was producing. The focal point was “Quarter to Three,” arguably the noisiest recording ever to top Billboard’s Hot 100. Rock critic Dave Marsh had focused on its “peculiar unity,” claiming: “I’ve played it on stereo systems ranging from $49.95 to $10,000, and the equipment makes no difference.” But even in “Quarter to Three” you can hear what Guida was up to: he doubled the bass drum to maximize the bottom, and he ran his tape deck into the red, even into the infrared. (“It sounds like it was recorded in a toilet,” complained one distributor.)

Does this make Frank Guida the American Joe Meek? Probably not. Meek’s life had its tragic aspects; Guida, not particularly drama-oriented, kept promoting Tidewater talent well into the 1980s, and however much he may have messed with his master tapes, he kept them in tip-top shape. The memories, of course, need no such maintenance.

(Note: MP3s disappear eventually.)

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