Remembering the man who put 914 on the rock’n’roll map
Brooks Arthur, who engineered a string of 1960s rock’n’roll classics and in the 1970s turned an abandoned Rockland garage into a recording studio for seminal albums by Bruce Springsteen and Janis Ian, died Oct. 9, 2022, at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. He was 86.
The Brooklyn native, born Arthur Brodsky, had lived for years in California, most recently producing music for Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. He had just completed his autobiography, according to his publicist, Jo-Ann Geffen.
Here in Rockland County, Arthur’s recording wizardry is commemorated on a historic plaque along Route 303 in Blauvelt, NY, where his legendary 914 Sound Recording Studios minted music history in the early to mid-1970s. The property is now home to a car wash.
Among the gems recorded in the unassuming two-story concrete building were Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, as well as the iconic title track from his third record, Born to Run.
The 1975 album Between the Lines featuring the song At Seventeen won Grammys for Janis Ian, Arthur and engineer Larry Alexander of Valley Cottage.
In a Facebook post mourning his death, Janis Ian said Arthur “taught me how to sing on a mic, who engineered ‘Society's Child,’ who took a chance on me at twenty-one, who fed me when I was hungry, who produced and engineered ‘At Seventeen,’ who was a mainstay in my life from the time I was fourteen years old until this very moment.”
Arthur, with a resume that included work with Carole King, Lieber and Stoller, Van Morrison and the Shangri-Las, partnered with famed producer Phil Ramone to open 914 Sound Studios in 1971. At the time lived in Valley Cottage with his wife and two daughters.
"I found this old garage," he told me during a 2015 interview. "It had two sliding doors, around the side it had sort of a double door entrance. It had the two lifts for the cars ... We poured fresh cement, found an SSI console. ... I was creating what I as an engineer and producer thought would make a fine studio."
Among the artists who sought out 914’s relaxed vibe were Melanie, Loudon Wainwright III, Blood Sweat and Tears, Ashford and Simpson, Dusty Springfield, the Ramones and James Taylor.
“The room had a sound and the room had a soul and what came out of those recording sessions made music industry history and made artistic history,” Arthur told me in an interview earlier this year.
Recalling the orchestrations for Springsteen’s early recording sessions in his tiny studio, Arthur told me: “We had as many as 35, 36 musicians, strings, brass, reeds, percussion, in various sessions at one time in my room,”
My 2015 article on Born to Run’s 40th anniversary led Springsteen mega-fan Michael Magnone to honor his late friend Kevin Quaranta by sponsoring the plaque on the studio’s former grounds. The Historical Society of Rockland County approved and helped produce the plaque, which was dedicated Aug. 18, 2016, in a ceremony attended by hundreds of rock’n’roll enthusiasts.
Leader of the pack
An aspiring singer, Brooks Arthur started his career in the music business while in high school as a part-timer in the Decca Records mailroom. A few years later, he was hired by Aldon Music as a songwriter and demo singer along with Carole King and Neil Sedaka.
Arthur’s career as a recording engineer included the hits My Boyfriend's Back, Hang On Sloopy, Chapel of Love, Leader of the Pack, and Van Morrison’s American debut album, Blowin' Your Mind, which included Brown-Eyed Girl, on which he sang backup.
He later served as music supervisor for the Oscar-nominated song Glory of Love from the movie The Karate Kid II, and produced Sandler’s The Chanukah Song. He was co-writer and co-producer on Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights.
Read more about Brooks Arthur, the 914 Sound Studios and rock'roll history:
Hit-making studio legend recalls Springsteen's breakthrough recordings
Born in Blauvelt: Bruce Springsteen's $550 million payday
Read more by this author at robertbrum.com