Music producer, songwriter
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Date Posted: Friday, May 19, 04:40:43pm
Record producer who created a unique 'party' sound so
distinctive in many Sixties pop hits
The Italian-American record producer Frank Guida was the man
responsible for creating one of the most distinctive and
influential sounds in American pop music. By compressing the
sound more than anyone else had dared, Guida created a dense
aural landscape to cushion the double-tracked vocals of such
black singers as Gary U. S. Bonds and Jimmy Soul.
The party atmosphere of their early Sixties hits, including
Quarter to Threeand If You Wanna Be Happy, went on to
influence a future generation of rock stars including, most
famously, Bruce Springsteen, who has always made clear his
debt to the distinctive sound Guida helped to shape.
But Springsteen was not the only one. The music historian
Brian Walsh believes: "Many people consider that Phil
Spector's "Wall of Sound" was directly influenced by Guida's
recordings and many of the audience participation records of
the mid-1960s were based on his party sound." Or as Guida
himself put it: "Listen to what came before us and what came
Indeed, one of Bonds's hits was called Copycat and
name-checked those Guida thought had copied his sound,
including Chubby Checker, Freddie Cannon and Curtis Lee.
Guida was born in the Sicilian capital Palermo in 1922 and
came to New York with his family as a child. He served in
the US Army during the Second World War and while stationed
in Trinidad fell under the influence of calypso. With
service colleagues he formed his own band and performed
regularly as the Calypso Kid.
Once demobbed, Guida returned to New York and a job as a
salesman, but began to pursue his musical interests in the
evening. He sang with calypso bands in Harlem before moving
in 1952 to Norfolk, Virginia - home of the largest naval
base in the world - where he bought a record store in Church
Street in the heart of the town's black sector.
Not content merely to sell records, Guida decided to start
making them as well. "I decided that if I was going to make
a success it would have to be by productions that make other
people a success," he told Walsh.
His first discovery was the Five Pearls, a black rhythm and
blues group, followed by calypso singer Andy Roberts and R&B
group the Bluebeards.
But it was the former Gene Vincent backing musician, Tommy
Facenda, who brought Guida his first hit with the novelty
record High School USA. Guida cut 28 different regional
versions of the song, each mentioning a different high
school. The gimmick worked and the record made the national
Top 30 in November 1959.
The following year Guida bought his own studio and
established a cast of regular session men - including the
tenor saxman Gene "Daddy G" Barge who would form the
backbone of what became known as "the Norfolk sound".
He recorded a Norfolk singer called Gary Anderson and,
noticing a poster urging American to buy US bonds, changed
the vocalist's name to U.S. Bonds. Using a song that Guida
had co-written called New Orleans and employing a studio
technique that created what Professor Terry Pender,
technical director of the Columbia University Computer Music
Centre, has called "a strange outdoor sound featuring
double-tracked vocals squeezed to the hilt with compression",
Guida was rewarded with a Top 10 hit.
Further hits by Bonds followed including A Quarter to Three
which topped the charts in the summer of 1961 and reached No
7 in the UK.
For his next success, Guida looked back to his music career
in Trinidad to provide the singer James Mcleese (whom he
renamed Jimmy Soul) with a No 1 hit in the shape of the
calypso-styled If You Wanna Be Happy.
Although Guida, along with many other American record
producers, suffered from the invasion of British beat groups
in the mid-Sixties he continued to record what he termed
"black pop" by artists such as Lenis Guess, Barbara Redd and
Oliver Christian, who was known as "the Soul Cop".
He released more than 400 records on various labels until
the 1980s and lived to see his records become pop music
standards, featuring in films such as Mask, Mermaids and
Jaded. Springsteen's interest in the music also helped to
rekindle Gary U.S. Bond's career and many of Guida's
productions were reissued on CD in the UK.
He is survived by his wife, Millie, two daughers and a son.
Frank Guida, record producer, label owner and songwriter,
was born on May 26, 1922. He died on May 19, 2007, aged 84
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