Interview: Ed Roy Engineered Lots of Local Albums, Recorded “Roy & Roe” During Late Nights

You ever find significant pieces of information existing just below your nose for a long, long time without you ever realizing it? That happened a few days after I interviewed Ed Roy of the local rock group Roy & Roe.

Not only has Ed engineered a hundred-plus albums for Hawaiian musicians, he engineered my all-time favorite Hawaiian LP: Chucky Boy Chock & Oahu Brand.

I should’ve known. Ed’s engineering skills are top-notch, you can hear it in every recording he’s done—the guy who hired him at Audio Media heard it too, offering Ed a job the moment Ed got behind the studio’s mixing board.

Find out more in my conversation with Ed below, which is part two of my interview with Roy & Roe. (Part one featured bassist David “Roe” Rorick.)

Roy & Roy album cover, Bluewater Records.

Roy & Roy album cover, Bluewater Records.

Tell me about growing up in Hawaii, were you born and raised here?

No, I wasn’t. I came to Hawaii in about 1973 for a master’s program. I started on the East Coast and then transferred over to UH Manoa and finished my degree there in ’77. I was there until about 1980, [I moved to the mainland] and then I moved back to Hawaii halfway through ’81 and stayed there through ’86 or ’87.

As soon as I graduated college I got a job at a recording studio, Audio Media. So I ended up recording a lot of local bands, a lot of local Hawaiian groups. I worked with pretty much anybody who was anybody in Hawaii. I did some work with Sons of Ni’ihau, Society Of Seven, Don Hon, the live album for Kalapana. I probably engineered about a hundred albums.

All at Audio Media Studios? 

Yes, I did a lot of stuff—people from Samoa, Japan, Saigon, pretty much everybody came through those doors. When I joined Audio Media, they were an 8-track studio, then they became a 15, then they went to 24-tracks. I was also recording a lot of local commercials and local jingles I wrote. And in the meantime, I was still playing music at night.

I had known Dave [Rorick] for a few years from the bands I played with every day when I first came over to Hawaii. We had a rock and roll thing called Sassafras. We were like a local institution because we opened up for a lot of bands at the main arena there. We opened up for Aerosmith, Alvin Bishop, Loggins & Messina. We played a lot of clubs in Waikiki. We used to play a place called Pears (?), and right next to it was a place where Seawind was playing.

We were mainly like an Aerosmith-type group. We played all over the place. But then Sassafras broke up—and I’ve played with a lot of local bands—and in the meantime I started putting together some stuff with Dave, he was playing with some of the local
bands.

I had access to the studio [Audio Media] so I said, “Let’s put together some music.” I already had my own band called Nutcracker, we did an album that was produced at another studio while I was going to college. I wrote all the songs on that. That was with… I forget the guy’s name.

Then me and Dave started something together because he was writing, I was writing. We started a band, too—that was it: the Roy & Roe band. We would play in clubs out in Pearl City, military bases. A lot of the guys who played on that album were in the group.

In our spare time we started laying tracks down for Roy & Roe. We used different guitar players that I had played with before, different keyboard players. Some songs I played piano, some songs we brought in a drummer, there’s stuff I played drums on. And then we brought a mutual friend of ours to arrange strings and horns on it [the Ron Chun Quartet].

It was kind of a labor of love that we recorded over 8, 9, 10 months…

Roy & Roe - back cover

So it was a passion project? 

Well, we were hoping it would amount to a little bit more than that, you know? But at that time I don’t think Honolulu was ready for that kind of stuff.

What do you mean?

We were hoping that we would get some sort of break, because when I look back on it there are still a couple of strong songs on it that probably could be brought up to date.

Which ones stick out to you?

Probably the ones that me and Dave wrote together. A track called “When We Turn Out The Lights”, and then one that Dave wrote called “Sister Daisy”.

The instrumental I wrote had a lot of different movements. It wasn’t what you would call progressive rock, but it could probably be seen as that by somebody.

Were you guys trying to record an album for the local audience? What was your goal?

We weren’t really targeting any audience, we targeted music that we liked. We weren’t going, “This’ll work real good in Hawaii” or anything. We were just bringing our musical ideas together in a symbiotic type approach. I would write something and then Dave would put in his two cents, or I would put in my two cents [when he wrote a song], not knowing where we’d end up, you know, what the final product would sound like.

It materialized and we decided we needed to get guitar players on the songs, like that funky song called—I think it’s the first song on the second side—

—Let’s see, there’s “Downtown”, then “Just Don’t Come Back”—

—“Just Don’t Come Back”. That was kind of a funky Boz Scaggs-type groove. Take a look at the guitar player, John Rapoza, he could play in that style.

The instrumental, that’s a song I did with Billy Grannis and another guitar player, Chris Bovard. They were doing it together. Chris plays a Les Paul, Billy plays the Strat, those two guitars together would go good on this song. And then we’d add strings and horns later.

We were just trying to do something different than what we had at the time locally.

What was different about what you guys were doing?

It was more contemporary, it was much more mainland sound. Our influences were far reaching, we were doing Elvis Costello-type things, Joe Jackson, things that were happening at the time, happening nationally.

What was the response like when you finally released the album after 10 months? 

By the time the album came out I don’t even think we were playing together anymore as a group. So we weren’t really able to support the album as far as live performances. I don’t know, everybody had their own thing or were off to something else [by that time]. It just took too long to come out, it just didn’t materialize fast enough.

And Dave was talking about moving off the island and going to Nashville.

Which he ended up doing.

Oh yeah, he’s been working with some big cats. I just continued working, but that was right before I went to New York. I left soon after to work at CBS, then I came back to Hawaii in 1981 and by that time Dave had already moved. I continued playing with some local groups, things like that. I got my old job back at the [Audio Media] studio.

In fact, the day I came back from New York I was going in on a session.

Do you remember which session that was?

Nope. I mean, I recorded a lot of people over there.

I think the last album I recorded at Audio Media, hold on a second… which I thought it was a really good Hawaiian album, you gotta get your hands on it. They [the group] were from another island, they were from Kauai.

You know, I think I might have that one. Is it Na Pali something? It’s got a green cover. 

Taj Mahal plays on it. It’s called Na Pali Pacific Tunings.

Yep, that’s the one.

That was a great album. That was the last album I engineered over there.

I’ve recorded a lot of local stuff, I was doing maybe 10 local albums a year. They were doing a bunch of other things there too, commercials, I was doing a bunch of jingles for local companies.

I’m still gigging once in a while, two or three times a month, but as far as recording I don’t really produce groups anymore because—I have all my recording equipment still, it’s all up-to-date, but I mainly record and produce stuff now for video.

Let’s back track to the Roy & Roe band, the record sessions and how you guys were getting all these different musicians to come in and play on the album. What was it like during that time to have so many talented musicians available? 

A lot of times we let the musicians, we played them the song and gave them time to work out a part, either by giving them a tape or having them do it right there on the spot. I was pretty much running the studio all night. I was playing in some bands in Waikiki at the time, so when I would be down with a gig, we’d start some [recording] sessions at 12 midnight until five in the morning.

That was just the way it was. It was a lot of fun. And if it didn’t happen then, we’d do it another night.

Roy & Roe, the band. Album insert from their Roy & Roe LP on Bluewater Records.

Roy & Roe, the band. Album insert from their Roy & Roe LP on Bluewater Records.

Do you think the same type of thing could happen nowadays?

I haven’t been back to Hawaii since 1998, I came back to visit for a week. I have no idea what the musical climate is like in Hawaii now.

The groups that were happening when I was there were The Krush, Manila Machine, Olomana, Society Of Seven, and you had a handful of different rock groups. But I don’t know who’s there, who isn’t there now.

Can you describe to me what it was like when you here? From the perspective of musician and an engineer?

I mean, I recorded a lot of different kinds of groups, different kinds of people. A lot of people come to Hawaii to live. From something as simple as straight ahead Hawaiian music, or some people trying to do a style of sound from the mainland, but they didn’t quite have the voice for it. The songwriting wasn’t always great. I mean, everyone had potential but I never really heard anything different other than a couple of times. The ones that did eventually just left [Hawaii].

There’s the vibe of the place, it’s probably like it is now: it’s relaxed. But you know, a lot of people had delusions. I recorded a lot of people—a lot of people who put out an album, had some sort of backing—like Denny Miyasato and stuff like that—artists who were strictly trying to do a mainland-type album.

I brought in a lot of the top players on my album. There were a lot of backup musicians back then. I would produce them, try to get them to hear themselves logically on tape, try to make suggestions as far as changing something, or if something sounded really rinky-dink, you know.

That last record I did, Pacific Tunings, they were so old-time Hawaiian that I didn’t even know what to suggest to them, I just wanted to get a good sounding recording. They were kind of like blues and Hawaiian, traditional old Hawaiian with their instruments they used, their melodies were really strong, and they brought in Taj Mahal. That album came out really nice, as far as Hawaiian albums go, that’s definitely one of the best. I’m surprised it didn’t go farther than it did, maybe they were too laid back? I don’t know, we lived on an island so we didn’t get much exposure.

We recorded a lot of different things because I had access to the studio. It wasn’t like every time we had an idea [and wanted to go into the studio] we had to pay for it. All we had to do was flip a switch on it.

So you’re saying that for the Roy & Roe album you didn’t have to pay for studio time since you already worked there?

Yeah.

Aside from hiring the musicians, your time, that sort of thing—

It was mostly just our own time, that sort of thing.

When the studio wasn’t in use for other recording artists. 

Yeah, most of the time we were recording at night.

So how did you end up getting the job at Audio Media?

It’s kind of a funny story. I was playing in some band, it was a good band, too. It was with one of the guys who plays on the Roy & Roe album. We had keys, bass player, guitar player, and we would do stuff like Bryan Adams, stuff like that. There was a contest to write a jingle. I forget what the prize was, maybe a keyboard, or something. I said, “Let’s take the group and find a small studio and go record for the contest.”

I wrote the jingle, we went to Audio Media after going to a few different locations. When we recorded it, the engineer was mixing it and I didn’t like what he was doing. I said, “No, no, no. Do you mind if I do this?” I had recorded at mixing studios in New York before, so I sat down and started mixing it, and the owner walked in and he liked the sound that I was getting. He said, “Would you like a job?” …Well, ok [I said], ‘cause I was out of college and couldn’t find work.

That was right when that local competition started.

Home Grown? 

Yeah, Home Grown. That was the first year of Home Grown, and I said, “Sure, what the hell.” So he had me for, like, God, 150 hours per week, and he said, “You’re gonna start tomorrow.”

We ended up winning the [jingle] contest, and then he—I wish I still had that tape, too, that was a great song—oh no, no, that was the jingle. We also won a contest for the radio station. Anyway, I started engineering that next day. I came in in the morning with the guy that was there and started doing a fast tutorial of the equipment and EQs and audio flow and blah blah blah—and that first day i had to engineer three groups. Because everybody was recording for that [Home Grown] contest. And every day after that I was recording two or three bands.

To make a long story short, within four years I was the chief engineer of that studio. That other guy was gone. That’s how I got into recording.

That’s a great story. 

Since I was an engineer, when I moved to New York in the mid-80s I went to CBS and they hired me to work as an audio engineer on a television show. But you see, I went to college for media production and my dream was to be a director. But no one’s gonna hire you unless you have experience, so I got my foot in the door by being an audio engineer.

Once I got my foot in the door, I started talking to the camera guys, then the editors, then I started doing camera work. My kid was still in Hawaii so I moved back to live there in the latter part of 1981, as soon as I got back I started engineering again. I was doing music again, but I wasn’t doing camera work. Eventually I wanted to move away again from Hawaii. I’ve been pretty much been working in television since.

Does Roy & Roe have any other recordings? 

No, not from Roy & Roe. We just did that album, that was it.

How did Tom Moffat get involved? 

Tom Moffat’s office was right above Audio Media, upstairs. He did all these commercials. Every concert he produced he would record his commercials at Audio Media. He was a neighbor.

He was producing Kalapana, C&K, he was involved with all the big cats. When I got the album with Roy & Roe, all he had to do was pay for the mastering in LA and then he put it on his label, Bluewater. I don’t know if he actually understood us to begin with but he distributed it, got it into the local stores.

I gotta say that this record is an artifact, it rarely pops up in the thrift stores and record shops here, but it’s a great story: recording the album at night when the studio’s not in use. 

It took a lot to get it done. We did one song at a time. Sometimes Dave and I would just go there and hash out a song together.

When we started to lay down tracks, not everyone was in the studio. You know, drums mic’d up and the bass, and maybe one guitar player, something like that, and we just started laying tracks own. We would bring in people according to their schedules and overdub tracks. We would use different keyboard players. [We asked ourselves] are we going to put synthesized strings on this? Or are we going to have Kit Ebersbach do an arrangement? We actually, when we did all the strings we brought in a quartet of violin players into the studio and did all the songs they played on at the same time. They had charts written by Kit Ebersbach. Then we did the same with the horn section.

Things were done like how Crosby, Stills & Nash would’ve done, you know? Bring in one guy at a time according to who’s available. He’d be the only one in the studio doing the overdub, chorus, or guitar solo or whatever. They never actually had the whole band in there at the same time.

Fascinating. The album came together really well. 

The only thing I can say as the closing comment is, I might re-record one or two of the songs. This Spanish guy I know wants to sing “When We Turn Out The Lights” but add different instrumentation to it, put drums on it, put a symphony on it. I would like to reproduce that song with him singing in Spanish, release it in Latin America and then see what happens. He lives here in Jacksonville, Florida. When we record it I’ll send it to you.

Absolutely, I would love that. 

Be sure to read part one of my Roy & Roe interview.

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