It was 1976. I was 23 years old, and if I remember correctly, it was a Monday afternoon.
I smiled as I walked toward The Record Plant, a recording studio in Hollywood. I had just made a discovery, and I could not have been more pleased with myself.
I heard a car pull up. I turned to watch as it stopped at the parking meter.
She got out. She was even more beautiful than her album covers would lead one to believe. She was thirty-nine years old and drop-dead gorgeous. She opened her purse, reaching for change as she stood next to the parking meter. Boldly, I decided to share my discovery with her.
“Put in a dime. It will get you the same time as a quarter will.” She looked at me. You know, the look that says, “I have no idea who you are or why you are talking to me or why I should believe you.” But she nodded to me, put in a dime, and got the same time on the meter as if she had dropped in a quarter. She turned to me and laughed. “You just saved me fifteen cents.”
I waited for her, and we headed toward the studio entrance together. I extended my hand. “Hi, I’m Paul Allen.” She smiled warmly and shook my hand. “Nancy Wilson.” I held the door of the studio recording room open for Ms. Wilson so that she could enter first. I got another sweet smile as she walked past me.
But her producer, Gene McDaniels, was not smiling. Not at me, anyway. He looked bothered by the fact that I was walking in with Nancy. His vibe was strange, and the tension was palpable, at least it was to me.
Didn’t he invite me to come today? I asked myself silently. Did I misunderstand? When he visited my father’s house this weekend, he said he was producing Nancy Wilson, and that we could come and watch.
Ah, we could come and watch. But there was no we. Only I had come. My father, whom Gene knew well (my grandfather and father had helped Gene get into the music business decades earlier), was unable to make the trip. I, whom Gene barely knew at all, was there, smiling, already buddies with the star he was producing. I was just some kid, crashing his party, who had found favor with this fabulous artist, and Gene did not take kindly to that notion.
Gene warmly greeted Nancy as she settled in next to him behind the large mixing board. He barely said two words to me. But if looks could kill?
I sat on the sofa located just in front of that board, whereas the mixing board itself sat on a platform or riser. I figured I had better be as quiet and as invisible as possible. I was embarrassed, but I could not retreat.
There was an artist in the recording portion of the studio, just behind the sizable soundproof window we all observed him through. He was playing one of those new keyboards called a synthesizer. The purpose was to give Nancy a modern jazzy sound to the track she was about to perform.
As we could all hear through the studio monitors as he played, this musician was remarkable. He finished, exited the soundproofed room, then stood next to me as I sat on the couch. We looked at each other, smiled and nodded in recognition.
I wanted to tell him so badly that I thought he had mad skills and that he just killed that synth part on the track, but I was sure as heck not going to say anything to him, for fear it would put Gene into labor.
(It was not until later that day when I stopped at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard before heading back home to San Bernardino that I had a revelation. There was a section in the store featuring one artist, his latest album being displayed maybe eight across in four rows, with the artist’s face smiling from the album cover. The name of the album was Liberated Fantasies.
Man, this guy looks familiar, I thought. Then it hit me. It was the face I had just seen in the studio! That keyboard player who looked down at me, smiled, and nodded as I sat on the sofa was George Duke, and I had just witnessed him performing musical magic on the Nancy Wilson album called This Mother’s Daughter.)
Next, Nancy was up, but before she went through the door into the actual recording area, Gene said, “Listen, I will be glad to clear the studio while you do your vocals.” I felt the dagger in my heart. Jesus, this guy wants to get rid of me. Maybe I should go, I thought.
But in that very moment, Nancy Wilson made me fall head over heels in love with her.
She could see what was happening. She looked at me for a moment; then, she turned to Gene and said, “I’m a pro. I perform in front of people every day. Having someone in the studio while I record is no big deal at all.”
“Are you sure?” Gene continued, “Because I have no problem clearing the studio.”
Man—is he ever pushing the issue!
Nancy just smiled and said again, “No need. Everything’s fine.”
After returning to San Bernardino later that night, my father asked me how things went on my visit to the studio.
I told him everything was fantastic.
The moral of this story?
It is incredible what a person will do for you if you save them fifteen cents.
I love you, Nancy Wilson. You were a class act, even when the rest of the world was not watching.
“A Lot of Living to Do”
“The Sweetest Sounds”