rare glimpse of the man behind the desk. Roger Savage (right) is pictured
here during the mixing of the landmark Australian film MAD MAX. With
him are the film's director George Miller (centre) and producer, the
late Byron Kennedy (left).
One of Australia's
most respected and distinguished producers and recording engineers, Roger
Savage is universally regarded by his peers as one of the very best in
the business. His career began in the early Sixties and it's still going
strong and hitting new highs. The Sixties and Seventies were dominated
by work in the pop industry, but from the late Seventies onwards Roger
concentrated increasingly on sound production for film, and he is now
recognised worldwide as one of the leaders in this field.
is little easily accessible information about Roger's pop career. What
we know so far is that he began his career in London in the early 1960s.
Just prior to coming to Australia he worked with Dusty Springfield and
he famously engineered The Rolling Stones debut single, a cover of Chuck
Berry's Come On. Fortunately some of that story has been recorded
in Andrew Loog Oldham's recent memoir Stoned.
Andrew Loog Oldham:
The IBC deal was done, the Stones signed with 'us' and it was time to
go to work on getting recorded and released. Their job was to pick the
five songs out of their entire repertoire that were the most commercial;
I left them to it. They were supposed to know their part. That Thursday
afternoon at a Wetherby Arms rehearsal, I was happy to inform the Stones
that we'd booked time at Olympic Studios for Friday I0 May. Nobody discussed
how the sessions were actually going to he produced, we just sort of
mumbled our way through that one - less said the better, till D-Day.
We eventually chose three songs to record, one being an obscure Chuck
Berry number, 'Come On', which had never been out in the UK.
engineer: I heard about the Rollin' Stones at the Station Hotel
in Richmond. I went down to see what they were like, with a view maybe
to contacting them and recording them. When I was down there I bumped
into Andrew - very sharp and interesting - who was there basically for
the same reason. I said to him, 'Well, if you want to do anything, let
me know.' Oh, I was absolutely knocked out when I heard them, they were
doing that Bo Diddley song ... It was something quite extraordinary.
I don't know whether they would have done anything with me or not. I
assume they would have, if it didn't cost 'em anything. Andrew contacted
me a couple of weeks later and I agreed to record them one night without
payment, because he didn't have any money, so we sorta crept into Olympic
late one night. It was sorta an illicit session, really just a favour
to Andrew without any strings attached. It was one of my first real
recordings. At that time there were only really four places to go seriously:
Abbey Road, IBC, Olympic and Lansdowne.
ALO: I picked
Olympic, got Eric to book it: Eric telling me how little money we had;
Keith Grant, the studio head at Olympic, recommending 'young' Roger
Savage as being suitable for the Stones; and us trying to get as much
as we could done in three hours on forty quid. I hadn't checked out
the place. The control room was upstairs, and I didn't like that because
it's like a machine-gun turret - one is literally talking down at the
act. The session was cold.
Mick Jagger arrived with an armful of books, I think he'd just come
from college. We set up and did four songs quite quickly. The main thing
I remember was that Andrew told me to turn lan Stewart's piano microphone
off, he obviously didn't want him in the band because he didn't look
the part. I was a bit embarrassed about doing it, but that was Andrew.
When they came up the stairs to the control room to play back there
was no piano! Nobody said anything. I felt a bit strange about doing
that. Brian was the one who was the most vocal, he was the one who was
suggesting things more than the others. The sound on 'Come On' was pretty
conventional. It was a clean recording compared to the later recordings
which they did at Regent Sound. Their own sound was more of a mess,
looser, with less separation between the instruments. Andrew couldn't
really get his head round the mixing, from four tracks down to one track,
he didn't really understand how that was gonna occur. None of them had
any experience of recording, so basically they sort of left it up to
me. We would have overdubbed something, tambourine and I think vocals;
there would have been overdubs. So I would be controlling the mix, telling
them what was going on or what was happening with the process. At the
time four-track was pretty unusual, we used a big Ampex machine that
stood as tall as a person.
ALO: It was
'time's up', five minutes to six. I thought we were done and Roger Savage
asked me, 'What about mixing it?' I said, 'What's that?' He explained
that the basic recording had been made on four channels and we now had
to reduce them to stereo and mono for public consumption. I said, 'Oh,
you do that. I'll come back in the morning for it.' Because I figured
if I wasn't there I wouldn't have to pay for it. I also floated the
idea that I thought the electric guitars would be plugged straight into
the studio wall, so that nobody would ask me to pay for an amp. A year
later I was an expert and nobody was going to stop me divining exactly
how four channels would he pared down for public consumption.
At that time none
of us knew a thing about recording. The entire process was a new, mysterious
experience for everyone. The recorded results fell somewhere in that
flawed middle ground between what the Stones wanted and what I wanted.
Quite simply it would do. It wasn't Willie Dixon and it wasn't The Ronettes.
Now we had to get the product out, get a record company. The most logical
place was Decca: after all they'd turned the Beatles down, Maybe they'd
panic and sign us. I didn't believe in knocking on ten doors. I believed
in picking one and kicking it down. Decca was it. The Rolling Stones
didn't have to perform to get a record contract; Eric and I did.
Some time later, Roger
was also involved in the recording of an ill-fated single for another
of Oldham's protégés, singer George Bean (who later
appeared, with his group The Bean Runners, in the 1967 film PRIVILEGE,
starring Paul Jones and Jean Shrimpton).
Andrew's Ivor Court office was a magnet for no-hopers who hoped that
a little of the magic would rub off on them. sunken-eyed James Phelge
who might have been a road manager or could have been a dealer. There
was a Mick Jagger lookalike called Doug Gibbons who couldn't sing and
never made it into the studio. There was a plump, smart, well-spoken
boy called George Bean whose group was called the Runners and who put
out a couple of singles on Decca. Bobby Jameson was a blond double for
Paul McCartney, a boy of few words and an almost girlish beauty, who
always wore black and was accompanied everywhere by a polite but sinister
young Italian-American manager. You would find them at the Ad Lib or
the Scotch, always quietly on the fringe of the Stones' circles, eclipsed
by all the fame and glory. He never happened but he made some great
records, notably a song called 'All I want Is My Baby', written for
him by Andrew with Keith and produced by Andrew in the vein of 'Rag
Doll' as a sort of homage to Bob Crewe.
Bean was a friend of Chrissic Shrimpton, and with all due respect to
the late Mr Bean, I would have recorded just about anything. But George
was one of the good guys and game. Mr Bean, mark I, had his own group,
but I wanted to experiment in the studio with musicians, arrangers and
arrangements, and George signed with Andes Sound as a solo artist. I
booked Olympic Studios and hired engineer Roger Savage and arranger
Charles Blackwell for the session. We happily recorded a slightly R'n'B-
flavoured version of the old Doris Day standard, 'Secret Love'. The
song sounded terrible. I had no idea how to pick the right key for the
singer and no idea whether the song was even in George Bean's range,
for that matter. Too late, I found out it wasn't.
Andrew must have conned someone. He was in no position to have underwritten
the session. I do remember it being quite a big session, it wasn't just
a group; I'm sure it had strings on it and everything. It was a Phil
Spector attempt. It may have been the time he was wearing his black
cape with red lining. Knowing him at the time, he was pretty sharp,
he would have got around that small problem of not having any money.
Although he would
no doubt have carved out a very distinguished career at home, Roger decided
to emigrate to Australia in 1964, settling in Melbourne. Shortly after
his arrival he became one of the founding staff at Bill Armstrong's legendary
studio at 100 Albert Park Rd, South Melbourne. Two of the first Australian
recordings he worked on were Bobby & Laurie's historic hit I Belong
With You, and The Easybeats' breakthrough
hit She's So Fine, for which Roger produced the backing track.
It was recorded at Armstrong's on the Easy's first trip to Melbourne in
Over the next seven
years or so Roger worked at Armstrong's engineering some of the most important
recordings of the period, including classic tracks by The Twilights, MPD
Ltd, Eighteenth Century Quartet, The Masters Apprentices, Spectrum and
many others. As our research progresses, we hope that we can present a
more complete 'sessionography' of Roger's pop-rock production work during
Roger's work in film
began at Armstrong's. Renamed AAV, in the Seventies it became Australia's
leading audio post-production facility for film and TV. One of Roger's
earliest recorded film credits was as an audio engineer on Tim Burstall's
recently rediscovered surf documentary GETTING GACK
TO NOTHING (1970).
Roger's first big
feature film project was mixing Bruce Rowland's soundtrack music for THE
MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER in the late seventies.This marked the beginning of
his association with director George Miller and producer Byron
Kennedy. This was followed by his work mixing Brian May's score and
the soundtrack for Kennedy-Miller's internationally successful MAD MAX.
The project was on
a very tight budget, so to save money Roger devised a method of using
timecode synchronisation facilities to mix the soundtrack on multitrack
and then to resynch it back onto sprocketed tape. Apparently this was
the very first film in the world to be mixed in this way, using the timecode
system that is now the industry standard. Roger later mixed the sequel,
MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR, which was also Australia's first feature
film recorded in Dolby Stereo.
With Dolby still in its infancy in 1981, this feature drew international
attention to Roger's work, eventually leading to his departure from AAV
to freelance in Hollywood on such prestige projects as RETURN OF THE JEDI.
On returning to Melbourne
in 1984, Roger set up in business form himself. His new company, Soundfirm,
began its life in a fairly modest facility in South Melbourne. Now located
in Port Melbourne, the company and its facilities have continued to expand.
In 1986 Soundfirm opened a small Sydney operation under the management
of Ian Mc Loughlin, who remains its manager and senior mixer. The Sydney
operation has continued to grow and in 1998 was relocated to the new Fox
Studios complex in Moore Park.
Soundfirm's is best
known for its work as a sound postproduction house for feature films,
but has always included picture post. Today its facilities encompass non-linear
vision and sound editing, mixing, and ADR and Foley production. The range
of productions passing through the facilities includes feature films,
documentaries, television programmes, mini-series and cinema commercials.
Facility hire options available vary from by-the-hour hire of any of the
facilities to studios with operations staff, full post-production management
or a packaged, completed soundtrack.
We are still in the
process of researching Roger's production and engineering credits in poular
music, and we would appreciate any additional information that our readers
can contribute. His film work is somewhat better recorded and many of
Roger's most prominent credits in film sound production are listed below.
In 2001 Roger's work
was recognised at the highest international level when he and his team
were nominated for both an Oscar and a BAFTA award for Best Sound, for
their work on Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE.