1967: Vic Damon’s Studio

Photo by R. G. Barncard 1967 –

STEVE MILLER SESSION PHOTO GALLERY

The legendary Vic Damon. Here is his incredibly odd layout with the speakers in the ceiling. The right channel is just above the camera position. The left channel is just before Vic. The lathes are in front of the window, the mixer knobs are before him. Somewhere between his two lathes was a small fishbowl with his pet turtle in it, which he talked about incessantly. We thought he was crazy.

He hated rock music and would hypercompress the shit out of it without asking, and we customers were so meek we were happy to walk away with a 45. A major reason to build my own studio, but I could never cut 45s and always had to go back to him.

Vic made a huge amount of money in the early 50’s and built this studio. Ampex collectors would DROOL over the model MR-70s, some say the best machine that Ampex ever made, way before the more economical AG-440. He had two 2-track and two 4-track machines, all MR-70. All mics were U-67s on Starbird stands. He had the shit, but he didn’t care about anything but “old people’s” music (in our opinion). I ended up disliking his attitude and vowed never to treat clients like he did.

The worst part is that his little kingdom was built for one man to run by himself. He had no interns, no helpers, and heeded no other option about the best way to do things.  Since this was the only ‘pro’ studio I had ever known, I tried to make my studio at home to be like his – except the stupid speakers in the ceiling – I could never bring myself to do that. We used to make fun of  his idiosyncrasies behind his back.  I emulated his layout: I had a stand-up mixer in my place, no console, and my machines up on some kind of platform.

Barncard’s Audio Lab – like a ‘little Damon Studio’

Vic Damon holding a 16″ instantaneous-cut disc and standing next to the studio’s record cutting lathes.

Sondra Steele, Vic Damon, Jon Steele listening to the Steele’s hit record My Happiness, recorded and released by Damon’s studio, [c.1948]   Note that this photo features a turnable board that is the same exact unit that’s parked in his studio in the second photo of this series – 20 years later.

Vic Damon (right) and unidentified man driving the “Sound Bug,” a novelty car with sound system advertising Damon Recording Studios; street scene appears to be a parade, heading south from 11th Street on Grand Avenue, Kansas City . This photo was also published in Howard Tremain’s reference work The Audio Cyclopedia (not to be confused with The New Audio Cyclopedia.)

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
A native of Bucyrus, Ohio, Vic Damon attended the Missouri Military Academy and worked as teller for Traders National Bank before embarking on a career in the recording industry. A pioneer in recording science, Damon founded Damon Transcription Laboratory in Kansas City in 1933, operating out of the Midland Building at 1221 Baltimore. Later, as Damon Recording Studios, his studio moved to 117 W. 14th Street where Damon continued providing recording services until his retirement in 1973.

Damon was also an engineer for Kansas City radio station WHB.

During his long career, Damon recorded such local notables as Tommy Douglas, Julia Lee, the Scamps, Jay McShann and Marilyn Maye. The Blue Things, a popular folk-rock group based in Lawrence, Kansas, recorded early demos at Damon’s studio under the name The Blue Boys before landing a deal with RCA in the mid-1960s.

Capitol and Decca record companies frequently engaged Damon’s services as a recording engineer. Damon’s studio also provided recording services for advertising agencies, church groups and civic organizations.
One of Damon’s greatest commercial successes was My Happiness, recorded at his studio December 10, 1947, by Jon and Sondra Steele. In 1948 My Happiness sold over a million copies of sheet music and won a Cashbox award for “Best Record of the Year.” Composed by Borney Bergantine with lyrics by Betty Peterson (Mrs. Lou Blasco), My Happiness was subsequently recorded by hundreds of artists including Elvis Presley’s first recorded effort rendered for his mother. Victor L. Damon died February 20, 1974 at age 73.

25 thoughts on “1967: Vic Damon’s Studio”

  1. I worked with Vic Damon in the early 1960’s and helped get him started using his Westrex stereo cutter head system using his Haeco amplifiers made by Henry Holtzer. Remember, that this studio was built before the stereo era so Vic can be forgiven for the ceiling speakers. The Sound Bug was featured on the cover of Radio-Electronics for October 1956 in a picture shot of the Kansas City Municipal Air Port. I remember Vic as an very creative person who worked very hard in his chosen profession. (Perhaps the profession chose Vic)

    1. Hi, Stephan,

      Do you remember if one of Vic’s MR70s was a THREE track or a FOUR track?

      inquiring minds on the Ampex list want to know.

      Thanks,
      stephen barncard

  2. A band I was in went Damon’s in the fall of 1966 and recorded an album. We didn’t really notice any bad attitude from Mr Damon even though we were a “rock & roll” band (we were all still in high school). Maybe it was there but we were too excited being in a real studio. However, when we finished Mr Damon was demonstrating how the vocal tracks could be put out of “synch” with the instrumental track to what I assumed was a potential customer who came in. Then he either forgot or intentionally didn’t re-synch the vocal and instrumental tracks on that particular song, so when the albums were pressed that song sounded pretty lousy. Maybe that was his way of telling us he didn’t like our music? I’m not saying it was done intentionally

    Does anyone remember the address of the studio? Or what may have happened to all the master tapes?

    1. Is I recall, his underground studio it was in the 100 block of west 14th Street, just across from the Kansas City Power & Light building. I went there with a friend several times and Vic was always nice and eager to show us around. This would have been in the late 60’s. The place was so cool, cramped, but cool for sure.

      1. yes – a few years ago I visited the site of Damon’s old studio…. it was boarded up, but the ‘Miami Vice’ glass blocks were still there, and the stairway downward. Who knows what’s downstairs. I could imagine all the equipment STILL THERE and intact!

  3. If it’s a band’s first experience in the studio, what is the measure of competence when he’s the only game in town? My point is that he took advantage of band’s cluelessness, and most paid clients that I knew would never challenge him, even if the end product was marginal. I never saw in him any passion for the music he was recording or his own craft, he seemed bored to me, and these bands were a necessary chore.

    He came up in the radio world in the 30s, had a successful record or publishing deal (My Happiness) that he got a large piece of, and bought a bunch of excellent equipment with the royalties. But I see nothing in his history that would indicate that he got recording experience at any other studio or studied under a master, he came up in a bubble of his own making, unaware of major changes in the industry like the new limiters or modular consoles built for multi-track recording.

    This is why, at the age of 14, I started my own studio in the suburbs. I knew I could do better even with old used gear. Even then it was about the vibe with me.

  4. I worked for Mr. Damon from 1971 until his retirement in @ 1973. I then purchased the business and equipment and remained at the 14th street location under the Damon number until @1975. At that time I partnered with Cavern Sound and moved into their under ground facility at Truman rd and 291 Highway. We operated as Cavern/Damon for 2 years until I moved my gear and clients to a small store front in independence while we waited for our Kansas City “River Market” / City Market studios at 228 w. 5th street to be built.

    Mr Damon was brilliant technician with a very good. The first thing he taught me was disc cutting and as he passed on the basics of recording prior to multi track recording I pulled him into the 1970’s. We were only doing mono when I arrived we were now doing 8 track it 1″ tape. I can remember the day the 3m rep came in with the first cassette machine and tape. Ant then we we’re off! For more info I can be reached at Chapman Recording, 913-894-6854.

  5. I heard some early recordings just now on YouTube, Charlie Parker with guitar and drums, and made at Damon’s studio in 1943 long before Parker was famous. The quality is excellent with the saxophone accurately recorded with a true-to-life tone. I am surprised those Parker recordings aren’t mentioned on this site. After all, he is one of the most influential instrumentalists of the last century and his legacy is still just as strong. I’m sure Vic Damon’s place in recording history will be known, more than anything else he did, because he was the first to record Charlie Parker.

    1. My intention in posting this piece was never about running down Vic Damon’s entire history before I met him; however I included all the info I could find about him, and there wasn’t that much online or anywhere else. I’m trying to keep most of the info on this site to what I’ve actually seen and heard.

      Thanks for mentioning the Charlie Parker recording, but why didn’t you include the link to what you were talking about?

  6. can you tell me if a group by the name Cindy and the Turtle Mountain Boys did a recording there in 1967?
    If they did, do you know what happened to the master copy.

  7. My band recorded at Kansas Cities Damon Studios back in the mid 60s,we were called The Fabulous Cinners and I have the two 45s that we made on the Damon Label and have now been transferred to cd. I just ran across your site and I was thrilled. We played throughout KC nightclubs, high school dances, Olathe Naval Station every Sunday night for returning servicemen and women, St Louis, etc. I remember Mr Damon during our studio takes. You can find our band picture, just google and type the bands name, several sites will come up.

    1. HI FRED I HAVE A PHOTO OF A DAMON LABEL FROM THE MID 60’S. BUT I’M NOT SURE IF IT’S THE KANSAS CITY LABEL. MINE MENTIONS LEADERSHIP SINCE 1933 ON THE LABEL. IS THAT THE LABEL YOU WERE ON. AND I WISH YOU COULD POST YOUR FABULOUS CINNERS 45S ON YOUTUBE. THANKS FOR A REPLY RICK

      1. Hi Rich!! Yes they have Leadership since 1933 on label. I am in the process of putting the band picture on You Tube along with listening to the one song out of the four “Good Good Lovin”.

  8. Victor L. Damon (His middle name was Leroy) happens to be my paternal grandfather. My father being Victor’s son George N. Damon. I don’t know too much about him and I don’t really have much of a sense for who he was as a person. He was born in 1901 and I was born 88 years later, so I didn’t have a chance to meet him or know him. I find it astounding to think that there were still battles being fought with Native Americans when Victor was a boy, and that his father was roughly contemporaneous with the civil war. Anyway, thanks for compiling this information, it was very interesting. If you have any additional photos apart from the ones posted I would love to get copies from you. -Brandon J. Damon

    1. Thanks for writing, Brandon. Vic’s passion for audio trickled into your father, George Damon and I worked with him at Coffeen Fricke & Associates, the acoustic consulting and sound / video design firm. I worked alongside George as he meticulously tuned sound systems for theaters, performance halls, churches, stadiums and arenas – including Royals Stadium, M.U. School of Science & Technology, and JCCC Performing Arts Center, to name a few. George had the reputation of having excellent attention-to-detail in his design work and the most billable hours of anyone in the company. We were in awe of your dad and it was a pleasure to work with him (and I remember when you were a toddler running around the office).

  9. I have (2) 45 rpm recording with the Damon reference copy labels. The artist is a excellent jazz pianist whose name is Criss Cross on one record label and the other record label is spelled Chris Cross. Can’t find a thing on this guy!

  10. Great article, Stephen and nice detail added from Chuck Chapman. I worked alongside Vic’s son, George, doing sound system design / tuning, and also stepped inside the Cavern Studios when John Vanderslice was operating Slice Speaker reconing out of Cavern (if I recall correctly). So, I’ve always been curious about Cavern Studios and Vic Damon.

  11. It should be known that Vic Damon mastered my biggest garage band classic of all time: “The Young Aristocracy”.
    I wanted him to limit it but not that much and it revealed the hum in my mixer.

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