Growing up with 20,000 records filling his basement, a new-fangled stereo in the living room and a Wollensak tape recorder in his bedroom, it’s no surprise Mike Joseph spent the rest of his life around music.
The Westporter’s father — Mike Joseph Sr. — was a radio executive. In the 1960s he turned WABC into an AM powerhouse. In the ’70s he flipped more than a dozen major market stations to the “Hot Hits” format he created.
Mike Jr. got the music bug, and never let go.
In 1960s Westport, he recalls, “everyone was either in a band, or listening to one.”
He took his reel-to-reel tape recorder to Mike Mugrage’s basement, and recorded classmates Jeff Dowd, Dave Barton, Brian Keane, Rob McClenathan, Julie Aldworth, Peter Rolnick, Harry Miller and others.
In 1971, Jeff Dowd practiced guitar in a Staples High School music rehearsal room.
It was quite a crew. Dowd went on to become a noted opera singer. Keane is a Grammy Award winner. McClenathan and Aldworth — who got married — still make music. So did Mugrage and Barton.
That’s the milieu Joseph remembers fondly.
At Staples High School, the Class of 1971 grad says, “people sat outside the cafeteria playing guitars and harmonicas.” He had a morning shift on the school radio station WWPT-FM. Music was everywhere.
Rich Bradley — Joseph’s English teacher at Coleytown Junior High School, who later taught at Staples — was the first director of the Youth Adult Council. Concerned that teenagers were just hanging out downtown, he recruited Joseph and Guy Rabut to put on a coffeehouse.
Held first downstairs at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, then at Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall), the shows harnessed the talents of local singers.
As audio director for Staples Players, Joseph served as stage manager for acts that played at Staples: the James Gang, Delaney & Bonnie, Taj Mahal, the Byrds, Mahavishnu Orchestra and more. He showed roadies where the electrical tie-ins were, and shepherded the groups to and from the green room (usually a music rehearsal space).
Hiding mics in the catwalk, he occasionally recorded concerts for personal use.
Then he did sound for Jesup Green concerts. Joseph owned big Altec Lansing speakers, and borrowed power amps from his friend Bob Barrand. He’d rig up a PA system on the flatbed trailer that served as a stage.
Mike Joseph, in the early 1970s.
Back in the day, music and politics went hand in hand. In 1971 he and Barton hitchhiked to Washington for a May Day rally. Joseph wore bell bottoms and a t-shirt, had 39 cents in his pocket, slept on a church floor — and helped handle the sound on the Capitol steps.
At Ohio University, Joseph helped build one of the first large student radio and audio production facilities in the country. He recorded bands in the studio and the field — including the Pipestem Bluegrass Festival in West Virginia for a very young NPR.
He transferred to Syracuse University — site of the nation’s first 16-track student-oriented recording studio.
Then came a long career as a recording engineer, record producer and club designer. He collaborated in Nat King Cole’s Hollywood studio with Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Blue Cheer and others.
Mike Joseph, at the mixing board.
In San Francisco — as chief engineer for Oasis Recording Studio and producer for BBI Productions — he worked with George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, Tower of Power, Santana, Journey and dozens more new wave and disco-era bands.
In 1989 Joseph became editor of Recording Engineer/Producer Magazine, and founded another publication. In that capacity he traveled the world, visiting studios like Abbey Road.
These days — decades after leaving his Westport home with its 20,000 albums, stereo and tape recorder — Joseph is still in Kansas City. He’s a strategic marketing and business planning consultant.
Mike Joseph today.
He’s just built a home production studio, to digitize vintage analog tapes.
He does it all: concerts, weddings, lectures. And — of course — old recordings for his many musician friends.
He’s happy to talk to anyone who has tapes they want to save.
Particularly if they also have stories about the very vibrant, really rich Westport music scene of the 1960s and ’70s.
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