Lotek Studios is owned and operated by ex-Zappa bass player, ‘Clonemeister’, and music legend, Arthur Barrow, and is a mecca for L.A. recording artists seeking quality sound production engineered and produced in the lo-key, no rush, uber-eclectic environment of Barrow’s spaceship he calls Lotek Studios.
Lotek began life as a classic Los Angeles bungalow/cottage. Located south of downtown Los Angeles, the bungalow was trailered away to make room for the landing of the then new L.A. Coliseum. Barrow launched his studio in 1983. Eclectic is a fitting description for Lotek studios. Even the arrival is offbeat – via an unpaved Mar Vista/Venice back alley through a pleasantly overgrown compound and up a back porch to the studio then into the control room. Barrow will offer you coffee, ask you to smoke outside, fire up the master switch and get down to the business of making music.
Barrow’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist musician, engineer, programmer and producer are evident by a glance at his catalogue. Zappa, The Doors, Robby Kreiger, Berlin, Joe Cocker, Diana Ross, Nina Hagen, Janet Jackson, Oingo Boingo, Billy Idol, Giorgio Moroder. Some of his many film credits include work on Top Gun, Scarface, The Doors, Breakfast Club. Barrow also composes music for classic silent films, including: The Cameraman with Buster Keaton, The Torrent featuring Greta Garbo, and The Boob, starring Joan Crawford. His self-published albums feature rich, complex and melodic compositions with a sound perfectly tailored to the Now.
If you’re a musician, an invitation to one of Arthur’s jams can be hard to come by. His guest list is an elite mix, usually Tommy Mars on Hammond organ, Rhodes piano, Rogers synth and vocals. Then there’s either Vinnie Colaiuta, Tom Brechtlein or Andy Kravitz on drums. Brass includes Larry Klimas with Bruce and Walt Fowler. On guitar is Robby Krieger or Warren Cucurullo, while Barrow handles bass. The several incarnations born out of these collaborations include Banned From Utopia, The Mar Vista Philharmonic, Theoretical 5.
The music hardly rests in Kristen Vigard. She’s always bopping and singing, talking a profound stream, reciting and recalling fact and fiction in a dizzy blur, tapping a beat, restoring order or creating chaos, sometimes all at once and usually in double speed.
As a child performer, Kristen was on Broadway in the original production of ‘Annie’. In her teens and twenties, Kristen played Moran Richards on the popular daytime soap, The Guiding Light. Then there was a calling and a move to Paris to sing in clubs and busk the streets. New York was next, then Los Angeles to record her first album, backed by Jamie Cohen at Private Music.
Kristen first met Doug Lewis of Fell Music in 1982, at the L.A. happening, AT SUNSET. Located on the Sunset Strip at 8907 Sunset Blvd., Lewis was one of six core members At Sunset, an idea launched by media artist Jim Budman to, by word of mouth, “open the (back) door and see what happens”. What happened was that word spread, virally speaking, from the six members (Budman, Lewis, Mark Brooks, Dan Millington, Adam Linter and Dana McDonald) and out into an ever-expanding network. The result, in short time, was the evolution to a ‘multi-functional, omni-sexual, relatively civilized space where anything could, and usually did happen’.
AT SUNSET 1981-84
At Sunset occupied the former Sneaky Pete’s restaurant, a former hipster hangout on the Sunset Strip. The policy was backdoor only, down a long series of steps which adjoined and shared a common wall with the Whiskey A-Go-Go. Once at the door, if you were either on the guest list or were invited in, you paid a twenty dollar ‘donation’. Once in, there were no rules, so to speak, but especially in terms of the interior space – all was accessible.
Budman’s brother, Michael, owner of Roots sportswear, was living in Paris and had begun a monthly fashion/culture magazine called ‘Passion’, published in English for international distribution. After an ad was placed for At Sunset featuring only the logo (a John Van Hammersfeld litho) and address, word got out and the celebs arrived.
The surreal aspect of At Sunset was apparent inside through the actions of those guests who realized the loose aspect of the environment. You could walk into and through the kitchen, into the walk-in cold-box. Or you could walk behind the bar and serve beer, wine and sake to fellow patrons. A large adjacent room served as the dance floor/stage area, then up a set of steps to two more private rooms, where interviews would be filmed, lines could be drawn, lights could be dimmed…
Outside on the Sunset Strip an equally dynamic scene was in full swing – Punks, Mods, Rockers, Funksters and Ska’s mixed with Hollywood translife at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente. At Sunset added the gay and the straight, the young and the old, the Valley, Downtown, Malibu, Venice, and the celebs. On any given late night would be Tim Leary or Truman Capote or George Carlin behind the bar slinging drinks to a crowd rocking to a DJ spinning Tainted Love by Soft Cell, or The Untouchables in the next room spreading the live vibe.
In late 1984, exhausted by three years of nightlife, Budman, Lewis and the rest of the At Sunset crew closed the doors and the party was over.
A decade later, Jamie Cohen was riding his bike near his house on Electric Ave. in Venice when he spotted Doug Lewis walking his dog. Turns out they lived a block from each other. Jamie Cohen was a legendary A&R man, who had signed Kristen to her first recording contract. Cohen also played a key early role At Sunset, setting up and spinning records for the dance crowd, and bringing in the music industry alumni, including Clive Davis.
It was Cohen who introduced Lewis to Arthur Barrow, which in turn led to the production of Fell Music, featuring Lewis, Cohen, Kristen Vigard, Robert Williams, Barrow, and others. The seven albums that make up Fell Music were recorded at Lotek Studios from 1994-2006.
TIDE GOES IN, TIDE GOES OUT
Tide Goes In, Tide Goes Out is written by Doug Lewis and performed by Kristen Vigard. The spanish guitar was added by Jorge, a player Cohen and Lewis found at La Cabana, a popular Venice eatery. Other musical performers include Lewis on guitar, Arthur Barrow on bass, guitar and organ, Robert Williams on drums. Mastered by Bob Stone RIP. The song was originally released on Fell Music, Volume 6, titled ‘The New Dystopia’. It is currently available from the Fell Music Bandcamp site, on The Best of Fell Music, Volume 1.
The Serge @ Lotek Studios. Image/Cara Tompkins
Lotek Studios & Tommy Mars. Image/Cara Tompkins
Doug Lewis at the Lotek board. Image/Cara Tompkins
At Sunset, Details Magazine
Feb 28, 2012
ARTHUR BARROW is the ultimate hipster – smart, funny, honest, well-read and an all around civilized person and nice guy. Arthur’s musical talent is legendary, but the man is more than his musical accomplishments.
Through a mutual friend, Jamie Cohen, I was introduced to Arthur in September of 1994. I had been writing songs and playing music since the early 80’s, but had never made an album. We got together that year and spent a few days recording at his studio – LOTEK – in Mar Vista, CA. Those early recordings became the foundation for a series of releases I eventually put out under Fell Music.
Previous recording experiences of mine had ended badly. In one instance, my music partner, Bryan Englund, the son of Cloris Leachman, died of a drug overdose in a NYC YMCA just days before we were to begin recording at the studio of his brother, George. Other musically related opportunities and instances proved equally fruitless. Back then, and without any of the home studio gear available today, making an album began to seem like an impossible task, so I gave up on the dream, went back to fishing, made a few more turns around the globe, got married, had kids and went to work in the L.A. film biz. I continued writing, playing and occasionally performing in local L.A. coffehouses, though the idea of recording had lost it’s appeal.
After going over the material recorded with Arthur, I recognized an opportunity to not only to make a record, but to do it with someone who was a master at his craft and did his work without pretense, ego, or any of the usual suspects that can and do get in the way of the creative process. I contacted Arthur in March of ’95 and he agreed that we would begin going through the original material, fashioning those 30+ ideas into something that resembled a cohesive whole.
A week later, on the set of Michael Jackson’s SCREAM video, I chopped off a big chunk of my left ring finger, arguably the most important finger for a (right-handed) guitarist. So I figured that was it. No more music and song, no more guitars. I stored them in the garage, locked the door and walked away. It was Arthur Barrow and Jamie Cohen who brought me back to life, musically speaking.
I’m no stranger to pain; I’ve broken lots of bones, and over the past 8 years I’ve undergone 14 cancer-related operations (having been told twice in the past 8 years I had 6 months to live). But an amputated finger is different; grated off by the gnarly teeth of a skill saw, what was left of my mangled finger was a bloody mess, literally. A few months on the mend I came home from work and found my acoustic guitar on a stand by the side of my desk in the spare bedroom my wife Jane and I used as an office. Jamie had pulled it out of the garage, dusted it off, and tuned it up. The touch of the steel strings over the raw nerve of my amputation was bone-throbbingly painful. Seriously. Made me take up smoking. Cigarettes. Again.
Jamie encouraged me, then after a while insisted I get back in with Arthur. So I called and we did. Since then I’ve been blessed with enough luck to hang out and make music and good cheer with Arthur Barrow. Riding with Arthur on the musical side of life has been an experience and an education, a real journey into both the art of music-making and the heart of friendship.
His studio, Lotek, is like a spaceship in the form of an old house trailered away from the site where the L.A. Coliseum landed. Arthur is not just a bass player, not just Frank Zappa’s bass player or Clonemeister, he plays a mean guitar, his first love growing up in a musical family in San Antonio, Texas, with a father who played church organ on Sundays (one of Arthur’s many fine religions is to bike every morning from his house to his studio and for two hours sit at his fathers Hammond organ to play pieces by Bach, Chopin, and Stravinsky – his musical hero.
Years later, when I had learned plenty from Arthur at Lotek about recording and from my setup in my home studio, Arthur would invite me over to sit in and monitor the mix board during jams and rehearsals with his friends and band members. Guys like Tommy Mars, Vinnie Colaiuta, Larry Klimas, Robby Krieger, the Fowler brothers, Warren Cuccurullo, Tom Brechtlein, and always the spirit of Frank Zappa. Hearing these guys play live in a 20×20 foot room is a high experience, an awareness of a higher language.
Later, after both our families bought houses and settled two blocks from each other in the same Mar Vista, CA neighborhood, and when I had some rough goings dancing with cancer, Arthur would be there, always, with a ride to or from the hospital, soup from his wife, Randi Barrow, an offer to walk the dogs. Arthur and I made it through the Bush years with a shared suspicion and the feeling of a turning, and I made it through my knockout bouts with cancer by having Arthur in that circle of friends I would turn to time and time again for support and love. Big love for you, Arthur Barrow, and Happy Birthday!
Arthur, through the glass, playing bass. Image/Cara Tompkins
Lotek Studios Control Room. Image/Cara Tompkins
The Lounge at Lotek. Image/Cara Tompkins