Larry’s accelerated learning curve at 38 Fresh Studios gave him the requisite tools to begin his career as a freelance sound engineer. At 38 Fresh he did Hip-Hop sessions, commercials, jingles, knock-offs, voiceovers, musical artists….anything thrown his way. He found a funky but unique 3 bedroom upstairs apartment on Beachwood Dr. in central Hollywood, not far from 38 Fresh. The rent was a very manageable 800 dollars a month. I helped him move in. He sure had a lot of stuff… It was old Hollywood all the way. It had old hardwood floors that were common to the golden age which paired nicely with Spanish styled archways . His living room opened up to a veranda that gave him a kings-eye view of the street leading to Santa Monica Blvd. From here he could enjoy his coffee, bread dipped in olive oil (one of his favorite repasts) and the occasional joint. He was a good neighbor; respectfully waving “good evening” to the transgender prostitutes as they walked past his apartment towards Santa Monica Blvd. to their appointed rounds. Those in the neighborhood not engaged in carnal careerism were (for the most part) hardworking Latino families. Salt of the earth folk whose kids were never shooed away from Larry’s porch.
This was a happy time for Larry. He was slowly but surely gathering a client base. Some of which were kooky, offbeat, but ultimately harmless Hollywood characters. Larry soon realized being solely an audio engineer was of limited potential in an era of home studios and declining record sales. So he adapted his skills and became a post-production specialist. In the exploding media culture there was a need for skilled machinists who could clean up dodgy audio, add special audio effects to mask ambient artifacts and could quickly do “lay-backs”; a skill requiring the engineer to match separate video and audio tracks and merge them together seemlessly. It was grunt work, but it was plentiful and to quote Larry, “the money was green.”
Larry entertained a lot during this period. His Christmas parties were always eagerly anticipated. New friends merged with old. Booze and weed were in abundance and Larry would spend the entire day cooking and baking greek pastries from scratch. Larry was well travelled and had a Euro sensibility. If you are going to invite people to your home, you don’t buy a bag of chips and a keg of Bud. You cook and express your love and appreciation for their kinship from the heart and from the hearth. Music would be provided by party attendees or would issue forth from a very large vintage console record player. Vinyl only. Young and old would marvel and play DJ with Larry’s exotic record collection. His favorite moment was when a stunning twenty-something Latina female examined one of his records like a bronze-age artifact and exclaimed to her companion, “look! It plays on both sides!” T. Rex sounded especially potent on this ancient sound system and Larry loved to play The Slider as a demonstration record proving the superiority of old-school hi-fi. Life was good and Larry was optimistic about the future. His fabled guitar collection could still squeeze within the confines of a spare bedroom (Though not for long).
Larry was a man of the people. Many would have considered Beechwood a run-down neighborhood, Larry embraced it with open arms. In fact two of the neighbor girls (Mayra and Brenda) adopted him as their uncle, and remained in contact with him into their adulthood until his death. I’m sure he would have gladly stayed there indefinitely. However, an odious new landlord appeared on the scene bent on gentrification. And, after an uncomfortable transition period, Larry reluctantly moved.
He didn’t move far. He decided he needed a proper business environment in a commercially zoned location in an area referred to as post-production row. He found a comfy if slightly run down upstairs office complex on Seward St. The building was covered in Ivy and had a dramatic steep stairway leading up to the front door. It had wow factor but it wasn’t a home. Larry lived there anyway and showered at the gym for some time before he could earn the money and free time to install a shower. It was a bachelors’ existence to be sure, with bathroom and kitchen facilities uncomfortably co-mingled. But I enjoyed going there and we sporadically re-kindled our artist-producer relationship. However, inexplicably, Larry seemed to have drifted far from his own muse. Preferring to produce and enable other artists instead.
The most enjoyable recording session I ever experienced was at Catrancher. Dominic was working the mixing board that night so Larry was free to unleash his inner Andrew Loog Oldham and engage in some unorthodox production techniques. One of which, was to shove a loaded hash pipe in my face at regular intervals. He would then hand me a guitar of his choosing and fiddle and swap stomp boxes at my feet experimenting with sounds. He would shout instructions and encouragement from the kitchen; such as, “Cool Dale, keep playing that John Cippolina shit!” The song ended up on my second CD. Larry knew what he was doing. I never played a better guitar solo in the studio than I did that night…or had more fun.
Larry could be stubborn and intractable, but could also evolve and change at the same time. It was interesting to me that when he was an alpha blue-collar house painter he was a self-described ‘dog person’. However, when he crossed over into being an hermetic, bespectacled studio mole, he chose the company of the most Zen species of domestic companions, the cat. In turn he christened his burgeoning empire, CATRANCHER STUDIOS.
With no distractions and the tools and work ethic to succeed, Larry got stuck in and started doing well. Really well….
Larry was starting to get more work than he could handle. He didn’t price gouge and he didn’t come cheap either. He told me one year that he grossed a quarter of a million. He later joked that he would many times turn down a 1000 dollar evening of work, prefering to ‘light up’ and watch a shopworn VHS of one of his favorite movies of all time, “Ed Wood”. I think he watched it every day for a month straight. His guitar and music accessory arsenal grew at a frightening pace in direct proportion to his increasing work load. He planned to bring in another engineer with an eye to expanding the business further and possibly subcontracting work. We discussed his run of winning cards and I cautioned him he should put money away in case the cash flow should stop. His answer was always the same…..”Why would it stop?”
……Then George Bush happened.
Midnight Sun (Champaign Lullaby) is my most Larry influenced song. I wrote it in his music room on one of his baritone ukes when I was house-sitting at his Beechwood apartment. Years later I would record it at CATRANCER with Larry very much in charge of the sound and production. From this day forward the chorus line:
“Life is the sum of all things begun and left undone”, will always remind me of him.
My desire is to memorialize the memory and fascinating life and work of Larry Dean Embry, not my music. However, the Midnight Sun session was captured on film by my wife Renee. Larry and Catrancher are featured prominently. Renee insisted on filming the session. I protested that recording sessions tended to be tedious and repetitive endeavors and there wasn’t much to capture. I’m glad she ignored me. Here is our humble film called “The Making Of Midnight Sun”.
One response to “Larry Dean Embry (1958-2013) The Catrancher Years (Hollywood)”
I knew Larry in 1979 and shared a house with him in the Willshire district of Los Angeles. In 1980 I moved back to Portland and would talk with him occasionally. Larry was a true artist I will never forget. I am saddened to c his passing. If anybody reads this and knew Larry well please call me at 503-791-8789. My name is don