Tonio K, an AK-47, and HATRED
“We have everything but the kitchen sink on this record” – Tonio K
We were recording Tonio K’s, Life in the Foodchain, at the Village Recorder. At some point, we moved out to Shangri-La Studios for some reason and started recording there. During one session, there was so much joking, screwing around, and laughing, Tonio K (Steve Krikorian) says, “Shit, man. We have everything but the kitchen sink on this record.” I said, “You’re right. We have to fix that.”
So I ran a mic cable all the way from the control room out to the Shangri La’s kitchen. We recorded dishes, pots, and pans banging around in the sink. It’s somewhere on the record – I can’t remember what song it’s on, but probably H-A-T-R-E-D. So, we had this private joke that we knew that the kitchen sink was actually on the record.
Then things get really interesting. I said, “We know lots of people who are doing blow, so let’s do something funny. Let’s do a percussion part with two razor blades on a piece of glass. We’ll put a microphone on it and record these razor blades.” When you listen, you’ll hear the percussion sound of two razor blades on glass. We put that on H-A-T-R-E-D because we were trying to put all this weird shit on there.
Then, Tonio says, “Roger Nichols and I have become friends. He has an AK-47. He’s a roommate with a guy in the Malibu police force.” I said, “No kidding?”
I called Roger and said, “We’re doing this record. This is kind of weird, but we’re doing all kinds of crazy stuff on this record. We would like to record your AK-47 and put it on this song called H-A-T-R-E-D.”
Roger is a little startled at first, but then he said, “All right, I’ll do that.” The deal was that he was supposed to call to his roommate, who was a cop, and tell him that he’s going to do this. On a Saturday afternoon, Roger comes up to the studio with the machine gun. Shangri-La sits on almost three acres, and the nearest house is quite a distance away – at least 1000 yards away, or maybe more.
We had this Magnus Chord Organ, one of those things you could buy on TV. The organ had an air pump in it and you could push chord keys. It was like a harmonium powered by an electric fan. We thought it would be funny to machine gun this Magnus Chord Organ. We taped a chord sequence that fit the vamp of H-A-T-R-E-D and Roger machine-gunned the Magnus Chord Organ. I had an 8MM camera filmed it. Unfortunately, that film got lost in a house fire. Maybe, Steve has a copy, but I don’t think so.
The microphone is quite far away, and the AK doesn’t sound like how you hear guns on movies. The sound of the gun is coming like “Tick-tick-tick-tick.” It almost doesn’t sound like a gun; it’s not explosive-sounding. It’s so fast that the explosiveness of the bullets are masked. When I was doing The Last Waltz and working on the MGM movie lot, I witnessed some recording of gun shots and how they did it. Boy, it was a lot of work and set up. It’s not at all what you would think. It was very difficult.
The recording takes us about 15 minutes to set up and do. After we’re done, we’re hanging around the studio. There’s a door that goes outside the studio into an echo chamber, and outside that there’s another door that goes out to the backyard.
Because we were going in and out of the backyard through the studio with the microphones and stuff, we had both doors opened. After having done the machine gun, we’re laughing, thinking it was too much that we actually did this. This is damn weird. I said, “Here we are in Malibu. It’s Saturday afternoon. We’ve been firing off an AK-47 in the backyard and we haven’t gotten so much as a phone call.” Everybody agrees with me.
No sooner did I say that, and I’m in the studio looking out towards the backyard through those two open doors. I see a gun – like a .45 – in a guy’s hand going across that doorway. Then I could see his arm and the patch on his shoulder indicating he was a cop. I turned around to Steve and said, “Uh-oh. There’s a cop in the backyard!” Roger said, “Oh shit! I forgot to call my roommate to tell him.”
So, we go out to the backyard. Roger has the AK-47 and suddenly, out of the bushes, we were surrounded by police. There were probably a dozen cops with their guns trained on Roger. Roger expected to see his partner and didn’t hide the gun.
They’ve got their guns trained on Roger and the cop yells, “Freeze!” This was weird to all of us and we’re so caught by surprise that we start to laugh. Nobody does anything, and then the cop yells in a very serious voice, “I said, ‘Drop it’ or you’re dead!” Immediately, Roger dropped the gun. We look up and there are helicopters hovering overhead.
Roger’s roommate, a lieutenant or something on the police force, walks into the yard. He puts his arm around Roger and walks him out to the parking lot, where the whole Malibu police force was – all their cars, the helicopters overhead, and all the people in the bushes. The entire parking lot was filled with Malibu police cars. Roger has the gun slung over one shoulder and one of those military canvas bags, about ten inches by six inches by eight inches with a shoulder strap on, holding all the ammunition.
In the end, the police filed the report as firecrackers. I was surprised that they didn’t even take the ammunition from Roger, which must have been due to his cop roommate. They let him put the gun and ammo in his car and he got to leave. That is the crowning story of Life in the Food Chain.