L.A. recording studio chief inspires musical to be staged by San Diego Rep
Brad Ross, a Point Loma resident with a dental practice in San Carlos, wanted to pay tribute to his father by compiling his history.
That effort led to the idea of doing a documentary, an idea that evolved into something markedly different — a musical.
“33 1/3 — House of Dreams,” co-written by Ross and Carmel Valley resident Jonathan Rosenberg, will be staged by the San Diego Repertory Theatre in August at the Lyceum Theatre.
The play tells the story of music legend Stan Ross and Gold Star Recording Studios.
Stan Ross co-founded the company in 1950 in Hollywood with electrical engineer Dave Gold, a partnership that led them to name the venture Gold Star.
“I wanted to learn more about my father’s background after he passed away (in 2011), because my father back in the early 2000s had aspirations that maybe one day his story and Gold Star’s story would be shared,” Brad Ross said.
“Unfortunately nothing ever came about ... so I felt it was on my shoulders to initiate the opportunity to learn about my father’s story,” he said. ”What was going to happen beyond that, we were not sure.”
Under Stan Ross’ direction, Gold Star recorded a long list of artists — the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Tina Turner, the Righteous Brothers, Ritchie Valens, Iron Butterfly, Hugh Masekela and John Lennon — to name a few.
These were talents who were already famous or were en route to renown in large part because of what was produced and engineered in the studios at Santa Monica and Vine.
Among his associations, Ross collaborated with music producer Phil Spector. The famous “wall of sound” for which many of Spector’s recordings are celebrated, was a product of that interaction.
Hits such as “Unchained Melody,” “Tequila,” “Rockin’ Robin,” “Good Vibrations,” “La Bamba,” “Summertime Blues” and “Grazing in the Grass” became anthems to legions of fans and are still widely heard on radio, jukeboxes and online music platforms.
Gold Star also was noted for making extensive use of a stable of studio musicians such as Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Dr. John and drummer Hal Blaine. Their often unpublicized contributions were memorialized in the documentary, “The Wrecking Crew.”
“You can not walk through a mall at Christmas time and not hear a song produced by Gold Star,” Rosenberg said.
The lengthy string of successes made Stan Ross and Gold Star household names in the music industry. Yet, he and the studios remained largely in the background, receiving little press coverage and public acknowledgment.
“The legacy project for me was to go out and meet people that recorded, knew my father, that were in the music business that could explain to me and share their stories about their interactions with Stan Ross and Gold Star Recording Studios,” Brad Ross said.
“We believed that there may be a possibility that in the future a documentary could be put together. ... At the minimum, I wanted to be able to find out about my father’s past and his career for the Ross family.”
Ross and Rosenberg, a psychologist, teacher and writer, both have backgrounds in music. They became acquainted about 30 years ago when Ross was sponsoring Rosenberg’s son’s T-ball team.
While Ross was pursuing his legacy project, he saw the staging of a musical written and composed by Rosenberg — “Long Way to Midnight,” about a half-dozen years ago and asked Rosenberg if he would be interested in helping out.
Not knowing about Stan Ross and Gold Star, Rosenberg went online to see what he could learn.
“I Googled it and was stunned by the number of huge hits that were recorded at Gold Star,” he said. “Over 120 Top 40 hits were recorded at Gold Star, and I owned a bunch of them as a kid.”
Rosenberg and Ross began seeking and interviewing acquaintances of Ross’ father, while realizing they were accumulating enough material potentially for a documentary along the lines of “The Wrecking Crew.”
“We got to speak to some incredible musicians, like Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson, the great drummer Hal Blaine, and Bill Medley from the Righteous Brothers,” Rosenberg said. “And the way we got to speak to them was simply by mentioning the name Stan Ross. Mentioning Stan Ross was like the key to the kingdom.”
Given that the songs themselves are indelibly entwined in the narrative of Stan Ross and Gold Star, Brad Ross and Rosenberg inevitably concluded a stage play built around the music would be a fun, powerful way of conveying the story.
“Probably about a year into this (work on the documentary), we started talking about the possibility of a musical,” Rosenberg said. “We’ve been working on this for about six years. We’ve done many readings.”
One reason it’s taken this long to put the musical project together stemmed from the arduous task of getting permission to use the songs, some of which have been exclusively licensed for other shows and endeavors, Brad Ross and Rosenberg said.
Having finally pulled together the concept and a complete script, the writers had the good fortune of getting the nationally reputed San Diego Repertory Theatre to stage the work. It is being directed and choreographed by Javier Velasco, who is working with a cast of 30 actors and dancers.
Steve Gunderson is responsible for the musical direction and arrangements for the musical’s 30-song playlist and live band.
Among the participants in the production and performances will be students from the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts, which the Repertory Theatre employs in productions when possible.
Support for the play is being provided by Brad Ross and Rosenberg’s business partner, Michael Kruke, as well as Jerri-Ann and Gary Jacobs, Ramesh Narasimhan and George Weisz.
The title stems from two observations, one being that Gold Star stayed in business for 33 1/3 years. The number dovetails with the fact that many of the tunes recorded at Gold Star were eventually released by the artists’ record companies on long-play records.
An LP was often called a “33 and a third” because the discs had to be played on hi-fi and stereo turntables at 33 1/3 rotations per minute, rather than a “45” which was much smaller and required 45 rotations per minute.
As for the second part of the title, Rosenberg said, “We called it ‘House of Dreams’ because it really was a blue-collar studio. ... When Stan and his partners started Gold Star in 1950, there were very few independent recording studios in Los Angeles. Gold Star became the gold standard for recording studios in L.A.
“(The musicians) all loved Stan because he was a mensch, as they say. ... He was someone who was easy to get along with and all about making it easier for the musicians. Whether you were Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys or some schmo off the street, Stan treated you the same.”
Rehearsals have begun for the production of “33 1/3 — House of Dreams,” which is scheduled to premiere Aug. 1 and run through Aug. 25. Tickets have already been selling well, said Ross and Rosenberg, and are available by calling 619-544-1000 or going to sdrep.org.
They have high hopes for the musical, which they would like to see land on a Broadway stage as well as regional theater venues.
“We see this show as the ‘Jersey Boys’ of the West Coast,” Rosenberg said, referring to the Broadway hit chronicling the early ’60s pop group The Four Seasons.
Added Brad Ross, “A common thread I hear from my patients and our friends is that this is the soundtrack of our lives,” he said. “It’s multigenerational.”
While Brad Ross and Rosenberg’s piece relates a vital segment of musical history, it ultimately is a vehicle for celebrating the music.
“It’s the kind of musical where people can leave politics at the door and be entertained,” Rosenberg said. “When parents bring their children, they won’t have to hold their hands over their children’s ears.”