Jim Zumpano 13 Questions: Jim "Jim Z" Zumpano
Issue #4

I feel fortunate that after doing what I do, building pro audio equipment, for so long I have many old friends that call up to touch base and keep me posted of their latest project or ask me: “whats new in the gear world?”

Last December (2006), I received one of those calls from long time buddy and AES show hell raiser, Jim Zumpano. You may have seen Jimmy at many AES shows... he is the guy with a big smile, Eclipse Audio Tshirt and a Heineken in each hand at 10 AM. A man after my own heart.. ha! Jimmy said he needed some new toys and had heard about Mercury Recording Equipment Company from seeing me at AES but for several years heard nothing but good things through the grapevine. He said: “Its just not right I don’t own any of your new Mercury gear - what do you have for me?”

We talked about what the studio needed “more of”, we came to the conclusion that a Mercury Grand Pre and a Mercury EQH1 would help. After receiving the gear Jimmy called and said all the engineers were fighting over the new toys and he would be back for more soon. A few months later Jimmy called up to get a second Mercury EQH1 program equalizer and a pair of Mercury 66 Limiting amplifiers!

He said he was going for the best bass and vocal chain possible and Grand Pres plus the EQH1 and Mercury 66 were clearly the way to go. You might ask yourself: What does Jim Z know about vocal chains?” Well let me tell you about a little diddy called 'End of the Road" from Boyz II Men. Jimmy Z tracked every vocal and helped mix this song. Not only was it a #1 hit, it achieved a new BillBoard record for number of weeks at #1, passing the king himself, Elvis Presley. After 13 weeks at #1 it was knocked off by Whitney Houston (I will always love you, Bodyguard soundtrack), which Jimmy has a credit on as well!. Not bad for an ol’ rock n roller! Jimmy credits include: Toni Braxton, Collective Soul, Aretha Franklin, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Project Z, Boyz II Men and many more. More important than any credits or awards, Jim “JIM Z” Zumpano is known as a stand up, straight shooter in the Atlanta, Ga. recording community. I am sure all feel, as I do, they are lucky to call him. a “friend”.

Jimmy started his career in Atlanta, Ga in '84 engineering and managing, as well as building, what was then known as Soundscape - which later became Bobby Brown's Bosstown and now exists as Outkast's Stankonia. Soon after, in 1987, people also knew him as the “rental guy.” Jimmy developed a pro audio rental business in Atlanta, called Eclipse Audio, which is still going strong. Eclipse Audio has many pieces of vintage outboard gear, some racked by yours truly, as well as Pro Tool Systems and vintage microphones that were rented locally or via Fed Ex anywhere in the US.

Soon after, Jim Z. hooked up with LaFace Records, in 1990, as an engineer and studio manager. Where he recorded Toni Braxton and many others. Following the LaFace days, He worked for many years at Atlanta’s Tree Sound until opening his own studio ZAC Recording (ZAC Digital and Stonehenge Recording).

ZAC, Zumpano Audio Community, was started in 2001 and just celebrated their 6th year open for business. In that time many local artist such as Col. Bruce Hampton and Tinsley Ellis, have recorded at as well as many top 10 artist. ZAC has shared the credits on damn near every major label with artists like Mudvayne, Third Day, Akon, Fergie, Toni Braxton, Jamie Fox, Project Z, Bonecrusher, Outkast and Usher and many others. Since May 2007, Producer, Polow da Don has set up shop here at ZAC to mastermind and produce this years batch of hits. The decision makers at Interscope Records noticed the Stonehenge inspired hits - 'Pimpin' All Over the World' by Ludacris, 'Superstar' by Keyshia Cole, 'London Bridge' and 'Glamorous' by Fergie,'Throw Some D's', 'Boy Looka Here' by Rich Boy, 'Shake It' by Mya 'Promise' and 'Bang it Up' by Ciara, 'Get Buck' by Young Buck, "DJ Play a Love Song" by Jamie Foxx, 'Next' by Gia Farrell, 'Ringtone' by R. Kelly [to name a few]- and are looking to follow them up with more for some of the current projects with I-15, Nicole, Eve,and Keri Hilson.

click to enlarge I have worked at ZAC (Stonehenge) with Jim Z when the studio first opened... Jimmy and I mixed some of my tunes in a haze of Cuban Cohiba cigar smoke several years ago. So from experience, I can tell you 3 things I know to be true if you work at ZAC or with Jimmy Z. 1) He has great gear and a great control room. 2) He has pride in his studio, the music that comes out of it and wants you to enjoy making music as much as he does. and 3) There WILL be ice cold, Sweetwater 420 Ale in the refrigerator, Atlanta’s own beer of champions. What more can you ask for than that?

-David Marquette

01) When did you know Music was more than a hobby or dream job and was going to be your career? Was there one thing that made that happen?
It started with a near habitual love for Led Zeppelin and The Who - followed shortly by a low grade point average! - thought I was gonna be a dentist!!! My Dad told me he wasn't happy with a 1.2 and I better find a career doing something I love and I love him all the more for that advice. So I checked into some local 'be an engineer' classes and the one thing that made it happen was that first day I walked into a little recording studio here in ATL (called Crescendo at the time), met Gladys Knight and saw all the knobs and mics and gear - I knew right then that I was gonna learn how to do this!

02) What aspect of music are you known for (ie engineer, mixer, producer, musician)? What's your favorite?
I guess I got known as a recording engineer at first. For the first five years I was recording most of the initial LaFace records. Later I was known for doing mixes, and then the arsenal of gear I accumulated building up turned into the Eclipse Audio rental thing. But now I own and run a studio, I think I'm known for making artists and producers happy. That is my favorite part - either picking microphones or deciding what compressor to use or tweaking a reverb patch, it's all about seeing that artist or producer smile and say "Yeah!, Turn that shit UP!!!

03) What is one thing that most people are NOT aware you do (music related or not!)?
I put on a helluva fireworks show at my house biannually - July 4th and New Years of course!

04) What do you think is the most important thing is to get a great recording? and What stage of a recording is most overlooked?
Show the musicians you care about them - the best recordings happen when they are comfy and in the zone - that answers both of those!

05) Who did you first admire in the recording world (engineers, producers, mixers, band/group ...) and why?
I have to say Jimmy Page and Pete Townsend along with Glynn and Andy Johns because they cared about what we were about to buy - and I could feel their energy and passion in the grooves.

06) Now that we know digital recording is not going away anytime soon, what are your feelings on TAPE vs. DAW (analog vs. digital)?
Just kill me now! With tape EVERYONE had to be on point RIGHT THEN!!! That was so much more enjoyable and exciting and the tape, with all its limitations, has too many fabulous audio qualities I miss terribly - I'm in mourning every day I walk by my dusty Studers. But I've almost gotten the DAW thing down - there is a lot of freedom now that was not available before and that is a good thing.

07) What new Artist/Group is in your player right now... and what Artist/Group has always been in your Top 10?
NOTHING NEW! Can't remember if it's Drive by Truckers or a live Pearl Jam that sits in there right now - just can't get enough of that - all time, always top 10 goes to The Who, Zep, Jeff Beck, Little Feat, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and David Ryan Harris.

08) What generation had the best music and/or recordings? Why do connect with that era the most?
Those recordings between 1968 thru 1974 - this was the time when guitar players PLAYED and they didn't even realize they were posing for all future young punks to emulate.

09) You get to have one mic for vocals for the rest of your career, what is it and why?
No one will be able to pry my U47 away - this one I've had for 20 years is the most warm, wonderful, dependable thing I've ever owned!

10) When did you first hear of Mercury Recording Equipment Co.? What was your first experience using Mercury Equipment?
A west coast friend and AES cohort named David Marquette told me about it. David racked some super cool V72's for me years ago, as well as a vintage pair of WSW compressor modules and I loved his workmanship - My first impression with Mercury was "Holy Shit' this rocks!

11) What piece(s) of Mercury Equipment do you own or have you used? What applications / sessions have you used it (them) on?

So first I got the Grand Pre's with an EQH1 - man was I blown away with the first bass and vocal tracks I cut for the new release 'Moment of Truth' by Tinsley Ellis on Alligator Records - buy it!!!

12) What are your overall thought on Mercury Recording Equipment? and Describe your experience with Mercury Recording Equipment using 5 words or less?
I was blown away so much by the Mercury Equipment that I had to buck up and get another EQH1 and a pair of the Mercury 66' Limiting Amplifiers. This is the stoutest, roundest chain in the world today - plus they look super bad ass!!! 5 words or less: Fattest, Fullest 'Straight Wire' Sound

13) What has been your most rewarding experience in the studio?
Easily, the most rewarding was actually getting my first platinum awards for recording Toni Braxton's first record and the Boomerang Soundtrack record - BUT I think that pales in comparison to my most rewarding session ever - as luck would have it, Caram Castanzo broke his ankle playing b ball at Southern Tracks and Brendan O'Brien called me to fill in assisting while recording parts of Pearl Jams 'No Code' or was it the night in Detroit cutting Aretha Franklin with LA and Babyface? ... don't make me choose!

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