February 14, 2007
Let The Music Play: Superstar Studio Reborn
"Born to be Wild."
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When platinum-selling studio owner, engineer and musician Anthony Arfi heard the words for the first time while watching Easy Rider it was a musical moment in time that would be forever etched in his mind and heart.
Arfi believes everyone has one song that brings them back to an emotional place in their history.
"Music is invaluable throughout your whole life. It's something that is very, very personal but it's also something that you can share. You get great joy out of it and you give other people great joy. I think it's the biggest common denominator out of all the things that we do. Music is really the main connection."
And now Arfi, who recently opened a second location of his legendary Power Play Music Studios in Westhampton Beach, is ready to share his love for music with the next generation as he begins the second act of his groundbreaking career.
Arfi, a Westhampton resident, has, in his luminous career, earned 21 platinum and gold records and three Grammy nominations, and has sparked the careers of such rap superstars as Salt-N-Pepa, Nas, and LL Cool J, with Queen Latifah on the studio's A-list of clients, too. During his 26-year stint at his legendary recording studio, Arfi recorded soundtracks for hit shows such as
"The Sopranos" and gave fledgling artists wings to fly.
Arfi embarked on his musical journey when he was only a child. "When I was three years old, my godmother bought me a little pegboard toy, where you knock in the pegs. After I knocked in the pegs, I took the hammer and started banging on everything else." Arfi's mother bought him a drum, and sparked a musical odyssey that would span decades and inspire dreams.
After a year of lessons, Arfi's father bought him a drum set, and he hasn't stopped playing since. "I've been a drummer since I was 10 years old."
After gigs with his first band, Radius, Arfi went professional in Uptown, one of the first all-disco bands. "We played at Max's Kansas City six nights a week. One time we had Keith Richards onstage with us."
But it wasn't all glitz and glamour. "I played the whole Ramada Inn and Holiday Inn circuits in [New] Jersey and Westchester. We used to play all those clubs on the Jersey Shore."
Persistence paid off: later, Arfi backed up music legends The Drifters, The Shirelles and the Tramps.
And when he opened Power Play Music Studios in 1980 in Long Island City, music history was made. The first musician Arfi recorded, Kevin Nance, signed with Island Records with his band, Earons, and released a number-one single, "Land of Hunger," which topped the charts for six weeks; Arfi played drums on the recording.
A friendship with engineer Patrick Adams, whose band, Musique, was famous for disco classics such as "Push, Push in the Bush," parlayed into pure gold. Adams was instrumental in operating the Publision IM-90 Infernal Machine, groundbreaking equipment studios had never used before.
"It was a sampler, the first sampler that you could use to take a drumbeat off James Brown records, for example," said Arfi. "You could speed the drumbeat up but not change the pitch. So that's how these groups started using James Brown. We started that."
Power Play Studios emerged as a breeding ground for hot new talent, building the foundations of rap, a musical genre that rocked music history. "We started getting all the young, rap, hip hop artists. They were coming to us, because I was two blocks away from the Ravenswood projects."
During the '80s and '90s, stars such as Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, Eric B. & Rakim and Nas recorded at Arfi's studio.
"People thank me for getting their careers started," he said. "We taught these ghetto kids how to use the technology to get the music that they were looking for. We were the pinnacle of that whole music scene."
Later, after his studio moved to Manhattan, Arfi was balancing a young family in Westhampton with his burgeoning career, commuting at three in the morning and running on empty.
One day, after he found himself asleep in his car on the side of the road, with no idea of how he'd gotten there, Arfi decided it was time to make a change.
The move led to a new chapter in Arfi's life. With a branch of Power Play in Shirley, Arfi realized his long-time dream when he opened his second location at 204 Montauk Highway in Westhampton.
Today, he is bringing his longtime love of mentoring and teaching others to a community ripe with promise. "Kids are the future of music," he said. "I get the most satisfaction out of other people learning the things that I know."
As an artist, Arfi never stops learning – besides the studio, he's the proprietor of Power Play Communications, a firm that installs home theaters, plays in his Long Island-based band, Unity, and DJs.
And he never forgets valuable lessons learned.
"Once, I was recording Rick Derringer, who had come in to do a guitar solo. I was sitting behind the controls doing the song. He walks in, having never heard the song before, and plugs in. Usually, I would record everything and if it was a mistake or if it wasn't a good performance I would just erase it. But because it was Rick Derringer, and he said, 'I don't want you to record this, I'm just practicing,' I didn't record him.
"He played the most incredible guitar solo the first time. The producer asked if I'd gotten it, and I said no. It took Rick about four hours, and he never got it as good as that first take. Now, I always record everything. Because you never know when that magic moment is going to happen."
In the reincarnation of his recording studio, which features a digital, computer 24-track digital recorder, high-end AKG and Sennheiser microphones, outboard gear, vintage equipment and a full drum set, Arfi hopes to strike gold once again. Step inside and walk down a hallway lined with gold records, and it's clear the studio is not only a piece of music history but designed with an eye toward the future.
"My vision is to have a place where people can record their songs and feel good about what they're doing – getting good quality, learning and growing within themselves and within the music community."
Power Play Music features music lessons and a full line of guitars, amps and drums, band rentals, repairs services, rentals and remote recording.
Perhaps most fulfilling for Arfi is building a family with his wife, Diane, and sharing his love for music with his children, Anthony and Gina. Watching his son embrace the rock music of Arfi's own roots is a highlight for the father. "We have a recital once a year. I play drums, and Anthony plays guitar. We're playing all the songs I love, and now my son loves them. We're connecting in a musical sense."
Looking forward, Arfi hopes to impart a message with his music: "Approach things with an open mind. When I came on the scene, nobody even knew what rap music was. So it's important to be open to new things. Try to like something about everything."