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47th Street building a former hit factory

Remembering Larry Sturm and Tanglewood Recording Studio

January 2nd, 2018 12:47 PM

Larry Sturm (above) was awarded more than 30 gold and platinum records for his work as an engineer, producer and remixer for hit dance records such as "Say My Name" by Destiny's Child. | Photo by Jeffrey C. Johnson

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By Jeffery C. Johnson

Contributing Reporter

A little over two years ago a group of well-dressed people gathered together to celebrate the life of a beloved man that was family, friend, co-worker and acquaintance. The gathering, in a soaring brick church on a mild winter day at 47th Street and Brainard in LaGrange, was similar to countless memorials at that exact time around the world but, of course, it was different too.

While some lives are destined to touch many and many lives are destined to touch some. Those that gathered to celebrate Larry Sturm had been touched by a man that had spent his life touching (and moving) the rest of the world through his talent for music and an amazing 30-year career.

A couple of miles east on 47th Street from that LaGrange church -- at 9520 47th St. in Brookfield -- there sits an unassuming building housing a firm that makes draperies for commercial buildings and homes. 

Yet, on late nights, as you sit at the intersection waiting on a lethargic Indiana Harbor Belt freight train, you might hear faint pulsing beats. And, if you steal a quick, sideways glance at the dark building that sells drapes during the day, you might catch a glimpse of figures gathering, collaborating, and laughing in the parking lot. 

And, in that millisecond, as the beats get stronger, you might fall back 25 years and see the buzzing hive that was Tanglewood Recording Studio.

If you spent any time near a dance floor in the 1990s, there is a good chance that you were moving to music that was created at Tanglewood Recording Studio in Brookfield. It was a small, plain building with beats in its blood, where dance hits were created, where a reputation was forged and, for a few years, the sound of the time was shaped.  

On a quiet night in 1991, Sturm and a man called "Silk" were sitting at the console at Tanglewood Studio choosing bits of Prince's song "Gett Off" to chop, slice, sauté and ultimately mix in to a new serving. Prince had sent the song from Audubon Road and McGlynn Drive in Minneapolis to 47th and Blanchan in Brookfield, to be remixed by house music legend Steve "Silk" Hurley. 

At Hurley's side was his engineer of choice, Sturm. While Hurley had ideas about how to expertly pare the ingredients of the music, he knew that Larry was an expert chef. "Gett Off" (the Hurley Mix) went to number one on the dance charts that year.

Throughout his career, Sturm was awarded more than 30 gold and platinum records for his work as an engineer, remixer and producer. He created music with such diverse talents as Naked Raygun, Destiny's Child, Jennifer Hudson, Twista, Ministry and Cathy Richardson to his last work with gospel star Hezekiah Walker and many, many others. Consult your nearest liner notes.

Sturm's work at Tanglewood Studio, inside those four sound-proofed, drapery-less walls, is some of his most exciting -- remixing Prince, Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul and others, while working with an unrivaled team of artists from the Chicago dance scene, including producers Steve Hurley, Maurice Joshua and E Smoove and singers Ce Ce Peniston, M Doc, Jaime Principle, Chantay Savage and Kym Sims.

On an ordinary day in 1994, producers Charlie Babie and Manny Mohr sat with Sturm at the Tanglewood recording console cooking up another hit. Babie and Mohr had started a collaboration called 20 Fingers and, with the vocal talents of a Chicago-area singer named Gillette, they all created the popular song "Short Di** Man." 

"Short Di** Man" (aka "Short Short Man") by 20 Fingers and Gillette reached the Top 10 in 10 different countries,  No. 14 on the Billboard 100, and hit No. 1 in France and Italy. 

While the subsequent work by 20 Fingers did well, it failed to reach the top of the charts. However, it was just another in a long list of hits that the talents at Tanglewood created. 

A common thread throughout much of the success at the studio was Sturm, who, with a steady hand and a keen ear, found ways to guide the music out to the tops of charts, and corners of dance floors, all over the world. 

A few years later and Tanglewood Studios would come undone. Many of the producers and performers went on to further their careers, some winning awards, some expanding their interests, and others moving in to new areas.

For Sturm, his career continued to grow and expand until that one day, a couple of years ago, when his musical life came to an unexpected "rest" in the composition. Yet, the work that he and the many others produced at Tanglewood Studio will live on for years.

Recently, while driving along 47th Street on a drizzling night, the song "We Got a Love Thang" came on the radio. Thoughts instantly drifted to Tanglewood Studio and how that song seemed to best sum up what the studio was all about at that time. 

Ce Ce Peniston's song utilizes every one of the talented people that were there and together they created a worldwide hit that continues, 25 years later, to move people.

"I take pride in making great records," Sturm wrote on his LinkedIn page, which is still up. "Every song has a soul and needs to be brought to life so everyone can enjoy it."