Oakland Riviera photo gallery

Never a dull moment on International...

Somos El Pueblo!

Public safety

Formerly East 14th St.

Urban art? Or marking the territory?

In Oakland we do everything hipper.

Loud car stereos, nice guys, we miss 'em.
BART is in the background. Also loud.

Playing for my fans

With our beloved Mayor Libby Schaaf, supporter of the arts in Oakland (2018)

How we looked in 1991.

Our garage door in 2017.

Our garage door in 2018.

And in 1975. Engineer Jimmy Nielsen at the board.

Early History

Bernie Rivera Constructed in 1934 as a furniture warehouse and showroom, the building that is now the Oakland Riviera was acquired in 1972 by saxophonist and entrepreneur Bernie Rivera who converted it into a recording studio, rehearsal space, equipment repair shop, and music store. With his wife Peggy MacDonald, he incorporated it in 1973 under the name Freeway Recording. It ran for 43 years.

Artists who rehearsed and recorded there include Tower of Power, Sly Stone, the Hawkins Family, the Escovedos, B. B. King, Irma Thomas, Eddie Money, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Wesla Whitfield, Ninth Creation, and Tony! Toni! Tone`!

It is now the musical home of jazz bassist Dan Keller and Survivor Sound.

Here is a 2015 recording of Bernie and Dan discussing the early history of Freeway Recording.

Recording engineer Edward Slim Critchlow recalls (2018):

My time at Freeway started in November 1974, after my graduation from UCB. I worked there until the spring of 1979. During that time, I recorded almost all the major acts in the area. I also started a radio show promotional contest on Berkeley's KRE in 1974 and got a recording deal with Y&T in 1979.

Recording engineer Ed Critchlow, age 23 Y&T is a rock metal band founded by two virtuoso players from the Hayward area, Leonard Haze on drums and Dave Meniketti on guitar. They always had a following and I think are largely known as performers. The show today is watching Dave and John Nymann, formerly of Mile Hi. I produced the demo that got them their major label deal. It is has been re-released as From the Vaults.

One of the engineer/producers I worked with was Jimmy Nielsen. He is at the board in your 1975 photo. He was my first mentor. He had been staff engineer at Chess Records in Chicago then Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. He also worked independently for Jesse Colin Young. He was shot in some mishap and then let go from Fantasy and found his way to Freeway.

Brent Dangerfield was brought in after Jimmy quit. He had been the sound engineer/producer of the early Santana band. He was introduced to Bernie by the Filipino man who owned the Mabuhay Gardens in SF, a restaurant and punk music club. Brent recorded the Ninth Creation at Freeway.

Some others I worked with: George Whitsell from Crazy Horse. Clover, the first Huey Lewis band. Members of the Youngbloods. The Tower of Power horns, backing Frank Biner. Frankie Beverly was introduced to the studio through the KRE contest.

Eddie Money Eddie Money was a friend I personally co-produced. A couple of the scenes in his 1976 movie, Money Madness, were shot at Freeway. They are at 0:21:35 (credits at 0:21:55) and 1:04:33. I appear briefly -- I was the engineer for the recording -- with my long, curly hair, and my girlfriend's white ribbed shirt (fit me nicely!) They are playing the song Gambling Man. Check out the chair Eddie was spinning around on. You still have a couple of those chairs. I sat on one at your party last night.

Frankie Beverly I have the tape with Bernie's wife Peggy McDonald singing backup on Eddie Money's Wanna Be a Rock n Roll Star. I just heard her voice singing "wanna be a rocker, wanna be a rocker, wanna be a rock 'n roll star". Now she is out among the stars. God bless her!

The Brothers Owen were produced by Lou Gordon who brought Sly Stone to Freeway one night.

I produced Mile Hi, Rage, Arm & Hammer (a popular horn band), Grayson Street (popular Berkeley band) with Terry Hanck, and Jimmy McCracklin, a famous blues man who headlined the SF Blues festival several times. I also recorded Ron Sullivan in one of his bands there, and produced Sundance, a country rock band from Modesto.

With Harvey Fuqua, a major Motown producer, I recorded the Berkeley choir. Fuqua brought his own engineer who had just worked with Brian Wilson. The engineer insisted on cutting pieces out of the 2-inch tape with a razor. He demanded three U87 Neumann mics to record the choir with each EQed to catch the three different types of singers. I just wanted to make sure the equipment worked and felt I could get a simpler, better sound. I suggested to Harvey that he separate the three groups and give them each their own mic. He agreed. In the recording world there are a lot of crazies claiming to know how it is really done. I have always found the simplest solution to be the most effective. Occam's Razor.

Tony Toni Tone' Another celeb, John Cippolina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, was introduced to Freeway by my close friend Bob Furber. Pam Tillis was a vocalist on that project. The band was called Free light. Furber died in 2006 and I decided -- in his memory -- to document the Berkeley/Oakland/San Francisco underground music scene. To my surprise, Bernie walked into a Jack London Square club where I was filming. He was glad to see there was a thriving underground scene and was equally surprised to see me. Anyway, my filming became a cable access show shown all over the Bay Area, from Fremont to Richmond, and in San Francisco, too. Here is a link to the 38 shows we made.

The two lead singers from Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show recorded a commercial at Freeway for a gig they were playing.

Earthquake was Berkeley royalty under contract with Bezerkely Records. The demo for their well-received album 8.5 was recorded by Brent and me. They came to Freeway because I was working with Eddie and they were friends. I also recorded the Hawkins Family singers from the church around the corner. One of their big hits was Oh Happy Day.

The studio had many aspiring engineers with bands such as Beecher Rintoul and the Winter Band started by a couple of Berkeley police officers.

I recorded Bobby Freeman of Do You Want to Dance fame. Many local bands rehearsed at Freeway, too: Confunkshun, Pete and Sheila Escovedo, the Delta Wires, and Maze.

Maze

 

Automatic Man recorded there. It featured Michael Shrieve from Santana. They were managed by Lou Casablanca who was the studio manager when I first arrived. In March of 1975, he caused a fiasco and fled.

Dr. Hook The two lead singers of Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show were at Freeway, making a radio commercial for a gig they were playing. I remember watching those two, Ray and Dennis, the leaders of the band, just acting crazy while making the commercial. It was really my first close contact with current celebrities. I had always thought that Ray, the guy with the patch, was the leader but found out that Dennis was probably the real leader. Together, they were a comedy team.

One more story. I asked Jimmy McCracklin, "Jimmy, how do you write your songs?" He looked at one of his hands and said, "Well you take a bit of one song" then he looked at his other hand and said, "and you take a bit of another song" and put his hands together and said "you put 'em together and you got your own song." Words from a master.

Well, ok, just one more. There was the time Leonard Haze and I ran out the back of the studio with the Y&T demo tapes. The tapes were paid for but Bernie wouldn't guarantee their integrity. He wanted us to listen through them again. We were mixing elsewhere so we just walked out the back door past the guard dog.

Here are a few of the records recorded at Freeway.


Dec. 2, 2016 Ghost Ship fire