Joe Tarsia, an architect of the sound of Philadelphia, dies at 88

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, May 30, 2024

Joe Tarsia, an architect of the sound of Philadelphia, dies at 88
An undated photo provided by the Tarsia family of Joe Tarsia, the founder of Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia and the engineer on scores of gold and platinum recordings. Tarsia, the recording engineer and studio operator who was among the architects of the lush, fervent blend of soul, disco and funk known as the Sound of Philadelphia, died on Nov. 1, 2022 at a retirement community in Lancaster, Pa. He was 88. (Tarsia family via The New York Times)

by Bill Friskics-Warren

NEW YORK, NY.- Joe Tarsia, the recording engineer and studio operator who was among the architects of the lush, fervent blend of soul, disco and funk known as the Sound of Philadelphia, died on Nov. 1 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was 88.

His death, at a retirement community, was confirmed by a friend, video producer Steve Garrin, who did not cite a cause.

At Sigma Sound Studios, the recording hub he established in 1968, Tarsia worked with the producers Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell on blockbuster hits by Philadelphia soul luminaries like the O’Jays and the Delfonics. Known for his precision at the mixing board and his imaginative use of echo and other ambient effects, Tarsia was the engineer on scores of gold and platinum recordings.

“We were lucky to be recording at Sigma Sound with Joe Tarsia,” Gamble said in a 2008 interview with Crawdaddy magazine. “He was a great engineer and got a clean, clear sound from every instrument.

“If you record the music right, it’s easier to mix, and, as an engineer he was the best,” Gamble added. “He knew what he wanted and kept us moving at the speed of thought.”

In the early 1970s alone Tarsia captured the sound of dozens of acknowledged Philadelphia soul classics, including the Stylistics’ “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.”

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” a proto-disco workout by MFSB, the Sigma Sound house band (the initials stood for Mother Father Sister Brother), became the theme song for the long-running television show “Soul Train.” “TSOP” was among Tarsia’s collaborations with Gamble and Huff that topped both the R&B and pop charts, as were the O’Jays’ “Love Train” and Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Tarsia was known to refer to the sumptuous strings, syncopated rhythms and gospel-bred call and response of the Philadelphia sound as “Black music in a tuxedo” — an aesthetic he in no small way shaped through the richness and clarity he lent to so many recordings.

“If I made a contribution, it was that Philadelphia had a unique sound,” Tarsia told The Philadelphia Inquirer in an interview commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sigma Sound in 2018. “You could tell a record that came from Philly if you heard it on the radio.”

Several years before opening Sigma Sound, Tarsia established himself as an audio engineer at Cameo-Parkway, one of the leading independent record companies of the early 1960s.

The Cameo and Parkway labels were important sources of music and talent for “American Bandstand,” Dick Clark’s nationally televised dance show. “Bandstand” was based in Philadelphia, and local artists like Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker, who recorded for Cameo-Parkway, received exposure they might not have gotten had the show been produced elsewhere.

Tarsia, who became the chief engineer at Cameo-Parkway in 1962, attributed his early success there to Clark’s support.

“He’s the reason I’m in the business,” he was quoted as saying of Clark in the book “Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios” (2003), by Jim Cogan and William Clark.

“He was an approachable guy. If you went up to him and said, ‘I have a record,’ and he played it, it was worth a thousand promotion guys, because it was heard all over the country.”

Joseph Dominick Tarsia was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 23, 1934. He was the younger of two sons of Joseph and Rose (Gallo) Tarsia. His father was a tailor, his mother a homemaker.

After graduating from Edward W. Bok Technical High School in South Philadelphia, Tarsia took technical courses elsewhere before being hired at the electronics company Philco. He was later a service technician for local recording studios, work that led to his decision to pursue a career in music.

“I was always moonlighting at something,” he was quoted as saying in “Temples of Sound.” “I was fixing TV sets, and one day this guy says, ‘Can you fix a tape recorder?’ and I said, ‘Sure!’ It turned out that tape recorder was in a recording studio, and I never left.”

Tarsia had been at Cameo-Parkway for just a few years when “American Bandstand” moved to Los Angeles in early 1964, effectively ending the company’s tenure as a pipeline for the show’s music.

The Beatles’ first tour of the United States that year only compounded matters, as Cameo-Parkway’s teenage-oriented pop gave way to British invasion rock ’n’ roll and eventually the psychedelia of the counterculture.

Meanwhile, Tarsia met and befriended Gamble, who as an aspiring songwriter would drop by Cameo-Parkway to shop his songs. He was eventually the engineer for several early recordings produced by the Gamble-Huff team, most notably “Expressway to Your Heart, a Top 10 R&B and pop hit for the blue-eyed soul group the Soul Survivors in 1967.

Later that year, convinced that his future lay with the soul music of emerging vocal groups like the Intruders and the Delfonics, Tarsia borrowed against his home and used his savings to lease studio space in Philadelphia’s Center City. Naming it after the Greek letter he saw on a place mat in a Greek restaurant, he opened Sigma Sound the next August. Success quickly followed with hits produced by Gamble and Huff like Jerry Butler’s “Only the Strong Survive.”

Established artists like Wilson Pickett and Dusty Springfield soon began traveling to Tarsia’s studios to record. In 1971, CBS Records offered Gamble and Huff, by then regular clients at Sigma Sound, a major distribution deal. That led to the founding of Philadelphia International Records, which became home to many of the acts associated with the Sound of Philadelphia.

By the mid-1970s the likes of Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and the Jacksons were booking sessions at Sigma Sound as well. Seizing the moment, Tarsia opened Sigma Sound of New York, a trio of studios that, in the late ’70s and ’80s, hosted sessions by Madonna, Whitney Houston, Steely Dan and others.

In 1990, Tarsia’s son, Michael, who died last year, became the president of Sigma Sound. Tarsia eased into retirement, increasingly spending his time lecturing and supporting educational programs like Grammy in the Schools. In 2003, 15 years after Sigma Sound of New York was closed, he and his son sold their original Philadelphia studios.

Tarsia was a founder of the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services and a trustee of the Recording Academy. He was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2016.

He is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Cecelia (Giarrizzo) Tarsia; a daughter, Lorraine Rawle; and three grandchildren.

Tarsia was proud of the stamp he put on music in the 1960s and ’70s.

“In those days, before the computer,” he recalled to The Philadelphia Inquirer, “records had personalities. There was the Motown sound. The Memphis sound. The Muscle Shoals sound. And there was the Sigma sound.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

November 10, 2022

Setting a Kahlo drawing aflame in search of an NFT spark

Ronald Davis: Optical, shaped and color abstractions, paintings 1963 to 1965 in solo exhibit at David Richard Gallery

Pechstein masterpiece comes to auction at Bonhams New York this December

Gagosian to exhibit new works by Theaster Gates in New York

CAC Cincinnati announces new director

Outstanding clocks from the Elliot Collection lead Bonhams Fine English Clocks sale

Churchill's aura, and bright colors, draw new fans to his art

Sperone Westwater exhibits watercolors and works on paper by David Lynch

Lee Bontecou, acclaimed creator of wall-mounted art, dies at 91

Possibly unique Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 to be offered in the New York Watch Auction

The Parrish Art Museum opens the first major survey of Mel Kendrick

Sargent's Daughters opens Shary Boyle's New York solo presentation

Tilton Gallery presents "Tomashi Jackson: The Great Society" today - through January 21st, 2023

Nantucket Historical Association receives serendipitous gift relating to naval officer with island ties

Yuan Yuan's solo exhibition "Understory" opens today at Kiang Malingue gallery

Museum of the Moving Image to honor Sarah Polley, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Laura Poitras at 2022 Moving Image Awards Gala

"Passing The Hour: Mhlekazi Samson Mnisi, A Contemporary Of No Peer" at Keyes Art Mile in Johannesburg

PHOTOFAIRS New York to launch September 2023

An auction that will let fans disguise themselves as John Hamm's Fletch

Review: Making an epic visual impact with minimal means

The Warhol discovers Rare Velvet Underground master tapes

Fair And just solution for Nazi looted art At Ketterer Kunst

Joe Tarsia, an architect of the sound of Philadelphia, dies at 88

Where To Find Affordable & Safe WOTLK Classic Gold?

Minas Halaj

Findings of art history evaluation by curated newsletters

What Is 3D Benchy?

How To Prime And Install A Vape Coil Properly

How To Identify And Manage Stress To Live Better

Interview with Ricardo Santiago Soto (art/photography)


How To Incorporate Art in History Into Your Learning

What Is An Extendable Lightsaber? Where To Get The Best One?

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

sa gaming free credit
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful