Joe Tarsia, founding father of Sigma Sound Studios and chief engineer for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, has died. He was 88.
Tarsia handed away Nov. 1 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The reason for demise was not disclosed.
In collaboration with songwriter/producers Gamble, Huff, and Thom Bell, Tarsia performed an instrumental position in crafting PIR’s distinctive model of refined soul, dubbed the Sound of Philadelphia. He left his imprint on a number of basic hits comparable to Jerry Butler’s “Only the Strong Survive,” The O’Jays’ “Love Train” and “Back Stabbers,” Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around.” Tarsia additionally amassed credit on recordings by Teddy Pendergrass, the Stylistics, Patti LaBelle, the Delfonics and Lou Rawls.
Beyond the steady of PIR acts, Sigma Sound in Philadelphia additionally attracted the likes of Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and the Jacksons. Tarsia additionally operated a Sigma Sound department in New York from 1977-1988, reserving periods for Madonna, Whitney Houston and Elton John, amongst others.
Paying tribute to his and Huff’s longtime artistic comrade and buddy in a press release, Gamble stated partially, “As our main studio recording engineer for PIR, Joe was a tremendous asset in helping us create what became the legendary Sound of Philadelphia. For all of the songs written and produced by me, Huff and our label and recorded by our artists, Joe was the sound recording architect to the music we gave to the world. Joe’s passing is a great loss to me personally, professionally and to the legacy of recorded music.”
“Joe and his Sigma Sound Studios were second to none,” added Huff. “I too am very saddened for the loss of our dear friend and one of the greatest sound engineers ever. Joe’s connection to me and Gamble was like Quincy Jones’ relationship with his personal engineer, Bruce Swedien. More importantly, it was an honor for me to share my music career with Joe and blessed to have him in our recording booth as I played on those sessions that helped us create the Sound of Philadelphia.”
A local of Philadelphia born on Sept. 23, 1934, Tarsia labored at electronics firm Philco earlier than becoming a member of Cameo-Parkway Records because the label’s engineer within the early ’60s, recording artists comparable to Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell. It was throughout this era that he first met Bell, Gamble and Huff, engineering the latter pair’s 1967 hit with the Soul Survivors, “Expressway to Your Heart.” He later risked borrowing in opposition to his residence to discovered Sigma Sound Studios in 1968 — so christened after Tarsia noticed the phrase Sigma on a spot mat at a Greek restaurant.
“Literally, I hocked my house and [took] all the cash I had accumulated — everything I had — and got a bank to lend me forty thousand dollars and never looked back,” Tarsia recalled within the 2003 guide Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios.
Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Sigma Sound’s founding in 2018, Tarsia advised The Philadelphia Inquirer, “If I made a contribution, it was that Philadelphia had a unique sound. I was able to attract the best technicians, the best engineers. And the history speaks for itself. Sigma — not me — has 200 gold and platinum records … There was the Motown sound. The Memphis sound. The Muscle Shoals sound. And there was the Sigma sound.”
Tarsia’s survivors embrace his spouse Cecelia, daughter Lori and three grandchildren.
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.