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Recordings Are Seized at Engineer's Home

Terry Howard, who won three Grammys last month for work with Ray Charles, is arrested after police find singer's master tapes.

March 03, 2005|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

A recording engineer who worked for Ray Charles for two decades and who won three Grammys last month for his work on the late singer's final album was arrested four days later after police pried open the door of his Burbank loft and found 300 original master recordings that belonged to Charles.

Terry Howard, 48, was in custody Wednesday after his arrest Feb. 17, but his attorney, Steve Crom, said they would post bail today. A judge reduced it from $1 million to $100,000 this week because Howard had no criminal record.

"These are recordings that he contractually and logically had every right to have in his possession," Crom said. A recording engineer, he said, often works at home.

Los Angeles Police Det. Donald O. Hrycyk said the boxes of recordings carted out of Howard's home -- which consisted of a bed, refrigerator and other amenities in a commercial property in a recording industry district -- were not digitally recorded discs brought home for tinkering. The detective said the stacks of music included old reel-to-reel recordings of Charles and other artists whose work had been stored in the singer's library.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 17, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Ray Charles tapes -- A March 3 article in the California section about a recording engineer facing charges of stealing valuable studio recordings from his employer, the late Ray Charles, spelled the name of the engineer's attorney, Steve Cron, as Crom.

"There were tapes that were stored in climate-controlled rooms at Ray Charles Enterprises, and they are so fragile that they need to be heated to be played or else they can be destroyed," Hrycyk said. "When we got to them, some of them were molding."

Jerry Digney, Charles' former publicist and spokesman for his estate, said in a statement: "Whatever the outcome, Ray Charles Enterprises puts a high value on its assets, especially its master tapes, and will do its utmost to ensure their safety and proper handling along with protecting other irreplaceable valuables belonging to the late entertainer and to his estate."

Howard's attorney and his credits describe him as an Ohio native, an Air Force veteran and a highly acclaimed technician in his field who not only had the trust of Charles for years but worked with Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac and Tom Jones.

As one of several engineers who worked on Charles' "Genius Loves Company" album of all-star duets, released shortly after his death, Howard shared in the Grammys awarded for record of the year, album of the year and best-engineered non-classical recording.

A source in the recording industry said Howard was "a guy they brought in when they needed him, a guy they trusted." Others in the Charles camp said the singer would call on "Mr. T" when he was working late nights at his famed RPM Studios on Washington Boulevard.

"Ray had the key, and Howard would meet him, and they'd work on stuff, sometimes just them, but Ray couldn't see this guy was walking out with all this stuff," Hrycyk said. "And that would be pretty sad if that was the case."

If that were the case, it would add a posthumous chapter to the betrayals of the singer, documented in the Oscar-nominated film "Ray," which showed that the iconic entertainer fought exploitation from his earliest days in the business because of his blindness. Charles died last summer at age 73 at his Beverly Hills home.

Hrycyk said an associate of Howard's told Ray Charles Enterprises about the master recordings in Howard's loft, and police were notified.

"When we got there, he wouldn't come to the door, but when we pried it open, he came out," the detective said.

Crom and police said Howard had a flare-up last March with the leadership at Ray Charles Enterprises. That led to "someone at Ray Charles Enterprises wanting Howard to be less close to things," Crom said

The attorney said that the filings in the case that have put the value of the items in excess of $8 million are "ridiculous" and are based on their value to a record company that could legitimately record, press and distribute them exclusively. But once that's done, the quality of every CD is as good as the master, he said, so after its release, its value is diminished.

"Somebody is making a lot more of this than they should be," Crom said, as if this were "Babe Ruth's bat."

Phil Ramone, a Grammy-winning producer who had worked with Charles, said that he did not know Howard but that the topic was ricocheting around the industry. "The value of these things would have been limited," Ramone said. "It's like having a Picasso. Sure, you could sell it, but everybody's going to know it, and if you try to make a lot of money off it, you're not going to get far."

Police have not been able to catalog the items due to their fragility and the fact that many are unlabeled. Police also seized a tour travel box, used by touring concert bands for their gear, at Howard's residence that was labeled "Ray Charles Enterprises," Hrycyk said.

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