Louis R. "Lou" Mills Jr., a nationally known and highly regarded recording engineer who was called "Baltimore's Godfather of Sound" and whose Cold Spring Lane studio was a destination for stars and musicians, died Friday of a heart attack at St. Joseph Medical Center.
The longtime Mount Royal Terrace resident was 76.
"Louis Mills was one of America's greatest recording engineers and a beloved, wonderful man who helped and inspired nearly everyone whose life he touched," said Tom D'Antoni, who had worked with Mr. Mills in Baltimore and is now editor-in-chief of oregonmusicnews.com, an online music magazine in Portland, Ore.
"In all of my 35 years of broadcasting and media creation, I have never met a more talented recording engineer, or a nicer man," said Mr. D'Antoni.
Greg Novik, who is now the owner of Greg's Bagels in Belvedere Square, worked as a writer and an apprentice studio musician after graduating from college at Images International, when he and Mr. Mills became friends.
"Lou was a mentor to just about everyone working in this business in the city. When he was in studio, he was truly an artist. When he was producing a session, it was absolutely smooth, and when he was working the boards, he was a genius," recalled Mr. Novik.
"He may have been unknown to the public, but he was a giant in the field of sound recording and production. He was a heavy hitter. He was it," he said.
The son of a Crown Central Petroleum Co. executive and a homemaker, Mr. Mills was born and raised in Houston.
Mr. Mills' talent for sound recording happened early. He was 16 when he recorded his first radio commercial for a Houston radio station on an old wire recorder, which predated audiotape.
After graduating from San Jacinto High School, he enrolled at Rice University and had completed his sophomore year when his father, who was treasurer of Crown Central, was transferred to Baltimore.
He finished his education at the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a degree in 1958 in electrical engineering.
"He began working in an era before there was audiotape. He was simply a genius," Mr. D'Antoni said in a telephone interview.
In 1958, Mr. Mills established Recording International, which he later changed to Flite 3 Studios, at Cold Spring Lane and The Alameda. It would become the largest movie/TV audio production facility in the city.
"In Baltimore, Louis Mills is audio's godfather — and its mother, brother, mentor, and best friend," wrote Mr. D'Antoni in a 1997 City Paper profile.
"The words 'audio god' have been attached to his name in more than one publication. He has, it seems, recorded everyone — from Leopold Stowkowski to Frank Zappa, from James Earl Jones to Divine — and everything, from the Baltimore Symphony for over 17 years to some of the city's most reverently recalled commercials," wrote Mr. D'Antoni.
Mr. Mills told Mr. D'Antoni that one of his first jobs was the iconic Parks Sausage commercial that included the line: "More Parks sausages, Mom."
Other memorable commercials that showed his artistry included "Mommy, call Hampden, Belmont five-oh-six-oh-oh," "If you don't own a cow, call Cloverland now," and "Nobody has what Tate has."
In 1960, when Al Brown and the Tune Toppers came to Flite 3 to record "The Madison," which became a popular dance craze in Baltimore, it was Mr. Mills with whom they worked.
In a 1971 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Mills explained that for an engineer, the "most single valuable asset is an ear for music, and the atmosphere, or karma, of the studio."
One of those who worked with Mr. Mills at Flite 3 was George Massenburg, who went on to win Grammy Awards and worked with such artists and bands as Linda Ronstadt, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Little Feat.
It's been said that every top recording engineer working in Hollywood or New York most likely at one time or another worked with Mr. Mills.
Doug Roberts, a well-known Baltimore actor, radio personality and voice-over artist, was an old friend who worked with Mr. Mills for years.
"It's been every bit of 40 years, and he was Baltimore's Godfather of Sound. I think he must have produced 50,000 radio and TV spots, and I think I've done at least 3,000 or 4,000 with him. He made the best commercials in the country," said Mr. Roberts.
"He knew how to work with both the client and talent and make it better. Not many people know how to do that, but Lou did. People died to work with Lou," said Mr. Roberts. "Big stars came to Baltimore to work with him, and you were absolutely thrilled when you found out you'd be working with him."
"He had such a calming way and could put me at ease. He was the best director I ever worked with," said Mary Anne Perry, who worked in radio for 17 years and, with Mr. Mills' encouragement, became a freelance voice-over artist and camera talent.
"He told me I could make it," she said.
"No matter how long or grueling a session was, I never saw him get upset, and he'd be gracious the entire time. When he was editing, the producer, client and voice-over would be busy talking in the room, and he'd simply hold up a finger for us to lower our voices. He was kind to everyone," said Ms. Perry.
Betsy Harmatz, an engineer and producer, began working with Mr. Mills at Flite 3 after graduating from college in 1974.
"Lou was a most generous person. He shared his knowledge and compliments, and took the time working with you," said Ms. Harmatz. "He wanted you to know how to do it right. He was an icon. A legend."
In the City Paper interview, Mr. Mills explained his philosophy.
"I don't train people. I give them access and occasionally point out things that I really hate or that they do that I really like. I just give people a shot at it," he said.
Flite 3 Studios helped in the production of such movies as Barry Levinson's "Avalon," as well as "Washington Square," "Runaway Bride," John Waters' "Hairspray" and "Homicide: Life on the Street."
"He was one of the first persons I met when I was in high school and went downtown looking for trouble," said Mr. Waters, with a laugh.
"I went downtown to find bohemia and beatniks, but Louis didn't look like one. He didn't dress like a beatnik. He hung at Martick's and in bohemian circles," he said. "Later on, we filmed the TV station scene for 'Hairspray' at Flite 3 and did dubbing there."
Jeremy Irons, Yaphet Kotto, Bruce Willis, Peter O'Toole, Albert Finney, Bill Cosby and Maggie Smith are just some of the Hollywood stars who came to work with Mr. Mills at Flite 3 Studios.
Since Flite 3's closing in 2003, Mr. Mills had been working at Horich, Parks, and Lebow Advertising in Hunt Valley.
"He was a classical music fan and a huge fan of Mahler's work," said his companion of 40 years, George "Ed" Armstrong, a Baltimore hairstylist.
The Reservoir Hill resident was a patron of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a member of Towson United Methodist Church.
Services were Monday at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.
There are no other survivors.