Mike Cogan was the owner of Bay Records in Lafayette, CA. Mike grew up in Northern Virginia playing piano, and later banjo and guitar. He was exposed to bluegrass and folk music and, by the time he hit college, and was thoroughly hooked! Upon moving to the West Coast he found many great musicians who weren’t heard much outside of California, and decided to make a record of his favorite group, Kenny Hall and the Sweets Mill String Band. One record only—that was going to be it! Fortunately, producing that record hooked him for life. He founded the Bay Records label and produced 20 albums of folk music through 1977. In order to make these records he had built a recording studio in his garage. The studio grew and grew, until today it’s a full-service recording facility. He kept the old name—Bay Records—from the days of the record label and loved the music part of the business!
[adopted from the Bay Records website]
Bay Records – TPH-727
Mike Cogan was the mastering engineer for Best Historical Album
54th Annual GRAMMY Award Winner (2011)
Hear Me Howling!: Blues, Ballads & Beyond as recorded by Chris Strachwitz in the San Francisco Bay in 1960.
From Suzy Thompson
My first time in a recording studio was when Bay Records was in Mike Cogan’s garage, on Margarido in Oakland when Jody Stecher was making “Snake Baked a Hoecake” and brought nineteen year old me along to play the tambura on Leela Leela. I’m guessing that Jody, Eric and I may have been the only people to record in all three Bay Records studios – after the garage, there was the wonderful old former newspaper building in Alameda, where Mike converted a radio station into a recording studio, and still later, the building on Alcatraz. Eric put in the floor in that studio, in exchange for studio time. I played on so many different projects in these rooms: Frankie Armstrong, Savoy Doucet Cajun Band, California Cajun Orchestra, Blue Flame String Band, Bluegrass Intentions, Eric & Suzy, Malvina Reynolds, Carol McComb, and Eric played on even more including the Persuasions’ Grateful Dead project.
Mike’s legacy will live on in all the music that was recorded at Bay Records, and in the other engineers that he trained, including Jeremy Goody at Megasonic in Oakland.
I played on so many records that were recorded at one Bay location or another. And, I thought of something I would like to add to my statement about Mike – He was one of the only recording engineers I ever worked with who never took up studio time bragging on all the famous people he’d recorded (and he did record some famous ones!). Also, he turned me on to Spike Jones for which I am forever grateful. Here is a link to the song.
Teabag Blues by Hank Bradley from the Suzy Thompson recording, No Mockingbird, recorded by Bob Shumaker at Bay Records
From Cathie Whitesides
I knew Mike Cogan first by reputation as the recording engineer at Bay Records for the folk music of the 60s that everyone wanted to hear. My personal time with Mike spanned just six years. Mike helped me make my first LP, Gems of Irish and Cape Breton Scottish Fiddling. He was generous and freely gave his time. Mike was willing to solve sound problems and fix wrong notes no matter how long it took, his delightful humor never flagging. We shared many good times, including trips to the San Diego Folk Festival. He will be greatly missed.
From Shoshanna Schwimmer
I was already grieving for what Mike went through, and am so sad to learn of his passing. Who can even imagine all the wonderful music he helped spread with his recording skills?
And I will always be grateful to Mike and Sheila for the haven they provided when I lived with them so many decades ago, before moving east. Picking up Paul at school was a way to help out, and it’s been heartwarming to see what a devoted son and father he has become.
From Jody Stecher
Mike and I were good friends. He engineered 3 of my albums and half another. I also participated as a support musician on many other recording projects of his. The first location was his home on Margarido Drive in Oakland. Then he had a studio in the Times Star Building in Alameda. Then he acquired and rebuilt a studio on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley where he made many recordings. Later he worked from home and also used Jeremy Goody’s Megasonic studio in Oakland. He developed unusual and effective recording techniques that combined the ambiance of locations with the qualities of various microphones and the instruments being recorded. It worked particularly well on steel string guitars and on five-string banjos. He was also very popular with trad jazz musicians as he would record and mix this music in a way that accorded with how the musicians perceived their own music.
Mike was a friendly person, was unusually generous, and had a superb sense of humor which he extended to laughing at himself. One of my favorite anecdotes he told me was about something that happened shortly after he and his wife Sheila moved to the Bay Area from the East where he had worked as an electrical engineer. He had gotten an engineering job in San Francisco and was renting a place a bit south of the city. He had developed a habit or “ritual” of filling the time between returning home from work and having dinner. To fill the time, he’d drive to a local gas station and fill his gas tank. One evening he thought to himself “the weather is so nice, I think I’ll walk”. So he walked to the gas station, went right up to the pump and when asked “may I help you?” realized the absurdity of the situation and asked for the time or for directions or something like that.
Mike’s engineering business was called Bay Records. He had a record label of that name and that was the name of his recording business as well. In his office at the Alameda studio he displayed a collection of envelopes and postcards addressed to bizarre misunderstandings of what his business was. I recall “Bay Wreckers’, “Gay Records”, and the strangest of all: “Coconut Bay Records.”. He was not upset by these mistakes. He cherished the humor. And one day he solved the Coconut mystery. He answered the phone and heard himself say “This is Mike Cogan at Bay Records,,, OH!!!” He had realized that it sounded like Mike, Coconut Bay Records”. To this day several of his friends refer to him as Mike Coconut.
When Mike opened his studio in Alameda he considered using a latin slogan on his business card. It translated as “We magnetize rust.”
From Mitchell Greenhill
Don’t You See That Train by Mitch Greenhill & Mayne Smith
News of Michael Cogan’s death has sent me into a deep funk. Images flood my mind, memories of hours in his several recording studios. Playing, recording, Michael listening, Michael suggesting adjustments. And then going back and doing it again, always better.
The first time was a living room session. Mark Spoelstra, Mayne Smith, and I were just beginning our collaboration. Mike heard us, perhaps up at the Sweets Mill Festival, liked what we were doing and invited us to record. His figuratively big ears were already in evidence – he was hearing minute details in the sound and adjusting the microphones accordingly. He rarely gave specific musical feedback but was always keenly attuned to sonic details. After a while, I too began to hear some of these subtleties, and Mike became something of a mentor in the recording process.
A few years later, Mayne Smith and I recorded at Mike’s studio in Alameda. Our collaboration with Mark had run its course, culminating in The Frontier. When that band broke up, Mayne and I continued to play much of its repertoire and to develop new material. Mike signed us to his label, Bay Records. Our first album Storm Coming spanned several months of initial live sessions, subsequent overdubs (including of Taj Mahal, Doc & Merle Watson, Maryann Price, and a local horn section), and my dislocated elbow. Mike, as the album’s co-producer as well as its engineer, was the steady hand, and when the album was finished, he contributed a radio blurb.
More years, more sessions. Bay Records moved to Oakland, where I produced Rosalie Sorrels’ album Borderline Heart. This was a bigger room, so Rosalie and the band, including Laurie Lewis and Nina Gerber, recorded live. We looked into each other’s eyes and worked on getting strong ensemble takes. Mike found the sweet spot between isolating the instruments and allowing for a certain amount of bleed between the tracks. Of my many collaborations with Rosalie, this one holds a special place.
In recent years, as I developed my home studio, Mike became my mastering engineer. Now back in his living room, this time in Lafayette, he was still able to pick out the sweet spots – and the problematic ones – in a master recording. Some musical passage or other would elicit a grunt, snort, or chuckle, followed by some small adjustment of the (now digital) dials. The songs always sounded far better coming out of his world than it did going in.
And then, about a year ago, I asked him to master Mitchology, my new album of original songs. But this time he begged off, with the shocking assessment that he no longer trusted his ears. He had moved back to Maryland to live with family. I hope that he enjoyed his last days there. Both in the Bay Area music scene and in my life, he has left a big legacy. And a big hole.
From Sandy Rothman
Working with Mike was always enlightening, filled with his great skills and humor. His knowledge was vast, not only about music. I consider him a rare human being. His loss is deeply felt.
Bluegrass Guitar Duets with Steve Pottier (ToneBar Records TBR-1833) was recorded at Bay Studios in 1991, tracked by Bob Shumaker and digitally edited there by Mike. My solo album The Old Road to Home (ToneBar Records TBR-146) was recorded and edited by Mike in 1992-3.
Recordings on Bay Records
RIP: Mike Cogan
(April 13, 1942 – March 31, 2022)