Long-time sound engineer John Hudson recalls a day when a young singer arrived at the Mayfair Recording Studio in London with a voice that almost knocked him over – the voice belonged to a rising star with the name Tina Turner.
John and the producer had laid down the basic tracks on a Saturday, with Ms Turner scheduled to visit the studio the following day to record her vocals.
“We were going to record four songs, which is probably pushing it a bit for a vocalist in one day, and I remember saying to Kate, my wife, as I was leaving to go into the studio, ‘I just hope she can bloody sing’,” John recalled with a laugh.
And of course, she could. Very well!
One of the songs John helped her record was none other than her hit, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’
“The first time I heard her voice, it was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it.”
It is one of many highlights of John’s sound mixing career that helped produce scores of popular hits in the 1970s, 80s and 90s for numerous big-name performers, including the Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, A-Ha, Simply Red, Mariah Carey and others.
But his career may not have been as successful if he hadn’t kept his asthma under control – initially by a chance change in his living surroundings.
John first experienced breathing difficulties as a child, triggered by the stuffy indoor heating of his parents’ Isle of Wight home, combined with pet hair and thick carpets.
Years later, he also learned that his chest tightened when he consumed food or drink with yellow food colouring – a rare asthma trigger. His mother had cooked a lot with margarine, which he believes might have also contributed to his childhood breathing challenges.
“We had pets at home – mum had a poodle, and we had a retriever – and because of the cold in winter, we had double glazed windows, lots of radiators, and everything was carpeted and closed up,” John explained.
“It had a significant effect on my breathing.”
However, when he left home to take up an electronics apprenticeship in London with the UK Ministry of Defence, the change in living conditions worked immediate wonders.
“…the (Defence) hostel was heated but it wasn’t all completely closed up, and it didn’t have any carpets, it was all wooden floors… my asthma disappeared. I mean completely, totally,” John said.
“That was such a staggering change, and then for about 20 years – through the 80s and 90s – I didn’t have any asthma problems at all.”
His asthma was well controlled as he later moved from what was “a dream job” with the BBC as an electronics technician, to work as a sound engineer with the small Mayfair Recording Studio – an initially-routine role recording song demos that led to mixing sound for some of the biggest entertainers of the era.
“I started working on successful pop records, with no asthma in sight… It was amazing,” John recalled.
“The first one was Garry Glitter, bless his cotton socks, and he was very talented. And then there was Phil Coulter, he was Irish, and he started the Bay City Rollers, they were already a band, but he wrote the songs for them.”
John’s only asthma hiccup came unexpectedly while working one 15-hour night, when he ate a cheese toastie with mustard – peculiarly, his chest soon tightened. He suspected the yellow food colouring and has recognised that as an asthma trigger ever since.
He went on to record 167 hit singles with Mayfair Studios. For his work with Tina Turner, he has three Grammy music awards proudly hanging on the walls of his home in south-east Queensland.
But John’s success at the time inadvertently led to the return of his asthma – again, due to changes in his surroundings.
“We were doing quite well in business, so we bought a nice place, and we put double glazing in, we had the heating on in winter, and carpets, and it all started to come back again,” he explained.
“I hadn’t changed my diet, but we had two dogs. It all turned the tables again on my asthma like when I was a kid.”
John and Kate addressed the problem by removing the carpets, banning their pets – Tibetan terriers Deefa and Tashie – from the bedroom and keeping everything spotlessly vacuumed. John also maintained regular use of his preventer puffer.
His experience highlights the impact of environmental triggers on those living with asthma, along with the importance of sensible management of asthma.
“It’s very true. That effect of eating that sandwich, that one night, only lasted about half an hour and it just died away, but I was using the puffer at the time – once in the morning and at night,” John explained.
The studio closed in 2008 due to an unsuccessful court case, the global financial crisis, and a downturn in the music industry, so John and Kate moved to Australia. Today his asthma is managed with regular preventer puffs, Prednisolone tablets if he has a serious flareup and, again, his Aussie environment also helps.
“In winter in England, it gets cold at the end of September, you need to get your heating on, and wear a jacket or coat when you go outside – it’s a lot colder than Queensland, I can tell you,” John said.
“Here, we don’t have our place closed up like you do. We live in a Queenslander; it’s not exactly airtight, plenty of ventilation, and we’ve got no pets.
“These days, if I have a good day, I might use the puffer in the morning and have a puff at lunchtime, and then by the time I go to bed, I’m not wheezing.”
And as for his past work with so many big stars, including Tina Turner?
“Isn’t that amazing? And you look back now and think, ‘my God’!
“I still do mixing, I still go into the studio for people and record them; I do sound engineer training as well, so I’m pretty full on.
“But I don’t do 15-hour days anymore.”
Breathing challenges like asthma can stifle every part of life – including career. John’s control of his asthma, even though it was sometimes by chance, meant his health problems have not hindered his living a successful work life, rubbing shoulders with some true legends of the music industry.
If you experience breathing difficulties, talk about it with your doctor. The right advice can help you live with asthma more successfully.
If you have a story to tell about your asthma, join our Asthma Champion Program: http://asthma.org.au/get-involved/asthma-champion-program/asthma-champions/