Bryan Adams, Bob Ezrin dismayed by loss of work in 'nightmare' Universal fire
Debris clutters the New York Street facade at the Universal Studios Hollywood back lot, Monday June 2, 2008, in the Universal City section of Los Angeles, a day after a fire destroyed the sets of iconic films. Bryan Adams says the damages of the 2008 Universal Studios Hollywood fire became much clearer to him six years ago when he started plotting a 30th anniversary reissue of his No. 1 album "Reckless." The Kingston, Ont.-born singer says he came up empty handed after he contacted the archival department of Universal Music Group seeking master tapes, artwork and videos for his No. 1 album, which included the massive hits "Summer of '69" and "Heaven." THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ric Francis
David Friend, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, June 26, 2019 12:29PM EDT
TORONTO -- Bryan Adams is among several Canadian acts who believe the original masters of their biggest hits likely perished in a 2008 fire at Universal Studios Hollywood, a blaze for which the extent of the damage has only recently come to light.
The Kingston, Ont.-born singer-songwriter said he only learned of the impact when he started planning a 30th anniversary reissue of his album "Reckless," which includes the massive hits "Summer of '69" and "Heaven." Upon contacting the archival department of Universal Music Group, he was told they couldn't locate his master tapes, artwork and videos.
"No one there knew where anything was," Adams said in an email correspondence through his management team.
"If you were doing an archeological dig there, you would have concluded that it was almost as if none of it had ever happened."
Adams is among countless musicians who are struggling to comprehend new information on the massive Universal fire recently outlined in The New York Times. The report detailed how more than 100,000 masters -- an estimated 500,000 songs -- were engulfed in the flames, while Universal framed the destruction as being contained to mostly duplicate copies of films and a number of iconic movie sets.
But the Times uncovered details which showed an extensive database of master recordings stretching from the 1940s to the 2000s were also lost, including original tapes of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Elton John and Janet Jackson.
On Tuesday, the news outlet went a step further and published a longer list of artists it says Universal leadership believes might've been affected. Among the names are numerous Canadian acts, including Joni Mitchell, the Tragically Hip, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Nelly Furtado, Paul Anka and Rufus Wainwright.
A representative for Sainte-Marie declined to address the status of her masters, while the Hip's manager said the band "is taking stock of all their assets and tapes" before making any further comment.
Universal says the Times "overstated" the losses in their report, but the label's CEO followed with a statement saying he owes artists "transparency" and "answers" on the damage to their master recordings.
Master tapes are the original analog copies of musicians working in the studio, recorded with equipment that is levels above the consumer playback technology that exists today. That makes them an invaluable resource for future restoration projects, album reissues and historical documents of artistic creation. The tapes often include unreleased material that turns up on re-releases and box sets decades after an artist has died.
"The reason these tapes are so important is you can't remaster recordings that have already been digitally mastered," Adams explained.
Canadian producer Bob Ezrin, who's worked with generations of artists including Taylor Swift, Kiss, Alice Cooper and Nine Inch Nails, said he's among many in the music community who are still trying to understand what's been lost -- and he expects those answers won't be clear any time soon.
"All in all it's an archival nightmare," Ezrin said in response to questions about recordings he's worked on.
"Some of the original masters and multitracks could very well have been in that building when it burned but I don't know yet. And since I'm the producer and not the owner of the material I don't have a legal claim to it."
It'll be a long road towards more certainty, Ezrin said, as he expects Universal will move ahead with a massive audit before diving deeper to understand what might've been digitized to a "good enough" substitute for the original master tapes.
Fortunately for Adams, he eventually located a "safety copy" of "Reckless" locked inside his vault in the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver. Back in 1984, he ran a second tape in case the master was ever lost, and its quality was identical to the original.
It allowed him to release the remastered edition of "Reckless" in 2014 in time for its anniversary, but the musician says he's not certain his other eight studio albums recorded at A&M Records -- Adams' original label that was later bought by Universal -- will be quite as fortunate.
At this time, he isn't aware if duplicate masters of those albums, which include "Cuts Like a Knife" and "Waking Up the Neighbours," still exist, but he says he's "remaining hopeful for the moment."