Things were bad. Very bad.
Business was drying up. I arrived at the
studio one morning at my usual time, and Neica Lee was not
yet in. This
wasn't unusual. Neica was a single mom to a young girl, so
there were times she had things to deal with in raising her
daughter. Neica was separated from her husband, the well
known clothes designer, Dominic Rompollo, who lived in New
York. I knew she was always dealing with issues over this
situation. But she never got to the studio that day. I must
have called her, but I don't remember. She didn't show up
the next day either, or the one after that and I soon
accepted the fact that Neica Lee was gone.
Within a couple of weeks a letter would
arrive to the studio, addressed to me from Neica. Basically
she told me all she
was dealing with, which I completely understood and she was
back in New York giving it one more try with Dominic.
In my mind I wished her all the happiness, but I knew how
much I would miss her presence.
Neica and I had our routine down cold in how
we managed the studios together. I depended on her for so
much. Now it was completely in my hands as everything was
beginning to crumble around me.
I hired Telma Hopkins to fill in for Neica. It may not have
been full time. Business was slow anyway. My accounts
receivable was pretty healthy. Several producers were into
me for some pretty heavy studio time. I was willing to carry
them until they could luck into a hit record, or a record
deal, and then they would pay me.
I had done that before. But there was a lot
of money owed at the time. I remembered a couple of years
before, where at a birthday party for Norman Whitfield, I
would get into a conversation with Mr. Coleman from Thelma
records. He told me that night that I shouldn't give credit
to anyone, including him, because you never quite knew the
unpredictable tides of the music business.
I was approached by someone who said I could
sell my receivables to a certain collection agency for so
the dollar. I couldn't do that. These people that owed me
money were not deadbeats. They were honourable men who were
in a similar situation and their ships were leaking just as
badly as mine.
A new studio had recently opened. GM Studios.
They had been making overtures to Milan for some time. I
know they were giving him some very tempting incentives, but
to his credit he stuck with me as long as he could.
Eventually he did go. He had a family to
Although I don't remember his departure, Les Chasey would
also go. He got a job as a maintenance engineer for a large
hotel chain. I think it was the Sheraton. I remember
thinking " Those people don't have a clue what they're
Blood is definitely thicker than water, and Russ was hanging
on with me, but business was not good. I received a call
from Harry Balk one day, who was now running the Creative
Division at Motown after successfully launching the Rare
Earth label. He asked if they could use Russ part time for
some sessions there. I agreed and Russ began dividing his
time between Motown and what little work there was at Tera
Eventually I would know that it was over and
I would tell Russ to stay at Motown. The producers were
already swarming around him like hungry buzzards. He was
well on his way to becoming one of the world's premier
So I let Telma go and that was basically it. I was alone.
Tera Shrma was history. I would still come to the studio
every morning and sit in Neica Lee's office to answer the
phone. I had the janitorial service give the place one more
cleaning and then discontinued the service. So I would sit
in the office until the quiet really got to me.
Every once in a while I would light the
studio up and wander around looking at it. The control room
still looked so cool from the catwalk but now it was
dormant. I wandered down to the basement where Les had built
himself an apartment to live in after he and his wife split
up. He was such an amazing guy.
I spent my time contacting various record
companies around the country, trying to sell Tera Shirma.
Nobody was interested. I think the death knell for the
Detroit music scene was ringing loudly.
It got to a point where I could no longer spend my days in
the studio alone. The total quiet was working on my nerves.
I enlisted the services of a telephone answering service so
I didn't have to hang there all day. I'm not even sure what
I did with my time. My wife and I were to move into a
new house soon and she was due to deliver our second child
day. And I was broke.
I remember calling in for my messages one day. The young
girl on the line from the service asked me if I was Ralph
Terrana. I told her I was. She proceeded to tell me her
boyfriend was a musician who had come through Tera Shirma
and how he and all the musicians in the bands around town
spoke very highly of me. How I treated them fairly and was
not some sort of rip-off artist. I was respected by them. In
spite of all my problems, this brightened my day like
nothing else had done in quite a while.
It was over. Part of what I was feeling might have been
relief. It was not easy owning and running a studio complex
of that nature. I never really took much money out of the
place for myself. My employees always made more money than
me. I always figured someday my time would come.
So mighty Tera Shirma was basically a flash
in the pan. We rose out of nothing, exploded on the scene
and died in about a three year period.
I'll always be proud of the quality of music
that came out of those studios. I will always feel
privileged to know the people I would come to know because
of the place.
But it was over, and that, as they say, is my
story and I'm sticking to it.
Notes thanks to