The Tera Shirma Story
John Merlino
Opening Day at Ernstrat circa 1965
(picture courtesy DeAnne James)

I had mentioned earlier on some thread in the forum that John was some sort self visualized " wise guy ". But all in all, he and I got along alright for the greater part of the duration that we would deal with one another.

When I bought Merlino out of Ernstrat, he received a certain amount of cash and a promissory note that I would make monthly payments to him until the debt was satisfied.
I don't remember what the monthly payment was, but it wasn't very much.

In mid 1969 things were in drastic decline regarding the once healthy music business in the city. I was beginning to feel it financially, and the dwindling income was becoming noticeable. I was concerned but hopeful that things would eventually pick-up. 

In the meantime I was beginning to fall behind on payments to the loans I had taken out to build Studio B. I was also behind with my payments to John Merlino.

It was a late Friday afternoon. Sessions were completed earlier that day, and the only people left in the studio was my brother, part time engineer, Alex Placido, Neica Lee and myself.

My brother was all excited about the present sessions he was involved with and called us up to the control room to listen to some of the things.

We had the speakers cranked up pretty good  and while we were listening to the tapes, John Merlino appeared at the doorway to the control room and then walked the two steps up to the control room platform. I acknowledged him with a nod as we continued to listen to the tape.

The master power switch for the control room was at the foot of the two steps to the platform. It startled all of us when Merlino tripped the off switch.

The room was immediately uncomfortably quiet. I must have said somthing to John about this but I don't remember. He walked a few steps towards me until he was
about six feet from me and pulled a gun.

I saw him pull it from it's clam shell holster, raise it and point it at my head. And I thought the room was quiet just after the music stopped. It got deadly quiet.

I'm looking down the barrel of a 45, and in the eerie quiet I hear the ominous click as John pulls back the hammer. I'm thinking " This motherfu---r is going to kill me ". We faced each other like this for what seemed like the better part of August, but I suppose was a few seconds. He then raised the 45 a bit and fired a round into the ceiling above my head. The noise of the shot was deafening.

Neica Lee, who was sitting left of to where I was standing,
put her hands to her face and leaned over and moaned softly. My brother and Alex were slightly behind Merlino. Again, another eternity but then John begins to leave rather quickly.

Just as he is going through the control room door heading for the stairs, I freak. I'm going to kill this motherf---er with my bare hands, and I leap for the doorway, after him, out of my mind with rage.

My brother and Alex jump on me and my brother is screaming at me "Ralph!!! DON'T!!! "

From here everything is a blank to me. I don't remember going home. All of Saturday I brooded. I didn't talk to my wife. I didn't talk to anyone. I was raging inside. 

I have always had a quick Italian temper and was known for it with some people, but this was something else. I
had transformed into an entirely new ( or unexpected ) person. I brooded into Sunday and then I knew what I was going to do. I was going to kill John Merlino. I would call a meeting with just him and me. " Meet me at
the studio John. I'll be up in the control room " And then when I hear his footsteps coming up I will suddenly appear at the top of the steps and do him. I figured I'd use a shotgun, so I couldn't miss.

Believe me. I've thought about this over the years. Would I REALLY have been able to kill John Merlino. I like to think not. I was under a tremendous amount of pressure at the time. As I said, business was slow but I still had a large payroll  and operating expenses to deal with. I'm sure I wasn't in the best frame of mind for something like this to happen.

Early Sunday afternoon, Johns wife called me.
She said " Ralph...this has got to STOP! " I have to wonder at this phone call. Was Merlino over there planning to kill me? What a comedy! At any rate, the power of a sensible woman cooled things down and the " showdown " was off.

What has bothered me the most over the years over this small incident, was the person I saw I was capable of becoming. I have never seen that person again, but I try to maintain my reputation as having a quick temper at times.
It suits me well  and I usually tell people that I don't suffer fools very well. I do like to yell in the studio a lot, but that comes from a creative place rather than a place of anger, or rage, so it's all in fun. The people that work with me just generally ignore it anyway.

Notes thanks to Ralph Terrana



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