Mack Emerman, founder of Criteria Recording Studios, dies at 89

Mack Emerman, the founder of Criteria Recording Studios where acts including Eric Clapton, James Brown and the Bee Gees made some of their most famous records, died May 17 at a hospital in Miami Beach, Fla. He was 89.

He had complications from pneumonia, said his daughter Julie Goldman.

The Criteria studio, which Mr. Emerman opened in 1959 in North Miami, has been operated by the Hit Factory since 1999. Some 250 gold or platinum singles and albums were recorded at Criteria, which became known as Atlantic Records South when Mr. Emerman formed an alliance with producer Tom Dowd.

The records include “Layla” by Clapton’s group Derek and the Dominos, James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” “Eat a Peach” by the Allman Brothers Band and parts of huge 1970s hits such as “Saturday Night Fever” by the Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” and “Hotel California” by the Eagles.

In the 1980s, Mr. Emerman continued buying equipment and expanding studios at Criteria even as the music industry hit a slump, said his daughter Bebe Emerman. He eventually sold Criteria to a local investor in 1988.

Mack Emerman, owner of Criteria Recording Studios in Miami, points out one of the multitude of control knobs on a recording console in March 1979. (Associated Press)

Maxwell Louis Emerman was born Oct. 14, 1923, in Erie, Pa., and began playing jazz trumpet while attending Duke University. With his wife and two daughters, he came to South Florida in 1953 to work in his father’s candy business in Hialeah. He began recording live jazz and then set up a studio in his garage, running cables into the family living room where the musicians performed.

“The same family station wagon he used to haul saltwater taffy for his father by day was packed with audio gear at night as he moved from club to club, perfecting his recording technique,” said Bebe Emerman.

He built Criteria with a loan from his father and opened it in 1959 as Miami’s first world-class recording studio. Other musicians who recorded there over the years included Black Sabbath, Bob Dylan, Gloria Estefan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Lenny Kravitz, Lynyrd Skynyrd and R.E.M.

His marriages to Ann “Chili” Clark and Danny Emerman ended in divorce.

Survivors include two daughters from his first marriage, Bebe Emerman of Pasadena, Calif., and Julie Goldman of Miami; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

— from wire and staff reports

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