In my now nearly 40 years of recording voice overs, radio/TV, AudioBooks & musicians at Airlift Productions in America’s most fascinating and interesting city, you could say that I’ve encountered quite a few characters.
Doctor John (aka Mac Rebennack) has spent hours with me, recording voice-over tracks for awards shows, and even cartoon voice tracks for Quincy Jones’ Take it Back Foundation.
I still can’t get over that, not even asking if he could smoke, at the Airlift Productions Iberville location, he pulled out a cheroot at the mic and lit it up! (We rushed an ash tray in to his rescue.)
For several years in the 90s, Peyton & Eli’s dad Archie Manning had the Gold’s Gym franchise here just outside NOLA in Metairie, and I served as a one-man ad agency, writing, voicing & producing all the radio ads for the gym, which brought Archie & his partners regularly into the Airlift Productions Studios.
** Archie Manning’s Golds Gym Christmas Radio :60 Classic – with Airlift Mike as Santa, along with Archie, at the Airlift mics **
The cast of characters – from the mayors (both Morial & Landrieu), to all the city council members, Morgus the Magnificent, stand-up/fall-down comics, radio rebels, misfits, in-laws and outlaws has become the stuff of legend.
But I would have to say the most memorable and colorful of them all is none other than James Carville!
We’ve spent dozens of hours together one-on-one – with only a producer, long distance on a phone-patch Skype connection – recording two separate audio books, ‘It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!’ and, along with wife Mary, ‘Love & War’.
Now, by his own admission, James has untreated ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). He’s tried the drugs but didn’t like how they made him feel, so he and Mary just ‘deal with it’. Add (ADHD) me to the list.
Imagine working through hour-after-hour with someone in this situation and condition. Add to that, someone very highly opinionated (ya think?), outspoken, given to tantrums … and ‘caged’ for an extended length of time! Yowza & Yikes!
“I’ve been in studios from the Bayou to the Beltway and I can say after recording my last two audio books with Mike that there is no better place than Airlift Productions. The quality of the production, the studio, and quite frankly, the comfort, make it the only place I want to record now or in the future” ~ James Carville
And, needless to say, but I will anyway, the out-takes are simply priceless! Perhaps a tale for a blog for yet another day.
A candid shot – through the studio door into the Airlift ‘green room’ – of Carville on the cell, taking a needed break, talking to George Stephanopolous in DC, with his feet ON my ping-pong table! Really, James?
With Christmastime in New Orleans, together with all its trappings and sentiment in everyone’s windows and minds, allow me to tap the brakes for a second, reflect, and unpack a few things.
As a lifelong learner and student of philosophy, world religions, and mystical thought, it would be safe to say that I’ve lived what could best be termed an unconventional and totally unorthodox lifestyle.
While most of my peers have chased money and jobs, I learned years ago to instead pursue passion and purpose. And then simply allow the dollars and opportunities to fall in line.
As the great souls Emerson & Thoreau taught me, “Build a better mousetrap – and the world will beat a path to your door.”
Imagine, if you can, the colorful characters, historical heroes, fascinating personalities and captivating individuals who’ve knocked at the Airlift Studio doors to come “work” with me.
I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have recorded and worked hours on end closely together with (deep breath) and in no particular order….
Archie Manning, Dr. John, Chef John Besh, Quvenzhane Wallis, Deuce McAllister, Charles Guggenheim, Necar Zadegan, Mayor Marc Morial, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Stacy Head, Nathan J. Robinson, David Menasche, Carrie Nye, Bo Walker, Buddy Stall, John Lee, Luno Bordelon, Jerry Christopher, Steve Blaze, Ronnie Lamarque, Anders Osborne, Theresa Andersson, Rachel Wulff, Scott Walker, Lee Zurik, Zak George, Congressman Steve Scalise, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Alden Ehrenreich, Toby Kebbell, The Krewe of Nyx, John “Spud” McConnell, Morris Bart, P.H. Fred, Mike Weldon, Reverend Avery C. Alexander, Brad Edelman, Rich Lenz, Norman Robinson, Heath Allen, Anne Gisleson, Sean O’Shea, Lewis Johnson, Greg DiLeo, Nathan Ales, Donald Surtain, the Right Lane Bandits, Bishop Paul Morton, Senator Jon Johnson, Congressman Bill Jefferson, Edoardo Ballerini, Oliver Thomas, Morgus the Magnificent, and… well, a host of multi-talented voice-over artists, stand-up comics & radio rebels.
Not up to speed on some of these folks? Let the Googling begin.
The Punchline? Through all New Orleans’ intense weather – storms, hurricanes, blisteringly brutal summers, icy winters – each and everyone of these folks came to me, to Airlift Productions, to “the better mousetrap”.
Mind you, this is no brag, no empty boasting, but simply an observation as to a much richer and fulfilling way to live one’s life.
And what a life.
Marching to the beat of one’s own Walkman – instead of following the crowd – has always led to experiences few will ever get to taste.
Having discovered my first tape recorder at age 12, and after many years of stage-acting and then a rewarding radio career, how cool is this?
I now get to live out the rest of my life here in NOLA from what was once only a dream in my head, from my Airlift Productions… and I now get to spend the rest of my days dancing with the very same muse that first brought me to the party!
During this Christmastime 2019, my holiday hope and prayer is that you, the reader of these words, if you haven’t yet… one day… find … yours.
Merry Christmas & Feliz Navidad from way down yonder in New Orleans – and Airlift Mike.
“Micheal Ziants is a great voice talent who is generous with his time and energy. I have worked in TV for years, but needed the guidance of a professional to create my radio reel and found it with Ziants. He made me feel comfortable in studio and encouraged creativity, coaching me to a reel I hope will bring many job opportunities. “ — RACHEL WULFF, Former WWL & WDSU-TV Anchor/Reporter
In “Love & War: 20 Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters & One Louisiana Home”, James Carville and Mary Matalin detail a life few could imagine, let alone live!
A life lived at the intersection of Power, Politics and a Changing America … and while in the middle of it all, trying to keep a relationship together and raise two daughters – all at the same time.
And, boy, does politics ever make for strange bedfellows! James steered the Clinton presidential campaign both times (even steered him through the Lewinsky scandal), and Mary, who served under both Bush presidencies, was IN the White House the fateful morning of the 9-11 attack in the skies over Manhattan. Bush wasn’t. Mary was.
Their stories, their first-hand accounts, their front-row seats to some of America’s most fascinating recent history are palpable, riveting, and most remarkable.
And capturing it all through the Airlift Productions microphones for posterity in the audio book version of “Love & War” simply has to be one of my most remarkable gigs so far this century.
The sentiment, the candor, the forthright honesty, the raw emotion. Admittedly, I felt alternately like a coach, a cheerleader, a psychiatrist … and even a priest in a confessional!
One of my fave stories from James was of his trip to Miami for the Saints SuperBowl win, wherein he details being on the field with Drew Brees, then off to the shuttle bus for transport back to the hotel. On the bus, he re-connects with the legendary Archbishop of Orleans Phillip Hannan. Then, who steps on the bus but Kim Kardashian, who’s “seeing” Saint running back Reggie Bush at the time. Imagine, if you can, James – now sitting in between these two and facilitating the introductions! Oh my. Comedy ensues…
** Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants reflects on his first-of-many recording sessions with James Carville, along with some classic James quips and thoughts … oh my! **
The very first day I recorded with Mary Matalin, she showed-up dressed to thrill! All dolled-up and made-up, decked-out for a night on the town – ah, to record with me in a dimly lit studio all afternoon? H-m-m…, I said, whaddup with dat? Well, after four arduous hours at the mic (a quite impressive feat, I might add), she stands up and says, “Well, gotta’ go, Bill’s in town!” And just like that, she & hubby James were off to dinner in the French Quarter – with Bill Clinton!
I could go on and on about our collective twenty-some hours of recording and working together, but you get the idea. One of the – if not THE – most fascinating sets of recording sessions I’ve ever logged at the Airlift studio and witnessed. Let alone orchestrated!
The News, it has been said, is History – the First Draft. And two ‘Wrongs’ don’t make a ‘Right’. But three ‘lefts’ will!
As a profound political atheist, I don’t have a dog in this hunt. But in the case of these two, I was certainly thrilled to be saddled-up and along for the ride.
And the next time you hear that old line, “Politics sure makes for strange bedfellows!” – now you know the rest of the story.
“I have been in studios from the Bayou to the Beltway, and I can say after recording my last two audio books with Mike, that there is no better place than Airlift Productions. The quality of the production, the studio, and frankly, the comfort, make it the only place I want to record now or in the future.” ~ James Carville, Tulane professor and Campaign Strategist behind the most dramatic political victories of our generation.
The only problem with dogs is … that they don’t live forever!
And spelled either frontwards or backwards … Dog is still man’s best friend.
The Shadeaux, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal dogs, came to the Airlift Productions Studios and became our official mascot and ‘talent herder’ over Christmas 2006.
Near as we can tell, he’s twelve years old today and, truth be known, he picked us out at the SPCA that day. Kind of like the Ziants boyz – a mutt; part German Shepherd, part Chow, part Border Collie … and all Love.
No, this is not his obituary (and even he’d appreciate the humor that the word ‘bitch’ is in that word), it’s more like a mid-life opus and testament to his otherworldly powers.
After all, the recording process can be somewhat intimidating to some, and capturing a stellar on-mic performance can feel a bit daunting at times – even to the pro!
And the Shadeaux has an uncanny way of throwing a ‘chill-out’ factor into the entire equation.
Little Quvenzhane Wallis (of ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ fame) wanted to take him home with her (no chance), and James Carville’s ‘missus’ – Mary Matalin – could hardly tear herself away to get back to work on her audio book.
With a woof, a lick, and an appreciative tail wag – coupled with more fur than Liz Taylor at a pre-PETA-days holiday bash – the Shadeaux has an amazing talent for making anyone feel comfortable, relaxed and right at home.
And when trying to record a stunning on-mic, on-point performance … what more could you ask for?
Except maybe that he’d live forever.
Airlift Productions … where EVERY day is ‘Take Your Doggie to Work Day’… Airlift Mike with his fave, furry four-footed friend – and uncharacteristically shy, The Shadeaux
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~ Will Rogers
“I care not for a man’s religion whose dog & cat are not the better for it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” ~ Andy Rooney
“Airlift Mike was a saint, and ridiculously patient and supportive (and helpful!!) for this audio book virgin. In another environment, without the support, and with pressure to perform “right”, I probably would have completely fallen apart. So the MVP for this getting done goes 100% to Mike and the chilled outenvironment he’s cultivated…personally and within his studio.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be able to get this audio book out to you guys!! As challenging as it all was, the end result, I think, is amazing!
Once again, a big heartfelt thanks to Mike and the years of expertise he brought to this project to ensure I sounded my very best. If you’re ever in Nola and need the best audio dude, and the best dude dude, holler at my man Mike withwww.airliftproductions.com
Thanks for the great week my friend! :)”
— SEAN O’SHEA, Los Angeles-based Dog Trainer & AudioBook Producer
That October morning Mary showed up to record – and dressed to thrill – little did I know at first but, after the session, she was off to the French Quarter with hubby James for dinner and drinks with Bill Clinton!
Her tireless on-mic performance that day was really something… one bathroom break in four straight hours of recording.
“I’ve been in studios from the Bayou to the Beltway and I can say after recording my last two audio books with Mike that there is no better place than Airlift Productions. The quality of the production, the studio, and frankly the comfort make it the only place I want to record now or in the future” ~JAMES CARVILLE, Political Commentator, Tulane Professor & Campaign Strategist behind the most dramatic political victories of our generation
If a thirty second radio ad is a sprint, audio book recording would have to be the marathon.
To capture the spirit, essence & dedication of an author is without question a meticulous, pain-staking and arduous ( do you like these words? ) task.
With four Grammy awards on the shelf – for Best Spoken Word (3X) as well as Best Comedy Album – Audio Book producerJohn F. McElroyknows the task well.
John has personally worked with and recorded ( for hours on end ) Jon Stewart, Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Jason Alexander, Stephen Colbert, along with scores of other notables.
And just imagine, if you can, working with, directing & producing President Bill Clinton through his personal reading of his triumphs & tribulations in the Grammy Award winning autobiography “My Life”. I mean, really.
The amazing thing? All of our work was conducted via Skype and a Symetrix phone patch. John & I have never personally met. Similar to the set-up of a radio talk show host, we did all of this work, every second of every hour with John F. coaching and directing long distance from New York!
Quite a remarkable feat. Quite amazing sessions. Quite a Marathon indeed.
Mr. McElroy, thanks for the vote of confidence, sir. I’m certainly gratified to know that Airlift and I did not misplace your trust.
“Micheal Ziants and I have worked on a number of celebrity productions together. He’s a cool head in tight spots, keeping the talent moving ahead happily. He has a wealth of experience at the controls and behind the mic and knows what he can and can’t get–a valuable and rare sense of proportion. Working at Airlift remotely via Skype or phone patch is seamless. It’s like being in the next room.”
~ John F. McElroy, New York based Grammy Award winning Audio Book Producer
I guess it would be safe to say that in operating a recording studio in America’s most colorful city – New Orleans – for what is now THIRTY years, that I’ve worked with some pretty colorful characters.
From setting microphone levels for Dr. John and Archie Manning to recording projects with all of the city’s mayors ( Morial-2X to Landrieu-2X), verbally jousting with Mary Matalin & James Carville, even coaching ‘Annie’ Quvenzhane Wallis through tough V/O copy for Chrysler … my most unforgettable – and beloved – character would have to be Morgus the Magnificent!
Sidney Noel Rideau & I go back over 25 years together now; he has the distinction (?) of being the only person who has recorded at every recording studio I’ve ever built, every incarnation of Airlift Productions; He is the eccentric uncle I never had! I love this man.
We first met in 1986 while I was producing radio ads for and operating as the Voice of WGNO-TV/Channel 26 here in New Orleans, and he was reviving his ‘Morgus Presents” TV show. Our first gig together was in my closet-studio Airlift iteration where we recorded all the E.R.I.C. (the talking skull) heavily-reverbed V/O tracks for use in the shows.
Our relationship continues to this day. I almost feel as though I’ve become his real-life Chopsley, in that I’ve operated as his behind-the-scenes henchman all these years.
Together we’ve produced everything from radio ads for Cajun seasonings products to public service announcement campaigns for his Internet Story Club teacher-family outreach … but among my favorite sessions with my fave ‘Uncle Sid’ would have to be the one that is the subject of this post – ‘Marriage Insurance’.
As fate would have it, Sid’s Morgus character is also one of nationally-broadcast Coast-to-Coast late night radio host George Noory’s favorites too! And Sid stopped by the Airlift Studios in February 2006 to record a few ‘pilots’ for segments to possibly be used in Noory’s nightly broadcasts. I kid you not.
The proposed segments never did materialize (radio marketing in the 21st century is a very tricky thing), but this never-before-heard audio is just way too-funny and priceless.
It’s for the “Morgusian Marriage Insurance Company of America”, protecting your marriage from divorce, and includes not only Sid’s outrageous take on the state of marriage in America today – but I’ve also left in all the out-takes! I particularly love the way he slides in/out of character, and oh, that laugh …..
**** Sidney Rideau – aka Morgus the Magnificent – takes on the perplexing problem of marriage & divorce for the Airlift Productions microphones in February 2006 ****
Today, Uncle Sid is enjoying retirement on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in a tiny hamlet known as Covington, LA with his bride of all these years Dainya. They met in the late 1950s in NYC where Sid was being considered as a side-kick to Johnny Carson, and she was an interpreter at the United Nations.
For true! No, I could not make up a story as unique as theirs.
What a character, and truly fine & gifted, spirited human being this man is. Lucky to have had him in our lives we all are, and to have been able to bask in his light and genius.
Because, at the end of the day (as the white man is often wont to say), in the mythology of the American Tribe – Superman will always have his Clark Kent, the Batman his Bruce Wayne … and Morgus the Magnificent will always be remembered as the man who gave him Life – Sidney Noel Rideau.