Leo De Gar Kulka

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Leo De Gar Kulka (February 17, 1921 – March 17, 1998) was a Czech-born American record producer, recording engineer and educator. Starting in Los Angeles at Autumn Records in the 1960s, he later founded the San Francisco studio Golden State Recorders, trade school College for Recording Arts and audiophile record label Sonic Arts. Kulka is considered a pioneer in the modern recording industry.


Leo de Gar Kulka was born in 1921 in Brno, Czechoslovakia. After studying engineering, Kulka moved to Los Angeles in 1938. During World War II and Korean War, he served in the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC), retiring with the rank of major. Kulka's wartime experiences with wire recorders and radio transmission sparked a lifelong passion for recording and music. In the early 1950s he became a staff engineer at Radio Recorders at 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood. Kulka was known by recording industry friends as "The Baron".

In 1957 he founded International Sound, one of the first multitrack facilities in Hollywood. The studio, located on Sunset at Western, later became Sunwest. His Neumann mastering room was the first in the city to feature a stereo cutting head. At International Sound, Kulka recorded artists including Herb Alpert, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, Sonny Bono and Little Richard.[1]

In 1964 Kulka moved to San Francisco and founded Golden State Recorders, one of the largest recording studios in northern California. With a Stephens 16-track recorder and a custom multitrack console, he contributed to the "San Francisco Sound", by recording artists Sly & The Family Stone, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin and Michael Bloomfield.

During that period, Kulka was working for Autumn Records recording bands.[2] Partnering with Sylvester Stewart, the leader of Sly & The Family Stone, Kulka arranged an early recording for the group, resulting in a single on the Lodestone label, "I Ain't Got Nobody" / "I Can't Turn You Loose".[3] He and Stewart also collaborated on recordings by The Great Society for which both were the original session producers.[4]

For over 10 years Kulka lectured in Audio at San Francisco State University. In 1974 he founded the College of Recording Arts, dedicated to training aspiring music industry employees in all aspects of the industry. CRA is thought to be the first American school to provide unified business and technical education for the recording industry. Having attracted students from the North America, Asia and Latin America.,[5] some graduates of the school became successful engineers, producers and studio owners. In 1994 he closed the College of Recording Arts, instead devoting his time to analog and digital mastering, and the restoration of vintage sound recordings.

Kulka was the founder of the San Francisco Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) and served as chairman for three terms. He headed the NARAS Institute, the educational arm of the society for an additional two years. As a member of the Audio Engineering Society since 1959, he first served in Los Angeles, and then as chairman of the San Francisco Section for multiple terms.

Kulka was elected to the AES board of Governors from 1989/1990 and 1992/1993 to 1993/1994.[6] He was chairman of the 93rd Convention that was held over October from the 1st to 4th San Francisco in 1992.[7] In 1993 Kulka was elected treasurer and chairman of the Finance Committee.

Kulka was known as a flamboyant, unforgettable character. Tall and stout, with a basso profundo voice and a Czech accent, Kulka had a commanding presence. Bald-shaven and with a neatly trimmed mustache, he was an endearing jokester and raconteur. He was known to speak in cartoon voices and offer witty sayings such as "I'd rather be a has been than a never was." In his later years he would ruefully say, "It's getting to where I have more friends in the cemetery than I do in town." In his disc mastering class, he would remind the students, "Always clean the cutter head stylus with pith." Then he would wink and whisper "I'd better be careful how I pronounce that word."

The Neumann disk mastering room at Golden State was Kulka's pride and joy. In the 1970s and 1980, he continued to innovate, using the room to master multiple "direct to disk" audiophile recordings, as well as binaural stereo recordings for the Sonic Arts label.[8][9][10]

Although Kulka enjoyed experimenting with new recording techniques, he was a traditionalist at heart. He professed a "back to basics" approach to his students, requiring them to understand the fundamentals of musical instruments, sound, and microphones before ever touching a limiter or equalizer. Kulka relished his 40 year old Ampex model, 200 the first American-produced tape recorder. He may have been the last living audio engineer to routinely edit tape without a splicing block or a razor blade. Instead, he laid a section of tape across his left hand, precisely lining it up with his thumb and finger, and using a small scissor, made a cut that would join perfectly.


For his AES chairmanship he received a Board of Governors Award.[11] In 1995 he was awarded with an AES Fellowship Award for his contributions to education and sound recording practices.[12]


Leo De Gar Kulka died on March 17, 1998, aged 77.[13] He was survived by his wife, Pat, and daughter Lily.[14]



  • Afterglow, Afterglow, 1968
  • Armageddon, The Maze, 1969
  • Birth Of The Dead, Grateful Dead, 2003
  • Born To Be Burned, The Great Society, 1995
  • Brazilian Tapestry, George Muribus, 1976
  • Casting Pearls, Mill Valley Bunch, 1972
  • Compilations of music recorded at Golden State Recording 1966-1973
  • Crystallize Your Mind, Various Artists, 1994
  • Feel...The Vejtables, The Vejtables, 1995
  • Gold, Gold, 1996
  • Golden State Funk: Impossibly Rare Funk From The Bay Area, Various Artists, 2000
  • Golden State Soul: San Franciscan Dancers & Smoochers, Various Artists, 2000
  • Good Things Are Happening, Various Artists, 1994
  • Happy Trails, Quicksilver Messenger Service, 1969
  • Introducing, The Beau Brummels, 1965
  • Introducing, The E-Types, 1995
  • Listen To The Voices: Sly Stone In The Studio 1965-70, Various Artists, 2000
  • Little Girl, Syndicate Of Sound, 1966
  • Long Years In Space, The Neighb'rhood Childr'n, 1997
  • Loosen Up Naturally, The Sons of Champlin, 1969
  • Mad River, Mad River, 1968
  • No Matter What You Say: The Best of, Butch Engle & the Styx, 2000
  • One Stormy Night, The Mystic Moods Orchestra, 1966
  • Paradise Bar & Grill, Mad River, 1969
  • San Fran Sessions, The Beau Brummels, 1996
  • Steelyard Blues, Gravenites/Bloomfield and others, 1972
  • The Amazing Charlatans, The Charlatans, 1996
  • The Love Exchange, The Love Exchange, 1968
  • The Mourning Reign, The Mourning Reign, 1998
  • The Neighb'rhood Childr'n, The Neighb'rhood Childr'n, 1968
  • Weeds, Brewer & Shipley, 1970
  • What A Way to Come Down, Various Artists, 1997
  • You Got Yours! East Bay Garage 1965-1967, Various Artists, 2007


  • Leo And Flora De Gar Kulka – "A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year" - Golden State Records – M-1967 (single-sided 33 ⅓ RPM single)[15]
  • Millie Foster - Millie Foster Feels the Spirit - MGM SE 4897 - 1970
    The album featured Michael Bloomfield on guitar.[16]


  • Sly & The Family Stone - Slyfest Freshest Funkiest Rarest Cuts - Magical Mystery Compact Disc MMCD-00002 - 1995
    Album consists of 4 tracks that Sly & The Family Stone cut in 1966 for Kulka's Golden State Recorders Studio.
    The tracks consisted of "Can't Turn You Loose," "I Ain't Got Nobody," "Take My Advice," and "Life of Fortune and Fame." There were also 20 outtakes. Michael Briggs was the co-producer.[17][18][19]
  • Andre Previn & Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra - PROKOFIEV: Alexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kijé - Telarc CD-80143
  • Stephen Kates, Carolyn Pope Kobler - PROKOFIEV: Rachmaninoff: Sonata in G-minor, Op. 19 for Cello and Piano - Bainbridge BCD-6272
  • Jeremy Menuhin - Mozart: Piano Concerto No 13, Lucio Silla Overture (Conducted by George Cleve) - Bainbridge BCD-6273
  • Tibor Szasz - Beethoven: Sonata No.32, Op.111; Sonata No.21, Op.53 - Bainbridge BCD-6275[20]


  1. ^ Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording Sunday, April 22, 2012, Golden State Recorders, 665 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA
  2. ^ Reel2ReelTexas.com Ampex 200-A Serial #33
  3. ^ Discogs Sly And The Family Stone* – I Ain't Got Nobody / I Can't Turn You Loose
  4. ^ The Grateful Dead Family Discography Born To Be Burned The Great Society
  5. ^ Billboard Magazine September 26, 1981 Page 38 Sound Business, Business of Music, College Buys Digital Synthesizer by Jack McDonough
  6. ^ Audio Engineering Society Officers/Governors/Editors 1949-1998
  7. ^ Audio Engineering Society Conventions and Conferences 1949-1997
  8. ^ InfoWorld October 7, 1985 Page 26 Letters
  9. ^ Billboard Magazine September 26, 1981 Page 38 Sound Business, Business of Music, College Buys Digital Synthesizer by Jack McDonough
  10. ^ Stereophile The Colossus of Audio Colossal Reviews
  11. ^ Audio Engineering Society, Awards AES Board of Governors Award, Leo de Gar Kulka
  12. ^ Audio Engineering Society, Awards AES Fellowship Award, Leo de Gar Kulka
  13. ^ Moose Roots Grave & Cemetery Records, Leo De Gar Kulka - Grave Record
    1921 - 1998: Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California
  14. ^ J. Audio Eng. Soc., Vol 45, No 5 May 1988 Page 486
  15. ^ Discogs Leo And Flora De Gar Kulka – A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year
  16. ^ The Discographer michael bloomfield recordings from 1970[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ All Music Sly & the Family Stone Slyest Freshest Funkiest Rarest (CD - Magical Mystery #2)
  18. ^ avxhome Sly & The Family Stone - Slyest Freshest Funkiest Rarest Cuts (1995)[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ avxhome Sly & The Family Stone - Slyest Freshest Funkiest Rarest Cuts (1995)Drums
  20. ^ Stereophile The Colossus of Audio Colossal Reviews