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January 17th 1994 at 4.31am – where were you?

January 20, 2014
Warner Brothers Studios, Burbank January 1994 (c) Jane Risdon 1994

Warner Brothers Studios, Burbank January 1994 (c) Jane Risdon 1994

Have you ever been asked where you were at the time of a major event, like President Kennedy’s Assassination, the Berlin Wall coming down, or 9/11?  I am sure you know exactly where you were.

I can recall only too well where I was when the Northridge (California) Earthquake struck on  January 17th 1994 at 4.31 am in the morning.  My husband and I had only been in bed in our home in Burbank for about 30 minutes when we were nearly thrown on to the floor by the force of the first tremours.

Everything in the room started crashing around us, falling from the walls and surfaces throughout, some almost hitting us as we scrambled to get out of bed and make our way to the door-jamb where the advice was to stand in the event of a quake.  We tried to find our shoes in the dark as glass splintered around us and the TV set whizzed past our heads.  It soon became apparent that standing in the door jamb was a waste of time.  Barefooted and half-naked, we had to move.

We tried to make our way to the door only to discover trying to undo bolts and chains and searching for keys in the dark when everything is swaying up and down, side to side, is rather difficult to say the least.

Eventually we got the door open only to find the corridor swaying back and forth and the only route out – the external concrete stairs – had come away from the wall. and these swayed dangerously as well.

My husband grabbed my arm and frog-marched me to the stairs and forced me to step on to the turbulent structure.  I’ve never been inclined towards death-defying rides or thrill seeking, and if I had ever felt a moment of wishful thinking standing holding bags and jackets whilst everyone else terrified themselves silly at Disney or Universal Studios, I was soon cured.  This was sufficient for a whole lifetime, believe me.

Northridge Earthquake 1994 - (c) Unknown

Northridge Earthquake 1994 – (c) Unknown

We made it to the parking lot and found several fellow dwellers standing around, half-naked, like us and shivering with shock in the cold Californian morning air.  The ground beneath our feet undulated and the trees and lamp posts bent and dipped as we wondered what to do next.

Freeway disappears Northridge quake 1994 - (c) Unknown

Freeway disappears Northridge quake 1994 – (c) Unknown

A car drove past with some security guards shouting from a loud hailer.  Something to do with there being an earthquake (you kid me not) and telling everyone not to go back into the buildings because they were not retro-fitted for earthquakes yet!  As if we would rush back in when all around us there were buildings crashing down, sirens wailing and gas explosions in the far distance.

We made it to a neighbours car and sat with her whilst we waited out the after-shocks, wondering what had happened to the young band who were staying in another complex.  We couldn’t find out until the shaking had ceased and when it had done we decided to risk crawling back into the building to find some clothing.  We could hardly wander around Burbank in our PJ’s, and barefooted at that.

Apartments nearby 17th Jan 1994 Northridge Quake. (c) Jane Risdon 1994

Apartments nearby 17th Jan 1994 Northridge Quake. (c) Jane Risdon 1994

To cut a very long story short, we found the band members huddled in their room, terrified and half-naked and loath to venture out.

Having been recording in Santa Monica until 4am we had only just got into bed when the quake happened, exhausted after 36 hours recording and expecting our alarms to go off about 7.30am, so we could get back to the studio for 9am to begin work again.  Little did we know that if we’d been on the 10 freeway just half an hour later we might never have made it to bed!

  We struggled through debris strewn streets and managed to get to the studio but it  had sustained some damage and until it could be checked over, and because our young band were reluctant to venture back there because there’d been some shakes the day before and one was so bad – like a truck hitting the building – it had sent them tearing out of the vocal booth and into the street in terror,  the A&R VP suggested we to go to one of the other studios we were also working with – perhaps the one in the Hollywood Hills which might have escaped damage. Without  any communication possible due to phones not working we headed off to Laurel Canyon to see if working there would be possible.

Apartments in Burbank 17 Jan 1994 following quake. (c) Jane Risdon 1994

Apartments in Burbank 17 Jan 1994 following quake. (c) Jane Risdon 1994

After all time is money when making an album and we’d already been at it for weeks with several sets of Producers and studios.  Nothing would be allowed to stop work.  Not even a big quake.  Rock n’ Roll and all that jazz.

Our producer, who had worked with Whitney, Maria and Sting as well as a dozen other major stars, was sitting in his studio almost in tears.  His beloved fish tank had emptied its occupants all over the floor and most of them had expired there.  His fabulous infinity pool seemed to have emptied on to the house beneath him in the canyon and his many gold and platinum discs were hanging off the walls.  The desk seemed in tact and we prayed all our recordings were too, including the mix we had been working on two days before.

He was worried sick about his special microphone which had a fabulous warmth about it and had been used to record vocals for all the major female stars I mentioned before.  However, after a good inspection of it we all decided it would be fine.

There wasn’t going to be any recording it was apparent.  However, the record company didn’t want us to waste our time and so whilst he stressed and worried we got to work cleaning up the mess all around him, whilst he issued instructions about what went where and how to do it the way he liked, all the time we tried coping with after-shocks and shaking, which seemed never to cease.

Many died in this block where the roof became level with the car park.  (c) Jane Risdon 1994.  RIP those poor souls.

Many died in this block where the roof became level with the car park. (c) Jane Risdon 1994. RIP those poor souls.

We managed to get the album done in the end, most studios only suffered minor damage though everyone was a nervous wreck every time there was another shake, a loud bang or something started to vibrate.  We had been through the LA riots, fires, floods and mud-slides not to mention the San Francisco quake and numerous tornadoes out in the Mid-West so we were all used to Mother Nature letting us know who was actually in charge!  Well, sort of. 

Los Angeles, as if nothing has happened 17th Jan 1994 (c) Jane Risdon 1994

Los Angeles, as if nothing has happened 17th Jan 1994 (c) Jane Risdon 1994

We were lucky to get out alive and when we saw the mess our apartment block was in, not to mention those nearby and the loss of life, not just on the Freeway but in buildings and the streets, we had little to moan about.  It was nothing compared with quakes in other distant lands which take years to recover from.  We went without electric, water and phones for a while and many lived under canvas for a time.  We were lucky; we were able to leave and move elsewhere, the band went back to England and life got back to normal after a fashion.

Following the Northridge Quake, life returns to normal in Burbank Warner Bros Studio. (c) Jane Risdon 1994

Following the Northridge Quake, life returns to normal in Burbank Warner Bros Studio. (c) Jane Risdon 1994

(c) Jane Risdon 1994.  Venice Beach following Jan 17th 1994 quake

(c) Jane Risdon 1994. Venice Beach following Jan 17th 1994 quake

But whenever there is a quake reported on the News or when someone mentions Northridge, we get terrifying, thrilling shivers down the spine and it all comes vibrating back – bodies quiver and brains tremble at the memory of where we were at 4.31 am on January 17th 1994.

Where were you?

All photos unless otherwise stated (c) Jane Risdon 1994.  All rights reserved. 

Apologies for the quality of these photos, they were taken using 1994 equipment and developed from film.

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20 Comments
  1. I lived at the corner of Devonshire and Zelzah in Northridge. We couldn’t stand up during the quake! Think of a paperclip on a piece of paper being flicked by a finger. Felt like were on top of a missile silo and someone pushed the button. That bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Then I know how it was for you too. Horrid and scary. It was weird, like standing on jelly and nowhere was safe. Seeing the damage the next day was strange too; some homes and buildings untouched or just cracked, others completely gone. Very hit and miss. Luckily for us the recording studios we were working in had little or no damage, except the one in Mount Olympus which had the swimming pool emptied on tot he house below. Also the fish tank shattered and we spent several hours looking for and finding exotic goldfish as well as picking up gold discs. The after-shocks were worrying at times too. Yep, not nice at all, I think you have described it really well. 🙂 Glad you made it.

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    • I hope all is well with you since our chat about the Northridge quake. I loved your description. Full on and spot on 🙂

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  2. Emmanuel Muema permalink

    I havent experienced an earthquake where I live.. It sure looks scary , especially that freeway which collapsed

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can honestly say that my worst day I don’t think even comes close to that. Wow, what a ride and you didn’t even have to pay to get on it. 🙂 Now that’s really going above and beyond for the sake of work. I can’t imagine how scary or crazy of a day that must have been. So glad that you were okay and everything worked out in the end but wow what a day… which I’m sure led into weeks and months of putting things back together. I’ve been through two earthquakes but for me it was just some swaying of the room, nothing even close to what you went through. I can’t imagine…

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    • Well it was a crazy week or more and it took ages to get back to normal. We got the album completed, several studios were shaken not stirred and we managed in the end. Deadlines have to be met or the pre-release PR and marketing, shipping slots are lost you see. We are used to mother nature doing her worst and then of course there were the riots in 1993 and all that came with that! So we have had some adventures that is a fact. What was yours then? Do tell.

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      • I’ve had some crazy things to overcome for work and getting things done – like people being sick, venues not booked or double booked, people not doing their job, an accident or two – but what you went through, wow. And you got it all done. Kudos. I bet you were exhausted when all that was over? I hope the album did amazing. 🙂 How much of the riots of 93 affect you? Sheesh, I feel like I live quite a sheltered life, I’m not complaining believe me. I’m just always amazed what people have overcome to do a job or move forward. The human spirit is very strong. 🙂

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        • Rather than answer your question here Maggie, I was inspired to write it in the format of a blog post. Do let me know what you think if you find time to read it. I think it will give you something of a taste of what it was like. The riots did affect us…but things have settled down now. Thank goodness…there are many stories from that time still to be told – perhaps. J xx

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  4. I was obviously in bed at that time but remember being in our office in the suburb of Nashville for a meeting with people from everywhere in the States including one person from LA. We woke up to the news and the LA person was frantic to get info to ensure her family was safe (which they were). It was the talk of the day and I don’t remember if we got much work done on that day.

    Amazing story…(Suzanne)

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    • What a tale! Thanks for sharing Suzanne. I can imagine how that person felt. Our family didn’t try to find out thinking that they’d see it on Sky TV!! After a week or so they decided to try and find out if we were involved! LOL. Loving your photos and travels still. Thanks for dropping in again, great to see you here. 🙂

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  5. Wow. Jane! What a story. OMG, I’m shivering just reading it. So glad you came through it all right, and a whole new perspective on “the show must go on” right? Nobody stops precious recording time! Amazing. Where was I? No idea. At least not precisely. Egham, I suppose, in a lecture or maybe having dinner.

    Thanks as always for the insight into the life and times of Jane Risdon. You know I’m addicted to your tales and a devoted fan!! 🙂 Take care, and take it easy with that shoulder of yours. XXXX

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    • Nicky, so glad you were somewhere safe. It was an amazing experience and I shiver too, when I recall it. Still we live to fight another day. Yep, music and money means nothing stoops to get the record out. Riots, fires, floods, mud-slides and the odd quake or tornado – the show must go on as you say. I didn’t mention the A&R dept being held at gun-point by a manager and his rap band not too happy with their request for more tour support being turned down…a siege and the swat team came…..or the drive-by shooting one night during recording (early hours) when a gang drove past and decided to take out the office glass frontage with a machine gun….shall I go on….? LOL, yep there are lots more stories where this one came from Nicky. 🙂

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  6. It gives rock and roll new meaning Jane. 🙂

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  7. What a terrifying experience!!! Glad you got through it! I can only imagine what that must have been like.

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  8. Jane – Oh, what a frightful experience you had!!! Little wonder you remember every moment of it. That earthquake really was scary. I wasn’t living in California at the time, but I remember reading and hearing about what happened. It really was awful. You were very, very lucky…

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    • Yep Margot, it was. We had a year of events. Riots, fires, mud-slides, and then the quake and later in the Mid-west we had tornadoes too. We were very fortunate…many were not. Keep safe whilst there Margot. 🙂

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Please leave a reply and comment - your input is really appreciated. Thanks, Jane

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