Chuck Prophet’s latest album, “Temple Beautiful,” is a keenly observed homage to his adopted hometown of San Francisco, from its early punk-rock heyday back to “Emperor Norton in the Last Year of His Life.” As the deadpan guitarist says, there’s more to The City “than fancy-pants coffee shops run by hipster dufuses.” That explains why he is in the lineup for Tom Fest, a benefit and tribute for producer-engineer Tom Mallon, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and is undergoing treatment. Performers include Penelope Houston, The Toiling Midgets and others who recorded at his South of Market studio from 1976 to ’98. Proceeds go to medical bills and the San Francisco Brain Tumor Support Group.
When did you first meet Mallon?
It was in the early ’80s. I had just come to town, and somebody wanted me to play guitar on something, so I went to his studio and loaded into a freight elevator — he had this space in a warehouse down on Fourth and Brannan.
And I remember some bike messenger punk-rockers were coming out of another session when we got there at midnight. But Tom just had this quiet sort of aura about him, so I instantly liked him. So I say the same thing about Tom that I say about Jim Dickinson and the other great producers: It’s something that can’t really be explained, but when Tom’s on the other side of the glass, you want to please him.
That was back when San Francisco had a definitive punk scene, no?
It was before the money came, definitely. And I think Tom’s studio was $15 an hour. Everybody and their grandma’s dog went there to make a demo, a cassette, to maybe get played on KUSF or to get a gig. And people made albums, too. American Music Club came in there, and that was the band that Tom took a real interest in. There was some real blood on the floor by the time Tom and AMC were done with each other — he put a lot of love and care into those records.
What are your favorite Tom Mallon memories?
It would get so cold in there you could see your breath in front of your face. And there was a lot of old-school editing with razor blades because Tom was a real artist and a vanishing breed. In a way, he was like a teacher because he’d get people who were so raw, who had never recorded before, who were trying to get their live energy to come back out of his speakers and stick to the tape. So he’d go through that painful process of midwifing their sound. And he was always very patient.