By John Ostapowicz
For over 50 years, Peppermint Productions on the southside of Youngstown has helped local musicians jump-start their music careers.
From aerobic dance to classic rock, the studio has dabbled in different genres over the years and has produced five Grammy Award winning albums for the “Best Polka Album.”
The studio released “Peppermint Presents … RAT RACE!” May 13, 2022, a compilation of unreleased tracks from Phil Keaggy, Glass Harp, Blue Ash, Iron Knowledge and many more.
Gary Rhamy, who’s owned and operated the studio since 1971, has new music in the works and no plans of slowing down.
Rhamy grew up in Wooster and graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting.
Before starting Peppermint Productions, Rhamy worked in the recording industry at United Audio in 1967, formally Wham Records. Wham was known for its recording label that was primarily polka artists.
“Wham was really the beginning of it all in the family tree,” Rhamy said. “I still have some of the old equipment that was in the Wham studios.”
With the hopes of growing into a bigger studio, the company struggled financially, which prompted Rhamy to join a business partnership to acquire the studio.
“In an effort to still do recordings in the Youngstown area because of all the talent that was here, I found a fellow that went into partnership with me,” Rhamy said.
With the acquisition of the building and its equipment, Peppermint Productions absorbed the previous studios’ clients, which allowed the studio to grow quickly.
“When Peppermint got going, we updated the equipment and became a much better studio technically,” Rhamy said. “We brought along a lot of clients that were recording with Untied Audio.”
With the introduction of multitrack recording, Peppermint Productions instantly became a favorite with local musicians. The ability for Rhamy to mix and work with different styles of music prompted the popularity of the studio.
“At that point we were trying to become a production company,” Rhamy said. “We had a couple bands that were signed to Peppermint at the time.”
With the idea of becoming a production company, Peppermint Productions successfully got Blue Ash signed with Mercury Records. From there, the band released its debut album in 1973 “No More, No Less,” with the help of Rhamy.
Peppermint Productions was also responsible for Left Ends’ debut single, “Sunshine Girl” which topped the charts on local radio stations. Rhamy later recorded the band’s live album “Live, Living and Breathing,” in 1989 at the Park Inn.
Another track Rhamy recorded for Left End, “Bad Talkin’ Lady,” made it on to the band’s debut album, “Spoiled Rotten.”
Drummer Patsy Palombo remembers going to Peppermint Productions and recording Left Ends’ first track.
“We took the tape of [Sunshine Girl] to record it at Peppermint studios on the southside of Youngstown on Indianola,” Palombo said.
After Left End, Rhamy went from rock music to polka bands, which brought the recording studio its first Grammy with the introduction of the “Best Polka Album” category in 1986.
The ability to use multitrack recording on big bands introduced a new way to record polka music by not having to re-record several parts over again.
“We took the techniques that we were applying to pop and rock music and we took those techniques and applied them to the polka sessions,” Rhamy said. “All of the sudden there was more that the bands could do.”
From there, Rhamy worked with Steve Popovich, who founded Cleveland International Records and worked on Meat Loaf’s 1977 album “Bat Out Of Hell.”
The friendship led to the recording of Frank Yankovic’s “70 Years of Hits,” which was the first polka album to ever receive a Grammy.
Peppermint Productions went on to win three consecutive Grammys with Walter Ostanek and his band from 1993 through 1995.
In the 2000s, Rhamy earned two more Grammy Awards with Brave Combo with its album’s “Polka Sonic” in 2000 and “Let’s Kiss: 25th Anniversary Album” in 2005.
Throughout Rhamy’s career, he worked with singer-songwriter Jackie Popovec, and helped start her professional music career by offering her a gig to headline for Angelo Babbaro The Voice of Sinatra Singer at Stambaugh Auditorium.
Popovec went on to create The Vindys with guitarists Rick Deak and John Anthony, which led to songs being recorded at Peppermint Productions.
Growing up, Popovec remembers working with Rhamy and the songs she recorded at Peppermint Productions.
“I look fondly back at Peppermint Records in a way that it opened my eyes,” Popovec said “It is just so full of history and I had no clue going into it as a teenager that it was something that was in town.”
The studio is located on 803 East Indianola Ave. and can be contacted at (330) 783-2222.
The compilation album is available on Spotify and bandcamp.com.