now playing: tom dowd and the language of music on the sundance channel
for the second time tonight, actually. i stayed up to watch it twice.
wow. what a graphic reminder that we’ll never again see times like those that have passed us.
i think the thing that struck me, as i watched this biography of one of the greatest recording engineers and producers who ever lived, is that this guy was present as the idea of being a musician went from being looked upon as a derelict to being looked up to as a role model…the guys he worked with when he was cutting his teeth – the jazz cats of the late forties and early fifties – were second-class citizens…looked upon as beneath those who had more routine existences, more acceptable vocations.
certainly, that’s changed in the time since.
he talked about how booker t and the mg’s couldn’t work in their hometown of memphis, because they weren’t a racially segregated band…and one thing about him that i absolutely didn’t know was that he was drafted into the military during world war II, but was sent back to new york city to work on the manhattan project.
i was touched watching his conversation with ray charles, realizing as i watched it that neither of these men are with us any longer…and that we’ll almost certainly not see either of their kind again.
tom was present as the process of record making went from cutting the sound of a single microphone direct to an acetate through to the modern day digital multitrack process that it’s become now…and was at the forefront of many of the innovations that have made the act of recording what it is today. i mean, this is the guy that recordedlayla, engineered records by ray charles, the drifters, the coasters, thelonious monk, john coltrane, charles mingus, revitalized the process for atlantic subsidiary stax…oversaw records by skynyrd and the allman brothers…
if any of this is important to you, see the movie. seriously.
among all the stories and the history covered in this movie, what you see is a genuinely kind soul. he recalls his stories with a genuine warmth, without bragging…with no evidence of ego.
also, i want to share with you a note from his daughter, posted on the official site of the movie:
For those people who never met Tom Dowd I am truly sorry. He was the most positive, gentle, polite, intelligent and charismatic man I ever met. For those of you who did know Tom Dowd, I think you’d all agree that he was blessed with a warmth and comfort that no other human being in the world possesses.
…Growing up with a father in such high demand was never easy, but he always made time for his family.
When I lived in Boston he spent over 45 hours on the phone with me on one particular week translating a book from French to English to help me write a paper on the Bastille. There is no one else in the world that I can imagine that would do something like this. But that was my father, loving, caring and giving.
This past February 2002 my father received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy’s. Seeing my father with all of his peers and colleges one last time was one of the most special things I ever experienced. I think that Eric Clapton put it best when he wrote in the Grammy program “There is a tribe of musicians, spread all over the world who have been fostered and nurtured by Tom Dowd. We know who we are, and we are proud of who we are, but most of all, we are proud of him. I am honored and privileged to be one of them.”
call me crazy, but somehow i just don’t see sean combs gettin’ the same props when he finally passes on….
i haven’t left the house much since tuesday night – i had plans for wednesday, but i woke up with some discomfort…i actually had planned on following through, but i put some laundry in and laid down on the sofa and slept until almost 2 in the afternoon.
so much for good intentions.
i did make my gig on wednesday night…with a fender twin borrowed from keith amos, since my own twin is under the knife, getting a complete retubing and a cap job…and my standby amp is in the shop after failing me during my last gig. all was well until about halfway through the first set when a strange squealing noise started coming from the amp – actually, it was a strange cross between squealing and a noise that sounded as though every note i played through it resulted in the additional sound of footsteps crunching on gravel….
…so once again, i had to rely on my trusty 12-watt fender princeton amp.
that is, until todd showed up and saved the day.
he came in after the second set and i brought him over and demonstrated the situation, and he said without hesitation, “that’s your reverb. try it without the reverb.”
and ya know what? i turned down the reverb and the nasty-assed racket went away.
i don’t know when todd became an amp guru, but he’s there, man.
by the way, todd’s doing the retubing/recapping job on my own twin. i can’t wait to see how it turns out.
so, heavy props to todd. he knows his shit.