August 23 – Hudson A Man Of Many Talents…And Beard Colors

Happy birthday to a teenie-bopper idol who turns out to be a lot more than just that. Mark Hudson is a singer, songwriter, producer, artist, actor, radio DJ…but still relatively anonymous. And he turns 71 today.

Hudson was the middle boy in the Hudson Brothers, a trio of entertainment-oriented lads from Portland, Oregon who had a brief moment in the spotlight in the mid-’70s. They had started out as a garage rock band in the ’60s, initially using the name The New Yorkers. They took that name from a Chrysler car after they got a gig singing a jingle for that motor company. Mark played drums and keyboards and at time sang for the band which became locally-popular in the Pacific Northwest. By 1972 they’d gotten signed to Playboy Records, and put out their first album. They’d put out five more through the decade, on four more record companies including Elton John’s Rocket label. Bernie Taupin was a fan and got them signed, producing one of their albums. With photogenic looks and acting aspirations, somehow the brothers got their own TV variety show in the summer of ’74 on CBS (replacing Sonny & Cher temporarily) which led to a Saturday morning, youth-oriented variety show the next year …one which lives on in legend largely due to its remarkably long introduction. All the publicity led them to have a couple of hit singles, most notably the Beatlesque “So You’re A Star” which rose to #21 at home and #5 in Canada.

Despite their goofy TV demeanor, they still fancied themselves a real rock band, albeit one which was a little hard to peg down. After the New Yorkers they’d gone by the name Everyday Hudson, then simply Hudson, then the Hudson Brothers. Allmusic figure they were a decent-enough outfit but one which owed “heavy debts to the Beatles and Beach Boys, and occasionally…the Kinks.” The New York Times reviewed one of their shows at the height of their popularity and wrote “they make a hard rock sound (and) try to project a raunchier image than television might lead one to expect.”

Whether the difficulty in defining who they were or what they wanted to sound like, bad luck or just lack of enough memorable material did them in, by 1980 they’d called it quits. That after they’d all just appeared on the Love Boat. But all went on to some later success. Eldest brother Bill went into acting full-time, and married Goldie Hawn…and later, Cindy Williams. (Technically Mark is Kate Hudson’s uncle, but it would seem she has little to do with the Hudson family). Youngest Brett found some success as a TV producer.

Mark went into distributing artwork, and stayed in music largely as a producer. He co-wrote Aerosmith’s hit “Livin’ on the Edge”. That caught their attention and he was called back to work with them frequently after that, most significantly on their Just Push Play album, which he co-produced with them and helped write six songs on. He also became friends with Ringo Starr and co-produced five albums from the ex-Beatle who at one time said “Mark puts the fun back in recording…he’s a great musician, has a lot of energy.” However their relationship was strained in 2006 when he pulled out of a Ringo tour with no notice, or when he did a job of producing that Ringo really disliked, depending on which source you look at. Around the same time, his friend Sharon Osbourne recruited him to be a coach on the show The X-factor and he became known for dying his beard in rainbow colors. He and Osbourne apparently met while working on a 2005 charity single, a remake of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” that he produced.

So there you have it – more razzle dazzle than you might expect from a third of a “one hit wonder.”

March 10 – Litt Lit Up Charts In ’90s

Today we wish a happy birthday to one of the important “behind the scenes” people of great ’80s and ’90s music. Scott Litt turns 68 today. Scott’s a producer extraordinaire…and a bit of a mystery man! Unlike say, Mutt Lange, let alone George Martin, there’s not much info about Scott out there. We presume he likes to let the music do the talking for him!

Litt says “I was a math guy in school, but once I got to the college level (in Colorado), I knew I could be a math teacher if I was lucky.” Around that time, he’d really gotten into pop and rock music and “the idea of making it seemed like a great career thing and a lot of fun.” So, in 1976 he made his way to New York, and landed an entry level job at the famous Power Station. He learned how to work tape machines and engineer the studio, by 1980 being the head engineer for Carly Simon’s Come Upstairs album. By 1982, he’d worked his way up to record producing, starting with an album by underground band The dBs. Chris Stamey of that band said “he was clearly a cut above anyone we’d been involved with.”

His reputation and skill grew. In 1985, he was called on to do some remixing and after-production for mainly British band Katrina and the Waves (a local hit in Canada, oddly enough but then virtually unknown elsewhere), including producing their re-recorded version of “Walking On Sunshine”… the record that made them international stars. Good fortune shone on him, and rising alt rock group R.E.M. then. He met up with them and produced their breakthrough album Document, and stayed with them for the next five albums… the ones which would happen to be the most successful, award-winning, multi-platinum ones of their career including Automatic for the People and Monster. He recently remixed and re-mastered the latter for the 25th Anniversary re-release, something he’d told the band “if there was ever a chance to take another shot at”, he wanted. He “decided to clear away the woolen guitar overdubs that clotted over (Michael) Stipe’s voice,” in the words of Pitchfork, something they weren’t convinced was an improvement but does show his willingness to always try to be better.

It’s well-known that R.E.M. and Nirvana were fans of one another in the early-’90s, so it’s perhaps no surprise he’d also work with Seattle’s top dogs, co-producing their In Utero album, remixing “Pennyroyal Tea” for a rather limited edition single and then co-producing their MTV Unplugged album as well. From there he worked a little with Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love and her band Hole. Add in a bit of work for the Indigo Girls, Liz Phair and the Replacements and later Incubus (producing their two biggest albums, Make Yourself and Morning View) Litt was one busy guy in the early-’90s! However, thinking big, he still started his own label, Outpost Records, in a joint venture with Geffen.

Outpost signed Canadian folk-roots rocker Hayden and put out his first two commercially-praised but small selling albums. More successful was Days of the New, another act he signed and produced. Unfortunately, the early 2000s decline in the type of alt rock Litt favored, coupled with a large signing bonus given Hayden pushed the company to bankruptcy by 2002. Since that time, Litt’s kept a low-profile although we know he has his own studio in metro L.A. and started a Recording Educational Facility for youth in Venice, California.

Litt’s own website appears to have been taken down, but we hope whatever he’s doing he’ll be doing a bit of “Walking on Sunshine” today.

February 28 – The ‘Rich Friend’ Helped Tears For Fears Turn Ideas Into Gold

Tears For Fears have vaulted back into the spotlight this year with the recent release of The Tipping Point, their first new album in over 17 years. The band is now down to its core duo of Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith (plus a few studio musicians as needed) but today we remember one of the band’s senior members…who’s now a senior citizen! Happy 65th birthday, Ian Stanley.

Now, make no mistake about it, Tears for Fears has always mostly been the outlet for Smith and Orzabel’s musical aspirations, with them writing almost all their material and sharing the mic. They started the band after leaving the band Neon (which also had the future members of Naked Eyes in it. ) But they have had other members at times, and none of them is more significant than Stanley. Because he was the first in, he helped write some of their very biggest songs…and he was their “rich kid friend” who had his own decent quality recording studio in his house. That came in very useful in the band’s first days, when the main duo, self-described as “latchkey kids” and far from rolling in money, needed a place to practice and record demos.

Not a whole lot appears about Stanley’s life online, but we know he grew up in the northern suburbs of London, then at some point moved to a wealthy area of Bath, the home of Orzabel and Smith. And he became a highly-talented keyboardist and one of the earlier proponents of computer programming in music. So, he was a significant member of Tears for Fears in their first two albums, which happen to of course be by far their most successful; The Hurting and Songs From the Big Chair. He added his keyboards (he also had a load of equipment) and skills with them to the first couple of albums, which Orzabel noted let them “create groove-heavy music to underlay” the dour lyrics. Not insignificantly, he helped write arguably their two signature songs, “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

He did two world tours with them and began working on their third album, Seeds of Love, but quite midway through the project. He did appear however on the album’s pseudo-title track and hit single, “Sowing the Seeds of Love.” He blamed “creative differences” for leaving; reading between the lines one might think that was more aptly disagreement with Curt Smith. While he’d worked with Orzabel on a movie-soundtrack side project called Mancrab just before starting the third TFF album, Smith by that time said he wanted “to do something more colorful, something that sounded big and warm. You cannot get that from machines!” Which wouldn’t bode well for the band’s, well, machinist!

After leaving Tears for Fears, Stanley turned to producing and session work. He had some success in the late-’80s and early-’90s but seemed to somehow have a knack for poor timing, getting in with artists either just after their big break or just before it. Among the records he produced or co-produced were Tori Amos’s debut, Little Earthquakes (he even wrote the single “China” on it) , the Pretenders Last of the Independents (including the single “I’ll Stand By You”) and Howard Jones Cross That Line. On that one, in a seeming case of bringing coals to Newcastle, he actually played keyboards on several songs including the singles “Everlasting Love” and “The Prisoner.”

Stanley was last noticed in 2006, producing an album for the Beautiful South, and he’s seemingly taken on a low profile since. Wherever he is, we hope his day is something to “Shout” about!

February 22 – Hurricane Stormed Onto Charts Just In Time For 50th Birthday

Not many musicians only enter the fray and take the musical world by storm within sight of their 50th birthday, but that’s what Hurricane Smith did in 1972. Or appeared to. Of course, Norman Smith, who was born this day back in 1923, had been a veteran of decades of music by then and had been associated with some massive hits long before he had one of his own.

Smith was born near London and was of age to serve in WWII, being trained as an Air Force pilot. He loved music, and after the war, took to the trumpet, being an aspiring jazz musician. But that never took off, so in 1959, he applied to EMI Records (lying about his age because he figured he’d be seen as too old) and got hired on as an intern, soon becoming a well-respected studio engineer of theirs…at Abbey Road studios. Thus, he knew the Beatles back before the masses did.

Norman, described as “smartly dressed and politely-spoken” remembers seeing the Beatles for the first time. He said “I couldn’t believe what louts they looked, with their funny haircuts!”. Nonetheless, he and the Fab Four hit it off, particularly him and John, who nicknamed him “Normal Norman.” So too did he and the younger producer the Beatles got, George Martin. Martin relied on Smith to get the sounds he wanted out of the boys’ instruments and onto tape. Smith would go on to be in on recording of over a hundred Beatles songs, through Rubber Soul, and was tasked with remixing most of the early mono recordings into stereo.

He was perhaps a wee bit too good; his time working with what was by then the world’s biggest group (as well as Gerry and the Pacemakers) was cut short by EMI who decided that he should be promoted, and become a record producer himself. That worked out quite well too though. Soon after that he saw a new band in a show and was blown away. That band was Pink Floyd. “What I saw absolutely amazed me,” he told interviewers. “I was still creating and developing new electronic sounds in the control room and I could see Pink Floyd was exactly into the same thing. It was a perfect marriage.” And it was, with Smith convincing EMI to sign them. Then he produced their first four studio albums, including early hits like “See Emily Play”, as well as “Remember A Day”, which he drummed on when they got frustrated with Nick Mason not getting the sound they wanted. Smith was apparently quite good on drums and piano as well!

His own career happened almost accidentally. He (and his wife Eileen) wrote songs, and he’d written a few he thought John Lennon might like and could record. So he made demos of “Don’t Let It Die”, and “Oh Babe What Would You Say?” However, another famous British producer, Mickie Most, heard them and convinced him that he sounded good enough on his own, so Smith put out an album in 1971, under the moniker Hurricane Smith, taking the name of a 1952 pirate movie. “Don’t Let It Die” hit #2 in the UK, but the next single, “Oh Babe…” was a worldwide smash, making it to #3 in the U.S. and Canada, and the top ten in his homeland, Australia and New Zealand. The very retro-sounding song, written with his wife, cheered with its “simple and happy melody” which, combined with the lyrics of the shy boy wishing for the girl of his dreams were “designed…to re-capture the era I grew up in.” Perhaps surprisingly, the rememberances of pre-war Britain appealed to the post-Hippie crowds of the ’70s.

Smith issued another album soon after, but it went nowhere, and he largely retired from music by that decade’s end, although he did play trumpets and other instruements on a record or two by The Teardrop Explodes in the ’80s. He put out a new album in 2004, with liner notes written by Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd. Around that time he also wrote a memoir, John Lennon Called Me Normal, which Ear Candy say is “one of the best of the lot” of Beatles-focused memoirs, full of “studio lore and history of the halycon days at Abbey Road.”

Smith died in 2008 at age 85, survived by Eileen and two grown children.

February 15 – Who Made The Sound Of The 80s? Hugh, That’s Who.

Flip on any classic rock or “oldies” pop station today and there’s a very good chance by the time you’ve gone to bed, you will have heard “Every Breath You Take” by The Police and “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. It is actually difficult to think of two songs more ubiquitous and representative of the ’80s than those two. Besides being smash hits from the first half of that decade, what do the two have in common? Well, primarily, the fact both were produced by Hugh Padgham, who turns 67 today. Happy birthday to the man Mix magazine ranks as “one of the ten most influential producers” in the world.

Hugh was set on a career in music after hearing Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection as a teen. Before long he was able to get an entry-level job at a London studio, helping set up the country’s first solid state recording console, and by the late-’70s assisting another influential producer, Steve Lillywhite in making records for the likes of XTC, and Peter Gabriel. Through him, he met Phil Collins who called Hugh up about a year later. It was Collins first solo record, Face Value, and Padgham’s first album produced…and it changed the sound of music in the ’80s. Padgham used the now-famous “gated reverb” sound on Collins drums to give that big, bold, eerily echo-y sound that made “In the Air Tonight” so distinctive. It’s an effect that can be done digitally, but back then was achieved through physically working with the tapes, something that seemed to suit Hugh fine; he’s described himself as “an analog old-timer.” He says that “it was challenging to make records then. No one really remembers making records on so few tracks. In the world of digital recording, you have as many tracks as you have memory space.”

Shortly after, he and Collins were both working on a record for ex-Abba gal Frida, and the connections just kept on growing along with his reputation. From there, the list read’s like a who’s-who of big-time British (and less frequently American or Aussie) stars of the ’80s and ’90s. Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity by the Police, then Nothing Like The Sun, Soul Cages, Ten Summoner’s Tales and Mercury Falling by Sting after the Police broke up; David Bowie’s Tonight, Time and Tide by Split Enz, No Jacket Required and Hello I Must Be Going by Phil Collins plus Genesis and Invisible Touch with Collins in Genesis; Between Two Fires by Paul Young, Yes I Am and Your Little Secret by Melissa Etheridge. Oh, and if recording in Quebec for a change, why not stick around a few more days and run one off for the most popular band there, the Tragically Hip? Add In Violet Light to his list…and that’s only a partial list of the ones he’s produced which have gone platinum. There’ve been smaller-selling but highly respected ones he’s worked on for artists from Paul McCartney to Adam Ant to The Waitresses. The only surprising thing about his four Grammys related to his production is that it’s only four.

What’s the key to that success? Probably what he told Music Tech a couple of years back : “producing hit records is half and half diplomacy,” he said, the other half presumably being knowing how to get the best sound possible for the record. “It’s how well you get on with your client, how you manage egos.” Case in point The Police, while making their massive best-seller Synchronicity. “It was very hard to make with all their fighting,” he recalled, noting they often told him to “f*** off” when he suggested something to them, and would go up to a week without talking to each other. Still, “Every Breath You Take” was not only a #1 hit, it is now the most-played song on North American radio – ever. “To have been involved with producing that song in such difficult circumstances – that’s a real career high,” he says. And did he manage to manage Sting’s ego? Well, considering the number of times they worked together after, it would seem so. “We worked very sociable hours, we ate good food, the work never got bogged down,” he recalled about working with the ex-Police man by the ’90s. Sometimes they’d stop to play some snooker. Proving once again, Hugh Padgham knows how to play the entire game.

January 2 – Forsey Was A Force In Hollywood Soundtracks

Happy 74th birthday to a man who was part of a number of the biggest hits of the late-’70s and ’80s, but most people likely haven’t heard of. You might not know Keith Forsey… but if you know songs like “Call Me”, “White Wedding,” “Don’t You Forget About Me” or “The Ghost In You,” you know his work. Forsey helped write, play or produce all those and a number more.

He was born and raised in London, and became a versatile drummer while quite young. He was in a number of bands in the ’60s and early-’70s in England, but none had any major commercial success. However, by the mid-’70s, he became a fan of disco and made friends with producer Giorgio Moroder and began playing drums and percussion on many of the Italian producer’s works, including ones by Boney M, Claudja Barry and Donna Summer. He did the drums on the massive-seller Bad Girls and co-wrote “Hot Stuff” from it. From there the duo moved on to do Blondie’s smash “Call Me” – yep, it was him on drums, not Blondie’s own drummer, Clem Burke. Around that time he began working with Billy Idol.

With Idol he collaborated with Steve Stevens to essentially create Idol’s unusual sound, a blend of Forsey’s love of disco and Stevens’ fondness for heavy metal. He tried his hand at producing with Idol’s first solo album, and found he was quite good at it. He returned to do Idol’s follow-up, Rebel Yell, and several other records of his since. After Rebel Yell, he produced and drummed on the Psychedelic Furs most-acclaimed record, Mirror Moves.

The success of “Call Me” from the movie American Gigolo seemed to catch Hollywood’s attention, and Forsey became an in-demand movie music guy, working on a number of hit soundtracks in a short period of time including Flashdance (he co-wrote the title track), Beverly Hills Cop (writing “The Heat is On”) for which he got a Grammy, along with several other people for Best Original Soundtrack, and The Breakfast Club. His notable contribution to that was writing and producing Simple Minds’ smash, “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

Forsey seems a rather private type, with few details about his life outside of music listed on his own website, and he has more or less dropped out of the limelight in the past decade. We hope he’s enjoying life whatever he’s upto these days.

December 22 – Hello, It Was Todd, And A Hit

They called him “Runt” but he had a big day on this day in 1973 Todd Rundgren‘s great “Hello It’s Me” peaked at #5 on Billboard, making it, not surprisingly, his biggest hit to date.

Rundgren grew up in Philadelphia and quickly grew to become a versatile musician capable of playing just about any instrument it seemed. He joined a couple of bands there while still a teen, most notably Nazz. It was with them that he recorded the original version of this song, the first one he ever wrote, in 1969. That version was a little slower and more psychedelic than the one we know that became a hit in the ’70s.

After striking out on his own, he quickly developed a following with the early-’70s hits “We Gotta Get You A Woman” and “I Saw the Light”. He became increasingly creative, talented in the studio and on any number of instruments and tired of working with other musicians who didn’t share his energy (large amounts of Ritalin and pot “caused me to crank out the songs at an incredible rate” he says of the period) or visions. He came to work for Bearsville Records at their studio in upstate New York and help produce albums from Ian and Sylvia, Paul Buttersfield and Jesse Winchester (whom he helped Robbie Robertson of The Band with) before getting to work on his third album, Something/Anything?.

He decided at first to do that album entirely on his own, and seeking a change of pace and inspiration, took off to L.A. to record it. He wrote and recorded a good chunk of the opus there all by himself, including the hit “I Saw the Light”. But an earthquake caused problems at the studio, causing him to retreat back to Bearsville where he finished off what ended up being a 90-minute double album. While he had no help on sides 1 through 3 of the LP, side 4 in New York, he tried to record as a live record in the studio, and utilized a number of session musicians including Rick Derringer on guitar, Randy Brecker, one of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ great horn-virtuosos and Vickie Sue Robinson (who later had a hit with “Turn the Beat Around”) among the backing singers. Side 4 he termed “Baby Needs A New Pair of Snakeskin Shoes – a Pop Operetta” and included “Hello It’s Me”.

The album earned him his only solo gold record in the U.S. and won rave reviews. Rolling Stone, for example, graded it 4.5-stars when it came out calling it “perfectly composed.” Later the publication would rank it as the 117th best album of all-time, naming it his “tour de force” which “demonstrates his command of the studio …over a kaleidoscope of rock genres.”

The command of the studio’s served him well. Since then he’s produced a large number of popular and well-received records including Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell and XTC’s Skylarking. Between his own work and his band Utopia he’s put out some 18 more studio albums since Something/anything? but few have rivaled it in sales or acclaim.

Hello It’s Me” remains one of the more popular singles of the early-’70s; just recently it was featured prominently in the HBO show And Just Like That, being played at the funeral of a prominent character. Among the myriad of artists to cover it are Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, as well as John Legend on a Gap (jeans) promo CD.

December 13 – Dixon, Fan Of Jangle Rock, Jazz And Lava Lamps

Wishing a happy birthday to one of the names you see a lot if you’re an alternative rock fan, but probably don’t know much about – Don Dixon. The South Carolinian musician/producer is 71 today… and might be getting birthday cards from the likes of R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish.

Dixon was born near Charleston and grew up listening to artists like Peggy Lee and, of course, the Beatles. He cites Rubber Soul and Revolver as two early faves which he still looks to as examples. “One of the great things about the Beatles records is how simple, yet sophisticated musically they are,” he told Huffington Post a few years back.

He learned guitar by age 13, but really excelled at the bass, putting out a jazz record with it by age 15. He went to UNC and met similarly-musically inclined people, putting together the band Arrogance there at the tail-end of the ’60s. The band persevered for six albums and over a decade, gaining a bit of a following in North Carolina, but almost nowhere else, something allmusic decry. They labeled the band “one of the architects of the alternative rock trend of the ’80s… an unjustly forgotten regional band.” Dixon played bass and was one of the their main vocalists, and perhaps more importantly, learned the art of record production in his time with them.

Just after they finally broke up, another southern producer, Mitch Easter, called him and invited him to help produce a record by a new, underground jingle-rock band. R.E.M. The pair produced the soon-to-be-superstars first full album, Murmur, then went back to work on its follow-up, Reckoning. Among the things he took from his time with Easter was… lava lamps! Easter loved them and always had one in his studio, so apparently Dixon followed suit. “There’s something soothing about the movement…most light sources are distracting, but a lava light is like sunlight filtering through a tree.”

He doubtless helped R.E.M. find their sound, as he would go on to do with others later. “Often (new artists) have existed in a vacuum…they have trouble with perspective. It’s difficult to step outside oneself to see the big picture. I try to lend perspective” he says. He’ll do that by helping them find their own sound and not worry so much about sales. “Even if 10 million people buy your album, that means that in this country alone, there’s 250 million who (didn’t)”.

Dixon put out several solo albums through the ’80s and ’90s, often with titles indicating he has just a bit of wit and whimsy in him: Most of the Girls Like To Dance, But Only Some Of The Boys Like To for instance. They generally didn’t sell ten million copies, or anywhere close, but got decent reviews. He did better working as a producer, notably producing three Smithereens albums (including the great Green Thoughts, one which he added bass and piano to some tracks on, and his wife, singer Marti Jones also did backing vocals for) as well as a trio for Guadalcanal Diary, Canadian flash-in-the-pan Andrew Cash’s sole hit, Boomtown, an album by Matthew Sweet and in 2000, working with Hootie & the Blowfish. They recorded one song of his, “Renaissance Eyes” while he worked away at producing their cover version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me.”

Of late, he and Marti occasionally record, but he has slowed down his work pace. He says when he listens to music “it’s often jazz or other types of instrumental music.”

May 1 – Ballard The Man Behind The Mirror On Many A Smash

He worked with the biggest male pop star of the ’80s, the biggest female rock star of the ’90s and a whole range of artists in between. Happy 68th birthday, Glen Ballard. Ballard is a multi-talent who’s been in the music business for well over four decades, but will probably always be known as the guy who helped put Alanis on the map.

Glen was born in Natchez, Mississippi, learned piano and like so many others decided that a career in music was for him. He moved out to L.A. to seek his fame and fortune not long out of school. Unlike many others, he got into the business in a business-like way – he took a job answering phones in a music talent agency. Not just any talent agency, it happened to be the one responsible for Elton John’s career on this side of the Atlantic. “I learned how big tours come together, what managers did and didn’t do, I learned about music publishing,” he said, “and of course getting to be around the creative genius of Elton and all the talented people around him was the biggest education.”

He also learned a bit about studio work and by the mid-’80s was working for Quincy Jones. “It was exciting and terrifying to work for a great producer like Quincy,” Ballard recalls. And one day when another Jones employee, Siedah Garrett phoned him at home. “’Quincy needs one more song for Michael (Jackson’s) album’ she said. She came to my house. We just sat and wrote the song on a Saturday afternoon. That evening we did a scratch demo.” They played it for Jones “he said ‘you’re right – this is the song!’” The song was “Man in the Mirror”, his fourth #1 single off the Bad album.

Fast forward a few years and he was put in touch with a young Canadian pop singer who’d just moved to California. Alanis Morrissette. “I just connected with her as a person and almost parenthetically was like, ‘wow, you’re 19?’ She was intelligent and ready to take a chance on doing something that had no commercial application.” They quickly wrote her Jagged Little Pill together, Ballard composing most of the music while Alanis penned the lyrics, then Ballard put together a band for it, playing most of the keyboards himself, and produced the record…which at the time didn’t have a label backing it! “It was amazing how quickly things turned around,” he says after getting Maverick Records interested. “Her first two performances (of it) were amazing. I had never seen her perform and she was electrifying. Pure energy…at that point Alanis was basically on a rocket to the moon,” with the album that would go on to sell over 30 million copies and win five Grammys.

Success like that doesn’t go unnoticed and through the ’80s and ’90s, Ballard was kept very busy as a songwriter and producer, working for a range of artists from Van Halen to Ringo Starr to Miley Cyrus. He co-wrote and produced Wilson Phillips debut album and was one of the first talents to get Katy Perry’s career off and running in the early-2000s. When asked which he found most satisfying though, he answered Dave Matthews Band Everyday, an album he produced and wrote some of including the hit “The Space Between.”

If that wasn’t enough, like so many other musical session musician/producers, he’s kept busy doing movie & TV work as well, winning a Grammy for his work on the music for the Polar Express among other things. Of late, he’s begun an entertainment company called Augury which develops both musical and screen talent. They’re largely responsible for a Netflix series called The Eddy about a French nightclub.

Far less is known about his personal life than his professional one, but he seemingly now resides mainly in France with his wife and kids…as  “you oughta know”.

 

April 19 – Kramer Kept Greats Happy

Happy birthday, Eddie Kramer! He’s 79 today and there’s a good chance you might not know his name. But it’s a pretty safe bet you know of some of his friends who’ve sought him out to work with through the years. Like Led Zeppelin, Joe Cocker, Peter Frampton, John Lennon, Queen and most of all, Jimi Hendrix.

Kramer, like Dave Matthews, was born in South Africa but came to acclaim working in the U.S., although in Eddie’s case, there was an important stop in Britain in between. He studied classical piano, and dabbled in strings like the violin and cello in Africa before moving to London as a teen. He went straight to work in the music field, although his forte wasn’t so much in playing it as in readying other people’s music for the public’s ears. He went to work as an assistant in a studio there in 1962, working largely on classical records and then ones by The Kinks and Petula Clark before getting a job at the then-new Olympic Studios as a sound engineer. It was a major advance, as he says “we were very innovative, and we had I think the best console in England and possibly the world” in the mid-’60s. There he worked on albums by the Rolling Stones, Traffic, Jimi Hendrix and songs for a band called The Beatles.

The Beatles of course, typically loved using Abbey Road studios and using that spot’s resident engineers, including Alan Parsons. But from time to time, Abbey Road was booked solid and even the clout of the Fab Four couldn’t get them squeezed in, so they at times went to Olympic. Two tracks they did there had Kramer twirling the knobs…and more. He recalls them recording “All You Need Is Love” there, and explains somewhat what the job of an engineer frequently consists of: “It was an honor for me to be in on the session and do more than just operate the tape machine, move mics and get them situated.” He did that and “Making sure everyone was happy. That was the goal.”

Olympic also had a number of instruments lying around, and one was a keyboards known as a calvioline, something of an early synthesizer that the Tornadoes had used on the single “Telstar.” When the Beatles were recording “Baby You’re A Rich Man”, John Lennon “wandered into the studio (saw it) and said ‘Oy! What’s that?’” Kramer showed Lennon the basics of it “We hooked it up and started fooling around with it… we stuck a mic in front of the amp and he was done in a couple of takes.” His recollection of the biggest band of the decade? “They were so disarming and so great in the studio. Very targeted about what they came in to achieve.”

As much as The Beatles were huge and hugely influential to Kramer, he was even more impressed with Jimi Hendrix, whom he also met at Olympic Studios. “Very funny, very shy, totally dedicated to his music…a complete human being,” he remembers about Jimi. The two worked together on Hendrix’s records in Britain, then he followed him to New York and helped him set up the Electric Lady Studios there, where he became the director and soon was producing albums for the likes of Johnny Winter and Carly Simon.

Continue reading “April 19 – Kramer Kept Greats Happy”