With the untimely passing of Super Producer Kashif Saleem and the sudden sad news of Ultra-Compsoer Rod Temperton‘s death, I’ve been in Reflective Mode, remembering those who’ve most influenced me as a producer and in whose muse I most rely on when I am trying to make the best musical decision on a project.
As I explored my vast vinyl collection (one benefit of age), I began to notice a common theme among my favorites. For One, the Best Producers simply ‘stayed out of the way of the artist’ – even if they were the composer. Secondly, The Best are equally adept in multiple styles of music. I was often surprised to find their MusicPrints on a variety of different genre.
For that reason, I have NOT Included L.A. & Babyface or their predecessors Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis or even Teddy Riley, all of whom I highly respect and admire. But these teams ushered in an era of the Superstar Producer whose stature overshadowed both The Song and The Artist. Additionally, although they worked with Musical Acts outside of their immediate genre, the production itself never ‘dissolved’ into the style they were attempting.
I also stayed away from My Absolute Heroes, each now deceased George Duke, Maurice White & Prince. Since Motown is it’s own genre, I left them out (for now, but look out for a future blog). And I Did Not The Master Maestro, Stevie Wonder for Extremely Obvious Reasons!
It is extremely difficult to present a “countdown” as if One Producer is/was Better than the other, irregardless of the number of Grammys, Albums or Artists they produced. In fact, I’ve gone a little out of my way to honor several producers who are not necessarily ‘household names,’ but set standards of experimentation and truth many modern producers obey like the Ten Commandments.
So, Let’s Get Started:
- Quincy Jones – It’s Only fitting to begin with Q, because Every Producer would agree that his MusicPrint is Not Only Large, But Deep. From Frank Sinatra to Sanford & Son to The Color Purple to The Wiz to The King of Pop, with The Brothers Johnson, Rufus and Almost Everyone Else in between, It’s Difficult to Imagine the last 60+ years of Popular Music without him…
My Personal Homage to Q is his ability to create an experience inside each song. He doesn’t look for the easiest way to the bridge and allows a chorus to build until it percolates, all the while leaving room for God to walk in the room (his words).
I tried to utilize this approach on “Meant2B“
- Arif Mardin – A Study in Arif’s work would save you tuition at Berklee. The attention to detail, structure and spot on ‘pizazz’ makes Mr. Mardin on of my faves. Having guided the sessions of Aretha, Anita, Roberta and Chaka, as well Scritti Politti, Nora Jones and Bette Midler, this man set standards we’re still sorting out.
My Personal Homage to Arif is Chaka‘s “What Cha Gonna Do For Me” album. It’s the Statement of the Century and clearly the reason she rose up the ranks from Funk Queen to True Diva. The Songs, The Musicians, The Arrangements, The Sound he created around her voice is probably the reason I most often seek female vocalists to sing my songs.
“Nohoour” is such an example
- Russ Titleman – Russ’ work is hidden in the liner notes of some of your favorite albums. From the first Graham Central Station disc to James Taylor, Eric Clapton and On & On, this Brother’s Production Chops are among the greatest chart toppers out there. His Productions are Clean, Crisp & Clear.
My Personal Homage to Russ is his total transparency in all of the work I have listened to. The Artist is center stage and Titleman simply gives them wings to fly and gets out of the way.
I learned this lesson on “Source“
- Tommy LiPuma – I was 17 when I opened up the First YellowJackets Album and discovered the Magic of Mr. LiPuma. This Man is the Definition of a Music Producer and Everyone from Barbara Streisand to George Benson has called upon him to make their projects soar. Tommy’s projects sound like a Groove Machine inside a Butter Factory; Rich & Warm and Simultaneously Slick.
My Personal Homage to Mr. Lipuma is rooted in the Casino Lights Album, arguably one of the best Live Albums I own. The Set features the aforementioned YellowJackets, Al Jarreau, Randy Crawford, David Sanborn and Neil Larsen & Buzzy Feiten. The album did what a great production should and made me a fan of each artist!
I was pretending to be Tommy when I produced Eric Tyus’ “Stop On By“
- Jerry Wexler – was slightly before my time of actually making music, but I can remember my ears glued to my step father’s stereo when Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding was on. We ate Cornbread & Buttermilk in those days and that’s exactly what Wexler’s mixes sound like. Biscuits & Gravy, Hog Guts pouring right out of the speakers and onto the living room floor and when I got turned on to Led Zeppelin and Cream as a teenager, I KNEW those White Boys ate Cornbread too.
My Personal Homage to Mr. Wexler’s legacy is his commitment to Down Home SOUL, which is not a geographical location, but in the heart of True Musicians & Singers. Jerry Wexler Captured It and Archived It forever.
I attempted to do the same on “Blues Crossing”
I began this post by noting the passing of Kashif and Rod Temperton. Both of these men’s music enveloped, encouraged and inspired my formative years. I am deeply indebted to Kashif by dissecting his eponymous debut and equally seductive”Send Me Your Love.” And You & I both know that Every Single R&B Slow Jam since 1977 follows the law laid down by Temperton’s “Always & Forever“