In My Next Life …

In my next life, I want to be Al Schmitt. I didn’t know this until I read his obituary today. Schmitt, who passed away on April 26th at age 91, won more Grammys than any other recording engineer and producer – 20 – across six consecutive decades. He worked with Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, and the list goes on.

Five of Schmitt’s Grammys came in 2004 for his work on Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company, which won nine award that year, including Album of the Year. The album featured collaborations with many artists, hence the title. The duet with Norah Jones, reprising an early Charles hit, “Here We Go Again”, won Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals (that’s Billy Preston playing the Hammond B3). The duet with Gladys Knight, “Heaven Help Us All”, won Best Gospel Performance. That song was first recorded by Stevie Wonder.

Schmitt collaborated with another studio engineering legend, Roger Nichols, on Steely Dan’s album Aja, a masterpiece of recording. Schmitt mixed one of the album’s hits, “Deacon Blues”. At the same sessions Schmitt and Nichols worked on the song “FM (No Static at All)”, the title theme and only original song on the soundtrack of the movie FM. The work on Aja and “FM” won Schmitt two of his Grammys.mi

“I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long”

Perhaps Schmitt’s most moving piece of engineering was the “duet” of “Unforgettable” between Natalie Cole and her late father. Schmitt mixed the vocal track from Nat King Cole’s 1951 version of the song with Natalie’s 1991 performance. Apparently, some of the musician’s in the studio for the 1991 session had played on the original, too.

Beck and Cage the Elephant

In November 2019 Beck released his fourteenth studio album, Hyperspace. The album was co-produced by Pharrell Williams who shared song writing credits on most of the tracks.   Here is an entertaining rendition of “Uneventful Days” from an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel in December.  Prescient lyrics.  And the set starts out looking like a bad home office fading into one of those Zoom virtual backgrounds.

Earlier in 2019 Cage the Elephant released their fifth album, Social Cues, and took home their second Rock Album of the Year award at the 2020 Grammy’s.  Here’a the psychedelic video for the title track.  I’m not sure what happens if you text the phone number.

Beck appeared as co-lead singer on “Night Running” from Social Cues.   The song gave its name to the 2019 concert tour Beck and Cage the Elephant co-headlined.

If you feel like watching a couple more videos, definitely check out the career-launching songs of Beck, “Loser”, and Cage “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”.  You’ll see why Cage’s lead singer Matt Schultz said, “Beck’s tunes have helped shape my life and musical palette.”

Who Owns That Song?

On occasion a singer-songwriter becomes so identified with a song written by another singer-songwriter that the ownership of the song seems to transfer.  This came to mind when John Prine passed away a couple of weeks ago.  Early in her career, Bonnie Raitt made Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” her own.  Enjoy this early performance by Bonnie and take a look at this poignant duet from just a few months ago.

Another classic example is Patti Smith’s version of “Because the Night”, written by Bruce Springsteen.  You get the same feeling watching Patti and Bruce perform the song together that you do when watching Raitt and Prine – this is Patti’s song.

And then there’s Elvis Costello’s cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”.   A Costello performance staple for decades, the history of the song is particularly interesting.  Lowe originally released it with his band Brinsley Schwarz in 1974.    Lowe became Costello’s producer a couple of years later, working on his first five albums, and Costello’s version of the song was first released as the B-side of a Nick Lowe 1978 single.  When it became a hit, the track was added to the American release of Armed Forces.  Lowe generally performs softer acoustic versions of the song these days, but when he gets on stage with Elvis, it’s the Costello version they’ll do (drop into this video at 3:00).  Enjoy Costello’s comic intro below, or go straight to the song at about 1:00.

Dan Auerbach: Black Keys Frontman’s Production Efforts Are Unmistakable

Dan Auerbach must be one of the busiest men in the music business.  In addition to doing his part to keep bluesy rock & roll vital with the Black Keys, he’s been a very active record producer.  When you listen to some of the work he’s produced, you can clearly hear that he’s not afraid to infuse it with his own style.

Later this summer Valerie June will release “Pushing Against a Stone” in the U.S., with Auerbach as co-producer and co-writer of a number of songs. June is just getting noticed, playing festivals all over Europe this summer after opening for Jake Bugg earlier in the year (see our recent post Jake Bugg). Listen to “Raindance” from June’s self-released album “Valerie June and the Tennessee Express”, then listen to “You Can’t be Told” from the upcoming album. The latter pretty much screams Black Keys.

Another of Auerbach’s recent production efforts is “Nomad” by African guitar wizard, Omara “Bombino” Moctar. The subject of Ron Wyman’s documentary “Agadez, the Music and the Rebellion”, Bombino is touring the world this year including a month in the U.S.  Listen to “Mehegagh” (What Shall I Do) from “Agadez”, then listen to “Amidinine” from “Nomad” to hear Auerbach’s influence.

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Phil Ramone – Pioneering Record Producer

Record producers and engineers are rarely well known.  Phil Ramone may not be top of mind when you think of important music personalities of the last 50 years, but his influence is revealed in his obituaries that ran today – he passed away on March 30th at age 79.  The range of musicians he contributed his talents to is amazing – spend a few minutes reading through his discography here (Phil Ramone Discography) and rummage around his website to learn more.

Among his recent efforts was producing Amy Winehouse’s last recording, “Body and Soul”, sung with Tony Bennett for his “Duets II” album (the song won a Grammy for Best Pop Duo or Group Performance).  Among his first efforts was the record that started the Bossa Nova jazz craze in America, “Getz/Gilberto”, featuring the iconic “The Girl From Ipanema” (the album won multiple Grammys including Album of the Year in 1965).

In 1978 Ramone produced Billy Joel’s “52nd Street”. Another Album of the Year, this one in 1980, it was the first album commercially released on CD. Remember the CD?

Here’s a video of “Honesty” from “52nd Street”

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