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
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.