"Tom Dowd & The Language of Music"

I heard a guy talking about this on NPR’s “Fresh Air” yesterday.

From the IMDB site:

Anyway, it sounded totally interesting. I thought I’d point it out to anyone who may not have heard about it, or solicit opinions from anyone who has seen it.

I’m going to see if my local video store has it.

The guy reviewing it was saying that they talk to a lot of musicians and the documentary has them state their name. Well, they played Ray Charles saying, “you know what my name is.”

The guy reviewing it says, “honestly, if you don’t know who Ray Charles is, you have no business seeing this.”

I’m going to see if I can rent it, too. Maybe I’ll even buy it. It sounds like it must be fascinating. Tom Dowd was a genius.

Atlantic Records is famous this week! First, Ray and now Tom. Did anybody even see Ray? I thought there would be a thread on it by now… Next, we need a documentary on Ahmet Ertegun.

I plan to get the DVD, but I haven’t yet. I admit this is biased and unsurprising, but a lot of people I know on the Allman Brothers site just loved it. Tom Dowd produced most of that band’s albums, including their most famous ones. He was an absolutely enormous figure in music. I was very happy to see he was a character in Ray, that brought a big smile to my face. Especially when Ertegun and Wexler told him to “work his genius” on What’d I Say?

So obviously I did see Ray, fishbicycle. There was one thread about it, and another asking about Foxx’s Oscar chances. I was absolutely blown away by that movie.

I saw it and it is f**kin’ brilliant - one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. He comes across as a benevolent music god of sorts - involved pretty much everywhere, inventing or co-opting techniques that are now commonplace (similar and complementary to innovators like Les Paul). He comes across as a lovable dad or big brother and to hear Gregg Allman, Clapton and others describe his impact on them is wonderful. Totally ownable and repeat-worthy.

My favorite part personally was:

His description of producing Disraeli Gears with Cream. When I was a teen, I got turned onto Cream around 1980. At that point, I started to play a game where I would pick out the most essential part of a song - more than the obvious guitar riff or vocal line, what makes that song really come together? It was a way to train my ear to listen better. One of the first songs I did this with was with Sunshine of Your Love - more than the amazing riff or great vocal, I decided that the tom-tom drum line was what set the song apart.

Cut to 25 years later watching this DVD - Dowd describes how smoothly the production was going on the album, except for this one song. After several tries, he finally suggested that for Sunshine, why not try a tom-tom drum line and like that, the song comes together.

Hearing that sent chills down my spine…

I can’t recommend it enough - and wait until you hear what he did as a teenager before he got involved in music!!

That’s a very good thing to hear, since Gregg and the other members of the ABB often described him as a father figure and a mentor to the band. They started playing Layla in concert last year primarily as a tribute to him. Just in terms of resumes, who can compare to what this guy did for music?

Honestly? No one. Les Paul was as innovative (in terms of inventions, LP was more innovative, but tended to do stuff himself; Dowd brought the inventions, like multi-tracking, to a broader audience). John Hammond, Ahmet Ertegun, Berry Gordy and Clive Davis were more on the A&R and business side. George Martin was as important a producer, but with mainly one (albeit the most important) artist. There are tons of absolutely important producers over the history of modern music, but I wonder who has had his breadth of musical styles, the involvement with some of the biggest artists, etc. He was The Man.
Who did Dowd produce? Ray Charles, John Coltrane (Giant Steps, fercrissakes!), Aretha Franklin (Respect!), all of Atlantic from Ruth Brown on, Cream (Disraeli Gears!), Derek and the Dominos (Layla!), the Allman Brothers (everything), Lynyrd Skynyrd (most everything) - and I am barely scratching the surface. Who has moved from Giant Steps (out there jazz) to Ray Charles’ R&B and Country, to Aretha’s Soul, to British Blues, to Southern Jazz/Rock, to Southern Rock and all parts in between?

Watching him mix the tracks for Layla by hand and isolate Duane’s then Clapton’s playing, then put them back into a mix is a subtle nod to brilliance.