Producer Tom Dowd Dies - Rolling Stone
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Producer Tom Dowd Dies

Legendary behind-the-scenes figure worked with Clapton, Aretha

Few resumes could match the one put together by Tom Dowd in his
nearly fifty years in the music business. The legendary producer
and engineer left his fingerprints behind on recordings of myriad
stripes. By producing classic recordings for Lynyrd Skynyrd and the
Allman Brothers in the Seventies, he helped invent the genre of
southern rock. He was instrumental in the production of numerous
famed soul recordings, including albums by Ray Charles, Solomon
Burke, Wilson Pickett and Dusty Springfield. He oversaw landmark
jazz albums by Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane.
And by serving as engineer on Cream’s Disraeli Gears and
Wheels of Fire he fostered a professional relationship
with Eric Clapton that extended a quarter century, through Derek
and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and
numerous solo albums. Dowd died on October 27th in Aventura,
Florida, after battling respiratory illness for the past two years;
he was seventy-seven.

Dowd was born New Year’s Day in 1925 in New York City. With a
background in physics, Dowd went to work on the Manhattan Project
at the physics lab at Columbia University in 1942, where he worked
for four years. A year after leaving, he placed his foot in the
music industry door, applying his science background to the
logistics of recording music. In 1952, Dowd began a two-decade
relationship with Atlantic Records, helping to introduce binaural
stereo recording. Two years later, he helped build the label’s
first eight-track consoles, helping modernize the recording
industry. An in-house engineer, Dowd also had a gentle touch with
the musicians and began to foster relationships with the artists on
the label’s roster.

Earlier this year, Dowd received the 2002 Grammy Trustees Award,
which recognizes significant achievement by non-performers. “For
better or worse, the strength of [Layla] rested almost
entirely on Tom’s faith in me,” Clapton wrote in a tribute to Dowd.
“I had no finished songs, no real concept or idea of where I was
going, nothing but an abstract burning passion for live,
spontaneous music. On top of everything else, I refused to make the
record under my own name, and was developing a powerful drink and
drug problem — not a great position for any record producer to be
placed in, but Tom pulled it off. He saw the potential and
exercised the most incredible patience in getting through the
obstacles that I would constantly place in front of him. It’s
little wonder that I eventually came to look on him as a father
figure . . . There is a tribe of musicians, spread all over the
world, who have been fostered and nurtured by Tom Dowd.”

A documentary film, Tom Dowd and the Language of Music,
which features interviews with Clapton, Charles, producer Phil
Ramone, Aretha Franklin and the Allmans, is in the works.


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