Mark Howard, the innovative sound engineer behind two of Bob Dylan’s finest albums – Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind – as well as landmark recordings by Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits, Neil Young, U2 and Emmylou Harris, is now fighting for his life. Just one year after Howard was diagnosed and treated for skin cancer, the disease has aggressively spread into his lungs and brain. A GoFundMe page has been created for Howard, who has been unable to work since the diagnosis. He is currently in Toronto receiving treatment for stage 4 melanoma, to arrest the growth of the cancer. “It’s been a battle – the side effects are not so nice,” says Howard. “But I’m feeling good. And I’ve had great support from the music community.”
“We need to raise enough money to pay his rent, bills and living expenses for a year or two,” said his friend and collaborator Emily O’Halloran, who set up the GoFundMe page. “This will give him the time to finish treatment, regain his health and beat this.”
In 1989, as a young assistant to producer Daniel Lanois, Howard quickly found himself in the hot seat during Dylan’s Oh Mercy sessions. “I was 21 years old, and I hadn’t done much recording,” Howard recalled to Uncut magazine in a 2008 interview that illuminates some of Dylan’s studio methods. “I was an assistant, and so ended up wearing a lot of hats… from finding [a] location [Lanois often recorded in rented homes rather than studios], building the studio to doing the banking.” But the hired engineer, Malcolm Burn, often left the control room to join in playing with the band. “I was suddenly recording it, too,” Howard said, adding that he had found his calling during the recording of “Man in the Long Black Coat.”
“That was the first time ever that hairs went up on my arm while I was recording music,” said Howard. “It was magical.”
As a producer, engineer and mixer – often collaborating with Lanois – Howard has contributed to some of the most critically praised and sonically ambitious albums of the past three decades, including Willie Nelson’s atmospheric classic Teatro, Neil Young’s electric-whirlwind Le Noise, U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball and Lucinda Williams’ World Without Tears.
During the Dylan sessions, Howard’s expertise and easy demeanor made him the peacekeeper between Lanois and Dylan, whose relationship was famously volatile. “There was a tension between Dan and Bob that got quite uncomfortable…. I was like their go-between,” Howard said. In 1998, accepting the Album of the Year Grammy for Time Out of Mind, Dylan said, “Mark Howard – can’t forget that… We got a particular type of sound on this record, which you don’t get every day.”
Click here for Mark Howard’s GoFundMe page.