Features

Producers picture

Producers

By Mick Patrick

Film directors have always been lionised by their industry and by fans who made household names of Ford, Hitchcock and Spielberg. Record producers, on the other hand, have by-and-large laboured in near-anonymity outside the music business. Ace has thoughtfully remedied that situation with an unofficial series of CDs spotlighting the studio output of visionaries who lived to bring the sounds in their heads to the grooves of a record.

Each of these auteurs relentlessly pursued his aural ideals, always with an eye on that ever-elusive next hit. Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy clearly had the magic touch, and Kim Fowley and Gary Paxton managed to grab a couple of brass rings. It’s confounding that such singular geniuses as James Brown, Sly Stone and Brian Wilson were largely unable to duplicate their mega-success with the artists they produced, but each one of these CDs offers a fascinating jaunt into the oeuvre of a titan of pop music.

Selected releases

  • Lou Adler

    Grammy-winning record producer, songwriter, publisher, record company owner, film director and all-round music biz mogul Lou Adler was an architect of the California sound.

    He started out in 1958 writing songs with Herb Alpert for Sam Cooke 50s and progressed to producing Carole King’s “Tapestry”, the best-selling album of the 70s. Along the way he founded the Dunhill and Ode labels and produced Jan & Dean, the Everly Brothers, the Mamas & the Papas and many others. Adler – whose story is told in the picture-packed booklet, much of it in his own words – was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Award in 2013.

  • Larry Banks

    If your taste runs to obscure soul, then this is the motherlode! The prolific Larry Banks worked tirelessly throughout the 60s and reaped little reward for failed singles by the Hesitations, the Exciters, the Dynamics, the Geminis and Kenny Carter. He was no slouch as an artist himself, and his wives Bessie and Jaibi was simply brilliant. Two dozen sterling soul sides (many previously unissued) make this CD, shepherded by the late Dave Godin, a must-have for Deep Soul aficionados.

  • Bert Berns

    What made Bert Berns such a titan of the New York 60s soul scene? Well, obviously, humongous hits such as ‘Twist And Shout’, ‘Killer Joe’, ‘Cry To Me’ and ‘A Little Bit Of Soap’, all of which grace these two sturdy volumes. But that’s not the half of it. Berns worked the same magic with obscure artists of the Kenny Hamber, Roy C and Jimmy Radcliffe ilk that he applied to world-class celebrities like Ben E King, Otis Redding, Lulu, the Drifters, Gene Pitney and even Mel Tormé. Collectors will treasure the original ‘Tell Her’ by Gil Hamilton (actually Johnny Thunder) and the rare radio version of Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. Have fun contrasting the Vibrations’ original ‘My Girl Sloopy’ with the McCoys’ chart-topping remake and discover new gems such as the Pussycats’ stirring ‘You May Be Holding My Baby’ and Moses K & the Prophets’ ‘I Went Out With My Baby Tonight’. If Bert Berns ever made a bad record, it’s not on either of these CDs.

  • James Brown

    The Godfather of Soul ruled the soul/r&b roost in the 60s with an infinite string of hits and a stage show so hot it defied belief. His inexplicable lack of success producing hits for the members of his Revue wasn’t for lack of trying and certainly wasn’t due to inferiority of material, as this soul-drenched compendium aptly proves. Scorching sides by Famous Flames Bobby Byrd and James Crawford languished on the racks, as did Brown’s productions for the Revue’s featured female singers Anna King, Vicki Anderson, the Jewels, Yvonne Fair, Tammy Montgomery (who went on to fame as the doomed princess of Motown, Tammi Terrell) and Elsie Mae, who, as TV Mama, served as the Revue’s morbidly obese sight gag. Of particular note are Brown’s noble mid-60s effort to update the sound of his 50s cohorts the Five Royales, and the blisteringly funky gospel workout ‘That’s The Spirit’ by Rev Willingham and the Swanee Quintet. Throw in some storming instrumentals and you’ve got a vivid snapshot of the show that rocked the house at the Apollo. To paraphrase a great man, this CD has soul and it’s superbad!

  • John Cale

    Since leaving the Velvet Underground in 1968, John Cale has released over two-dozen solo albums – their scope ranging from minimalism, through guitar-based rock to full-scale orchestral. A tireless live performer, he is currently readying a new album for release, having not long returned from a tour of Europe. As a multi-instrumentalist who thrives on collaboration, he has contributed to recordings by William Burroughs, Nick Drake and very many others. He has also composed the scores for several ballets, an opera and many films. Here on “Conflict & Catalysis” the focus is on Cale the producer. Spanning 40 years, the collection contains everything from the proto-punk of the Stooges and the Modern Lovers to Euro-pop princess Lio and no-wave enigma Cristina.

  • Feldman-Goldstein-Gottehrer

    To the uninitiated, Feldman-Goldstein-Gottehrer sounded more like a high-powered law firm than three New York-based writer-producers. Together for a mere four years, Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer were mavericks, a trio of Jewish musketeers who never took themselves quite as seriously as some of their peers. What really distinguished them was the hard-edged kinetic energy of their productions, whose headlong thrust was propelled by the drummer (usually New York session pro Herb Lavelle). The trio hit their stride in the mid-60s with a varied portfolio that included the #1s ‘Hang On Sloopy’ by the McCoys and ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ by the Angels – and several chartmakers by the Strangeloves, the selfsame threesome masquerading as an Australian rock band.

  • Kim Fowley

    Noted eccentric Kim Fowley began his career in partnership with Gary Paxton, yielding the 1960 #1 ‘Alley Oop’ before going their separate ways. If Paxton toiled on the fringes of the Hollywood music world, Fowley set his sights on the fringes of the fringe. Several artists (the Innocents, Sky Saxon, Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Paxton-led Hollywood Argyles) crop on both Fowley’s and Paxton’s collections, but Fowley also cast his net as far as the UK with offerings from the Belfast Gypsies, Soft Machine and an early collaboration with Cat Stevens. Treasures herein include smash hits from B Bumble & the Stingers and the Rivingtons and a lovely late-in-life Gene Vincent cut. What kind of artistic madman could unleash the lilting ‘Popsicles And Icicles’ and follow it with ‘Satan’s Holiday?’ Kim Fowley, that’s who. And those are merely the tip of the iceberg.

  • Martin Hannett

    A sharp left turn from the pop and soul sounds featured on the other CDs in the producer series, and a broad jump in eras. We’re talking punk rock here, and if that’s your thing (or if you’ve always been a wee bit curious), this collection will feel like an old, familiar safety-pin through the eyebrow. Martin Hannett (his nom-de-punk was Martin Zero) was at the helm for sessions with seminal punk outfits such as the Buzzcocks, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and the ill-fated Joy Divison, as well as their offshoot, New Order. His UK superhit ‘Jilted John’ is here, but US listeners will be most familiar with ‘Pretty In Pink’ by the Psychedelic Furs. Of particular note is a track Hannett produced on the Velvet Underground’s femme fatale Nico. ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ serves as a fitting epitaph for the tragic German Warhol superstar as well as for Hannett, who lived fast, died young and left an impressive body of work.

  • Shadow Morton

    “Producers are quirky, conceptual people”, David Johansen of the New York Dolls once said. Few fit that description better than George “Shadow” Morton, whose work we celebrate in this collection. This set covers the enigmatic producer’s career from his debut as lead vocalist of the Markeys and the Lonely Ones through to the New York Dolls’ “Too Much Too Soon” album. Also included are tracks by the Beattle-ettes, the Shangri-Las, the Goodies, Ellie Greenwich, the Shaggy Boys, the Nu-Luvs, Janis Ian, the Blues Project, Vanilla Fudge, the Vagrants, Iron Butterfly and Mott The Hoople – everything from 1950s doo wop to 1970s glam-punk via girl group melodramas and Long Island psychedelia. In other words, a very varied listening experience. Along with a 12,000-word essay, the sumptuously illustrated 40-page booklet features many rare photographs, including some supplied by the Morton family. A heads up for Shangri-Las zealots: the version of ‘Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)’ heard here features a never-before-released introductory monologue by Mary Weiss. 

  • Jack Nitzsche

    The word “genius” gets tossed around pretty liberally, but no one who ever worked with Jack Nitzsche or is familiar with his wide-ranging body of work would hesitate for a second to use that overworked appellation to describe this singular auteur. These two volumes find Nitzsche plying his trade with a staggering array of artists. Doris Day, Bobby Darin, Stevie Wonder, Marianne Faithfull, Graham Parker, Miles Davis, the Monkees, the Everly Brothers and Captain Beefheart probably don’t appear together on many compilations, but they all benefited from Nitzsche’s deft touch and they’re all heard here. Nitzsche’s tenure as arranger for Phil Spector’s Philles sessions is represented by two sterling tracks by the Righteous Brothers, and we’re treated to the original versions of ‘It’s In His Kiss’ (Merry Clayton), ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ (Frankie Laine), ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ (Crazy Horse) and ‘Needles And Pins’ (Jackie DeShannon). 52 tracks on the two discs – many making their digital debut and several previously unissued. Nitzsche’s own ‘The Lonely Surfer’ kicks things off, and wait until you hear the Tubes. And Lou Christie. And the Turtles. And the Neville Brothers. It’s truly overwhelming.

  • Gary Paxton

    “Hollywood Maverick” is a most fitting appellation for this journey around the margins of the early-60s Los Angeles music scene. After hitting paydirt as half of Skip & Flip (the insanely catchy 1959 smash ‘It Was I’ is included here), Gary Paxton moved behind the board and churned out an astonishing array of singles, capturing lightning in a bottle with the novelty classics ‘Alley Oop’ and ‘Monster Mash’. Paxton’s output includes harmony opuses from the Paradons and the Innocents, rocking instrumentals, dance craze knockoffs and more novelties than you can shake a stick at. Particularly noteworthy are early efforts by Paul Revere & the Raiders and the Seeds’ Sky Saxon (an indescribable 1962 doo wop that clearly didn’t threaten Johnny Maestro or Dion) and a last-gasp trip to Beach Boys territory by the venerable Four Freshmen. The CD closes with the original version of the standard ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ by the Art Reynolds Singers, who counted Thelma Houston among their ranks. Paxton then, in 1966, decamped for Bakersfield, California where he pioneered the country rock sound. And, by the way, the accompanying essay detailing Paxton’s life and career fairly screams for screenplay treatment.

  • Jerry Ragovoy

    Woefully underrated, Jerry Ragovoy was a supremely talented producer, arranger and songwriter. Whether working with big stars Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick or soul legends Garnet Mimms and Lorraine Ellison, the unassuming Ragovoy delivered the goods every time. You’ll find big hits such as ‘Cry Baby’, ‘A Wonderful Dream’ and Miriam Makeba’s irresistible ‘Pata Pata’, as well as the Olympics’ original version of ‘Good Lovin’’ and rarities such as the original ‘Time Is On My Side’ by Kai Winding (with the Sweet Inspirations) and a 1964 single by Estelle Brown of those same ubiquitous Inspirations. Ellison’s ‘Stay With Me’ set the bar high for a couple of generations of ranting “dreamgirls”, but the real emotional high point here is Ragovoy’s devastating 21st century revisit of ‘Get It While You Can’ with Howard Tate.

  • Phil Spector

    If other producers of the early 60s were content to fly under the radar of public acclaim, Phil Spector (no shrinking violet, he) virtually invented the concept of producer-as-star. This collection charts his progress from teen-aged Teddy Bear to his New York apprenticeship under the aegis of Lieber & Stoller to his fledgling efforts to transfer to wax the “little symphonies” he envisioned. Success came quickly in the form of hits such as ‘Spanish Harlem’, ‘I Love How You Love Me’ and ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’, heard here alongside tracks produced for Ruth Brown, Gene Pitney and LaVern Baker. Other noteworthy entries include the misguided original version of ‘Twist And Shout’ by the Top Notes, a never-released early effort by Spector stalwart Bobby Sheen that will knock your Soxx off and Billy Storm’s amazing almost-hit ‘When You Dance’. “The Early Productions” finds Spector, dubbed “the first tycoon of teen” by the redoubtable Tom Wolfe, mixing the mortar and gathering the bricks for his Wall of Sound.

  • Sly Stone

    When Tom Donahue and Bob Mitchell hired 20 year-old Sylvester Stewart to run their Autumn Records in 1963, they gave him the run of the studio. On “Precious Stone”, we’re privileged to eavesdrop as the future powerhouse Sly Stone learns the ropes, cutting demos and singles in a variety of conventional pop, rock and soul styles and pretty much nailing it every time. Working with future hitmaker Billy Preston, Family Stone siblings Freddie and Rose, Autumn’s premiere artist Bobby Freeman and gospel-fuelled girl group Gloria Scott & the Tonettes, Sly mastered the studio and also cut a slew of songs singing in his own inimitably quirky style. More than half of the tracks here have never been released and present a unique view of the pre-fame Sly as he swims, jerks and Temptation walks his way to an artistic vision that would soon light up the world. “Listen To The Voices” highlights the end of Autumn with a couple of great tracks by the Beau Brummels; then we find ourselves in the delivery room as the Family Stone is born. Demo versions of eventual Sly classics! More cuts with Billy Preston! Never-heard recordings by Freddie and the Stone Souls, precursors to the Family Stone! There are even a few relatively successful and rarely anthologised radio hits by Little Sister and Abaco Dream. A veritable banquet for Sly Stone fans.

  • Swamp Dogg

    As an artist, songwriter and producer, Jerry Williams Jr – aka Swamp Dogg – has left an indelible mark on soul music. On “Blame It On The Dogg” we get two dozen tracks that show him in his multiple guises. Many of his greatest achievements have been with female vocalists, with whom he has a particular affinity. The strong tracks here by Eleanor Grant are previously unissued and Helen Curry’s take on ‘Shu-Doo-Pa-Poo-Poop’ was cut for Swamp’s Sweetheart label, just one of two outings from the venture. Other highlights include great tracks by Gene Pitney, C & the Shells, Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles and Swamp’s frequent songwriting partner Gary U.S. Bonds. 

  • Ike Turner

    During 1963 to 1965 Ike Turner’s wheeling and dealing went into overdrive. He signed the Ike & Tina Revue to his old cohorts the Bihari Brothers at Modern, where he struck paydirt producing the Ikettes. Hits for Ike & Tina were unforthcoming, so Ike hedged his bets by recording sides on a gamut of raw R&B talent. Some titles were issued on Modern and some on indie imprints started by Ike. A session held at Cosimo’s studio in New Orleans was held to record tracks by members of the Revue for a faux live album; here you get the tracks shorn of the fake applause, and sounding as raw as nature intended. The great singers included are Jimmy Thomas, Stacy Johnson, Vernon Guy, Jessie Smith, Bobby John, Jackie Brenston, Venetta Fields, Tina Turner (yes, she's present), Ernest Lane and Dee Dee Johnson – plus one of the toughest line-ups of the Kings of Rhythm Ike ever assembled. Also featured are previously unreleased songs, unreleased versions and alternate takes, plus some rare 45s not issued on CD before – all direct from the original master tapes.

  • Brian Wilson

    The troubled genius behind the world-conquering success of the Beach Boys idolised Phil Spector and longed to produce his own girl group hits. Brian Wilson never realised that dream but oh what great attempts he made! This set boasts all eight sides Wilson produced for the Honeys (actually his wife Marilyn Rovell, her sister Diane and cousin Ginger Blake) and four by the burly-voiced Sharon Marie, including ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout You Baby’, later re-jigged as ‘Darlin’’ for a Beach Boys hit. The fabled ‘Revo-Lution’ by Rachel & the Revolvers is here, along with Glen Campbell’s amazing ‘Guess I’m Dumb’ and a couple of doo wops Wilson cut with some friends as the Survivors. You won’t want to miss ‘Vegetables’, a bit of patented Wilson nonsense by the Laughing Gravy, who were actually Dean Torrance, Wilson and the Rovell Sisters.

© Ace records 2012