David Axelrod Remembered
6th February 2017
This one has hit me hard. Only yesterday, whilst hunting for an old royalty statement, I stumbled across my David Axelrod file: faxes, letters, reviews, articles on the ultimate Sherlock Holmes (Brett, of course!), and my ticket to the jaw-dropping 2005 concert at the Royal Festival Hall. It reminded me that I needed to call him, that I needed to tell him how much of a fan the latest Doctor Watson was. He would have loved that.
Instead I woke up this morning to find that he was gone. At the age of 83 that voice from Los Angeles, authorative and croaky, has been silenced. No more will I pick up the telephone and hear ‘Dean, it’s David’, before embarking on a lengthy conversation about everything from the state of EMI (he hated what happened to Capitol, which he loved), to the priceless story about Dre and ‘f-you’ money – stop me if you haven’t heard that one before and I will tell you.
I came into contact with David when Frank Tope and I put a compilation of his old Capitol Recordings together for Stateside. He phoned me up, cursed me (rightly) for something I had written in the notes, and then proceeded to make great conversation. His friendship with Ace preceded this.
David Axelrod loved Ace Records. He like the fact that the label had reissued his Heavy Axe album when his music was largely forgotten, and always credited it with being the first step towards Ralph Kaffel at Fantasy releasing the “Axelrod Chronicles” compilation. He would always ask after Roger when I spoke to him on the phone, was always concerned that we could do more to push his work and was grateful when we did.
David’s career in music stretched back to the days when Central Avenue in Los Angeles was the West Coast centre for R&B and Jazz. He had learned piano with Gerald Wiggins, was friends with Ornette and Jon Hendricks and began a career in the industry working for a series of small labels, before he was given the A&R post at Capitol. At the Tower he had great success with Cannonball Adderley and Lou Rawls, which allowed him a freedom to operate as he liked. He made three solo albums for the label, produced an instrumental album by David McCallum and, outside Capitol, two albums with the Electric Prunes. Afterwards he made several more solo albums and produced several artists for Fantasy.
These records formed the basis of a spectacular rediscovery in the 1990s. His productions were perfect for sampling, and he found himself on two of the biggest albums of the time, Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation” and Dr Dre’s “2001”, and championed by the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft. David loved his rediscovery and never felt bitter about the years when he was down on his luck. He leaves us an incredible musical legacy.