Sunday, October 3, 2010

If You Don't Know... Now You Know: Tom Dowd

This blog serves mainly as an educational tool and aside from learning about new gear & techniques I'd also like to spread the word about people who've shaped this industry from the past.  I could've no doubt done my first historical person of significance post on Les Paul.  He did epic, ground breaking things for the audio industry; inventing the multi-track as well as practically pioneering the practice of home recording.  I don't even need to mention what he did for guitars or music for that matter.  However, There's someone that I feel like is more important to the whole world that is professional audio.  That man is Tom Dowd and he revolutionized the recording/production game and was behind some of the biggest projects and groups that the music industry has ever seen.

Hands down, the most notable and important thing Tom ever did was break down the racial segregation that existed in American Music.  Before he recorded & produced acts like Joe Turner, Ray Charles & Otis Redding African American music was of little interest to the majority of the white population in America.  In fact before Dowd, major record companies would cover Black artist's music with white performers and then sell the songs.  Tom Dowd helped to put African American recording artists on the map, the albums he produced & engineered by Atlantic's major black artists were some of the first records that ever sold well on both ends of the racial spectrum.  If that doesn't deserve major props I don't know what does.  Heard of Aretha Franklin?  Dowd helped mold and create her famous and everlasting sound as well.  In fact some could argue that Aretha Frankling wouldn't of been who she was without the help of her friend and producer Tom Dowd.  Dowd's infectious character and technical skills helped him to bridge the race gap between white pompous record executives and the extremely talented artist's of the Black music world.  The insecure and close-minded nature of America would begin to change as Dowd introduced countless Black musicians to the country via Atlantic Records.  Hat's off to you Mr. Dowd, you changed a lot more than just music with your personality and work.  I'm just getting started on Tom's life by the way.

Who likes faders? I for one have a fetish with them as I'm sure most you do too.  Tom Dowd was the first person to integrate and use moving faders in recording.  Before he did this everyone used big clunky knobs to control amplitude levels.  This made it impossible to make adjustments to more than two controls at a single time by a single person.  Dowd was a piano player and he wanted to be able to adjust multiple tracks at once, with all of his fingers.  He created the fader in recording and the practice hasn't been the same since.  Dowd also built and designed multiple studios for Atlantic Records which have put out countless multi-platinum hits.

So lets take a look back at Mr. Dowd real quick...  He broke down the race barrier in American Music, he's a multi-platinum, Grammy award winning audio engineer, producer.  He changed the feeling of recording by offering faders, he designed and built multiple world class recording studios.  I'd say this guy is worthy of all the praise that's inside of all the world's audiophiles.  We aren't even done yet... Heard of The Allman Brothers Band, Alabama & Cream?  Dowd was instrumental in the creation of those groups as well as many other famous acts from the 60's & 70's. 

He discovered The Allman Brothers Band playing in a studio while he was recording another session. Immediately Dowd had them off to Florida where he produced the countless hits the bands subsequently released.  Eric Clapton's Layla was even recorded and produced with Tom Dowd sitting in front of the desk during a 10 day jam session featuring Clapton and Greg Duane Allman.  Dowd remained good friends and partners with the Allman Brothers Band and in 1996 he helped the group to win a Grammy by recording a live performance of theirs which nabbed them "Best Acoustic Rock Performance."

As the 70's & 80's came around Dowd continued to record and produce countless hit from artists such as: Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson & Lynard Skynard, Kenny Loggins, Diana Ross, Eddie Money, New Model Army, Phil Collins and countless others.  Dowd remained active and present in the music and recording communities up until his death on October, 27 2002. 

What I've written here is literally only a fraction of the accomplishments Tom achieved during his lifetime.  I feel bad even posting this as it seems it's no where near what his life deserves.  I didn't even mention his incredible educational background or that he was part of the Manhattan Project before he got involved with recording.  The guy is brilliant and has done it all, he's truly a person to admire as well as respect.  I was really turned onto him by a biographical documentary I saw on him called: Tom Dowd and the Language of Music.  I highly recommend this to anyone serious about pursuing a career in the audio world.

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