On birthday of Beatle’s producer George Martin, a salute to record producers

January 3, 2013

Flickr/badgreebRECORDS
Beatles album produced by George Martin.

Quincy Jones, who was born in Chicago in 1933, has a long list of musical accomplishments that far outweigh most music producers.

He started his professional career as a trumpet player and soon landed a gig with Lionel Hampton’s band. It was quickly noted that his real skill was arranging music. From there Jones went on to become an arranger in great demand, as well as a songwriter and record producer.

He’s produced recording sessions with some of the biggest names in the business, including Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson: Thriller is still the best-selling pop album of all time. Quincy’s first time producing a pop record was in 1963 when he did a recording session with 16-year-old Leslie Gore.

The record was “It’s My Party” and it went to number one shortly after its release.  Jones found out that Phil Spector had a version by the Crystals that was about to be released, so he got the Leslie Gore version out first. This version of the song was recorded in 2010 by Amy Winehouse on Quincy’s album, Q: Soul Bossa Nostra. 

The record-producing team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis is one of the most successful collaborations in the field of contemporary R&B and hip-hop music.

They met in Minneapolis in the mid ‘70s while they were still in high school. In their early days as working musicians, Jimmy was a keyboard player and Terry played bass in Flyte Tyme, a group that was managed by Prince and opened for him. On one occasion they missed a gig because they were trapped in a snowstorm. Prince was not happy. Ultimately, though, that storm provided the pair with an exit strategy from the band, and they started writing and producing as a team.

They had the good fortune to produce Janet Jackson right when she was on the verge of becoming a sexy, mature recording star. Their first project was a hit package called Control, but the second project in 1989 called Rhythm Nation 1814 gave Janet a whole new image and became one of the biggest records she ever made. It launched her into superstar status. This track is called “Alright.” There was also a phenomenal music video for this recording you should check out online.

In 1939, Alfred Lion founded the great jazz record label Blue Note, after he had emigrated from Berlin to the U.S. Lion had a keen interest in American jazz, combined with a good head for business.

He produced the label’s first recorded projects, which showcased piano styles called stride and boogie woogie, featuring pianists Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. Later in 1947 Lion’s producer chops showed that he was also something of a visionary: He produced the first recording Thelonious Monk did under his own name. This, a self-titled track called “Thelonious,” is from that session.

Carl Davis was an extraordinary Chicago record producer who did not play any instrument or read music. He had the uncanny ability to listen to various recordings and pick the one that would be a hit. His career started in the 1950s, and his first big achievement was producing a record called “The Duke of Earl” by Chicago recording artist Gene Chandler (with The Dukays). It was released in 1961 and stayed at number one for five weeks. It was the first million-selling record for the Chicago label Vee-Jay.

Davis went on to produce hit recordings by the Chi-Lites, Jackie Wilson and Tyrone Davis. “The Duke of Earl” is still one of the most recognizable R&B songs of the 1960s, which is not surprising since it accomplished the rare feat of holding the number one spot on both the soul music and pop charts at the same time.