I just had the pleasure of watching a documentary on one of the great unheard voices in music over the past 50 years… or should I say “heard?” This man, Tom Dowd, was a musical engineering genius, and had his hands in projects with everyone from Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Derek and the Dominos, and many, many, more… just look at all the names on the poster. His range of musical knowledge was intimidating, and has worked with everything from jazz, to soul, to rock, to even putting out records for Latin bands. He was in the studios of New York City at the age of 16 when recordings were still being recorded direct to wax, cuing up the instruments like no one else before him had done. He was able to bring out the bass lines in the music. Being a bass player himself, he took great pride in letting the listeners in on a whole nother decibel range of sounds that, up until that point in the 1950’s, they just had to imagine.
Some other engineering feats include him recording some amazing work from Coltrane in an office converted into a makeshift studio at the beginning of Atlantic’s massive record label empire. To building eight-track recording mixes almost a decade before other studios. Dowd even flexed his muscles as a producer, and helped shaped some classics that we have all heard. Like telling Derek and the Dominos to try making the beat on the down beat like “Indian music,” to have “Layla” come together right before everyone’s eyes. In the words of Ray Charles, “You gotta always remember that the name of the game is, what does it SOUND like? That’s always the end result. I don’t care if you’ve got 90 tracks. What does it SOUND like baby?!” That sound you can just feel. Tom Dowd had that ear, and helped shaped the world of music that we know today. Be sure to see this if have an interest recording music, playing music, or just music in general. Tom was a kind warmhearted person who possessed one of the great musical minds of this generation, and he will not be forgotten anytime soon.