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Ed Cherney: Recalling An Engineering Great

As the late engineer Ed Cherney is honored by the Grammys this weekend with a posthumous Trustee Award, his fellow METAlliance members look back with fondness at their friend's legacy.

METAlliance founding members included (l-r) the late Ed Cherney, Chuck Ainlay, Al Schmitt, George Massenburg, Elliot Scheiner and Frank Filipetti.
METAlliance founding members included (l-r) the late Ed Cherney, Chuck Ainlay, Al Schmitt, George Massenburg, Elliot Scheiner and Frank Filipetti.

Los Angeles, CA (March 12, 2021)—The Recording Academy is honoring the late Ed Cherney with a Trustee Award at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards this weekend. Cherney, who passed away in October, 2020 at the age of 69, was an award-winning producer and engineer with a career that spanned more than 40 years.

Cherney’s career began to take off when he moved to Los Angeles from his native Chicago in the late 1970s. There, he assisted the legendary team of engineer Bruce Swedien and producer Quincy Jones for eight years, starting with Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album, before striking out on his own.

Over the years, his credits grew to include some of the biggest names in music: Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger and Bette Midler, among many others. He won four Grammy Awards, for his work with Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson and Buddy Guy, along with an Emmy and eight TEC Awards, and was inducted into the TEC Hall of Fame.

Cherney founded the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing in 2004. The following year, he co-founded METAlliance, which promotes quality standards in the art and science of recording music.

Those are the basic highlights of a long and distinguished career. But what of the man? His engineering and production colleagues at METAlliance recently shared their memories.

The METAlliance Report: Ed Cherney (1950-2019)—Someone Truly Special

“I don’t know how to describe someone who was such a beacon of light; he had the most positive spirit—and it all came from the heart,” says Jim Pace, METAlliance executive director. “When the phone rang and you saw it was Eddie, it was a call you always took.”

“He was one of the bright lights in my life,” agrees Al Schmitt. “We chatted almost every single day that I was heading into Capitol Studios. I was always in a good mood after I talked to Eddie.”

“The thing I most remember about him was his laugh,” says Frank Filipetti. “When he told a joke and then started laughing, everybody cracked up, even if the joke wasn’t funny—which very rarely happened.”

“He was relentlessly kind and considerate. He was so clear about how he saw us as professionals,” says George Massenburg. “He would be so happy if you got a gig, he’d want to talk to you about it. And he’d be the last guy on Earth to call one of your clients and take a gig from you. That really impressed me.”

The METAlliance Report: Ed Cherney on Recording Credits

He was also selfless, says Chuck Ainlay, “After he started the P&E Wing, he had to stop working to run it for a year or two. Who else would give that much of themselves to the cause, to get health insurance and royalties for producers?” Anyone else’s career might be over after a two-year hiatus, he says. “But Ed came back raging with more great music.”

It was Bonnie Raitt’s 1989 album Nick of Time, produced by Don Was, that first brought Cherney to the attention of many of his peers. “I knew of Eddie, but I wasn’t aware of the greatness of his work until that point,” says Filipetti. “It became such a hit that it was obvious that this was a master at work. He’s never disappointed since.”

Ainlay agrees: “It stayed in my car—the cassette!—on repeat. Not only was the music great, but sonically, it fit the music. It was an unbelievable album.”

Niko Bolas recalls working as an assistant at Record One: “I always remember when the tape boxes would come in and they sounded better than the other stuff we were setting up for overdubs. I’d see Ed’s name on the track sheet. That’s where I first learned who he was.”

“The assistants all liked him, because he had a sense of humor and he treated them like gentlemen,” says Schmitt. “If they had a question, no matter what it was, he would answer it. There was no secret to what he did. He was an open book.”

Cherney was unique, says Elliott Scheiner. “I can’t think of anybody that was like him in this business. Ed was a mensch, in every regard.”

The METAlliance—Al Schmitt, Chuck Ainlay, Elliot Scheiner, Frank Filipetti, George Massenburg and Niko Bolas, along with the late Phil Ramone and Ed Cherney. The METAlliance Mission is to promote the highest quality in the art and science of recording music.