Last month we lost a true musical genius and a genuinely good man, Phil Ramone. His unmatched accomplishments, both technical and creative, have been listed over the past few weeks, though they only touch the surface in describing a man who helped to shape popular culture over the course of six decades, remaining current and vital to the end.
Mix asked some of his friends in the industry to share a story about Phil, something that they will always carry with them. The response was overwhelming and personal. We published a few in the May print edition of Mix. Here, we present those, plus many more, unedited.
I do not believe there is sufficient language, including music, that could truly express the amount of love, respect, and honor I have for my father, Phil Ramone. It strikes me how lucky I was to have known him not just as my dad outside of the studio, but also to have spent so much time working with him inside the studio as my mentor. And the lines did blur more often than not; there was one such moment during the recording of Miggs album “15th & Hope” that I will always hold close. While tracking the title song, “15th & Hope” (a nod to Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time”) we all had just managed to convince my father to get behind the mic. Although Dad and I had worked on many projects before, there was something about this moment- with me in the control room and my father in the booth- where a part of me just felt complete. And as we started up I wondered about the length of time before he would say “I need more me!”; it didn’t take too long. The significance of that moment has really stuck with me – connecting with my father on the other side of the glass, sharing in laughter, love and music. What could be better? From growing up watching my dad, to assisting him, to engineering and finally recording my dad singing and having fun- everything seemed to have come full circle. Life seems similar to working on an album, throughout the process everything begins to fall into place and the bigger picture takes shape. Thanks to my dad having provided me with a solid foundation and teaching me a structure to guide my life, everything is beginning to take shape. I owe my dad so much and I am looking forward to making the rest of the album that is my life.
Thank you again for all your love and support. My dad loved you so much and enjoyed every moment he got spend with you.
I was doing an interview for an industry magazine when the interviewer asked me if I had any regrets in my career and I said I had one, that I never got to work with Frank Sinatra who was my idol. Three weeks later I get a call from Phil Ramone asking about my schedule, we figured out a time and he asked my fee, when I told him he grumbled and said O K. Just before hanging up, I asked who the artist was and he said Frank Sinatra. Later on when we were recording Frank, I told Phil that if he had told me in front who the artist was I would have done it for nothing. His answer was, “if you asked me for more I would have given it to you.” Some of my all-time favorite times in the studio were with Phil, he was one of a kind and I miss him every day.
Hank Neuberger: What Bono Said About Phil that Night
Friends of Phil,
It was 10 years ago.
February 2003, Manhattan.
Just 15 months after 9-11.
New York City is still grieving, but healing.
The Grammys came back to New York that week.
The MusiCares Tribute Dinner was Friday night.
At the top of the Marriot Marquis in Times Square.
We were honoring Bono.
There really hadn’t been any charity dinners like this in NY for the past 15 months.
At that moment in time, we couldn’t have pulled it off with anyone other than Bono.
Phil was producing the Tribute program, of course.
Friday afternoon, Bono arrived to rehearse.
I was the MC Chairman at the time, and I walked over to thank him.
As I started to tell him that we couldn’t have done this without his support, he held up his hand and stopped me.
I remember it like it was yesterday, here is what he said:
“I’m totally down with Musicares. I’d do anything for Musicares.”
And then his tone got more serious.
“But you have to understand……for control freaks like me, evenings like this are excruciating.
And the only way I can get through this…..is because I know he is here.”
As he pointed across the empty ballroom, at Phil, on stage talking to the rhythm section.
I’ve often thought that about that in the last ten years. Because Bono certainly wasn’t the only one.
So many of the greatest artists of our lifetime, the ones who made music that lifted the whole world, must’ve found themselves in a dark studio staring at a blank page, or on a stage not sure how to make it through tonight’s show. And then, like Bono, they saw Phil across the room and thought, “the only way I can get through this, is because I know he is here.”
And today, at this excruciating time, the only way I get through this, that we get through this, is because we can look in our hearts, and know that “he is here.”
Phil’s career as a producer/engineer spans 60 years…in EACH one of those six decades, he helmed major hit records that were monumental from both a creative AND commercial standpoint. this is a mind-blowing feat of enormous artistic magnitude that transcends any cursory explanations regarding ‘luck’ or ‘good-timing’. Late one night in the fall of 2012, I cornered Phil and asked how he accomplished this…of course, he was way too humble to directly answer the question but he expounded about the primordial importance of music to human beings and the value of records that permeated into the deepest regions of our souls. he was humorously dubbed the ‘pope of pop’ but, in actual fact, the nickname is rooted in some basic truth: like a great spiritual leader, phil created an unparalleled body of work that brought comfort to millions of people…his records helped them make sense of their feelings and find meaning in their lives. Phil Ramone was the greatest record maker of all time and, to top it off, he was a lovely, generous and charismatic cat….nobody will ever take his place.
How can I talk about Phil Ramone in the past? He still lives with me. My right brain says he’s gone, but my left brain constantly hears him whispering in my ear… “that note needs to be tuned;” “that vocal isn’t good enough;” “we’ve got to find a new ending here, it just doesn’t crescendo enough.” If you knew Phil, you‘re probably shaking your head in agreement right now.
My first meeting with Phil was on Carly Simon’s Spoiled Girl album. Carly and I were looking for something different. I sought out an unknown producer at the time that I really thought had the goods (he did). His name was Don Was. Carly recommended a giant…Phil Ramone.
Phil came in and recorded two songs with us. One song, “The Wives Are in Connecticut” just wasn’t working as a traditional track. So Phil asked for a percussion kit. He rummaged through it and found what he was looking for. He asked Liberty DeVito to play four on the floor and instead of playing the kit, he should play wood block, vibra slap and the toms with his hands. We added a delay and the song came alive. To this day, it’s one of my favorites.
Phil obviously wasn’t that impressed with me as it took him four more years to call me again…at the behest of Jill Dell’abate who was his production manager and who I’d had worked with on several non-Ramone projects. Al Schmitt had recorded the Sondheim Musical “Passion” with Phil as producer. He couldn’t mix the album due to scheduling, and somehow Jill thought that I might be able to sit in for the master. No pressure!
I guess it worked. We got the Grammy and we started off on a twenty-five-year journey together that took us to Paris, Modena, London, Buenos Aires, Montreal, as well as LA, Miami, Nashville, Chicago and more. Traveling with Phil was more than just an adventure. Everywhere we went whether foreign or domestic, when the name Phil Ramone was mentioned people would just gather around. In fact, it got where I suggested that when asked his name, he should simply say… “The name’s Ramone…(dramatic pause) Phil Ramone”. For like 007, his was a name known around the world. This is not normal for a producer…an artist, yes, but a producer? Billy Joel said he was as much a member of the band as any musician. He was that and more. Everything Phil did, he did larger than life. He wasn’t just a musician…he was a child prodigy playing Paganini for the Queen at nine years old. He wasn’t just an engineer…he engineered classics in rock, pop, jazz, and film… ”The Girl From Ipanema” anyone? He wasn’t just a producer…his productions are engraved in gold and platinum along with garnering fourteen Grammys. And by the way, he wasn’t just a great man; he was a mensch, a humanitarian, a mentor, a father to us all, a source of strength and light in a business all too often filled with fear and darkness.
Sometimes it was frustrating…he was such a damn perfectionist. But it wasn’t the self-serving perfection that all too often passes for music today. It was perfection in service to the artist, not the ego of the producer.
More often it was exhilarating. And far too often, I took for granted the honor that was bestowed upon me. I look upon our years together with such great joy and such profound sadness. Joy, because they happened. And sadness, because they will never happen again.
Phil was my mentor and friend. He gave me my first job at A&R Recording back in October 10, 1967. He was the most generous guy whether he was buying you lunch or explaining why you shouldn’t be using that microphone. He loved educating and training people. I was his assistant engineer during a good part of 1968. During that time I never really knew if I would be good enough to be an engineer.
In the spring of 1968, I was assisting Phil on a Jimmy Smith session. It was booked for three nights in Studio A, 7 pm downbeat. On the 3rd day, Phil was nowhere to be found. He finally called down to the studio and said he was gonna be late. He said go ahead and start without me.
That was Phil’s way. Throw you from the frying pan into the fire. He thought I was ready and I’ve thanked him every day for giving me the opportunity and trust to start a career.
I will miss you dearly.
In my early days of managing Power Station, I was trying to bring in new high-line clients. Phil was working on a new Billy Joel LP at the time and they were looking for a new studio to record in. I worked up the nerve to call Phil, who worked at PS a few years earlier. I was a GA at the time and I’m sure he didn’t notice my existence. I was pretty nervous, but he spoke to me in a warm tone as a fellow professional. I began to relax and he then advised me on how to talk to Mr. Joel about coming to Power Station. That was the first of many things Phil taught me throughout my career.
Some things that stand out are:
The time Dave Smith, Gus Skinus and I walked a Sony 3324 down 7th Avenue to A&R Studios where we had to sneak it into a Frank Sinatra session while Sinatra was in the Studio recording. See, Sintra didn’t want anything to do with the new digital technology, but Phil had to have it.
I always remember his almost subliminal off-handed comments and one-liners that cut to the bone when he was not happy about something or someone. They often took a minute to sink in but always hit home. “This is baby shit!”, or “What is this a luau?” come to mind most.
There are many others like when Ed Evans, Chief engineer at Power Station, recalls when Phil, “in an effort to move on past the discussion of a questionable Dolby alignment that stopped the session. ‘This isn’t an AES meeting !!’
A few years ago, when his book came out, Ed and I invited Phil to Austin, TX. The people we were working with there wanted to honor Phil by arranging for several book signing sessions and a couple radio/TV interviews. We spent 4 days with him from morning till night running around all over Austin. You would think that alone would have tiered him out, but no! We sat in the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel drinking vodka-tonics every night till closing as Phil held court and chatted up the many that came up to him to talk.
While living in France in 1973 and 1974, I was invited back to the US to record Little Feat, and after that was successful, to return to record Earth, Wind & Fire. But by then I was already a huge fan of Phil Ramone’s work. in fact, growing up in a home-built independent recording studio in Baltimore, Maryland, I came to listen obsessively to Phil’s already-sizable body of work trying to imagine what he was doing. Achieving recordings that measured up to Phil’s standards of clarity, musicality, consistency, balance and dynamics was a mission and a struggle. Now at Caribou Ranch this was overwhelmingly important to me, as I had been informed early-on that Phil Ramone would be mixing the Earth, Wind & Fire record that I was then recording. That was some pressure on a 26-year old.
I grew up in a stultifying music recording backwater, and good reference recording work was hearable, but not seeable: from Philadelphia, New York, Memphis, Detroit, Chicago and LA. I didn’t so much listen to Phil’s pop hits (Dave Brubeck, Billy Joel, et al), as much as I wore out Phil’s recordings of New York big bands and R&B, particularly the 112 West 48th Street studio work: that ridiculous Lorraine Ellison single, Ernie Wilkins Big Band, all of the stuff he did for Creed Taylor, and the work he did with Patrick Williams.
A few days after he passed away, a published piece noted that Phil Ramone “didn’t have a sound.” Indeed. I suppose we’ve strayed far enough away from more noble standards that this is now perceived as a negative. I disagree most vehemently. Phil’s was a transcendently competent technologist who could make it all look easy…to merge the artistry and technology and make it all transparent. You never saw him sweat, not even as he had to face Frank Sinatra’s manager.
He showed that what we do as music producers and engineers is an improvable, if not a perfectible process, where one would strive to craft sound recordings with imagination and strength of vision, which would be shepherded by record men and women to a market. today’s sounds are crushed and turned well past eleven. Phil worked tirelessly to, one by one, tweak the problems that isolate a listener from the artistry, the extraordinary power, the broad reach, and the magic of great music.
Phil taking his leave gives us no choice but to pick up the gauntlet – to pick up where Phil left off – to aspire to make really great recordings.
I first met Phil Ramone in 1989 when he came to Miami to work with Gloria Estefan on her “Cuts Both Ways”. Gloria had worked with Phil Ramone a few months before appearing as a guest artist on a record he was producing. Both Emilio & Gloria had told me how great he was to work with and had decided to have Phil help with some of the final mixes and production on the project. Phil work on “Cuts Both Ways” helped take the record to the next level.
In hindsight, I found it pretty typical that Phil could work with an Artist for just a day and they would come away from that with a desire to work with him again. Such was the case for Gloria & Emilio. “Cuts Both Ways” proved to be one of Gloria most successful records. Over the years Phil would work on many more projects with us.
I have always thought of myself as an early adopter of technology. But compared to Phil I was always one step behind him. He was always pushing me to try new software or hardware to get the job done. Here is an example. In 1992, Phil and I were starting a Gloria Christmas album at her studio. Since the album had a lot of live playing on it which was be recorded in LA it would require Gloria to do a lot of traveling. We had just finished her “Mi Tierra” album which was a 9 month project. Phil realized that she might just want to be home for a while. So about a month before we started he calls me and asked me if I had ever heard of Ed Net. Of course, always being one step behind Phil I had not. He went on to explain that this system was a way of connecting 4 channels of audio bi-directionally over specialized phone lines between two points. It had been in use by Skywalker Ranch between there Northern California facility and stages in La where film producers could sit in and listen live to mix sessions and do remote dialog looping. Phil wanted to adopt this technology for music projects.
So he convinced Capital Studio, Hit Factory NY and Gloria Crescent Moon studio to install the technology. The net result was we ended up doing allot of string and bg session for Gloria’s record with Phil in LA and Gloria and I in Miami listening in and making comments and suggestions by remote. This allowed her to be involved yet get some time at home. Gloria’s Christmas album was the first commercial music project to be done this way. And of course not long after Phil dived into the Frank Sinatra duets project with the use of Ednet.
I never walked away from a project with Phil without learning some technique or some new technology. He had that innate sense of what was possible even if he did not know how to use the technology himself. I will be eternally grateful to Phil for what I learned from him and getting me do push the envelope to do things I did not know I could do.
Jill Dell’Abate – Production Manager and Contractor 1991-present
Phil had a beautiful country estate on 10 acres, complete with horses, sheep, chickens, 5 very large dogs and cats. It was a veritable menagerie and Phil loved it that way. Whenever possible, we’d have meetings at the house or record at his home studio. His office staff was also on site so we’d all end up sitting around the kitchen table yacking and pushing the slobbering Newfoundland dogs off our laps. Karen would often join us and occasionally one or more of their boys as well. We were all part of Phil’s extended family, and when I was there I was home.
I would join my father on his string sessions at A & R and Phil and my dad would set up an extra seat with the players and I would fall asleep with headphones on while they recorded. Phil recorded & mixed so many seminal records at The Hit Factory from 1983 thru 2003 and a few records here at Germano Studios in 2008 & 2009. There are so many moments & stories as I recollect now as I type. I will give you a couple of stories. Phil was recording Billy Joel at The Hit Factory in 1985 cutting basic tracks and mixing for the Greatest Hits Volume I & II. The songs recorded were “You’re Only Human” and “The Night Is Still Young.” They were booked in for a month and Phil asked me to do a special favor for him and Billy. He asked if it would be possible to decorate the live room as if it were a yacht club. Billy is of course an avid boatsman, as was my late father. We proceeded to turn Studio A1 at The Hit Factory into a recording/boating experience for Phil and Billy with many boat ropes, life preservers, boating chairs, photos, dingy bumpers, etc…These were the kind of things Phil would do to make an artist comfortable in a recording studio. This was an especially important record for The Hit Factory as it was one of the first times Phil and Billy recorded basic tracks outside of A & R Studios and it was Billy Joel’s first greatest hits collection of his career being released on Compact Disc. Phil had previously recorded and mixed Julian Lennon’s first two albums in the same room so he was familiar and comfortable by us (this studio was originally part of the former Bell Sound on West 54th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue). All I can say was Phil was an uncle to me and the relationship between himself and my dad was very special, thus he treated me like I was always part of his family. Phil had the biggest smile from ear-to-ear when he finally saw the studios’ boating conversion completed.
In early 1993, Phil booked the new Hit Factory at 421 West 54th Street to finish recording and mixing Frank Sinatra’s Duets album. He brought in Al Schmitt as the recording and mixing engineer and this was the first time The Hit Factory would be part of a Sinatra album, and in a New York-Italian family this was truly a big deal. Phil had asked me to arrange for ISDN lines for the studio as he would need to record some of the artists over the ISDN lines from other cities via EDNet. This was one of the first times I would meet my new friend, Al Schmitt. The moment I remember most during the 5-week booking was when Phil was working in Studio 2 on our third floor. This studio had our custom Neve 8068 that was 72 channels with Flying Faders and was surrounded by four studio isolation booths (when I designed this studio with my dad I got the multi-booth idea from my visit to Polar Studios in Stockholm). Phil called my dad on the fifth floor one afternoon for both of us to come down to the studios while he was recording Gloria Estefan. This album had many famous duets with Barbra Streisand, Luther Vandross, Bono, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Anita Baker, etc…We did not know who he was recording that day as he previously had Anita Baker in to do her lead vocal a couple of days earlier. So we walk into the control room, the lights in the second live room were off and Phil is on the talkback in the control room, producing Gloria’s vocal. Well, I thought Gloria was in our live room and I said to Phil, “Why does she sing in the dark?” Phil and my father then began laughing hysterically, they then turned the lights up and the studios’ live room was completely empty as Gloria was in Crescent Moon in Florida singing over the ISDN lines. The joke was on me and the laughing was something I will never forget and cherish, as my dad was in on this with Phil Ramone. Never knew ISDN could work so well.
Phil Ramone. A man I met when I was maybe 15 years old at A&R when my father would bring me along for a session, throw me in the control room with Phil and say, “Just be quiet!” Years later when I was a budding engineer I went to a Dionne Warwick session and Phil said, “ Grab a chair and come sit next to me.” During the break my father came in and told Phil, “Hey, my son is now an engineer over at Mayfair.” Phil responded, “That’s great…Gary maybe you should sit over there on the couch.” Always loved his first reaction.
Yes, I loved Phil and through the next 40 years, we had some special moments. Phil as a man: warm, caring, and always there for you if you needed him. Phil as a musician: What can you say that hasn’t already been said? He knew music and he knew what worked. As he once told me, “Gary, it really always comes down to the music.” But Phil as a Producer–now that was really special. His knowledge of engineering, music and people made his approach a little different. To Phil nothing was impossible. He would try anything. We did a Peter Noone album in two days. Everyone played and sang live with a live mix. I still love that album. We recorded Barry Manilow Singing with the Big Bands album. Phil wanted the authentic sound so he found a mic geek and set up some of the oldest mics I had ever seen. I asked him, “ Are we really going to do this session with these old mics,” and Phil responded, ” Yes, but I want you to get a second 24-track and use the mics you want, but I don’t want to see them or hear them.” I complained, “ Phil, how can I do that? “ and his so-typical Phil answer was, “ You’ll make it work”. You just had to love a man like that.
One of the last times I worked with him, we were having many drinks to celebrate the end of the project and Phil said to me,“ Gary, one thing I have to tell you is that you have to stop telling people how old you are.” RIP, Phil.
Some years ago, Phil asked me to engineer a tribute to Brian Wilson at Radio City Music Hall with many high-powered artists performing Brian’s songs, all there because Phil asked them to be. During Paul Simon’s song, there was a musical confusion, not by Paul but by the band, one that really made the song fall down, Paul vocally trying to steer the band back where they should be, but at the end it was a mess. Paul came off stage, calling for Phil, asking if the song could be repaired, edited in the remix with what we had. Otherwise, he would have to go out and perform it again, something he very much did not want to do. Phil came to my truck and asked me to play it, keep in mind this is in the middle of a performance and a packed house at RCMH. He listened to the troubled part, and at the same time I said “No, no way”, he said “Yes it can be done, tell Paul it will be fine.”
The next month, while we were remixing the project in the studio, the Paul song came up. I had forgotten all about it and when I listened even then I could not hear how we could fix it. Phil quickly pointed to a note here, a half phrase there, a seemingly disconnected string, rearranged them into a complete and faultless musical take. The thing is that he heard it that night, under the gun, he heard the music rearranged in his head and knew it could be done. Engineer, producer, Musical Genius was Phil Ramone, I am honored to have been his friend.
Phil was an inspiration—and he will remain so. He always kept an open mind and he often saw the value of new technologies—and talent–before others did. One example is that when people were shocked that Esperanza Spalding seemed to come out of nowhere in 2010 to win Best New Artist, I knew that Phil had been on to her, and had worked with her, several years prior to that. He could be a hard taskmaster for those who worked for him, but I think all of them will say he drove them to be their best in ways that changed their lives. He was extraordinarily perceptive, and often incredibly kind, including to me personally during a very difficult time which his words helped get me through. At the memorial held for him at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, listening to the stories people told, it suddenly became obvious to me that in some very cosmic way, Phil was really very much about love.
Phil Ramone was my friend, partner, voice of wisdom and always reason. Phil was always kind and caring. I saw firsthand that the music and the people making it came first. Phil served the music his entire life. His work was perfect all of the time. His humanity, kindness and encouragement brought out the best of everyone that had the privilege of being in his company. Phil was also fearless. He had the biggest balls of anybody I ever knew. Phil could fuck somebody up if they needed it.
I still can’t believe that he’s not going to be on the other side of the phone, the other side of the studio glass, or the other side of the table. Our lives are richer because of his legacy, but poorer that he’s gone.
“Phil had the unique ability to be an island of sanity in a sea of insanity”
“One of the great joys of mixing is to be able to work quickly,” Phil said this to me just a few months ago; that mixing should be a pleasurable experience and that having everything in order before getting down to work allows one to focus on the art and craft without the tedium of technical distraction or unfinished production. He’d remind me that mixing a song was a performance in its own right and that working in complete top-to-bottom passes enabled my own real-time interaction with the music to become part of the song itself.
I met Phil Ramone in 1994 when I was a young, asst engineer at Capitol Studios. On that day I became a fan of Phil the person, as well as the famous producer. In the years since, I had the honor of working with Phil on a number of great projects, and one of the things that always struck me, was his genuine love of “the studio hang”. No matter who you were, from the lowly runner, to the most famous artist on the planet, you were welcome to “hang” with Phil. To listen to the stories. To ask the questions, and always get an answer (and oftentimes it took a while to get around to the answer). In a world where time is precious and sometimes very expensive, Phil always took the time to make everyone feel welcome, and part of the team.
I remember being keenly aware of Phil Ramone, the legend when I first worked with him. He was co-producing with Tony Brown and I was engineering. I was scared s—less. Nothing I did sounded good to me but he sat down at the console, made a few balance changes, spoke with that delicious tone and from then on we began our friendship.
Forming the MPGA with Ed Cherney and then the METAlliance offered opportunities to get to know Phil. I will remain awe-struck of The Man, a unique combination of musician, music producer, engineer and innovator.
“I was assisting Phil on a Count Basie big-band record he engineered. Back then, with limited input microphone channels, Phil used to record the 4 trumpets sitting in a circle around a single U-47 set to omni so they would self-balance the section. The producer loved it, raving that Phil used the best eq on trumpets of any engineer he had ever worked with. I asked Phil what he actually used, he said, “nothing”. All flat!”
“From the day I met Phil to the day I last spoke to him I always loved the sound of his voice. Phil could talk to me about anything and I would just love hearing him speak. I’ve been playing podcasts of interviews with him lately just to hear his voice again.”
Leslie Ann Jones
My first recollection of Phil Ramone was working with him on Gloria Estefan’s Christmas release in 1993. I was still working at Capitol at the time and was an assistant on the project. I already had the good fortune of working with Phil’s CBS contemporaries, Fred Catero and Roy Halee, but this after all WAS Phil Ramone. And it was my first experience of Phil’s never-ending quest to find the newest technology to try, leading us all kicking and screaming as we learned together. This particular session included EDnet (still an emerging technology) between Capitol and Miami where Eric Shilling was standing by, and also the new Yamaha Digital console. The thing I remember most vividly about Phil (when I wasn’t spinning plates trying to learn all the new technology), was how he was never “Phil Ramone”. He was always so unassuming…just a great producer interacting with the artist and staff.
But unique to my relationship with Phil, was our Recording Academy service together. I served as Vice Chair when Phil was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees in 1997. Actually, I think Phil thought then he could just be “Phil Ramone”, not having to do much other than chair the Board meetings. But in truth Phil took that job as seriously as he did making records. In addition to his busy studio schedule, he traveled to many chapters talking to members, and he also served during some challenging times for the Academy. It was not a walk in the park. But thank goodness The Recording Academy had Phil at that time. His even temperament, a skill honed from working with great artists as an engineer and a producer, served him and us well. He served from 1997-1999, and later when I was elected Chair of the Board in 1999 he continued to serve as Chair Emeritus and his counsel to me was personally invaluable. I cherish my memories of Phil and the time we spent together. I will miss him more than I can say.
Gregg Field, Concord Music Group
It was a sleepy Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1993 and we had just finished tracking Frank Sinatra’s mega Duets recording. The phone rang at the house and it was Phil with his typical greeting “Hey man!” Holy shit! PHIL RAMONE’s calling me?! That was the beginning of a friendship that grew deeper and filled with love with each passing year. For those who knew him well, Phil was an incredibly intuitive soul, friend, mentor and “guy.” During countless recordings, shows we produced together and the many late, nightcap-infused, Ramone life and music lessons, usually with just the two of us sitting in my living room, Phil gave and gave generously. He’s in every record I make and every note I play!
I was one of the fortunate artists who had the pleasure of being produced by Phil Ramone. It was an easy ask, he was a dear friend and I was recording covers of my early musical heroes and influences of the 60’s and 70’s, many of whom he originally recorded back in the day. I knew Phil would bring an “old soul” essence to the project, and it was an absolute joy to record. Early on, when listening to vocal playbacks, he just wasn’t getting what he wanted from me. He said, “Monica…. stop “singing” the song and start telling the story.” I was a different singer after that. Just one of the many gifts that Phil gave me…
I was mixing the Gershwin Prize show, at the Library of Congress, and Phil was the Executive Producer. I’ve done a lot of shows with him, but this one stood out because he sat right next to me, shoulder to shoulder, for most of the show. He would make the occasional suggestion but didn’t say much. At a certain point during the show I had that feeling that we were really nailing it, and Phil reached over, put his hand on my arm, and hold me there for a moment. It was probably the single most gratifying thing that’s happened in my career, knowing that I was moving someone who’s heard “everything.”
I will truly miss his company and spirit. There wasn’t another one like him.
I graduated high school in 1966. Three years later I was assisting Phil Ramone at A&M Studios, mixing “Walking in Space,” a Grammy-winning record, for Large Jazz Ensemble. Sitting behind Phil Ramone and Quincy Jones. A dream come true! I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went on to work with Phil on Flashdance, mixing “Maniac,” “A Star Is Born,” “Yentl,” and many other projects. Phil was always a person I enjoyed being around. A person whose experience and generosity, love of music, inspires me to this day. Thank You, Phil!
“Phil Osophy.” Phil held court whenever he was in the studios. He was so welcoming and happy to be back at Capitol. He gave us permission to use his quote “People play better here,” for our website. Always innovative, he initiated the ISDN fiber optic system (installed at Capitol Studios for Sinatra Duets. He shared his wisdom and knowledge without arrogance. His humility and humor coached us and gave us confidence. One time during a session with Phil connecting from a New York studio via EDNet, I was alone in the control room as Phil’s voice came over the speakers saying, “Hello Los Angeles. I said, “It’s only me Phil,” to which he remarked, “That’s fine, Paula, you can do it!” And you know, coming from Phil, I almost thought I could! Love and miss him.
Phil supervised sound quality for the Grammys. During the week, there’s a constant stream of visitors being given a tour of the TV truck, and they’re usually pretty impressed by all the electronics. Once they start to ask me questions, I’d stop them and say, “Have you met Phil Ramone?” and gesture toward Phil. Then, they’d all open their mouths, lose all interest in me, and turn toward Phil, who engaged them with his charm, wit, and great stories. They always left completely satisfied, as they had a new best friend named Phil Ramone. We miss you, Phil.
Back in the early 1990s when I first started managing Power Station studios, Phil was producing a record in Studio A. Of course industry folks knew he made many records at Power Station and even young artists who studied his records were aware of it. One day I received a call from a young, local, unknown artist that knew Phil worked at the studio and he asked if Phil could produce his song. I assumed that no one of Phil’s stature would even consider listening to and ultimately producing something like this. I listened to the song and it wasn’t very good – even more reason (I thought) Phil would not give it the time of day.
For some reason one day I mentioned it to Phil. I told him that I didn’t think it was worthy of his time. He told me that any musical artistic expression has meaning to the person who created it. Ultimately he did not produce it, but he did take the time to listen to the song and give the artist some constructive criticism. That generous act stuck with me. Ever since then, any time a young artist asks for my opinion I try to give it – remembering each time that that’s what Phil would have done.
I was raised on the albums Phil produced: Paul Simon, Billy Joel and Bob Dylan. He was my introduction to High Fidelity recordings. Those albums have been a benchmark for me for decades.
Phil became a friend and mentor. I was lucky to have spent many hours working with him during the Grammy Broadcasts. His dedication to excellence in audio and more importantly the way he respected and treated artists was an important lesson to me. No one could be more of a diplomat in the toughest of artistic situations. His influence on my career has been deep and long-lasting. He is deeply missed.
I have known Phil for over 30 years He has shared so much. Made me laugh, always caring and kind. With all his success ..Phil always made time for old and new friends. He was eager to share his knowledge and experience. He touched many…It’s hard to believe that I’m never going to see him again or hear his silky voice.
It is obvious how much Phil Ramone contributed to the musical community. He was a forward-thinking, groundbreaking man of vision. A true leader in the business of music. But, what might be less known about Phil was his human-ness. I feel sure that he worked with so many amazing artists because he knew how to hold a huge space for each person he collaborated with. That was certainly true for me. I met Phil over the phone three years ago through our mutual friend, Lisa Roy, who felt that we may be a good match creatively and musically. She was right. Phil and I hit it off immediately and began collaborating on what would have been my next record. From the moment we first spoke I could feel Phil’s genuine sweetness and relaxed humor. He was a kind and sensitive soul that spoke in a soft, warm voice that invited a feeling of creative safety and expansion. He had an amazing ability to inspire me outside of my comfort zone, making me feel that it was my idea to take that risk. I loved the way he would just give me a gentle nudge in the direction he thought I should go and then sit back and patiently wait, listen and watch to see how his suggestion would transpose and transpire in me. He held a deep sense of curiosity and reverence for me and my music, making me feel safe to fail so I could fly. He was down to earth, real and genuinely enthusiastic about all the musical endeavors he was involved with. He seemed to hold them all in the same regard whether he was working with a huge superstar or a relatively unknown artist. He was completely invested in whoever had his ear and I felt incredibly honored that somehow I was one of those lucky ones who got to spend time with him, enjoy him, learn from him and bask in his excellence and kindness. I miss him very much, but I also celebrate the gift of his attention, inspiration, support and, most of all, his friendship. I will always remember Phil Ramone as a kind of magical, musical, gardener because Phil planted seeds. He didn’t make demands. And the flowers from those seeds will grow in me and through my music forever.
Paul J. de Benedictis
I didn’t know Phil Ramone very well personally, but he knew everyone I know and worked with them all it seems. Many years ago, one evening at NAMM I was hosting a big dinner for artists on behalf of Opcode Systems, and two notable folks at the table, Walter Becker and Tom Scott, knew Phil well because when he walked into the restaurant he came right over to the table to say hello.
And prompted, as I remember it, by me getting introduced as ‘from Opcode,’ Phil launched into a fabulous story, I’ll have to paraphrase from memory: “Opcode? I was just on the plane flying here and using my laptop with Opcode’s EZ Vision [sequencer] and I feel like I just invented the Blues!” All at the top of his voice with intense excitement and joy and smiles. He seemed to remember me after that moment at AES shows or NAMM shows when I timidly and reverentially said hello to him. A great memory for me.
I only worked with him twice, a few months before he passed away.
I was sitting with him and Don Was—we were doing this big concert for peace with the Dalai Lama—and Don showed me photos of the Stones’ studio setup from the latest sessions they had just done. I asked about the mics and miking techniques, and Phil looked at the photos and started to talk about mics, miking techniques, how he created and started to use the chamber rooms—I think it was in Universal Studios or in New York City; I can’t remember. Pretty wild stuff!
My other memory is of sitting with him while he told me how they did the Frank Sinatra Duets record, all remote-controlled before there was really any Internet or even cell phones…pretty deep! I feel very lucky and fortunate to have met, worked and spent some time with Phil!