The recording world lost one of its true giants when legendaryengineer, producer and audio innovator Tom Dowd succumbed to emphysemaon October 27 at the age of 77. His career spanned six decades andencompassed sessions with a mind-boggling array of great artists inrock, pop, jazz and R&B from the mid-’50s until just before hisdeath. He never lost his enthusiasm to work with musicians or cut a hottrack in the studio: “It’s still a rush,” he toldMix in 1999, the year he was elected into the TEC Hall of Fame.“You get a glow, and you think, ‘Hey, I’m lucky to behere.’”
And we were all lucky that Dowd decided to forego a promisingcareer in physics to pursue his love of music. In New York City in thelate ’40s, he worked as a freelance engineer; then, he latched onto thefledgling Atlantic Records label for a quarter-century, working as thecompany’s technical guru, principal engineer and later a top producer.It was Dowd who introduced Atlantic to stereo in 1952, and who designedthe label’s pioneering 8-track studio on West 60th Street in 1960. Hebuilt consoles and other equipment from scratch, and single-handedlycame up with miking principles in the late ’50s and early ’60s that arestill popular today. Though he is perhaps best known for the work hedid in New York, he also made extraordinary records in Muscle Shoalsand Memphis. From the ’70s on, Dowd worked mostly out of Miami, wherehe helped put Criteria Studios on the map. His records were noted fortheir naturalness and their clarity; he was, in a sense, one of music’sgreat documentarians, capturing the magic in the room but not imposinghis own sound on the artists with whom he worked.
And what a collection of musicians benefited from Dowd’s easy-goingbut conscientious manner! In the jazz world, he engineered multipleprojects with such notables as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, HankCrawford, Eddie Harris, Mose Allison, Herbie Mann, Milt Jackson,Charles Mingus, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Bobby Short, Nat Adderly andFreddie Hubbard. He was behind the board for all of The Drifters’ earlyhits and for early rock-era titans such as The Coasters, The Clovers,Ben E. King and Bobby Darin. He engineered some of the greatest soulrecords to come out of Atlantic, cutting classics by Aretha Franklin,Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and TheBar-Kays. He produced or engineered scores of important rock albums,too, including numerous dates with Cream, the Young Rascals, the AllmanBrothers, Eric Clapton, Derek & The Dominos, Lynyrd Skynyrd, WetWillie, Dr. John, Delaney & Bonnie, Black Oak Arkansas, DustySpringfield and Rod Stewart, to name just a few. If you want your mindblown away by the sheer scope of his career, check out his listing onhttp://allmusic.com.
Dowd had great ears and a big heart; few figures in our businesswere so universally loved and respected. Up until his last days, Dowdhad a twinkle in his eye and a good story on the tip of his tongue— he was quite the raconteur, his sharp memory overflowing withanecdotes about the business that he loved so much. And though nowwe’ll miss his warmth, his graciousness and his joie de vivre,his legacy is both enduring and inescapable.