From The Manhattan Project to the Allman Brothers Band
An Interview with Tom Dowd
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Okay. We know that he has produced some of the greatest records in the history of rock and roll, from The Allman Brothers Band’s Fillmore album to Layla by Derek and the Dominos, and One More from The Road by Lynyrd Skynyrd. But did you know he produced records for Charlie Parker, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding? Miami, Florida’s Tom Dowd is, without a doubt, one of the most prolific record producers in music history. A man whose major contributions to rock and roll are countless. (The invention of 8-track recording, for instance). In our exclusive interview, Dowd shares some of the gems from a goldmine of a career.
I have read that you were trained as a classical musician and as a physicist. Do you feel that that training helped you with your career in music?
Absolutely. Understand I have a premise that I operate on. One, when I am working with people, and if I find out that they are multi-lingual, I know that I have a person that has a more open mind than a person that only speaks one language. Now I know that is hard to take, but that is the truth. Now that is one. When I say multi-lingual, there are some people who can only converse in one language, whatever that language is, but when I say multi-lingual, I mean they are sensitive to mathematics, they are sensitive to geography, they are sensitive to different cultural backgrounds and historical occurrences. They are multi-lingual, do you understand what I am saying?
When you find people that are multi-lingual it is a whole different demeanor for communication and for getting things done quickly or for finding ways to get things done quicker. So when you asked the question, there are lots of groups that I have had to work with over the years where it takes me a day or two, or maybe a month to find out what is the best way to communicate with that person or different members of a group. I might say something to one of them and I have to be guarded because I might offend another because they are not sensitive to where we are coming from. See it is a game. The musical background helped me to develop my ears, helped me recognize chords. The physics background just put me in touch with reality and numbers, and it does not matter what the hay we are talking about because it all gets down to numbers. That is a way of looking at it.
Right. What would you say was your first big break in the music industry?
None of my doing, but by accident. A musician’s strike in 1948. People do not know, and again this is history, and don’t take the time to do research on it but it happened. In 1947, the head of the American Federation of Musicians’ was James C. Petrillo out of Chicago, because of the war there had not been any renegotiated or updated musicians contract since before World War II. He was nobody’s fool. He saw the advent of television and he wanted to get as many musicians working and continuing to work more and more as he could.
He announced in 1947 that if the networks did not come to terms - because all of the contracts had expired and they were all working on licks and spit - that he would have a general musician’s strike. There was no FM and there was no TV but they were around the corner and he saw it coming. He insisted, and one of his demands was that when NBC went to have FM and television shows, he wanted to have separate contracts for separate musicians for separate house bands for those shows. That did not go well, if you know what I mean.
There were only three major networks NBC, CBS and there was Dumont, and that was the whole thing. He wanted all of these people who were blossoming FM stations and TV stations, and wanted separate house bands for each of these stations. Instead of them hiring a pool of musicians and have them do the Arthur Godfrey show in the morning and you do this show in the afternoon and do this show at night... No, he wanted three separate bands. So that, strangely enough, made an explosion in recording for the last like three months or four months of 1947. I had been in the recording business maybe 30-40 days and I was recording bands and I thought ‘what am I doing here,’ I don’t belong here, but it happened, you know what I am saying?
Then out of the clear blue sky I was making the coolest records you could ever think of! I was doing a lot of Leslie Young, and Charlie Parker. These are people, by being a music buff, I used to love to go to 52nd street and see. Well, I wasn’t going to 52nd street and seeing what the hell was going on anymore, I was recording these guys! It was like I could not believe what I was doing here. But I managed to sneak in here and that was a major contributing factor. The other thing that fit with that was that I had also worked on the Manhattan Project from June, 1942 until December 10, 1946. I had applied for school credits for some of the things that I had done during that time. I took a summer job to see just what I was going to go back to school for and what I was going to do. At that time I found out that I could not get any credit for anything that I had done during that time for national security reasons. Which did not make me a happy camper. The truth of the matter was that if I had gone back to school they would have still been teaching physics classes under the premise of the way things existed in 1938-39-40. I have whole ways of substantiating that and it is very simple. The national security back then- security of atomic bombs and every other fool thing.
Back in 1943, a man named Wen P. Seborg out of the University of California, Berkeley, rewrote the periodic table, which was major, major, major. If you went to school from 1940 to 1953 they were still teaching the old periodic table. The paper he had written in 1943 could not be published for national security reasons, okay, and that is kind of devastating if you think about it. They were still teaching things that they knew were wrong from ten years before for national security reasons. I don’t object to what they were doing because they had good reasons for doing it, don’t misunderstand, but what am I doing going back to school for four more years, when I know what they are teaching me is a waste of time, and if I do not show up for class I get failed. So when all of these things came to light I thought what the hell am I doing here, and I just decided to keep doing the music business. That is the evolution. Very simple. (Laughs)
There are so many important aspects to recording like clarity, pitch, that type of thing. What do you think are the most important things as a producer to concentrate on in order to get a good record?
The most important thing is that you must have a good song. You must have a good song. You have got to have a song that is so good that if the kid delivering coffee walked into the door, he could sing the song and you would have a hit. That’s how strong the song has to be. It’s as simple as that. Now if you have a song that is that strong you are half way home. That comes from the monetary, from the recording point of view that if you have a hit song that is all you need. A hit song and get out of my way, I am home free. You have to have your hand on the pulse of the audience. You must know what they like, what they are sensitive to, and what they are ready for. Unfortunately in the last six to ten years we have gone through such wacky permutations in the industry. This is a time where TV is selling records based on what people see rather than what they hear.
Right. The video revolution.
Exactly. People are buying what they see, not what they hear. “Oh, look at that guy, he looks great” and they run to the store, or look at that chick, and they go to the store and pay anywhere from $10 - $20 for a damned cd, and that has an hour’s worth of music on it, and the 2 minutes of the song that they saw on video does not sound as good on the CD. That has affected record sales. We also have got to go through the social changes that have taken place, because when I started in the business we did not have tape machines and we went direct to disc and that meant that you had to have much better musicianship than you have today. You were recording anywhere from four to thirty or forty people collectively in one shot. They all had to play well and they had to play what was written, and they had to know what they were doing. You could not hide or duck.
Today it is a different game. But, back in the forties anybody playing a blues or gospel song and making it sound poppish, it was a ticket to get them out of the world that they were stuck in, particularly if they lived in the South or in the ghetto. Everyone was trying to get out and learn how to do this or that and take a short cut to get out of whatever stress that they were suffering. Today, I look around, and I have grandchildren at this point, but I look at kids and what effect the parents are having on the kid’s future. The kid comes home from school and the parent puts him or her onto a damn tennis court for three hours because that is going to make them money and get them out of whatever the hell well they are in. The escape route is now sports, not creative or artistic. The kids on the street corner shooting baskets and not going to school have a better chance of getting into a college and a higher education than a kid with a 5.0 average. These are social changes. It’s ridiculous!
When you were talking about songs, and talking about the power of a good song. You have done so many it is hard to say, but can you name like 5-6 songs off the top of your head that you knew upon hearing them that they would be a hit?
There are 2-3 old songs that I knew that never had hit status, but when I did them I knew ultimately one of them would be a hit, I just knew it. “Mack the Knife.“ Stephen Stills song, “For What It’s Worth.“ That was a classic bit of writing, a classic lyric, and a classic delivery. Everything that you would want, there it is in one lump, enjoy it. I thought, wow, where did this come from? It was like he took a picture in his mind and he painted the picture perfectly.
And it kind of reflects the feel of the 60’s in that one song.
Exactly. There is the evolution. Protest songs are not new. If you go back to the 40’s, and 50’s, King Cole, (sings) “they tried to tell us that we were too young,” that is a protest song, but a polite protest song. There is a whole pile of things of that nature. On the other hand that is one species of song. When I heard and recorded “What I Say,” I knew I had a hit.
Yeah, I knew I had a hit because, one, it was Ray Charles; two, it was danceable; and three, it was just an outstanding performance, well organized, and put together. Everything fell into place, and all the chips are still there. I knew it, I knew “What I Say” would tear everybody’s head off.
And it still does...as does the Stephen Stills song...the good songs just endure don’t they?
Yes. Now, there is another master work that I hear all the time, and I want to cry because people do not know what it is. Charlie Parker, “Yardbird Suite,” they do not know that “Hucklebuck” is from there and “Ragmop” is from there, and there are a dozen songs that come out of “Yardbird Suite,” and they do not know what “Yardbird Suite” is. I know what I heard and I thought, that is forever. There is no way you can get rid of it, or hide it. It is there now and forever. That is another world. The other one that I knew was a hit, and it was the second time I had recorded the song and I never thought it was going to be a white hit, I knew it was R&B, and a black hit, was “Respect.” They did the original record with Otis (Redding), who wrote the song, and then a couple of years later I did it with Aretha (Franklin), and when I heard Aretha’s version I just sat and I thought, “Otis, I am sorry, but you lose.” (Laughs)
The lady could sing and man she laid it down, didn’t she?
(Laughs) Yeah, she put it there, no question about it!
I love that song, and I love Aretha. I want to ask you several questions because our magazine focuses on music that comes out of the South, and I want to ask you about a few friends and people that you have worked with and just get some of your insight. One is a friend of mine, Jimmy Johnson.
Oh, Jimmy from Muscle Shoals, he is a beautiful, quiet, soft spoken guy. Always kept to himself, and he never got the claim to fame that he deserves. A sweetheart of a person, a good person and a nice human being. Give him a hug and kiss when you see him again.
What was it like working with Cream?
(Laughs) That’s funny. The first time with Cream, because of the political and social climate of the time, the United States and Great Britain were not in love with each other exchanging musicians. There were strict rules that you had to go by, you could not do this or you could not do that. Visas were necessary for the bands to play. It was tacky, it was sticky, and it was stinky. The English were in distress, when I say that they were in distress, they did not have that much national product going for them. So they had their hands full just trying to stay even and the greatest export that they had was the Beatles. This led to a very strange situation, where if a five man English group came over here they had a 20-28 day visa and they would work so many days, but only if America could send a five man group over to England to work for the same amount of time.
Okay, somewhere along the line Ahmet Ertegun was in England and heard Eric Clapton playing in a club where Wilson Pickett was playing and he said that he had to get that guitar player and so forth and so on, and it turned out that it was Eric Clapton, and he was signed to Robert Stigwood, and Ahmet then grabbed Stigwood and made some kind of deal with him that when that group came to the United States, Atlantic would try and record them. That is it in a nutshell. Then I was sitting in my studio one day on 60th street and remixing something for them. Ahmet called me on a Wednesday night and said that there was a group coming in here tomorrow and they have to be on a plane back to England by Monday- and see if you can get anything out of them. I did not know the group from squat.
They had made an album in England called Fresh Cream and they were over here as one of those reciprocity deals promoting their English album. When I went into the studio at ten in the morning and there were some roadies setting up double stacks of Marshalls. I was thinking ‘what the hell am I walking into?’ So I say okay, I had to put earphones on to protect my ears when I walked into the studio, they were loud and ferocious. I went in and moved a couple of mikes and talked to them and we did this and that and it was a long day, and they came back on Friday and we did some more songs and I said that we should do this one again and I think that we could do it better. Generally, we made acquaintances and became friendly and then on Saturday we changed some solos, and horsed around with that and I am trying to think what else we did. We overdubbed some vocals and changed some vocals.
Then the next afternoon on Sunday, we came in to listen to what we had done and redo some stuff and then at about 5 p.m. a chauffeur came into the control room and said he was there to pick up three guys to take to the airport and they looked at each other and said oh, that’s us. They just got up and said their goodbyes and went out to the airport. They left me with all the tape. The following week I mixed it down and sent a copy of the tape to England and like one week later the album was out on the street and was tearing everyone’s head off. We did the whole album in about three and a half days. That was Disraeli Gears.
Oh, the best one!
Yeah, in about 3.5 days we did it. I am still reeling from it, if you know what I am saying. (Laughs) I didn’t know the songs, I did not know what they were playing. They walked out and never said another word, got on the plane. When I sent the rough mixes, they said that was great and let’s put it out. They had never been exposed to eight track recording before. In England, even in those days, they were still recording on 3-4 tracks. I had been recording on eight tracks since 1958, and I had like 8-9 years of head start on them recording wise, so all I was doing was restoring information. Then when we were listening back, I was thinking that I could change that or move this, so I was thinking ahead of where they were before they did it. We just got along famously and when that album hit, and it came time to record again they never said “oh, we don’t like this or that,” they never argued with me or said anything to me. We got along famously and it was a love affair.
What did you think about Jack Bruce’s singing?
Oh, great. The band was a magnificent band. Personally, they did not like each other. They did not get along with each other in the studio and there were all kinds of strange things going on all the time. At the end of the day I would ask them what time they wanted to start tomorrow, and they would say about 1 p.m., and I would say ‘just be there’ and they would show up clean as a whistle. When they were done they might have been fractured six ways from Friday. When they showed up and counted off, they were all starting together and clear eyed, we were in business. There were times they would sit in the control room and listen but not converse with each other. Then there were times when they would converse for half an hour and banter around a whole evolution of change taking place. I learned to know the group in a hurry during those exercises. It was unusual.
It goes back to what you were saying earlier, you just watch and study whoever you are working with and learn how to communicate with them. I guess you had three different kinds of communication going there.
Oh, yeah that was an entirely different world. That gets down to the same thing, that when I was doing either Lynryd Skynryd and the Allman Brothers, I did not know who could read or write music. All I knew was Duane because I had used him as a side man down in Muscle Shoals. I had be be careful if I would say ‘let’s go to the F-chord’ and somebody would look at me and say ‘what’s an F-chord.‘ You know what I mean?
Here, watch me and play this?
Yeah, give them a lyric and they know where they are. So you must find different ways of communicating with people, so you can get the best work done. Another thing that I learned in time was that if I was having a problem with a part and did not feel comfortable or well enough to communicate properly with the guy that was giving me the heartburn, I would then intentionally change a part on somebody that I had good communication with that was playing an exclusive part. I would change that part dramatically, the worst way it could be changed and that was to get other people to do different things. Because when I changed one part, then the other parts would change and all of a sudden the guy I can’t communicate with is doing something great and I tell him to keep it up and don’t forget that. Then I go back to the original guy and change it back to where we started and tell him to do what we were originally doing.
A little psychology goes a long way...
Yeah, because if I gave the miscommunicating guy a part, he might not learn it, or take offense. If I let him invent something and fall in love with it ... you get things to play better and you are not the bad guy.
You produced what have always been my two favorite albums. Layla and Fillmore East.
Oh, yeah, the Fillmore album. I had been in Africa for a month doing a show called Soul to Soul, doing a film and a recording. I got home on the weekend and I did not expect to be home by the time I got home, because I ran into inclement weather coming out of Africa. I came all the way back to New York. I called in and said I was back in New York and that I was going to take a day and then go home. Jerry Wexler said, “I sure am glad you are here because the Allman Brothers are recording on Monday down at the The Fillmore.” I thought, that’s interesting, and he set up an exquisite recording space. I went down because I had experience with the two drums and the bass and the two guitars and this and that and more or less told them how to lay out the tracks and they put up the microphones.
It was good crew. I was just being a catalyst about things. As things were going I was sitting in the truck and the Brothers didn’t even know I was there. I was sitting in there and I was saying, “Alright, there is going to be a guitar solo, we are going onto multi-track, and I am just alerting the engineer as to what to look for. About 4 - 5 numbers into the show, the second comes up and taps me on the shoulder and says, “You didn’t tell me where to put the horns.” I said, “What horns?” I’m thinking that he is being a smart-ass and being funny or something. But no, there are two horns and a harp coming onto the stage. I am thinking, where am I going to put them? Stick them on one of the vocal tracks- I really don’t give a damn! Then when I heard what the horns were playing, I beelined it out of the truck and went backstage and as Duane came off the stage, I said, “You son of a bitch- if you ever do that to me again you’re gone and if those horns walk onstage one more time I am pulling the recording.” He just looked at me, because I had never spoken to Duane like that. Duane and I were hand holders. I had never accosted him like that.
They did another show that night and I said, “Now, I want you guys to come up to the studio and I am taking the tapes with me and I am going to play you tonight’s show.” We argued in between shows and I told them they could put the harp player back in, but don’t ever let those horns onstage again or I am pulling the pin. So that night we went back to the Atlantic Studio and I played them the entire show and I let them hear what the horns were doing, and Duane said “okay, the horns are fired, they are gone.” So then we made it a practice, after every show, 2:00 am we were in a taxi cab and going back up to Atlantic- grabbing hamburgers, hot dogs, Chinese, whatever the hell, and we would sit down and listen to the entire show, both sets. By so doing after the second night, four shows, we would say well we don’t have to do “Elizabeth Reed” again, or this song again, and so let’s put this song in and this song in and change the next days shows, saying we don’t have to do this song, we have it already.
So after four nights the album was all together and we knew what was going to be the top priority or pick of songs that were going onto the album. Because everybody in the band had come up to the studio every night after the show and listened to every song, and we had all agreed on what we wanted to do, with who and so forth. In listening to the various takes, Dickey Betts wanted to use a solo from one version of “Elizabeth Reed” and the band said “whatever he wants, we love this take,” so I wired Dickey’s solo from one take into another take- they were that close in tempo, you never knew. I used "Hot 'lanta," but I could not use the best version because I could not get rid of the damn horns! Remember we were going onto 12-inch discs so that we only had 17 to 19 minutes on each side, so we were limited as to what we could employ. In going through the “Whipping Posts,“ because that song closed every show, there was one show where some guy in the audience yelled out and the band cracked up when they heard this.
So when it came time to mix the album down, the band was back on the road, I had already decided what 7-8 cuts we were going to use, and I had come up with the correct “Whipping Post,” but as tongue- in- cheek so that when they heard it they would crack up, I threw in an overdub of this guy in the back of the audience yelling onto the tape we were using. (Laughs) So when I am asked 25 years later to remix the damn thing for cd, we transferred everything that was ever recorded, and it took 3-4 days and I sat there and listened attentively to everything. I had the band’s blessings, and I put “Elizabeth Reed” back together the way it was, and Dickey did not object. I used my favorite version of "Hot 'lanta" because going to digital I could find ways to hide the horns that I could not find in the old analog days. So I switched the take on "Hot 'lanta," and I used the echo version of “Whipping Post,“ but I did not add in the idiot that screams, “Play “Whipping Post!” You know, I am still getting mail that I used the wrong tape, can you believe it?! That’s how much people know, you gotta crack up laughing. (Laughs)
That album taught me something, and it worked years later with Skynryd when we did the One More From The Road, and the first night I thought the band was going to stay in some community outside of Atlanta in a house, and instead they got into trouble and got into some fights and the next day when we went down to rehearse in the afternoon for that night’s show, I told them that they didn’t have to do this song or that song again, and they were like what do you mean? I told them they had done it well the night before and that we should insert this song or that song. So I was doing the same thing for the Skynryd band that I had done to the Allman Brothers and not repeating the same show every night. So this made them change their set list and we would rehearse in the afternoon so that when they did it that evening it would come close to good, if not excellent, and after the first night, the second night I had a case of bourbon, a case of champagne, and five cases of beer and all the floozies you could find in a suite in a hotel room. And we sat there and listened to the first night’s show and we listened to the second night’s show, and tomorrow night we should do “T For Texas,” because we have not done it, and we haven’t played this song in three years and we had better rehearse. Well, we go back in at 2:00 pm in the afternoon and rehearse for three hours and when they did the show that night, they killed three more songs. And that is the way that album transpired, but I was doing it to keep them out of clubs where they would go get arrested. The last thing I needed was two of them in jail and then I wouldn’t have a show, do you know what I’m saying?
So that’s The Road. Now, as for Layla, after I did the three albums with Cream which were Disraeli Gears, Wheels of Fire and the studio portion of Farewell, I did not hear from Eric for about two years. I could not reach him. He was having a love affair going on and was completely out of it. Then out of the clear blue sky I was working on Idlewild South, or Eat A Peach, I guess it had to be Idlewild South, but in the middle of it I got a phone call. Now, the only phone calls that I would take during a session were from my wife, my kids, or Ahmet Ertegun or Jerry Wexler, because it would be something urgent. This was Robert Stigwood, and I thought, “ Oh, boy, what does he want?” I figured I had better accept the call.
So while I am taking his call, the Brothers are recording and they finish recording and they walk into the control room and here I am with the monitors turned off and I had no idea what the hell they had played, and I am talking to England and when the call was done I said, “You guys will have to excuse me, that was Eric Clapton’s manager and he is talking to me. Then Duane says, “Eric Clapton,” and he starts playing me Cream licks, and says, “that guy?” And I say, “yeah.” He asks me if I am going to record him, and I explained that they were coming here in a couple of weeks and they wanted to find out what my schedule is like. He says that he wants to be there when Clapton comes and I have to tell him when. “Fine,” I say, “so in the meantime, let’s get back to what we were doing.”
Sure enough, in about three weeks to one month later, Clapton, and Raddle, Gordon, and Whitlock show up. I know Bobby Whitlock from Memphis, the other two I had never met before, and Eric I know from the Cream days. I said, “What are we going to do?” and they say, oh, this and that. I had warned the studio that the last time I had recorded this guitar player he had double stacks of Marshalls and was going at 120 db and this and that. Well, when we walk into the studio here he is and he has a little Champ and Princeton with him. Literally, he has a Champ and a Princeton. I am thinking to myself, “What the hell is this about?” They start running songs and I am saying, “ What’s the name of this?” They tell me that they don’t have any names of anything yet that they are still just working on songs.
So I get my engineer, I have two or three of them, and I say just keep the two track rolling on whatever the hell they are doing, and we will index it and be able to play it back to them so that I can say, okay, this series of chords should be the bridge for this song, or if you are going to do this song, you need to start on this section. So we are talking this way and they are running endless jams by me and during one of these jams who calls but Duane. He says that he will be playing there tomorrow night with the band and he wants to come by the studio. While I am talking to him, I shut everything down and Eric walks in and he looks at me and I told him that it was Duane Allman on the phone. Then Eric looks up at me and gives me the Duane Allman solo on the back of Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude,” he plays it note for note. I told him that Duane wanted to meet him, and that his band was playing in an open air concert at Miami Beach tomorrow at 7:00 pm and he says, “We’ll be there!”
So I got a limousine and threw the band in and I take them down and the Allman Brothers are already on stage. I sneak them in from backstage and we are sitting in the barrier that protects the band from the audience. Nobody knows that we are there because we are behind the security line and have crawled in on all fours. Duane is doing a solo and he opens his eyes and here is Eric staring at him and he just stops dead in his tracks. Then, Dickey is like, looking sideways at Duane, and he figures that either his amp is broken or his string is broken off and Dickey starts soloing. You know what I’m saying (Laughs).
Then when that show is over we all go backstage and everyone is hugging and talking and playing licks and then by about 11:00 pm at night we all go back to the studio. I had all the engineers and told them whatever the hell, roll 16 tracks, don’t let anything go unrecorded. We recorded everything that was going on. We had Gregg Allman playing organ, Whitlock on piano, Jaimoe on drums for his song, and Jim Gordon was playing percussion, and here Eric and Duane were playing licks to each other and all of a sudden Duane would say, “oh, no, that’s not how I do it, I do it this way,” because he would recognize what Eric copied. Then Eric would recognize something that Duane copied and correct him, and here they are switching guitars, switching fingerings, it was like a marriage made in heaven. None of this, “I can play better than you” crap. It was a marriage made in heaven. They proceeded to jam until 3 - 4:00 pm in the afternoon. Everyone was exhausted. They talked about when could we get back together to record. They had formulas for 2-3 different songs. In a couple of days Duane came back, and we did the whole album in ten days. If you look at the sheets of the reissued version we did it in ten days.
It’s amazing, I’ve seen it. You always seem to get things done quickly.
Well, when you’re hot, you’re hot- and I just don’t want to run up a studio bill. The difference is this. I have had this argument with prosperous artists, although it doesn’t really effect them. I look at the recording studio like an emergency room in the hospital. When you show up in the recording studio, you are supposed to be a professional and you should know what you are going to do and let’s do it. Do you understand what I am saying?
Boy do I.
As opposed to groups in later years, and it goes on today. Three days to get a drum sound. Nobody buys the damn record for the drum sound! You are paying $400.00 an hour for three days -$10,000, so when we mix you are going to say that it’s too loud. What the hell are we doing? Then they say, “What’s the intro?” They argue for three days about the intro and then you end up with seven-thousand dollar recording budget. I am saying give me a rehearsal hall and lets beat the crud out of the rehearsal hall and have all the fights and arguments there for 25-40 bucks an hour, and when we have the song down to anywhere from 3-10 minutes let’s go into the studio and do and then be done with it! We do it in a day. That way, your budget is like a quarter or a third of what people normally spend.
It seems like a lot of it has to do with how much of a prima donna someone is, some of these people just get spoiled and think they can do anything that they want to do.
I did not teach it to them, this is something that the Stax crew used to do, because before they became nationally prominent they all had day jobs and they would show up in the studio after the day job 7-8:00 pm and each would be carrying a doggie bag from what they grabbed on their way over from whatever the hell their day job was, and again Al Jackson was pumping gas at the family station and Steve Cropper was working behind the counter at Stax Record shop. Each one of them had input from each segment of society that they had been exposed to on a daily basis. They would be jamming on things and they would say, “Hey man, you know that lick we were talking about before that would be great right there, and they would be composing and arranging things on the fly and this is how they put some of their stuff together. Then when an artist came in and sang them a song,they would say, Hey man, you know that thing we were doing the other day that belongs there and from constant playing and recall they would conjure up an arrangement that would make you go, “wow.” That’s how tight they were. They knew what they were doing.
This next question I would like to do is a word association with names. Just to call out a few of the people that I have admired over the years and give me a brief description, like what you did earlier.
Duane Allman - A pussycat, an absolute humble, soft spoken, brilliant leader. He never provoked anyone in the band. He was never demonstrative but he was in charge and he got everyone to go the right way whether he did it by playing them something or saying something to them.
Eric Clapton - a basically insecure person for a very, very long time. In his heart a good human being and a kind human being and ultimately through the years he decided that he had been making mistakes for a long time and accepted the responsibility and has since become a very sober, very serious still good person. Like Eric in the 60’s and 70’s would never get out of bed before 3-4:00 in the afternoon and you never knew what was going to climb out of bed. When we were recording in Nassau in Compass Point, I am an early riser and would be up at 6:00 am and I would look out the door of the cottage I was in and there was Eric walking down the beach in a bathing suit with an acoustic guitar walking ankle deep playing and singing. Hello? Now if Eric is in a community and you go look for him and want to interview him, is he out on a binge again, hell no, and it does not matter what community he is in, he is in an AA or drug rehab clinic and he is now available in the hotel at 2:00 pm and able to talk with you. He is in a clinic somewhere out there everyday and telling people that he did this and that and he was wrong and that this is better. That is devotion and obligation, that is the nature of the man.
Bobby Whitlock - I like Bobby but he does exaggerate once in a while. I have challenged him once or twice and told him that he has bad recall. Because Bobby Whitlock would tell you if you asked him that drugs were rampant and all over the floor during the Layla sessions and it was here and there all over the place. Not true.
I did read in an article last night when I was doing some research that he had said that, and then read something where you said that during the Layla sessions it was not that way.
Yes, that’s right, and what I will say is that I have never taken an artist to task about what he does with his time or his life, it is his, he’ s entitled. About the Layla sessions, and the same with the Allman Brothers, they were just a step above trouble, if I said 2:00 pm tomorrow we record, whether it was the Allman Brothers or Whitlock, Derek and company, I would have five guys in front of me, clear-eyed, with their hair combed, and with their instruments in tune, ready to play. They were ready, because I said be here at 2:00 pm, and they would be there, ready and asking what we were doing today. Now at 6:00 pm, or if it was a bad day, I would say “what I am doing for the rest of the day is overdubbing and the rest of you can go home.” I couldn’t tell you if they broke out the door or started doing lines on the floor because I could really give a damn. Because they would say, “Oh, we’re done?” and all hell would break loose. That would be the respect that they were showing for my saying to be here at so and so, and they would show up clean as a whistle and ready to play. Four hours later, they would be standing there drooling to get into whatever they were into, understand, but they were not going to break ranks until I said I am done with you and go home. I was not going to argue with them. On the other hand, I never had a problem when I charged members of those groups with responsibility, they met the obligation and were ready to meet it. Now, there might have been drugs ongoing 1-2 hours after the session was over but I really did not give a damn. That is the way it was.
I went for a long time assuming that it was Whitlock that played the coda on Layla but it wasn’t was it?
No, that was Jim Gordon, the drummer.
That part of the song for me really makes the song. Not taking anything away from Bobby or the rest of the band, of course.
Well, that was thrown in like 2 weeks later. I mixed the entire album of Layla and sent it to them in England. I got a call that they were coming back into the United States to do a tour and they wanted to change a solo, remix a song and add another part. That is when I inherited the problem of Layla. We did not have computers in those days, and they loved the mix we had on it and I had to figure out how to add this other part and mix the sound. It took longer to do that than it took to do the whole damn album.
Yeah, you had a lot of tracks on the song Layla, with guitars going everywhere.
Oh yeah, we only had 16 tracks and didn’t have computers and I was just stacking things to store them. Later I could look at them and say how can I use this, where do I put it and we were playing checkerboard squares.
Layla has always been my all time favorite album because the summer at Myrtle Beach when I first became exposed to the record,I had never heard anything like that. When you hear all that Duane Allman stuff riding over the top of Clapton, it is just amazing. I still turn that up on the radio and it is still so good.
Thank you. (Laughs)
Back to the names. I had a couple more to ask you about.
Dickey Betts - We get along famously and I have to look at him sometimes, and only because of that common 1940’s background do I realize where Dickey is coming from sometimes. Now, Dickey is the first to say that we used to sit on the back porch with my grandpa and that’s how we learned and so forth. Dickey was extremely sensitive to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and he did not know who they were. He was sensitive to Grappelli particularly, if you listen on Beginnings and Idlewild South some of his solos start like the Grappelli violin solos and they start on row strings and go up, now all of a sudden he is a blues, jazz, rock guitar player. He never just jumped on it like that. He set a foundation and then slid into it. I recognized that right away from my jazz sensitivity days and I could not say that to him for fear that I would upset him, so I choose to leave him alone, because what he is doing is beautiful. I would admire him and tell him that the way he started that solo is magnificent, and that what you are doing is great don’t change it, try and start everyone like that. I would tell him to try and do every lick with that touch you have right now, because I never wanted to criticize him because I would send him off on a tangent that would take him a week to recover, but on the other hand, if you just stroked him, oh, he would come up with some exquisite playing.
Yeah, when we interviewed Dickey for this magazine he mentioned Reinhardt and Grappelli as influences.
Really, well, that is the God’s honest truth, we have talked about it. At the time I don’t think that he knew them and that is not a criticism, it’s just that he never put a brand on it. It’s just classic, and he is an exquisite musician.
He writes some of the most beautiful instrumentals too.
Now, there is something that you have to know about Dickey and it took me a long time to figure out how to handle this with the band. Dickey in his intuitive plane, has a clock that does not run by the number 2. It could be a 4/4 bar 5/4 bar or 6/8 bar and he just invents these melodies that are incongruously in keeping 4/4 and when the band starts playing with him it’s like let’s go over that section again a few times to figure out how to handle the 7/8 bar or the extra this or half that. At the time when I was working with the Brothers I didn’t know who I could speak to in the band that I would relate to musically. I knew I could talk with Duane, but if I said something, was Barry Oakley going to change his part or would it make Gregg react? So I had problems finding out who I could communicate with like looking and seeking that if I had a problem with one how could I get to the others. It was perpetual and a heartbreaker and would drive me up a damn wall!
Gregg has a touch on the piano as light as a feather, and is an exquisite pianist. Of course, when we got Warren in the band that was another world, now I could talk music, chords and so forth, but if I did that, and I did it too quickly I’d lose Dickey, you follow me? Because I would say, “Okay, you know when Dickey goes to the 5/4 on the A-flat chord?” Dickey would not know what I meant because he doesn’t relate that way to it. But you don’t want to affect him so that he changes, you leave him the hell alone. If you affect him, you can destroy his creative abilities.
How did you like working with our Carolina boy, Warren Haynes?
Oh, fine. That’s funny because there was a golf pro down here and I used to play a lot of golf, and I was out one morning and he said, “You really get out early, what kind of business do you do?” I told him I was in the music business and he said that he used to have a little league team and there is a kid who used to be his best player and he is a guitar player now. It was Warren Haynes. So Warren used to be on a little league player in Carolina and he played for this guy and was the best player on the team.
Then a couple of nights after that when I saw Warren I mentioned to him that I didn’t know he had been a sports player. Warren just laughed. Warren is brilliant. I have scolded Warren about this once or twice. I have gone and seen the old Gov't Mule and said to him afterwards that I wished I had recorded the live set. He would say, well I would have changed this or that, and I told him no, I wished I had recorded it before you put your hands on it. He goes back in with his brilliant concepts and his facility to be able to adapt to equipment, and takes the most spontaneous, lucid, greatest feeling and flying stuff and time corrects it and screws it up. I want to kill him. I told him that.
My wife and I have been fans of Gov't. Mule from the time we first heard them and I have in my collection a lot of the shows that were recorded live and they are incredible.
When you look at what comes out of the studio it’s the same damn recording, changed this, moved that around and substitutes this, and basically sterilizes them. They should have been recorded and released as played. Nobody should ever touch a Gov't Mule recording, or try to correct it. I have told Warren that time and time again.