Sunday Brunch With Tom Dowd
Tom Who?, you say. Gimme a few minutes.
Tom Dowd was already an accomplished musician when, while studying and working in the physics lab at Columbia University, he worked on the Manhattan Project, helping to invent the atomic bomb.
It was perhaps his only bomb.
Because Tom Dowd left physics behind, and went to work as an audio engineer, joining a nascent Atlantic Records as that legendary label was exploding. It was Tom Dowd who captured the magic of some of the earliest hits in rock and roll, The Chords’ “Sh-Boom” and “Money Honey” by Clyde McFatter and The Drifter’s.
And the hits (and important jazz recordings) just kept on comin’! Ray Charles, Charlie Mingus, The Modern Jazz Quartet, LaVern Baker, and more. Including an all-time classic, #1 in 1959, #251 on the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs list. Ladies and Gentlemen, Bobby Darin’s Grammy Award winning Record of the Year.
In the 60’s, Tom Dowd was there, as Ahmet Ertegun pushed Atlantic into the stratosphere. There was The Drifters with “Under The Boardwalk“. He traveled to Memphis and later Muscle Shoals, to supervise the recordings by Stax Records artists like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. He engineered Disraeli Gears by Cream. He engineered and produced The (Young) Rascals’ first album, and their first Number One song, “Good Lovin’“.
And, in 1967, Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler and “The Swampers” from Muscle Shoals, Alabama captured the brilliance of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s lyrics, with the singular, superlative voice of Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin.
In the 70’s, Tom Dowd alternated between engineering and producing, making sound come alive and helping to shape the recording visions of artists who became legends. He produced The Allman Brothers” debut album, and later, their masterpiece “At Fillmore East“. He produced virtually the entire Rod Stewart album catalog of the 70’s, including Atlantic Crossing, A Night On The Town and Blondes Have More Fun.
Almost done. Tom Dowd, in fall of 1970, while working at Criteria Studios in Miami, introduced Duane Allman to Eric Clapton, and the result was one of the greatest recordings, and albums of all-time. Here is Eric, with guitar wizard Mark Knopfler, capturing that magic at in 1988.
Tom Dowd continued his musical journey through the 80’s and 90’s, engineering, producing, supervising the digital re-releases of the Atlantic catalog. He passed away in 2002. Ten years later, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and given an Award for Musical Excellence. Rock and Roll has never been so understated.
If you wish to learn more, about this fascinating man, I recommend perhaps the best music documentary ever produced, Tom Dowd and The Language of Music. Thanks for lingering over Sunday Brunch on Keener.