Spectropop remembers

TOM DOWD (1925 - 2002)

Music producer and engineer responsible for the sound on some of the best-known records ever made

Tom Dowd died in Florida on Oct. 27, 2002 at age 77. During a career spanning more than 50 years, Dowd worked with countless musicians from many different genres, including Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart.

The son of a singer and a theatre producer, Tom Dowd was born in New York on January 1, 1925, and grew up in Manhattan. As a child he studied the violin, piano and tuba, but initially was not interested in music. After graduating from high school at the age of 16, he got a night job at the Columbia University Physics department, while he took classes at the City College of New York.

At Columbia, he helped to run the cyclotron-the machine that speeds up charged atomic particles-after which he became involved in the Manhattan Project, the U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb, which he worked on from 1942 to 1946. He also worked at the atomic research facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

In 1947, however, after finding himself unable to get a job as a physicist (his work on the atomic bomb was considered too sensitive to be included on his curriculum vitae), he decided to apply his knowledge of engineering to the music business. After getting a job at a music publishing company, he joined Atlantic Records and began working with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. He soon acquired a reputation for technical wizardry. With his background in physics, Dowd later recalled, music production was "child's play."

Dowd's technical abilities helped to put Atlantic records at the forefront of popular music in the 1950s. He was one of the first engineers to record on tape instead of vinyl discs. This gave him many more opportunities to experiment because tape had a greater dynamic range and was also erasable. In 1952, he made one of the first stereo albums for the Wilbur de Paris Dixieland Band, which required custom equipment, including two needles, to play it.

In 1958, Dowd became one of the first engineers to build and record with an eight-track console. This allowed musicians to record instruments separately and then blend them together in a later mix. It also meant that artists could produce their own backing vocals and record over mistakes. After working at Atlantic for more than twenty years, Dowd left to become an independent producer in the late 1960s. He was much sought after and worked with, among others, the soul diva Aretha Franklin, for whom he was the engineer on Respect.

Dowd's talents were not confined to soul music. In the 1970s, when more experimental rock bands appeared, his recordings with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers helped invent the genre of deep southern boogie. Dusty Springfield's Son of a Preacher Man was another Dowd recording. He also engineered several albums for Cream, which featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar. Dowd's best-known project with Clapton (who described him as "the ideal recording man") was the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which Clapton recorded as Derek and the Dominoes. The title track Layla, which was recorded in 1970, features a "guitar duel" between Clapton and Duane Allman.

The Daily Telegraph

Tom Dowd: born January 1, 1925 died October 27, 2002