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R.I.P. Tom Dowd
Tuesday, November 05, 2002   By: Juan Paxety

Legendary Producer Tom Dowd passes away.

[Image]Tom Dowd passed away Sunday, October 27 at an assisted living facility near his Miami home. Tom was 77.

Words fail in trying to describe Tom's influence in the music industry, but an internet search nails it. A search on the Barnes and Noble website turns up 332 available CDs with Tom's name on them. 332.

Tom was born in New York City and studied violin. He played professionally while he studied physics at Columbia University. When World War II interrupted, he worked on the atom bomb as part of the Manhatten Project.

After the war, he returned to college, but decided to take a year off in 1947. He found a job in what he called a music room (a small studio) cutting demos. A musician's strike was pending, so artists were recording as much as they could. Tom's studio was in demand. That's were he met and worked with Ahmet and Herb Abramson, Stick McGhee ("Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee"), Ruth Brown (''It's Raining Teardrops In My Heart" and "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean"), LaVern Baker and The Clovers and Joe Turner.

Other artists Tom worked with include Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, The (Young) Rascals, Otis Redding, Cream, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Chicago, Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman, Thelonius Monk, Tito Puente, and Sam & Dave. The Allman Brothers Band recorded 10 albums with Tom - Lynyrd Skynyrd three.

Tom's musical analysis was always tops. Here's what he told Rhino Records in the early 1990s:

"There's a funny story I can tell you about '634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.).' This was a Jerry Wexler production done with the Stax rhythm section. Steve Cropper was talking to me one day wondering why Motown songs went pop but our records only went on the soul charts and didn't cross over. I said that our songs were more soulful. Their songs were basically nursery rhymes because every word was accounted for -- our songs left space for the singers to improvise and that is what added the soul and the feeling to our songs. When Motown put out a song every syllable was on a beat. A couple weeks later Jerry came back and said I had a hit, and Cropper laughed, 'All right cousin, how do you like it -- we got a hit!' Everything was on the beat and that's how we got our pop hit with Wilson (Pickett). Steve put every syllable on the beat, and that was the difference between a pop hit and a soul hit!"

Tom served as an Advisory Board member of the North Florida Music Association from its founding in 1999. He will be greatly missed.

For more on Tom Dowd, follow these links:

Mike Fitzgerald's article for the Jacksonville Business Journal with more on Tom's connections to north Florida

More of Rhino's interview with Tom

Eric Olsen's recollections

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