Sunday, September 02, 2007

Joel Dorn interview

continued from Here

RC: Knowing I was going to interview you, I asked several friends of mine what they would like me to find out from you about recording Jimmy Scott. Each of them want to know why the photo of a black female on the cover of [1971 album] “The Source” instead of Jimmy? I've often wondered myself.

JD: That was a record company decision. I was pissed off. I remain angry to this day and I thought it was a big insult. There was a guy who worked at Atlantic Records. His name doesn't make any difference---he's long gone---who just said that Jimmy was too strange looking to put his picture on the cover. He had the ear of one of the owners and said to him, “I don't want that guy’s picture on the cover. Put a picture of a chick.“ As a result, everybody who was always confused when they didn't see Jimmy but heard him and didn't know whether it was a man or a woman singing was now doubly confused. They thought the girl on the cover, a model, was Jimmy.

RC: One of my friends in Japan wants to know the name of the model.

JD: [incredulous] They really want to know the name of the model?! The Japanese are so far out. They want to know the name of the model?”

RC: Record engineer Al Schmitt told me he gets stopped on the street and asked for his autograph on a regular basis in Japan. That’s something that has never happened to him even once in the U.S. during his fifty years in the business. That’s a perfect example to me of how knowledgeable and curious the average Japanese music fan can be.

JD: I could tell you records I made that that have these insane followings. Records that you don’t know: the David Forman record for example.

RC: No.

[JD: I made a record with him on Arista. A bizarre little record, but it’s got a cult of followers. I made a doo-wop record with [record producer-Jay and the American’s co--founder] Kenny Vance, “Looking for an Echo“. The Gene McDaniels record, “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.“ I thought they were failed records when I did them. I was very, very disappointed in how they turned out [commercially], yet they have these bizarre followings. The things I did with Leon Redbone. Especially the first record or two. I did a couple of Coltrane projects, a [compilation] box called “The Last Giant” and another, "The Heavyweight Champion” and some Japanese fans came out of the woodwork on that and asked questions that you would have to have an enriched fantasy life to think of. So the questions were. . . incredible. But it's great that people appreciate John Coltrane and Jimmy Scott on that level. The Japanese taste is very refined because they have a refined culture and a culture that has lasted for thousands of years. So they can appreciate the culture in other cultures. But on the other hand there is. . . [laughs]. . . someone really wanted to know the name of the model on the cover of “The Source“? I have no idea. She's probably pushing sixty now.

RC: I saw Jimmy perform at a club in Tokyo in October. Sold out at 6:30 of a Wednesday evening. That sort of thing could never happen in America. It was a great and unforgettable show, even though his voice is not what it once was.

JS: Jimmy knows that about his voice by the way. By the time he got a contract with Sire Records [in 1992 ] as a consequence of [Sire head] Seymour Stein hearing him sing at [songwriter] Doc Pomus’ funeral he was certainly still a genius and brilliant, but physically his voice was past what we tried to get on record in the late 60s and early 70s. But he still brings his wisdom and his pathos and his unique view of time and phrasing to what it is that he does. One of the reasons I fought so hard to record him back then [in 1971 and ‘72] is I wanted to record him while he still had his fast ball. He was at the height of his powers at that point and not being recorded. As a fan, I shared Doc Pomus' anger; why wouldn't Jimmy Scott be recorded by a major label. It was pocket change to record him back then. There's so little documentation. There are only three things that catch Jimmy at the height of his powers: the record with Ray Charles record, “Falling in Love is Wonderful,“ “The Source” and the one after, “Lost and Found, which I think is the best of “The Source” and the best of the [second] album that never came out. [note: the latter was also produced by Dorn]

RC: Why aren't the other tracks like ”The Long and Winding Road” and the other three (?) tracks from the second sessions on “Lost and Found“?
JD: Because, well, the beginning of “The Long and Winding Road” works, the second half of it doesn't. It' simple. “Precious Lord” I didn't think held up to “Motherless Child” in the gospel or spiritual category. He sang the s**t [shit] out of the first half of “The Long and Winding Road,” and the second half he started to stumble.

RC: I heard “Long and Winding Road” on the radio not too long ago.

JD: I used the first half of it in a little syndicated half hour radio documentary when we put out “Lost and “Found.” I sent it out to radio stations. Up to the point where he starts to stumble on it. Whew! Nearly every disc jockey in America that we sent that to called back and said, “Why isn't “Long and Winding Road” on the album?,” they want to know. Wait’ll Jimmy’s collector fans find out that there’s even half a copy of it available on some obscure, limited radio promo recording! [he pauses then gently laughs] They’ll go nuts!

RC: One assumes the same holds true for the un-issued track “I’ll Never Be Free,” from the ‘72 date and “Yesterday” from the “Source” sessions.

JD: The only time that stuff by Jimmy didn't work was generally when I gave him a song when he agreed to do it as a favor to me. By the time I got to the second record I knew not to ask him for certain things. I think “The Source” is an uneven record . . ..

[I start to protest.]

JD: [continuing] I gave him “Exodus.” I thought he did a great job with that. I gave him “Unchained Melody.” I thought he did a great job with that. But I’m not happy with “On Broadway,” I’m not happy with “Our Day Will Come.” Which I thought would be perfect for him. I think he adapted to it only because of his brilliance. He did what he could do with those, but if I had stayed with the “Day by Day” and those things that Jimmy was doing in his club work for years, I think “The Source” would have been a better record. “Day by Day” [on “The Source] is the single greatest recording Jimmy Scott ever made. Not because I produced it, believe me. Other than making sure he had a recording contract and putting him with people I thought he should be with, I didn't make any contribution to “Day to Day” in terms of his interpretation of it. If you ever wanted to define what it is that Jimmy Scott does that nobody living can even approach it’s in that particular song. That's to me. The Ray Charles record is not an uneven record. It's fluid all the way through.

Dorn wrote the following about the checkered history of this legendary suppressed recording in his liner notes for “Lost and Found.”

“Cut to the summer of 1963. I’m a jazz jockey on a jazz station in Philly [Philadelphia]. An album called “Falling in Love is Wonderful” is the premiere release on Ray Charles’ new label, Tangerine Records. Jimmy had been recording since the late ‘40s, first with Lionel Hampton and then on his own on Roost and Savoy. These records were great, and some were even classics, but they were not the Jimmy Scott I had [once] heard at the Apollo [Theater in New York’s Harlem]. That Jimmy had never been captured on record until the Tangerine album. . . In the seven years I was on the air [as a disc jockey], I can’t remember a more positive response to a record. Just as swift and unfortunately negative for Jimmy’s career was the response of his former label, Savoy. Savoy claimed that Jimmy was still legally under contract to them and the courts agreed. Their demand that Jimmy’s Tangerine album be taken off the market was upheld. The breakthrough he had been waiting for years went up in smoke. Jimmy went into a self-imposed exile. He ended up in Cleveland, running the shipping room of the Sheraton Hotel there.”

Nearly ten years later in 1971 when Dorn recorded Scott, Savoy once again successfully stepped in and suppressed the results of the sessions. And although Dorn's work with Scott is now available---at least that portion of it that Dorn approves of---to this day, “Falling in Love is Wonderful” with its arrangements by Gerald Wilson and Marty Paich and accompaniment by Ray Charles himself, still has not been released. It now fetches high amounts from collectors. This time the stumbling block is said to be the high price Charles wants for licensing the disc. This was told to me NOT by Dorn but by as associate of Charles. Dorn, himself, is now negotiating with Charles for release of the disc in the U.S. marketplace. Meanwhile, Jimmy Scott prevailed over all the legal wrangling and other vicissitudes of race, health, and vocal uniqueness to become, in the greatest comeback story ever told, an international music star, especially in this country. One might even go so far as to call him “Japan’s Own. . .”

RC: Just as Doc Pomus had been central to your working with Jimmy Scott, he played a part in your recording at least one other act didn’t he?
Note: Doc Pomus (1925 - 1991), a hovering and beloved songwriter - guru of American rock, r ‘n’b, and blues, wrote or co-wrote such songs as “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” and Elvis Presley hits like "Viva Las Vegas" "Little Sister," and "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame."

JD: Doc turned me on to the Neville Brothers. He called me one day, he said, “Meet me at the Bottom Line. You’re going to hear the greatest singer in America.” I said, “Who’s that?” He said, “Just meet me there.” So I go down there and the greatest singer in America turns out to be Aaron Neville. . .and that band was insane! I ran backstage and I grabbed them and said, “I’m going to make a record with you guys.” “Who are you?” “Don’t worry about who I am.” But I couldn't get them a deal, everybody passed on them, including A&M Records. First of all they had a bad reputation, they were like rough guys and there had been all these Neville Brothers stories. I was telling everybody they’re not going to hurt you. “They’re going to shoot you.” I said [outraged] “They’re not going to do anything!” I said. “Any kind of trouble they ever got into they got into was outside of record companies.” I couldn't make a deal. Then Bette Midler was in New Orleans and she fell in love with them and she called Jerry Moss [of A&M Records], which was really sweet of her. I was in Chicago and recording and I got a call from Moss: “You know that act you want us to record, well Bette Midler says they’re incredible and we’re going to do it.” We finally got a deal at A&M after everybody had turned them down.

RC: The final results really bore out your faith in them.

JD: I've produced a few hundred records with boxes and compilations and the hundreds of albums I've made from scratch, and there are only a handful I can listen to without cringing because of where I fell short, where I feel I didn't serve the artist properly. That’s one of them I can listen to. Understand when I start to rave about a record that I produced it has little or nothing to do with the fact that I produced it. It has to do with who I recorded. That Neville Brothers album [“Fiyo on the Bayou“]. . .I can’t do better than that. In fact, when it came out I was so positive it was going to be a smash that I flew to California, met with everybody at A&M, became involved in the marketing and everything, because I had never seen anything like the Nevilles! They [A&M] hated the record and I knew that record was a classic. You just know sometimes, right? Why did they hate it? They said, “Well, it’s a black act but none of the r ‘n’ b stations are going to play this.” I said, “It’s black guys but it’s a white act. They play to college kids all over the place. They play in New Orleans at bars like Tip’s [Tipitina‘s]. That’s a bar band. That’s a white audience - black band combination. But they hated it. In fact, I never made another record for A&M. I knew it was a classic and about 10-12 years later I got a call from “Rolling Stone.” They had picked the hundred most important albums of the second half of the 20th Century. And that was number fifty or something. I felt so vindicated and Playboy did a thing where they chose the greatest albums ever and they picked it. It was ten years too late. If you look at the back of the album Aaron thanks Bette Midler and Jesus. . .in that order.

RC: History has absolved you.

note: As with “The Source,“ even with his unstinting enthusiasm for “Fiyo“, Dorn has two minor quibbles about the album, of a technical nature and ultimately too negligible to go into there. They amount to only a handful of seconds. From the subject of two temporarily ill-fated projects, Scott and the Nevilles, I turned to a more harmonious and long-running Dorn collaboration.

RC: Tell me about Rahsaan.

JD: First off let me tell you about the Rahsaan freaks. There’s nothing like them. It’s one thing if somebody is a Beatles junkie or some other group that’s affected the whole world, but Rahsaan, the people who “get” Rahsaan. . . it changes your compass, it changes everything. I went on the air as a disc jockey on September 14th 1961 and I had seen his name in “Down Beat“, appearing at clubs like McKee’s Lounge, the Sutherland, and I knew he had a record. We had a bunch of jazz singles that were edited down versions that they used to make for juke boxes. So I pulled the top record. So much of my life has happened randomly. It was “Three for the Festival” on Mercury Records by Roland Kirk and I put it on, and all of a sudden the phone starts ringing: “What’s that?” They hadn't been playing Roland Kirk at the station. Hey, he plays three instruments, he’s blind. He was looked upon as an oddity. Hank Crawford told me that when he was growing up in Memphis he saw him when Rahssan was 14, so Hank was maybe fifteen. He saw him at a hotel in Memphis playing a weekend gig and he was a little boy. Playing two saxophones at once and playing his ass off. He said he was spectacular. That’s Hank Crawford talking! Everybody that I knew looked at him like he was a circus act. I fell in love with that “We Free Kings” record. I started playing it and it started selling in Philly. There was a jazz concert at the Academy of Music and that was in November, December of ‘61. Somebody cancelled and they brought him in. He was the opening act, Rahsaan, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball, Gloria Lynne, Count Basie. They used to have packages like that. It was the first time I had ever been backstage at a jazz concert and Kirk comes on and I never saw anything like that in my life. I said to myself---I was only a disc jockey as a means to an end, I wanted to be a record producer--- so watching I'm saying, “This is it!” I walked up to him: “Oh, Mister Kirk, I'm your biggest fan.” The regular nonsense. “I play your records all the time. I'm going to be a record producer, I want to produce you some day.” Anyway we struck up a, I won't say a friendship, but an acquaintanceship. It was all uphill for him because all that people, especially critics, did was look at him put him the three horns in his mouth and they would automatically assume he was a circus act.

RC: What was your working relationship like?

JD: I signed him to Atlantic and we started our partnership that lasted about 13 or 14 albums we did together. At first he would come into the studio almost in a defensive manner like “I’m gonna do this,” “I'm gonna do that,” “I don’t want you to do that.” I said, “Do what you want.” So it took three or four albums before I got his trust not so much in that I believed in him that he could do what he wanted to do but where he relaxed a little bit and wasn't fighting the record company. So I would tell him, “I just want to capture what you do. I don’t have songs for you and I don't have any great ideas.” If I was fortunate enough to successfully record a lot of the people I worked with as a producer, like Rahsaan and Yusef [Lateef], Les McCann, and to a degree Eddie Harris, it was because I had seen them in clubs and I wondered why is that what they do in clubs is so spectacular and when they make the record they’re just not the same. Rahsaan was one of those guys.

RC: I heard a story. . .

JD: Yes, it’s true. [laughs] People always ask me about that. Here’s what happened. I came into the studio one day, three, four, five records in. I had long hair in those days and a beard. I don’t know whether he was Roland or whether he was Rahsaan yet and we come into the little mix room off the main studio at Atlantic and he said, “Sit down.” “Alright.” He stands behind me and he starts wrapping masking tape around my head, and I said, “What are you doing?” “Don’t worry about it.” He finishes and leaves a little room for my nostrils so I can breathe and a little room for my mouth so I can talk. Two hundred feet of masking tape wrapped around my head like I’m a mummy. I said, “What are you doing?’ He took a gun out and put the gun to my head, and said, “I want you to mix this record and know how I feel all the time.” Blind and under the gun. He didn't say that, but that’s what he meant. So we mixed for about an hour, and I said, “Will you take this s**t [shit] off. I get the joke. I know what you’re talking about.” Do you know what it’s like to take a couple hundred feet of masking tape off when you have hair down to the middle of your back? People say is that the truth? It’s absolutely the truth. But more than anything it gives you a sense that this was a different kind of guy.

RC: But why did he do it the fifth album in? You had already gained his trust.

JD: I don’t know. Maybe that’s just the way he felt that day.

RC: Was it done in a playful sense?

JD: He was just being Rahsaan. You and I could talk for three weeks and I couldn't truly explain him to you. But I will tell you that he was unto himself. He came out of the black American musical tradition. He was an oral historian of it in the truest sense. He was brilliant. All the people who said he was a clown, a circus act, he was a gimmick guy and all that stuff, they never listened to him just play the tenor or the flute. If he had done nothing but just play the tenor I can guarantee you he would have been [then] what he’s become now which is a hall-of-famer, one of the major tenor players. He is all the stuff [now] that he was when he was alive but nobody dug it. There were so few people. One of the few critics who was on his side was Ira Gitler. When I first met Ira when I first started to record Rahsaan, he said “You made a good call here.” I wish it hadn't taken so long for Rahsaan’s ship to come in. It should have happened while he was alive. He’s selling ten times as much as when he was alive.

RC: I know I would be more afraid of a blind man with a gun than a sighted one. Al Hibbler [a singer who also was sightless] also packed heat. I might ask you what blind jazz musicians were doing running around with guns. Changing the subject. . .as a producer, do you have a. . .?

JD: A formula, you were going to say “formula” right?

RC: More or less.

JD: Here’s all I can tell you. You have no idea how many times people sign an artist. . .I told you I did it with Jimmy Scott. I said, “Here this is a perfect tune for you.” That’s what a producer does. You find material. But there are certain people you don’t have to find material for. My biggest successes were with people who came complete. Doc Pomus one time said, “My two favorite producers are you and Phil Spector.” I was blown away to be included in that kind of company. He said, “Spector makes the whole record and then he puts the artist on last. You do it in the exact reverse. You capture what’s there then you make a record out of it.” I thought that was an interesting distinction. I am NOT a passive producer, but I basically go after people who already are complete in what it is that they do and I capture it and complement it and present it. Better presentation will grab people’s attention, so what I try and do is capture what it is and if necessary complement it, do my little tricks, but I rarely tell anybody what to do or how to do it.

RC: It's a formula that apparently works. Right now Jane Monheit is one of the most successful young jazz performers around.

JD: We met yesterday. The first sessions for her new one will be in March [2002] We’ll do some things with larger ensembles this time. We’ve had voice and piano, trio, quartet, quintet, one thing I sweetened with strings. But now we’re going to work with orchestras, not on the whole record, some chamber-ish. Great songs, just great songs. She’s great, great to work with. It's fun.

RC: Any other projects?

JD: I have three albums planned for the next 18 months which I'm going to be doing. One is the Jane Monheit record, then I'm going to do a record with my son; my youngest son Adam goes under the name of Motion Worker, he’s an electronic artist. He’s got a very nice following and does lots of film stuff. He's a master sampler. We’re going to do an album of samples from jazz albums.

RC: That sort of thing has been done a lot, hasn't it?

JD: Ours won’t be exactly like the other guys are doing. Also for years my son and I walked through Central Park and recorded all the music and ambient sound on weekends, so now we want to do something with that music. If any other great talent comes along, it doesn’t come along much at this stage of the game, I'll do that. I'm in the fourth quarter now, I don't want the game to get called on account of rain and not do the things I want to do, so I've been working on those things.

RC: None of these are for your own label, though?

JD: My Label M is no more and it's NOT no more. The people who funded the label, Paradise Music and Entertainment, were taken over by new people. [emphatically] I don’t like them and they don't like me. So I got control of the label and I can place it someplace else if I want to. Right now I'm debating whether I want another label. I'm going to be sixty in April. I don’t feel old. I still feel like I’m in the 11th grade. There are certain things I want to do that I haven't done. I want to get more involved with photography, so I'm making limited edition sets of my different photographs. I just completed my first photographic project. I want to make little limited editions.

RC: Portraits?

JD: No people at all. I mainly take pictures of mannequins, reflections, the geometry of the city. Right now I'm doing pictures of flags since September 11th. There are so many flags. I started writing about ten or twelve years ago, I always wanted to write. So now I'm a fifth of the way through a book. Not a book about my life, but little pieces that I write, liner notes, things like that. I'm also thinking of putting together a syndicated radio show. I used to go into the black neighborhoods when I was a kid because that was the only place I could get the gospel records and the r ‘n’ b records I heard on the radio. I’ve been listening to records that I liked as a kid for this radio show, I go back to the Soul Stirrers when Sam Cooke was with them, the Harmonizing Four when Jimmy Jones sang lead.

RC: You mentioned to me that you were trying to license Jimmy’s Scott's “Falling in Love is Wonderful.”

JD: I don’t have a place to license it to but I spoke to Ray Charles and he said, “Send me a proposal and I’ll be happy to consider it.” But first I have to have a place to put it out. He's been approached but is reluctant to license it. I’ve been trying to get the record for years. I got close in a conversation. He gave me his e-mail and said , “I’ll consider it.”

RC: Why do you think you don't want another record label (Dorn also was a partner in the label “32 Jazz’ in the 1990s)?

JD: I'm going to be sixty next year. I've been doing this forty years in September. Like anybody else I’ve had ups and downs. The early eighties were very rough for me, then kind of reinventing myself in the mid-eighties and doing what I’m doing now. It took a while to get back in the game. I started at the top. I didn't know what I was doing. I was running on steam, so there was no way to stop me. I landed on my feet with Nesuhi Ertegun. I’d been writing him since I was fourteen. So it took me eleven years to get the job with Atlantic. But I finally got it and I apprenticed to him. At Atlantic when Atlantic was Atlantic! It was unbelievable. Now I’ve got a forty year career and I have a large enough body of work that I now do 25 to 30 interviews a year like this one and it amazes me how people are affected by things that you’re a part of. There are certain things that just keep coming up over and over again. Those certain records, a dozen or so records where people say you changed my life, that's my favorite record, which is great, and then there are these records that I made that---every record I started I believed in but some of them work and some of them don't--- but there’s this core of people who know about certain records. I'm getting off the point. There are certain artists. Jimmy Scott. Rahsaan is another who I recorded and they’ve hit people so heavily with who and what they are. I wish I was smart enough to say that I knew at the beginning. I knew they appealed to me. I get asked questions, especially by young kids who are real record heads. As much as you and I are fanatics, these young guys are not part of time those records were made so they don’t have a frame of reference from then. Their frame of reference is now. And what they hear in it and how if affects them and why they relate to it, it just . . .I want to say confounds. . .. It doesn’t confound me but it does amaze me.

RC: With all the concentration on your accomplishments, I've failed to ask you how you got started.

JD: My whole life as a record producer is based upon two things. When I was a year-and-a-half my mother used to play me Al Jolson records. During World War II we would get up in the morning my mother would check the news to see if her brother in New Guinea was still alive and okay and then she would play me “April Showers,” and I would cry. “April Showers,” man! Then I was sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen in 1956 in Philadelphia. I had Georgie Woods on WDAS in Philadelphia at 915 on a Friday, I think it was March. He played “Ain’t That Love” by Ray Charles and I was done! The first time I saw Ray Charles was when I sixteen, he was with the small band, Fathead [Newman], Hank [Crawford], I was in the eleventh grade. I went up, and Fathead and I laugh about it now, I said, “You know I am going to be a record producer someday, I want to produce you and I want to work at Atlantic Records. Every time they were within a hundred miles of Philly I was there, the little white kid backstage, and then eventually. . . [his voice trails off].

RC: “Eventually,” indeed! Thank you for your time this afternoon, Joel.

JD: Anytime. Any other questions, give me a call.

I had hundreds more For the meantime, however, I let it go at that.

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