I’ve always thought that record producers deserve their own biographies, or certainly a little more information available out there.
Producers have this fascinating dual representation in the popular media.
On one hand they are the devilish lackey or enforcer of the hopelessly out of touch/money-grubbing record label, sent in to ‘whip a band into shape’ and make sure they come up with another single. The other side of the image is a skilled, intelligent person who can challenge a band and help them to come up with amazing music. In this version, a producer seems to earn a fierce loyalty from a group and develop a fruitful partnership.
Whenever I read a bio of a band, I always want to know more about the producer. How they worked, how they felt, what sort of power and influence they had with both label and band, what sort of relationships.
One such producer is the late Paul A. Rothchild probably most famous for producing the first 5 Doors albums and Janis Joplin’s Pearl. I know relatively little about him, but most of it is fascinating. A perfectionist and a man of conviction – he was able to wrestle (with help no doubt) the difficult Jim Morrison into many fine performances, but was just as demanding on the rest of the band – “nearly every song on the album [Waiting for the Sun] required at least twenty takes…while ‘The Unknown Soldier,’ recorded in two parts, required a total of 130 starts.”*
His conviction seemed most evident in simply walking out on the Doors after hearing demos for LA Woman, which he is misquoted as calling ‘cocktail music.’ Perhaps leaving a band as troubled as The Doors at this stage was not that hard a choice, but I always found it impressive that he was honest with both himself and the band at that point.
So the sad thing is that there must be dozens of producers out there that have amazing stories, but because they, like so many ‘behind the scenes’ individuals, are doomed to miss out.
Here’s a snippet from an interview with Paul in 1981, from Blair Jackson
BAM: The first three LPs consisted mainly of songs they knew from being a club band?
PR: the first TWO were released material from the original stage show. By the time we hit Waiting For The Sun, things were getting a little thin.
BAM: Is that why the production was so much more elaborate than on the first two albums?
PR: You got it! As the talent fades, the producer HAS to become more active. It’s sort of like the aging beauty queen. As the beauty fades, more make up goes on.
BAM: What specifically did you do to remedy the situation?
PR: Well, from the third album on, we got into heavy vocal compositing because Jim would come in too drunk to sing decently. Sometimes we’d put together eight different takes of a song to make one good one.
BAM: What’s an example of where you did that?
PR: I don’t even have to name titles. Every single song from the third album on was done that way. Every one. I don’t mean a verse at a time, either. Sometimes it was a phrase at a time, from one breath phrase to another.
Imagine splicing together phrases, lines and words from hundreds of vocal takes for this one:
*p179 ‘No-One Here Gets Out Alive’