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RE/P Files: An Interview With Producer/Engineer Tom Dowd
A wide-ranging discussion with a true recording legend, and a production analysis of Eric Clapton's "Layla"...
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PL: Would you say she has any “limitations”?

TD: No. She can do absolutely anything she wants to do.

PL: By contrast, how about the Allman Brothers? What are they good at, and where might they need guidance?

TD: I have not really done anything with the Allmans since Duane’s passing. The last project I did with them was, I think, “Eat a Peach” or the Fillmore resumes. The Allman Brothers needed what I guess you’d call a disciplinarian more than any thing else. First off, it’s unusual for a band to have two drummers. It’s also unusual for a band to have two lead guitar players as good as Duane and Dicky Betts.

Much of what I did was simply ironing out the polyrhythmic confusion that often existed as a result of those two guitars and two drums. Now you can’t just go in there and say to them “You play this and you play that” you have to put it diplomatically. It would be more like “Why don’t each of you take turns on that lick, and then that will make room… “, etc.

PL: Were they generally amenable to your suggestions?

TD: All the time. To this day they are. I’ve been doing some recording in Macon, and I see Dicky once in a while, I see Gregg, I see Butch, and we’ll talk and they’ll say “Will you listen to some sides we’ve done?” They always realized that when I would say something, it was never taken as “criticism” as much as “I like what you’re doing but it’s not happening as well as it could be.”

PL: What do you consider their strong points where they need you the least?

TD: Oh, I could never tell them about their solos—they knew.

PL: This might be kind of an unfair question, but can you name the Jive projects that you most enjoyed being a part of?

TD: Hmmmm. Well, the first one is definitely off-the wall. It was a recording I did in September of 1952 with Wilbur De Paris, who had a Dixieland band in New York. His brother was Sidney De Paris, the clarinet player was Omer Simeon, and I can’t remember the drummer or the bass player.

Anyway, there was a chap in the metropolitan area at that time who was advocating stereo recording in those days binaural recording. His name was Emery Cook and he was a wild-haired genius engineer and a recording enthusiast who fancied doing raucous things. He proposed to us recording this band in binaural, and as it was jazz, Atlantic was quite interested.

I had spent some time with Emery and was quite captivated with the sound and clarity he could get, and I told them “You’re gonna like the music, I’m gonna like the recording, let’s do it!” In September 1952, we made our first stereo recording. To me, it was a real milestone, especially because stereo didn’t really happen to the American public till eight or nine years later.

PL: What was the tune?

TD: It was a Dixieland LP, actually. It was like a live concert—we hired a hall, put the band on stage, and put two microphones up. If they took four minutes for each number and they did six numbers, it took half an hour to do and boom we were done. They were very professional good performances, good solos, and for those days sensational sound.

PL: Was it actually released as a stereo record?

TD: It was released as a binaural record initially. It involved two cuts on the same side of the record that you played with two pickups simultaneously—one was the left channel and one was the right channel. Musically, it was acknowledged as a fine album, but there were not too many people who wanted to spend the money to buy the equipment to play it the way it was best reproduced, so it was put out monaurally too.

It’s still in the catalog, if I’m not mistaken, and reissued periodically in those “Best Of” series. I guess the next little project would be my becoming familiar with Les Paul and real “multitrack” recording. After I went up to his place in New Jersey and saw his equipment, I went into Atlantic and said “Hey, people are arguing about 2-track recording. Forget it. There’s a recorder available now where you record on wide tape—eight tracks which is a much better way of storing the information.”

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