Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Joel Dorn, the "Masked Announcer," just passed away at the age of 65. His passing is mourned because of his enormous influence on keeping jazz, blues, r&b, and its variants, such as Western Swing, in front of the public long after big music corporations moved on to more lucrative pastures. He was involved with many hit records but I write here to tell only of my one "fly on the wall" experience in the control room with this genius of American music.
The Rhode Island band Roomful of Blues, with Duke Robillard in the lead guitar chair, had turned on legendary songwriter Jerome "Doc" Pomus to Jimmie Vaughan and the Thunderbirds, and thus Pomus was collaborating with Dorn on an interesting and as-yet (as far as I know) unreleased session at Regent Sound Studios in Manhattan.
In the recording studio was the Roomful horn section, collaborating with Vaughan's band in an album that hoped to recreate a classic Texas blues sound augmented by roadhouse horns in the precision style of Roomful. It was late summer 1977 as I recall.
Pomus and Dorn were at the controls, and the bands were in awe, looking for direction. Dorn's patented studio style was to let the musicians do their thing, and these club hardened players did just that.
I had recently met Doc Pomus and his invitation for me to come to the session blew me away. None of these guys had any record company support and everything was coming out of their pockets. Pomus had royalties from his hit songs, and as he described it, "Joel makes a lot of money with Leon Redbone," one of the artists in his production portfolio.
The sessions went fine and were notable mainly for being so untainted with commercial considerations. Time and again, figures such as Joel Dorn and Doc Pomus made music for love and not money. At the same time they refreshed America's musical legacy by making new music with old ideas.
Dorn produced albums as diverse as Bette Midler's The Divine Miss M and Leon Redbone's Double Time. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Asleep At The Wheel, Roberta Flack, and the Neville Brothers all benefited from his touch. All of them "reinvented the wheel" rather than striving for a pinpoint blast at nanoculture. Bette Midler and Leon Redbone are still out there doing it. R.I.P. Joel Dorn.
Another passing of note: Laura Archera Huxley, age 96. Known as mostly as the widow of Aldous Huxley, I highly recommend her book You Are Not The Target if you can find a copy.

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