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Who Is Tom Dowd?

Published May 23, 2005 in Documentary
By Bubba Craner | Images can be found at TheLanguageofMusic
Tom Dowd Tom Dowd and The Language Of Music
First let me start off with what might seem quite trivial. I am an avid Lakers fan, despite their missing the playoffs, however, I have not missed a beat of the playoffs. While channel surfing during a halftime show one evening last week I, with no intentions of wanting to catch something engaging, caught music producer Phil Ramone on IFC who, with his thick and trimmed gray beard perched on top of a silk turtle-neck, was warmly speaking of someone I had idea of. "Quite simply, Tom is the most positive human being you might ever come across." I then jumped to the 'last' button on the remote to check the status of the half time show, but upon realizing there was still some time left before the game got back under way, I leaped back across two hundred channels to get to Phil Ramone. But to my pleasant surprise, it was not Phil in front of the camera, it was 'slow hand' himself, Mr. Eric Clapton. From that point on I was hooked and never returned to the game.

Who Is Tom Dowd?


The film I was watching was Tom Dowd and the Language Of Music. Unfortunately, I caught it about halfway into the film. So the following day I went and picked up a copy. I was so eager to watch this documentary in its entirety because what I had caught the day before was the story of an influential music producer told by not only himself, but by music legends like Eric Clapton, Greg Allman and Ray Charles. Just to see these musician in front of the camera was enough for me, but after watching the entire film I soon realized that this was a labor of love. This film traces the life of an unsung genius; a man who among many things, was a friend, father figure, coach and inspiration to many musician whom I claim to have had an influence on myself. Tom Dowd represents everything thing that is good in what is otherwise a clouded, cutthroat and cold-hearted business.

My two cents on Tom Dowd and the Language Of Music, but without a story summation:


Tom Dowd Tom Dowd and The Language Of Music
Tom Dowd and the Language Of Music starts out in the most appropriate way: with some new artist saying, "To work with Tom, name the place and time and I will be there because Tom knows what I want to do with my record before I do. He has worked with so many great musicians that I know he has already worked through all of the problems that artist have when recording, common or otherwise." This is the opinion that musicians have of this man, unfortunately, if you're not a musician you probably don't have an opinion at all-probably because you have never heard of him.

Tom Dowd and the Language Of Music continues to weave the life of Tom, the music that he recorded and the interviews with the people he recorded. All the while illustrating the genius that this man was.

While studying physics at Columbia University, Tom was selected by the government to be part of a team of scientist that was to test the atomic bomb. After a few years of studying, and developing this technology he went back to Columbia to finish his education. However, the U.S. government seized all of the research and development that this team had done, and because of this Tom dropped out of school. "I was part of developing 1950's physics in the '40's, but all I was able to learn in school was 1930's physics. They would not have been able to tell me what I knew existed, and I had been part of this development for like five years."


Tom Dowd Tom Dowd and The Language Of Music
Tom went back to his summer job, and from there he was hired on to be the exclusive music engineer for Atlantic Records. It was at this point that Tom found his place in life. He was not only the music engineer for Atlantic Records, but was one of the leading developers in the technology of recording. He was not the inventor of the 8-track recorder, but he did revolutionize the use of it. He not only was one of the first to incorporate it, but he modified its interface, which soon after became a standard in console recording. Tom replaced the large round knobs, which took up about three feet of space, with slide wires. These slide wires were knobs that you moved up and down and were not bigger than the tips of your fingers. Thus you could navigate all eight tracks at the same time. This was revolutionary to the music and console world.

The list of Tom's imprints on the world and the world of music is almost endless, and there is no way that I am going to try to elaborate all of them. Needless to say, Tom's influence touched more aspects of music than you could imagine.

Please, please, do yourself a favor watch Tom Dowd and the Language Of Music. It is truly a remarkable story of an extraordinary man.

Film facts:
Director: Mark Mormann
Production house: Palm Pictures
Interviews with: Tom Dowd, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Phil Ramone, les Paul, Ahmet Ertegun, Greg Allman and the other members of The Allman Brothers Band, and more
Live music footage: Artetha Franklin, Otis Redding, Cab Calloway, Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, Ornette Coleman, Ben E. King, Bobby Darin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Booker T & The MG's and more.

DVD Special Features:
Over 90 minutes of extended interviews
Deleted scenes
Previews
Weblinks

Tom Dowd and the Language Of Music is an Official Selection of The Sundance (2003), SXSW (2003) and the Toronto International film Festival (2003).


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Bubba Craner
Sources: Images can be found at TheLanguageofMusic
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