Phil Ramone: As Remembered By Family and Friends
May 1, 2013 9:00 AM
As Remembered By Family and Friends
How can I talk about Phil Ramone in the past? He still lives with me. My right brain says he’s gone, but my left brain constantly hears him whispering in my ear…”that note needs to be tuned.”; “that vocal isn’t good enough”; “we’ve got to find a new ending here, it just doesn’t crescendo enough”. If you knew Phil, you ‘re probably shaking your head in agreement right now.
My first meeting with Phil was on Carly Simon’s Spoiled Girl album. Carly and I were looking for something different. I sought out an unknown producer at the time that I really thought had the goods (he did). His name was Don Was. Carly recommended a giant…Phil Ramone.
Phil came in and recorded two songs with us. One song, “The Wives Are in Connecticut” just wasn’t working as a traditional track. So Phil asked for a percussion kit. He rummaged through it and found what he was looking for. He asked Liberty DeVito to play four on the floor and instead of the playing the kit, he should play wood block, vibra slap and the toms with his hands. We added a delay and the song came alive. To this day it’s one of my favorites.
Phil obviously wasn’t that impressed with me as it took him four more years to call me again…at the behest of Jill Dell’abate who was his production manager and who I’d had worked with on several non Ramone projects. Al Schmitt had recorded the Sondheim Musical “Passion” with Phil as producer. He couldn’t mix the album due to scheduling, and somehow Jill thought that I might be able to sit in for the master. No pressure!
I guess it worked. We got the Grammy and we started off on a twenty-five year journey together that took us to Paris, Modena, London, Buenos Aires, Montreal, as well as LA, Miami, Nashville, Chicago and more. Traveling with Phil was more than just an adventure. Everywhere we went whether foreign or domestic, when the name Phil Ramone was mentioned people would just gather round. In fact, it got where I suggested that when asked his name, he should simply say…”The name’s Ramone…(dramatic pause) Phil Ramone”. For like 007, his was a name known around the world. This is not normal for a producer…an artist, yes, but a producer? Billy Joel said he was as much a member of the band as any musician. He was that and more. Everything Phil did, he did larger than life. He wasn’t just a musician…he was a child prodigy playing Paganini for the Queen at nine years old. He wasn’t just an engineer…he engineered classics in rock, pop, jazz, and film…”The Girl From Ipanema” anyone? He wasn’t just a producer…his productions are engraved in gold and platinum along with garnering fourteen Grammys. And by the way, he wasn’t just a great man; he was a mensch, a humanitarian, a mentor, a father to us all, a source of strength and light in a business all too often filled with fear and darkness.
Sometimes it was frustrating…he was such a damn perfectionist. But it wasn’t the self-serving perfection that all too often passes for music today. It was perfection in service to the artist, not the ego of the producer.
More often it was exhilarating. And far too often, I took for granted the honor that was bestowed upon me. I look upon our years together with such great joy and such profound sadness. Joy, because they happened. And sadness, because they will never happen again.
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