Phil Ramone: As Remembered By Family and Friends

May 1, 2013 9:00 AM

As Remembered By Family and Friends

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photo of George Massenburg

George Massenburg

George Massenburg
While living in France in 1973 and 1974, I was invited back to the US to record Little Feat, and after that was successful, to return to record Earth, Wind & Fire. But by then I was already a huge fan of Phil Ramone's work. in fact, growing up in a home-built independent recording studio in Baltimore, Maryland, I came to listen obsessively to Phil's already-sizable body of work trying to imagine what he was doing. Achieving recordings that measured up to Phil's standards of clarity, musicality, consistency, balance and dynamics was a mission and a struggle. Now at Caribou Ranch this was overwhelmingly important to me, as I had been informed early-on that Phil Ramone would be mixing the Earth, Wind & Fire record that I was then recording. That was some pressure on a 26-year old.

I grew up in a stultifying music recording backwater, and good reference recording work was hearable, but not seeable: from Philadelphia, New York, Memphis, Detroit, Chicago and LA. I didn't so much listen to Phil's pop hits (Dave Brubeck, Billy Joel et al), as much i wore out Phil's recordings of New York big bands and R&B, particularly the 112 West 48th Street studio work: that ridiculous Lorraine Ellison single, Ernie Wilkins Big Band, all of the stuff he did for Creed Taylor, and the work he did with Patrick Williams.

A few days after he passed away, a published piece noted that Phil Ramone "didn't have a sound." Indeed. I suppose we've strayed far enough away from more noble standards that this is now perceived as a negative. I disagree most vehemently. Phil’s was a transcendently competent technologist who could make it all look easy...to merge the artistry and technology and make it all transparent. You never saw him sweat, not even as he had to face Frank Sinatra’s manager.

He showed that what we do as music producers and engineers is an improvable, if not a perfectible process, where one would strive to craft sound recordings with imagination and strength of vision, which would be shepherded by record men and women to a market. today’s sounds are crushed and turned well past eleven. Phil worked tirelessly to, one by one, tweak the problems that isolate a listener from the artistry, the extraordinary power, the broad reach, and the magic of great music.

Phil taking his leave gives us no choice but to pick up the gauntlet - to pick up where Phil left off - to aspire to make really great recordings.

photo of Eric Schilling

Eric Schilling

Eric Schilling
I first met Phil Ramone in 1989 when he came to Miami to work with Gloria Estefan on her “Cuts Both Ways”. Gloria had worked with Phil Ramone a few months before appearing as a guest artist on a record he was producing. Both Emilio & Gloria had told me how great he was to work with and had decided to have Phil help with some of the final mixes and production on the project. Phil work on “Cuts Both Ways” helped take the record to the next level.

In hind sight I found it pretty typical that Phil could work with an Artist for just a day and they would come away from that with a desire to work with him again. Such was the case for Gloria & Emilio. “Cuts Both Ways” proved to be one of Gloria most successful records. Over the years Phil would work on many more projects with us.

I have always thought of myself as an early adopter of technology. But compared to Phil I was always one step behind him. He was always pushing me to try new software or hardware to get the job done. Here is an example. In 1992 Phil and I where starting a Gloria Christmas album at her studio. Since the album had allot of live playing on it which was be recorded in LA it would require Gloria to do allot of traveling. We had just finished her “Mi Tierra” album which was a 9 month project. Phil realized that she might just want to be home for awhile. So about a month before we started he calls me and asked me if I had ever heard of Ed Net. Of course always being one step behind Phil I had not. He went on to explain that this system was a way of connecting 4 channels of audio bi directionally over specialized phone lines between two points. It had been in use by Sky Walker ranch between there Northern California facility and stages in La where film producers could sit in and listen live to mix session and do remote dialog looping . Phil wanted to adopt this technology for music projects.

So he convinced Capital Studio, Hit Factory NY and Gloria Crescent Moon studio to install the technology. The net result was we ended up doing allot of string and bg session for Gloria’s record with Phil in LA and Gloria and I in Miami listening in and making comments and suggestions by remote. This allowed her to be involved yet get some time at home. Gloria’s Christmas album was the first commercial music project to be done this way. And of course not long after Phil dived into the Frank Sinatra duets project with the use of Ednet.

I never walked away from a project with Phil without learning some technique or some new technology. He had that innate sense of what was possible even if he did not know how to use the technology himself. I will be eternally grateful to Phil for what I learned from him and getting me do push the envelope to do things I did not know I could do.






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