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sgcim

"Truth, Lies, & Hearsay" A Memoir of a Musical Life In and Out of Rock and Roll" by John Simon

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This is an autobiography of the record producer/pianist/arranger/composer/vocalist John Simon (as he says, 'NOT the critic').

Simon came from an intensely musical family, and studied classical piano at an early age. He got sick of Bach and Beethoven in his teens, and became a jazz fanatic. In high school he wrote two full musicals, which helped get him accepted into Princeton, where he majored in music. At Princeton, he spent most of his time playing jazz and writing musicals,three of which were performed by the Triangle Club of Princeton. His jazz combo entered the First Georgetown University Intercollegiate Jazz Festival Competition, and they were selected as finalists.The two judges were Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. They wound up losing to the Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet, and the North Texas State Lab Band, "from a jazz program in which, if you lagged behind, you were tied to a longhorn steer and dragged from Lubbock to San Antonio", to quote the very witty Simon. Chuck Mangione's band also lost, so he didn't feel too bad!

Simon studied composition at Princeton with Milton Babbitt, who had been a full professor of Mathematics but, when many in the music dept. got drafted one year, he filled the gap and became a professor of music.As a composer, "Babbitt was one of the forerunners of Serial Music, in which notes were chosen for their mathematical relationships with each other, rather than whether or not they simply sounded good", Simon's very apt description of Schoenberg's method of twelve-tone composition...:g.

Simon graduated from Princeton in 1963, when job recruiters drafted him to be a trainee in NYC at Columbia Records.

Simon has a lot of interesting things to say about the people at Columbia Records, which had yet to be turned into a corporation after it was ruined/bought by CBS. His very first recording session production was for the soundtrack for a TV series called "The Reporter". The composer was Kenyon Hopkins, and the musicians were his jazz idols; Zoot Sims, Ernie Royal, Clark Terry, Phil Woods, and Urbie Green...He "was in heaven".

He produced his first hit record, "Red Rubber Ball" co-written by Paul Simon, and performed by The Cyrkle, and Columbia moved him into the Pop Music dept.

From there, Simon went on to produce records for rock people like: Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, The Band, Blood Sweat and Tears (the reason I became interested in him was for his genius string quartet arrangement of "The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes, and Freud, on BS&T's first album), and many other rock people, but he kept in touch with his jazz roots by producing records by Gil Evans, Charles Lloyd, David Sanborn, Michael Franks, Jackie and Roy, and Bireli LaGrene.

When Disco, Punk and Metal became popular in the 80s, Simon lost interest in the pop/rock field, and pursued his own musical interests. He is proud of the fact that in all of the records he produced, he never once made use of the pitch-correcting machine, the click track or the drum machine, preferring to work with musicians who had talent, rather than what we have today...

Simon's writing is witty, without getting 'precious' and I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in such things...

 

 

Edited by sgcim

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Interesting.  Does he talk about how he got in with the Albert Grossman/Bearsville crowd?  I really liked him on Taj Mahal's "The Real Thing."  And don't forget:

 

R-10045774-1490665535-2203.jpeg.jpg

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4 hours ago, mjzee said:

Interesting.  Does he talk about how he got in with the Albert Grossman/Bearsville crowd?  I really liked him on Taj Mahal's "The Real Thing."  And don't forget:

 

R-10045774-1490665535-2203.jpeg.jpg

Yeah, he met Grossman through Peter Yarrow, who was referred to Simon by Ed Kleban, a colleague of Simon's at Columbia. Yarrow was looking for someone to write the music for a film he was working on called, "You Are What You Eat". Simon wrote that great song, "My Name is Jack" for the film. Yarrow recommended Simon to Grossman after that to produce Big Brother and the Holding Company's first album, "Cheap Thrills" featuring you-know-who on vocals.

At their first meeting, Grossman ended it by saying to Simon, "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." If by the Bearsville crowd, you mean The Band, Simon worked with Peter Yarrow on the film in Woodstock, and that's how he got involved with The Band. Robbie Robertson called him up and told him that Dylan's backup band needed a producer for a record they were working on. The Band seems to be the most meaningful group he ever worked with, and he spends many chapters describing their work together.

He said that he learned how to really play blues piano when he worked with Taj.

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There's a bass clarinet in there, I swear. Anybody else would have used a bari. Looking at you, Charlie Calello.

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He's in that Robbie Robertson / Band documentary.

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7 hours ago, sgcim said:

If by the Bearsville crowd, you mean The Band, Simon worked with Peter Yarrow on the film in Woodstock, and that's how he got involved with The Band. Robbie Robertson called him up and told him that Dylan's backup band needed a producer for a record they were working on. The Band seems to be the most meaningful group he ever worked with, and he spends many chapters describing their work together.

I was also thinking of the albums Jackie Lomax - Three and Bobby Charles.  On these albums (and on "The Band"), Simon recorded a very dry, flat sound; it's his sound signature.  Not at all rock & roll, btw, which needs to be punchier (imho).  It might have been due to Bearsville Studios (hear the album Hungry Chuck), but I also think it was Simon.

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9 hours ago, JSngry said:

There's a bass clarinet in there, I swear. Anybody else would have used a bari. Looking at you, Charlie Calello.

Simon raves about those 45s he made with Bonnie Herman, calling her "a singer with a beautiful sound and absolutely perfect intonation". Simon has perfect pitch.

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5 hours ago, mjzee said:

I was also thinking of the albums Jackie Lomax - Three and Bobby Charles.  On these albums (and on "The Band"), Simon recorded a very dry, flat sound; it's his sound signature.  Not at all rock & roll, btw, which needs to be punchier (imho).  It might have been due to Bearsville Studios (hear the album Hungry Chuck), but I also think it was Simon.

They didn't record in Woodstock, they only rehearsed there, in the garage of Big Pink. They recorded the 'demo tracks' (which they wound up using on the Big Pink LP) in Columbia's Studio A (Simon's fave studio), with few or no baffles, in real time, with the Band playing together at the same time, because The Band never made any mistakes.

After they got a record deal, they finished up the rest of the album in Capitol Studios in LA, in the same manner.

Simon probably did get a flat, dry sound, because he always went for the 'pure' sound of the instruments/voices, without too much electronic embellishment. He didn't think of The Band as a rock & roll band. He felt they were a compendium of all the styles of early American music,

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3 minutes ago, sgcim said:

They didn't record in Woodstock, they only rehearsed there, in the garage of Big Pink. They recorded the 'demo tracks' (which they wound up using on the Big Pink LP) in Columbia's Studio A (Simon's fave studio), with few or no baffles, in real time, with the Band playing together at the same time, because The Band never made any mistakes.

After they got a record deal, they finished up the rest of the album in Capitol Studios in LA, in the same manner.

Simon probably did get a flat, dry sound, because he always went for the 'pure' sound of the instruments/voices, without too much electronic embellishment. He didn't think of The Band as a rock & roll band. He felt they were a compendium of all the styles of early American music,

Jackie Lomax - Three and Bobby Charles were both recorded at Bearsville Studio, produced or co-produced by Simon, and have that dry sound.

R-2552038-1474283569-3556.jpeg.jpg https://www.discogs.com/Jackie-Lomax-Three/release/2552038

R-2563226-1464063196-6346.jpeg.jpg https://www.discogs.com/Bobby-Charles-Bobby-Charles/release/2563226

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19 hours ago, sgcim said:

Yeah, he met Grossman through Peter Yarrow, who was referred to Simon by Ed Kleban, a colleague of Simon's at Columbia. Yarrow was looking for someone to write the music for a film he was working on called, "You Are What You Eat". Simon wrote that great song, "My Name is Jack" for the film.

The film is definitely one of the weird historical curios of the 60s. WFMU's blog had an interesting article about it back in 2007:

https://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/04/you_are_what_yo.html

And if that piques anyone's interest further, it's on Youtube:

 

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18 hours ago, Dave Garrett said:

The film is definitely one of the weird historical curios of the 60s. WFMU's blog had an interesting article about it back in 2007:

https://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/04/you_are_what_yo.html

And if that piques anyone's interest further, it's on Youtube:

 

Thanks for posting that. You get to hear John Simon really burning on the fast section of "Family Dog", accompanied by Bill Crow on bass. You also get to hear some nice blowing on Simon's "Jack" by studio keyboard player Paul Griffin in this extended version. The Band accompanies Tiny Tim(!) in their last appearance as The Hawks.

Edited by sgcim

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