Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 19: Paul Rothchild

All across the long history of recorded music, one can rattle off lists of the "greatest" performers from a given era or style.  Though it may not seem that these groups and artists all have one thing in common, the reality is that in almost every case, their amazing talents were properly conveyed to the world due to the presence of excellence "behind the boards."  From engineer to producers to other individuals who helped to shape these sounds, they are often the most overlooked part of a given recording, and yet there is no question that they are beyond essential.  Many of the most highly revered producers in all of history hit their stride during the mid-to-late 1960's, as with music itself expanding in countless different directions, there was a freedom to "experiment" within the studio that had never before occurred.  Whether it was attempting to find ways to make the music "move," different recording techniques, or simply finding a way to capture the essence of a band within the studio environment, not only did top-notch production require an exceptional level of skill and knowledge, but it was also necessary for the individual in question to have a wide range of creativity.  Truth be told, due to the status that many of the albums from this era hold, the producers have become institutions onto themselves, and few are more distinguished or outright vital to the history or music than legendary producer, Paul Rothchild.

While he is certainly best known for his work within the realm of rock and roll during the tail-end of the 1960's, the fact of the matter is that Paul Rothchild began his recording career working with mostly folk acts.  Before he began on the recording-side of music, Rothchild was studying the art of classical conducting, but found himself drawn to the "new" sounds of the rising folk movement during the late 1950's and early 1960's.  After a few years, Rothchild became the "house" producer for Elektra Records, which was at the time almost exclusively working with  the folk realm.  Though most are unaware, during this period Rothchild worked with the likes of Tim Buckley, Tom Paxton and many other luminaries of the world of folk music.  However, as the label began to move with the times, looking more toward the rock acts, Rothchild quickly adapted, creating fantastic records for bands like Love and Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  It was during this time period that Rothchild quickly became one of the most in-demand producers on the planet, as there was a warmth and honesty within his recording that was somehow different from that of any of his peers.  During his career, Rothchild became the producer of choice for everyone from Janis Joplin to The Everly Brothers, and his name can be found on a number of the greatest albums ever recorded.

However, it would be his efforts with a new band that Elektra Records signed in 1967 that would become Rothchild's most well known and outright finest achievement.  Truth be told, the label had been having great difficulty in finding a producer that could bring the proper sound and presence out of this new band, and it would be Rothchild that would serve in at least partial producer capacity for each studio effort from the then-rising band, The Doors.  It was the way that Paul Rothchild was able to capture the dark intensity that came forth from this band which made him almost an instant legend, and due to the way that he helped the band achieve their musical vision, many refer to Rothchild as "the fifth Door."  In fact, there are numerous accounts of recording sessions for The Doors "falling apart," and only getting completed due to the efforts of Rothchild.  It was his ability not only as a producer, but in finding ways to properly blend together the different musical personalities of this band that enabled the world to experience their absolutely brilliant music; and one can easily make the argument that had it been any other producer, the albums likely would have never been completed.  Many later producers would "borrow" many of the approaches and techniques that were utilized throughout the wide range of albums which he produced, and there is simply no getting past the fact that when one considers the most import "non-musicians" in all of music history, few are more critical to the evolution of music than Paul Rothchild.


amjp said...

Thanks for this very warm tribute to Paul. I grew up with him. He was my brother's best friend through high school in Teaneck NJ. I knew him and all his family well. I wish he hadn't left us so soon

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely tribute to Paul. Because he died too soon, I often feel his artistic contributions are overlooked, so it is quite nice to read your post about his influential career. I was Paul's girlfriend, we lived together for 7 years in the 1980s, and he was a fantastic man. Learned, enthusiastic, energetic, warm. I miss him.