Dave Carlock: Inspiration never dies

Published 11:32 am Friday, April 5, 2013

I tend to get melancholy when my heroes die. Since I’m still pretty young, it’s just starting to happen with some regularity. This past week, we lost renowned session guitarist Hugh McCracken and master record producer Phil Ramone.
It’s hard enough to see where all this is going at times, let alone watching the examples leave us who inspire me to stay committed to the integrities of greatness and encourage me to keep stepping off that cliff in faith and keep walking on air like I first did so many years ago.

I guess the best I can come up with is that when they die, we’ve learned all we can from them. Perhaps those of us who love them keep them alive through our work and love for their work. Once they’ve stepped aside, we can realize they were holding a little space for us we can continue growing in.
I honor the greats who are gone because I can’t get their records out of my head. The reverb trails, the vocal sounds, the soundstage, the arrangements — they all stay up there. And I think about them every time I pull something down and make an old trick or inspiration from a hero like Phil Ramone or my mentor Greg Ladanyi fill the bus compressor again.
Over the past year, I’ve copped the Hugh McCracken licks in Paul Simon’s “Late In The Evening” with my Funkin’ Rock Orchestra, dug into the bass aggressively over and over in the studio like John Entwhistle or Dee Murray and recorded a cover of “Lonely Boy” by the great songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Gold. Though they may be gone, their work is forever in my DNA and it comes out in what I play. Their music is my Mozart, Bach, and Chopin — every note, every sound, to be studied and mastered.
Making music is the greatest job there is because it makes friends of strangers and can live forever, going in ears and out of mouths and hands and legs to go back in ears again.
In elementary school, I remember hearing the Phil Ramone production of Paul Simon’s “My Little Town” for the first time during a sunrise crossing over the St. Joseph River bridge in Berrien Springs with my sleepy head on my dad’s leg as he drove. The lyrics, the sound and the mood always stuck with me.
At age 4, my daughter used to think that most male singers were Paul Simon because of how frequently I played Phil Ramone’s masterpiece, “Still Crazy After All these Years” album in the car. Music culture successfully passed on to the next generation.
When Michael Jackson died, of course, the country was stunned. We will never see another pop artist of the likes of Michael Jackson. One of the very greatest of all time, assisted by the arrangement and production genius of Quincy Jones, with the full support of Epic Records saved the record industry and is continuing to entertain a third generation of listeners.
To the engineers: Who are the next masters of this craft? Which engineers can make the hard choices necessary to get their skillset , still afford their tools and, perhaps most importantly, wisely say no to all the wrong projects?
To the musicians: Who are the singers and bands smart enough to accept the input of the next Phil Ramone? Who are the raw talents willing enough to focus on their part of the work and accept that teams are their only chance? Who is willing to compromise their autonomy to incentivize the craftsman taking a chance on them?
Here’s what Billy Joel drummer Liberty DeVitto posted about Phil Ramone:
“What can I say about a man who was brave enough to put his reputation on the line with a bunch of unknowns and turn us into what we became. We loved him. We called him Uncle Phil. I lost contact with him, and I know he was looking for me at the NAMM shows. I regret not finding him. It’s too late to tell him, ‘Thanks for making me the musician that I am today. You were my greatest teacher. I can’t stop crying cause I can’t believe you’re gone.’”
This is how important the relationship between a producer and an artist is. They are the family you choose. Choose wisely, and take them with you when they enable your win.
It’s up to all of us to rise to be the new masters through our collaboration with the ingrained and studied example of the greats. Don’t forget them. Learn from them. Remind people of their contribution. It’s a fitting way to honor them. Everyday, I’m ready for that challenge and opportunity. You need to be as well.
But I still wish they didn’t have to go.


Dave Carlock is a 26-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound, Words & Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.