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‘I consider myself to be the luckiest guy on the face of the earth on so many levels. And every day is kind of, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m here,’’ confessed legendary producer Bob Ezrin in a new interview with Canada’s CBC Radio. While the musician is often considered the true artist, producers have remained the most overlooked aspect of the industry, with their influence and often unique touch having a considerable impact on each album that they collaborate on.
Jack Douglas helped to define the early blues rock sound of Aerosmith, while Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange’s signature sound became a defining part of the Def Leppard experience. Ezrin, however, has worked with some of the most respected musicians of the last five decades, having overseen the recording sessions of not only some of Alice Cooper’s most acclaimed works but also Lou Reed’s nihilistic masterpiece Berlin and Pink Floyd’s seminal concept album The Wall.
Ezrin’s first significant contribution to the world of music came with 1971’s Love it to Death, the third album from Alice Cooper. Having struggled through two unfocused records, the band and its eponymous frontman were desperate to create a sound as shocking as their stage-show and so joined forces with a young, unknown producer to help redefine their music and to draw out a pop sensibility that had been absent from their earlier efforts.
‘I was learning on the job. I had just started work for Nimbus 9 Productions in Toronto and was beginning to learn what a producer did for a living,’ he told Classic Rock in 2011 on how he first came to work with the group. ‘I was Jack Richardson’s assistant and my job was to get rid of Alice Cooper – and I did exactly the opposite. I saw them at Max’s Kansas City in New York. I was so impressed that I told the band we would do the record and then I had to come back to the office and explain myself.’
Along with Douglas and Quincy Jones, Ezrin would become one of the most prolific and respected producers in the industry throughout the 1970s, working alongside an array of artists that would include Peter Gabriel and KISS. Without his influence Alice Cooper would have remained an obscure psychedelic rock group known more for their onstage theatrics than their music, thus highlighting the integral role that a producer plays on an album and an artist’s overall style.
During an interview with CBC Radio, which touched upon various keystone moments from his career, Ezrin recalled the events that led to him first deciding that he wanted to producer music. ‘There was a folk singer in town called Beverly Glenn-Copeland who I had seen and I thought she was amazing. I went up to her and said, ‘You know, have you ever recorded? Do you have a record?’ And she said no. And I said, ‘That’s a tragedy, let’s fix that.”
‘So I got some money, not much, maybe forty bucks or something like that and went into Eastern Sound with her and I was on the other side of the glass, she was performing,’ he continued. ‘And I was on the other side of the glass, she was playing and performing. And I don’t know what it is but when she would finish a song I’d say, ‘Could we just try that one more time?’ And the guy said, ‘Are you her producer?’ And I said, ‘What’s that?”
But it would be during his time working for CBC, the same network that was now interviewing him half a century later, that his career would truly begin. ‘I was working on a show called I was working on a show called Spring Thaw, which was a Canadian annual review, which was a satirical review of music and sketches and so on,’ he explained. ‘I was the book editor working for Howey Bateman. Howard Bateman was a producer at the CBC, he had a show called Sunday Morning.
‘And I wrote sketches for Sunday Morning from time to time. So he hired me to be book editor for the show and part of my job was to find gag writers, sketch writers and so I hired Lorne Michaels. I went out looking for music and we wanted to be pertinent, we wanted to be contemporary and he said, ‘Well, let’s do rock music.’ And I said, ‘I know all about that,’ which I didn’t at all. And the time I was co-managing a band with Michael Cole, who went on to become a legendary promoter. Michael and I were co-managing this band called Icarus, the lead singer of which was Eddie Schwartz, who wrote Hit Me with Your Best Shot.
‘They said, ‘We need rock music’ so I said to Michael, ‘Let’s get the band in the show. This is a gig!’ So we made Icarus the house band, found material and the music director of the show, a guy named Allan Macmillan, who was partners with Jack Richardson, Ben McPeek and Peter Clayton on Nimbus 9 Productions. As a result of working on the show Allan said, ‘I want you to meet my partner Jack, he needs somebody like you.’ There was a time that he couldn’t come in and I had worked on some arrangements and he loved it. So he set up a meeting and I went to see Jack and said, ‘Jack, I want to be a manager. I want to work with bands on their songs. I want to help them go into the studio.’ And he said, ‘ No you don’t. You don’t want to be a manager, you want to be a producer. And you’re hired.”