John Simon (record producer)

Last updated
John Simon
Born (1941-08-11) August 11, 1941 (age 80)
Norwalk, Connecticut, United States
Occupation(s) Musician, producer, composer
Instruments Piano, saxophone, tuba, vocals
Associated acts The Band

John Simon (born August 11, 1941) [1] is an American music producer, composer, writer and performer. Recognized as one of the top record producers in the United States during the late 1960s and the 1970s, Simon produced numerous classic albums that continue to sell more than 50 years later, including the Band’s Music from Big Pink , The Band , and The Last Waltz , [2] [3] Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, Songs of Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen, and Child Is Father to the Man by Blood, Sweat & Tears. [4]



Simon was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, United States; [1] his father, a country doctor, taught him violin and piano at the age of four. [4] He began writing songs before he was ten; by the time he graduated from high school Simon was already leading and writing for several bands, and had composed two original musicals. [5] Simon enrolled at Princeton University where he wrote three more musicals and continued his role as a bandleader, taking a band to the finals of the 1st Georgetown Intercollegiate Jazz Festival. [5]

Columbia Records

After Princeton, Simon was hired as a trainee at Columbia Records. He was first assigned to the Legacy department under the guidance of Goddard Lieberson, then the president of Columbia. [4] Simon’s work during that period involved original cast albums of Broadway shows and audio documentary albums, including Point of Order, an LP of the notorious Senate hearings conducted by anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy, and The Medium Is the Massage , inspired by the writings of media guru Marshall McLuhan. In 1966, he arranged and produced "Red Rubber Ball" by the Cyrkle. The song, which was co-written by Paul Simon (no relation) of Simon and Garfunkel and Bruce Woodley of the Seekers, went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. Around 1970 he also co-wrote "Davy's on the Road Again" with Robbie Robertson, subsequently a British Top 10 hit in 1978 for Manfred Mann's Earth Band.

With the success of "Red Rubber Ball", Simon was assigned other pop music artists like Frankie Yankovic, "America’s Polka King", and jazzman Charles Lloyd. The first production for which he also wrote extensive arrangements was Songs of Leonard Cohen , Leonard Cohen’s debut album. While assisting on what was to become the Simon and Garfunkel album Bookends , he met Al Kooper, who encouraged him to leave Columbia and become a freelance producer, which he did, producing Blood, Sweat & Tears’ first album, Child Is Father to the Man . [4]


About that time, he was recommended to Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary to help Yarrow with a movie he was making with cinematographer Barry Feinstein. [6] The film was released in 1968 as You Are What You Eat and contained the song "My Name Is Jack", written by Simon for that movie, which later became a hit for Manfred Mann. [4] Work on that film brought Simon to Woodstock, where he met manager Albert Grossman. Grossman asked him to produce several acts from his stable of talent, the first being Gordon Lightfoot. [4] Once again, Simon sweetened the project with his orchestral arrangements ( Did She Mention My Name ). After that, he was asked to produce an album for Janis Joplin and her band Big Brother And The Holding Company ( Cheap Thrills , which featured the hit single "Piece Of My Heart"). [4] While producing an album for the Electric Flag, he met blues artist Taj Mahal, beginning a musical association which continues to the present. [5] His name is often linked with the Band, with whom he was very closely associated, and he has been referred to as "the sixth member of the Band". [6] The albums he produced with them in the 1970s, Music From Big Pink , The Band , and The Last Waltz , stand as precursors to the genre later labeled Americana. [4] [6] He was also the music director for the Last Waltz concert and contributed as a musician to Stage Fright and Islands and produced, played on, and cowrote for their 1990s comeback album Jericho . Other albums of note from that period were Morning Bugle by John Hartford, Jackrabbit Slim by Steve Forbert, Heart To Heart by David Sanborn, and Priestess by the jazz arranger Gil Evans. [4] In addition he arranged as well as produced Mama Cass's Dream a Little Dream of Me album, Tiger In The Rain for Michael Franks, and Down Home by Seals and Crofts, as well as albums for Rachel Faro, Hirth Martinez, Cyrus Faryar and others. Once popular music sprouted disco and heavy metal, he lost interest in producing and only occasionally produced new recordings, including artists popular in Japan, including Motoharu Sano, often labeled "The Japanese Bruce Springsteen". [4]

Other work

Somewhere beyond the plaintive quaver, rootsy supersession rock is mixed with pre-WW2 touches in a series of homely sketches—many of them about outsiders trying to make something of their lives, a theme to which a plaintive quaver is well-suited. Highlight: 'The Song of the Elves,' in which outsiders brag about how tall they are.

—Review of John Simon's Album in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981) [7]

Simon composed the score for the controversial Frank Perry film, Last Summer (1969), starring Barbara Hershey and Richard Thomas. He played keyboards on the album Alone Together (1970) by Dave Mason, including the haunting piano on the song "Sad and Deep As You". In the Eighties, he wrote two ballet scores for the choreographer Twyla Tharp [8] and composed circus music for aerialist Philip Petit (after his solo walk between the World Trade Towers). He was the music supervisor for a Broadway venture called Rock & Roll! The First 5,000 Years, modeled after Beatlemania , and produced the original cast album of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas . [8]

At one point, Paul Simon urged John Simon to follow his muse to be a singer-songwriter in his own right. [8] Consequently, in the early 1970s, he recorded two albums for Warner Brothers, John Simon's Album and Journey. [4] Then, fifteen years later, saw the first of four albums for labels in Japan, the first of which, Out On The Street, was released in the U.S. by Vanguard. [8] Simon and his wife, C.C. Loveheart, wrote and performed a cabaret act called Alone Together For The First Time Again and, more recently, co-authored a popular play, Jackass Flats, which had its professional premiere in June 2011. [5] A self-described "compulsive musician", Simon continues to be active. These days he performs his own material in concerts on rare occasions, but plays piano weekly with his jazz trio in his hometown near Woodstock, New York. [8] In 2018, Simon wrote a book, Truth, Lies & Hearsay: A Memoir Of A Musical Life In And Out Of Rock And Roll which received extensive favorable reviews as an accurate, yet personal rock history, combining first-person details of iconic recording sessions with lively, chatty wit.[ citation needed ]

Solo discography

1966The Baroque Inevitable Columbia Arranged & produced by John Simon. 2006 Japan re-issue credited to the Baroque Inevitable/John Simon.
1968 You Are What You Eat (Original Soundtrack Recording) Columbia Masterworks Various-artists soundtrack including 6 songs by John Simon
1969 Last Summer (The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Warner Bros. - Seven Arts Records Music composed by John Simon
1971John Simon's Album Warner Bros. Records
1973JourneyWarner Bros. Records
1992Out on the Street Pioneer, Japan
1995Harmony FarmPioneer, Japan
1988HomePioneer, Japan
2000The Best and BeyondPioneer, JapanCompilation culled from Pioneer Japan recordings, includes a new recording "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and two previously unreleased live recordings
2000Hoagyland: Songs of Hoagy CarmichaelDreamsville, JapanCredited to "John Simon & Friends", incl. Steve Forbert, Jackie Cain, Terry Blaine, Geoff Muldaur and others.
2006No BandSolo, piano/vocal performances of new and old songs, several previously unreleased

Related Research Articles

The Band Rock band from Toronto

The Band was a Canadian-American rock band formed in Toronto, Ontario, in 1967. It consisted of four Canadians and one American: Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, and Levon Helm. The Band combined elements of Americana, folk, rock, jazz, country, and R&B, influencing subsequent musicians such as the Eagles, Elton John, the Grateful Dead, the Flaming Lips, and Wilco.

<i>Music from Big Pink</i> 1968 studio album by The Band

Music from Big Pink is the debut studio album by the Band. Released in 1968, it employs a distinctive blend of country, rock, folk, classical, R&B, blues, and soul. The music was composed partly in "Big Pink", a house shared by bassist/singer Rick Danko, pianist/singer Richard Manuel and organist Garth Hudson in West Saugerties, New York. The album itself was recorded in studios in New York and Los Angeles in 1968, and followed the band's backing of Bob Dylan on his 1966 tour and time spent together in upstate New York recording material that was officially released in 1975 as The Basement Tapes, also with Dylan. The cover artwork is a painting by Dylan.

Rick Danko Canadian multi-instrumentalist

Richard Clare Danko was a Canadian musician, bassist, songwriter, and singer, best known as a founding member of the Band.

Richard Manuel Canadian musician

Richard George Manuel was a Canadian composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist, best known as a pianist and singer in The Band. The five members existed from December 1961 as The Hawks, becoming The Band in 1967, effectively breaking up in 1976, then partially re-formed in 1983. Manuel was with them until his 1986 suicide, a few hours after The Band performed a show.

Garth Hudson Canadian multi-instrumentalist

Eric Garth Hudson is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist best known as the keyboardist and occasional saxophonist for rock group the Band. He was a principal architect of the group's sound, described as "the most brilliant organist in the rock world" by Keyboard magazine. With the deaths of Richard Manuel in 1986, Rick Danko in 1999, and Levon Helm in 2012, Hudson is one of only two living original members of The Band, the other being Robbie Robertson.

<i>Fun House</i> (The Stooges album) 1970 studio album by the Stooges

Fun House is the second studio album by American rock band the Stooges. It was released on July 7, 1970 by Elektra Records. Though initially commercially unsuccessful, Fun House developed a strong cult following. Like its predecessor and its successor, it is generally considered integral in the development of punk rock.

<i>Stage Fright</i> (album) 1970 studio album by The Band

Stage Fright is the third studio album by Canadian–American group the Band, released in 1970. It featured two of the group's best known songs, "The Shape I'm In" and "Stage Fright", both of which showcased inspired lead vocal performances and became staples in the group's live shows.

<i>Cahoots</i> (album) 1971 studio album by the Band

Cahoots is the fourth studio album by Canadian/American rock group the Band. It was released in 1971 to mixed reviews, and was their last album of original material for four years. The album's front cover was painted by New York artist/illustrator Gilbert Stone, while the back cover features a photograph portrait of the group by Richard Avedon. The album features guest vocals from Van Morrison. Libby Titus, the partner of drummer Levon Helm and mother of their daughter Amy Helm, also contributed uncredited backing vocals to "The River Hymn", the first time a woman appeared on a Band album.

<i>Northern Lights – Southern Cross</i> 1975 studio album by The Band

Northern Lights – Southern Cross is the sixth studio album by Canadian-American rock group the Band, released in 1975. It was the first album to be recorded at their new California studio, Shangri-La, and the first album of all new material since 1971's Cahoots. All eight songs are credited as compositions of guitarist Robbie Robertson.

<i>Jericho</i> (The Band album) 1993 studio album by The Band

Jericho is the eighth studio album by Canadian-American rock group the Band. Coming seventeen years after their "farewell concert", it was released in 1993 and was the first album to feature the latter-day configuration of the group, as well as their first release for the Rhino subsidiary Pyramid Records.

<i>The Last Waltz</i> (2002 album) 2002 soundtrack album & box set by The Band

The box set The Last Waltz is a 2002 four-disc re-release of the 1978 album The Last Waltz documenting the concert The Last Waltz, the last concert by the Band with its classic line up. A full forty tracks are taken from the show in addition to rehearsal outtakes. Twenty-four tracks are previously unreleased.

Bob Johnston American record producer and musician

Donald William 'Bob' Johnston was an American record producer, best known for his work with Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and Simon & Garfunkel.

"This Wheel's on Fire" is a song written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko. It was originally recorded by Dylan and the Band during their 1967 sessions, portions of which comprised the 1975 album, The Basement Tapes. The Band's own version appeared on their 1968 album, Music from Big Pink. Live versions by the Band appear on their 1972 live double album Rock of Ages, as well as the more complete four-CD-DVD version of that concert, Live at the Academy of Music 1971, and the 2002 Box Set of The Last Waltz.

<i>The Basement Tapes</i> 1975 studio album by Bob Dylan and the Band

The Basement Tapes is the 16th album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and his second with the Band. It was released on June 26, 1975, by Columbia Records. Two-thirds of the album's 24 tracks feature Dylan on lead vocals backed by the Band, and were recorded in 1967, eight years before the album's release, in the lapse between the recording and subsequent release of Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding, during sessions that began at Dylan's house in Woodstock, New York, then moved to the basement of Big Pink. While most of these had appeared on bootleg albums, The Basement Tapes marked their first official release. The remaining eight songs, all previously unavailable, feature the Band without Dylan and were recorded between 1967 and 1975.

"Chest Fever" is a song recorded by the Band on its 1968 debut, Music from Big Pink. It is, according to Peter Viney, a historian of the group, "the Big Pink track that has appeared on most subsequent live albums and compilations", second only to "The Weight". The music for the piece was written by guitarist Robbie Robertson. Total authorship is typically credited solely to Robertson, although the lyrics, according to Levon Helm, were originally improvised by Levon Helm and Richard Manuel, telling the story of a man who becomes sick when he is spurned by the woman he loves.

Stanley Martin Szelest was an American musician from Buffalo, New York, known for founding an influential blues band in the 1950s and 1960s, Stan and the Ravens, and later as a keyboardist with Ronnie Hawkins and, briefly, with The Band.

"We Can Talk" is a 1968 song by The Band that was the opener for the second side of their debut album Music From Big Pink Written by Richard Manuel, it features The Band's three main vocalists in nearly equal turns, often finishing each other's phrases. Initially a staple of their concerts, it was dropped from the set list in 1971.

"Across the Great Divide" is a song written by Robbie Robertson. It was first released by The Band on their 1969 album The Band and was subsequently released on several live and compilation albums. According to music critic Barney Hoskyns, it was one of several songs that contributed to The Band being something of a concept album about the American South.

"The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" is a song written by Robbie Robertson that was first released on the Band's 1970 album Stage Fright. It was also frequently performed in the group's live sets and appeared on several of their live albums. Based on Levon Helm's memories of minstrel and medicine shows in Arkansas, the song has been interpreted as an allegory on the music business. Garth Hudson received particular praise for his tenor saxophone playing on the song.

"The Unfaithful Servant" or "Unfaithful Servant" is a song written by Robbie Robertson that was first released by The Band on their 1969 album The Band. It was also released as the B-side of the group's "Rag Mama Rag" single. It has also appeared on several of the Band's live and compilation albums.


  1. 1 2 Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 2270/1. ISBN   0-85112-939-0.
  2. The Band: Music From Big Pink, by Barney Hoskyns
  3. The Band: The Band, by Barney Hoskyns
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 John Simon: Biography, by Bruce Eder
  5. 1 2 3 4 "John Simon". Retrieved 11 October 2021.
  6. 1 2 3 "John Simon". Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  7. Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: S". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies . Ticknor & Fields. ISBN   089919026X . Retrieved March 12, 2019 via
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "Lee Gabites: An Appreciation of John Simon's Solo Career". 1941-08-11. Retrieved 2014-07-12.