Shel Talmy

Last updated

Shel Talmy
Birth nameSheldon Talmy
Born (1937-08-11) August 11, 1937 (age 83)
Origin Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Rock, Folk, Folk-rock, Pop music
Occupation(s)
Years active1959-Present
Associated acts David Bowie, The Who, The Kinks, The Creation, The Easybeats, Pentangle, Roy Harper, Manfred Mann, The Small Faces, The Rockin' Vickers, Goldie and the Gingerbreads, The Lancastrians, Coven, The Damned, Amen Corner
Website www.sheltalmy.com

Sheldon Talmy (born August 11, 1937) is an American record producer, songwriter and arranger, best known for his work in the U.K. in the 1960s with the Who, the Kinks and many others. [1]

Contents

Talmy arranged and produced hits such as "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks, "My Generation" by the Who, and "Friday on My Mind" by the Easybeats. He also played guitar or percussion on some of his productions.

Early career

Sheldon Talmy was born in Chicago, Illinois, United States, and from an early age he was interested both in music (early rock, rhythm and blues, folk music [2] and country music) as well as the technology of the recording studio. At the age of 13, Talmy appeared regularly on the popular NBC-TV television show Quiz Kids , a question-and-answer program from Chicago. He told Chris Ambrose of Tokion Magazine , "What it did for me was that I absolutely knew that this was the business I wanted to be in."

He graduated from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles in June 1955, the same high school attended by songwriter Jerry Leiber, A&M label owner and performer, Herb Alpert, superstar Michael Jackson, and infamous producer Phil Spector.

After working for ABC Television, he became a recording engineer at Conway Studios in Los Angeles where owner/engineer Phil Yeend trained him on three-track recording equipment. Three days later, Talmy had his first assignment, producing the record "Falling Star" by Debbie Sharon.

At Conway, he worked with Gary Paxton, producer of the Hollywood Argyles' "Alley Oop," surf band the Marketts, vocal group The Castells, R&B pioneers Rene Hall and Bumps Blackwell, and the elite group of session musicians famously-known as the "Wrecking Crew."

Talmy and Yeend often experimented with production techniques. They played with separation and recording levels and built baffles and platforms covered with carpet, using them to isolate vocals and instruments.

In an interview with Terri Stone in Music Producers, Talmy recalled that Yeend "would let me do whatever I wanted after our regular sessions were over, so I used to work out miking techniques for how to make drums sound better or guitars sound better .... There really weren't many precedents, so we were all doing it for the first time together. It was all totally new."

British career

In the summer of 1962, Talmy went to Britain, supposedly for a 5-week European vacation. He went with little money and thought he might be able to work for a couple of weeks to earn some more.

Nick Venet, a good friend and producer at Capitol Records, gave him a stack of acetates to take along with him and use as if he had produced them, if it could get him a job.

Talmy met with Dick Rowe, head of Decca Records A&R, and played two of the acetates he was given to use. They were "Music in the Air" by Lou Rawls, and "Surfin' Safari" by The Beach Boys. Rowe told him, "you start today."

Talmy joined Decca Records as an independent record producer (among the first in the U.K.) working with Decca's pop performers, such as Irish trio the Bachelors, leading to the release of the hit single "Charmaine".

Once he struck out as an independent, Talmy also had success in the United States with his productions for Chad & Jeremy, including "A Summer Song" and "Willow Weep for Me"

In 1963 Talmy met Robert Wace, the manager of a group called the Ravens who later changed their name to the Kinks. He brought the Kinks into the studio and their third single, "You Really Got Me", became a landmark recording.

A long-running controversy about the song revolved around the use of future Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page as a session musician on many of the Kinks' early recordings - and on the seminal guitar solo on "You Really Got Me" in particular. In an interview with rock writer and critic Richie Unterberger Talmy set the record straight: "You know how many times I've answered that question? I wish I had a buck for each one. Jimmy Page did not play the solo on 'You Really Got Me,' he played rhythm guitar. He never played anything but rhythm guitar on that plus [the Kinks'] first album session. On 'You Really Got Me,' I used Bobby Graham on drums. Page played guitar because, at the time, Ray didn't want to play guitar, [as] he wanted to concentrate on his vocals. So I said, fine, let me get a rhythm guitarist, 'cause Dave [Davies] was playing the leads, and so I hired Jimmy." [3] Whomever started the rumor, Jimmy no longer takes credit.

Talmy produced many more hits with the group up to 1967 including "All Day and All of the Night," "Tired of Waiting for You," "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," "Well Respected Man," "and "Sunny Afternoon," and "Waterloo Sunset."

The Who and "My Generation"

Pete Townshend, guitarist of a band called the High Numbers, liked "You Really Got Me" so much that he wrote a similar number, "I Can't Explain", so that Talmy might produce his group. When the song was played over the telephone to Talmy, he agreed to hear the band. [4] Now called The Who, they were rehearsing at a church hall, and Talmy says it took about eight bars before he said "Yes!" The band was signed to his production company, Orbit-Universal. Talmy got the band a contract with Decca in America and with their subsidiary Brunswick in Britain, and produced recordings modeled on the band’s high-energy live performances.

The intentional feedback on the band's second single, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", caused U.S. Decca executives to send back the recording, thinking that they had received a faulty pressing, and Talmy had to assure them it was intentional.

Talmy and The Who created a historic recording in "My Generation", the group's third release. Entertainment Weekly later called "My Generation" the "quintessential rock single".

Talmy also produced The Who's first album, My Generation , a collection of original songs and R&B covers. However, tensions arose between Talmy and one of the band's managers, Kit Lambert.

Lambert 'fired' Talmy, but Talmy sued for breach of contract and won. Talmy called it a pyrrhic victory, as he would no longer produce any records by The Who.

Talmy held the original session tapes to the My Generation album, but a re-release was held up for years because of the ongoing dispute. This prevented a proper re-release of the LP until 2002, when things were finally settled in Talmy’s favor. My Generation was subsequently remixed by Talmy and issued on compact disc with bonus tracks.

In his book Before I Get Old, Dave Marsh commented that the records that Talmy made with The Who “are technically among the best that the band ever did, and they have a distinct, original sound.”

Thanks to his work with The Who and The Kinks, Talmy is considered at the forefront of the British music scene in the mid-60s.

Production style and work with other artists

In a 1989 interview with writer Chris Hunt, Talmy described his approach to music production: “There are two categories of producers. Let me explain. First, one produces an artist the way 'they' want to hear to them, without a whole lot of regard to what the artist is really like, or how they see themselves. I’d like to think that I’m in the other category. I liked the artists that I produced – a lot, or else I wouldn’t produce them, and what I wanted to do was enhance what they do already. I just wanted to make it better, more polished, put the best frame around it I could. The other ‘category’ of producers are divided between what I subscribe to, 'hands-on', i.e. being there from inception, and all through the recording to mastering.” [5]

In another interview with musician/producer/songwriter Artie Wayne, Talmy dismissed the idea that great music production relies primarily on some kind of personal "magic": "[Laughing] The productions don’t just materialize out of a clear blue sky. I spent a lot of time in the studio working out how to isolate instruments, how to mic drums, how to do all kinds of stuff. When I arrived in London, I started recording drums using twelve mics, which I had worked out how to do in Los Angeles. Everybody in London, at the time, were only using three or four mics. They said I couldn’t do that because it would (create) phase. I said, ‘Just listen to it, see if it does.  A month later everybody was trying to use 12 mics on the drums!'" [6]

Asked, in the same interview, if he always picks the songs for the artists he produces, Talmy replied: "I'm a hands-on producer, meaning that I always work with the artist on choosing material, doing the arrangements, getting musicians if necessary, choosing the studio and being there for the entire production on through the mixes and mastering." [7]

Talmy continued to work with other distinguished British performers throughout the 1960s, principal amongst whom was singer-songwriter David Bowie (then known by his real name Davy Jones). Talmy produced two singles in 1965 by two groups featuring Bowie, “I Pity The Fool” by The Manish Boys and “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving”, where the singer was accompanied by The Lower Third. He is known to have a considerable amount of unreleased material by Bowie in his archive.

Another artist of lasting impact that Talmy produced was Australian group The Easybeats. Though successful in Australia, the act floundered when it first arrived in the UK in the summer of 1966. The first session under Talmy’s direction produced the massive global hit “Friday On My Mind”. Writing in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Colin Larkin described the song as “one of the all-time great beat group singles of the ‘60s”. Bowie later covered “Friday on My Mind” on his album Pin Ups . Talmy’s work with The Easybeats stretched through to their 1967 album Good Friday, after which the band's management decided to dismiss him as producer.

Once established as an independent producer in early 1964, Talmy would be incredibly busy over the next five years, producing dozens of discs, largely in the beat and mod categories, genres with which he would be forever associated. These include records by Mickey Finn, The First Gear, The Sneekers, The Untamed, Ben Carruthers & The Deep, The Nashville Teens, The Thoughts, Colette & The Bandits, Wild Silk and many others. He was also hired to work with successful acts like Manfred Mann, for whom he produced the hits singles “Just Like A Woman” and “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James”, and Amen Corner (“If Paradise Was Half As Nice” and “Hello Susie”). Talmy also produced the pioneering all-women quartet Goldie & The Gingerbreads, and produced other female acts like Liz Shelley, Dani Sheridan, Vicki Brown and The Orchids.

In late 1965 Talmy and impresario Arthur Howes formed their own label, Planet Records, distributed by Philips Records. Although the venture was not successful, the label did release the initial discs by Talmy’s discovery The Creation, now considered amongst the most iconic of mod/psychedelic groups, who often used pop-art imagery. These included “Making Time” and “Painter Man”. Their later work with Talmy such as “How Does It Feel To Feel” was issued on Polydor and Talmy has said that he did some of his most essential work with the Creation.

Though he is famous primarily for his contributions to rock music, Talmy also worked with musicians from the folk scene, including Pentangle, Roy Harper and Ralph McTell. He has also worked in the pop, orchestral, pop and punk categories.

He produced the early Roy Harper albums Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith and Folkejokeopus in 1967. In 1968 and 1969 Talmy produced the influential first three albums by the folk supergroup, Pentangle, as well as their hit single “Light Flight.” In the late 1960s Talmy worked with American artists Lee Hazlewood and Tim Rose and supervised film music with his favored arranger David Whitaker. For CBS, he produced Music To Spy By and The Revolutionary Piano of Nicky Hopkins, both arranged and conducted by Whitaker.

By the early 1970s, Talmy did less record work and pursued his other interests in the book publishing and film making worlds. He was however still in demand as a producer and worked on records by The Small Faces, String Driven Thing, Fumble, Coven, Chris White, Mick Cox Band, Blues Project, Rumplestiltskin and others. He had  production deals with the Bell and Charisma labels in the 1970s. Amongst his final UK productions was a collector’s item single by punk group, The Damned (“Stretcher Case Baby” / “Sick of Being Sick”).

Talmy returned to the United States in 1979. Though he reduced his workload, Talmy continued to be sought after to produce artists. He has produced albums by Fuzztones, Nancy Boy and Sorrows. Most recently he has produced records by Hidden Charms and Strangers In A Strange Land.

In 2003, a tribute to Talmy was aired on the radio program Little Stevens Underground Garage. In 2017, Ace Records began issuing a series of compilations from Talmy’s vintage catalog, including the career anthology Making Time - A Shel Talmy Production.

Personal life

Shel Talmy now lives in the Los Angeles area. He is a long-time member of the high IQ association, the Triple-Nine Society. He is the brother of the noted American linguist Leonard Talmy. [8]

Selected discography

The Kinks

Singles

Albums

Note: Talmy also produced numerous tracks that would appear on later albums, singles, and archival collections.

Dave Davies

The Who

Singles

Albums

Note: Talmy also produced numerous tracks that would appear on later archival collections.

David Bowie

Singles

Note: the 1992 Bowie collection Early On features five additional vintage tracks from Talmy’s archive.

The Easybeats

Singles

Album

The Creation

Singles

Album

Manfred Mann

Singles

Album

Roy Harper

Singles

Albums

The Bachelors

Singles

Album

Chad & Jeremy

Singles

Album

Amen Corner

Singles

Album

Pentangle

Singles

Albums

Selected Singles Productions

Selected Album Productions

Selected Film Soundtrack Work

Selected Archival Collections

Selected writings

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References

  1. Paltrowitz, Darren (May 18, 2020). "Legendary Rock Producer Shel Talmy Talks Jewish Roots and Moving to England". Jewish Journal.
  2. Unterberger, Richie. "Shel Talmy". richieunterberger.com. Richie Unterberger. Retrieved March 31, 2020. Ralph McTell, who I recorded, by the way, was basically a folk singer.
  3. Unterberger, Richie. "Shel Talmy Interview, Part 1". richieunterberger.com. Richie Unterberger. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  4. Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who [Video Documentary - 2007]
  5. Hunt, Chris (1989). "THE GODFATHER OF FUZZ: SHEL TALMY INTERVIEW". chrishunt.biz. Chris Hunt. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  6. Wayne, Artie. ""I was There Before It Happened": - Shel Talmy Interviewed by Artie Wayne". spectropop.com. Artie Wayne. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  7. Wayne, Artie. ""I was There Before It Happened": - Shel Talmy Interviewed by Artie Wayne". spectropop.com. Artie Wayne. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  8. "Chris Hunt | Shel Talmy interview". Chrishunt.biz. Retrieved November 25, 2015.