Tag Archives: Technological milestone

Recording Engineer Tom Dowd

Recording Engineer Tom Dowd

Remembering and appreciating
October 20, 1925 – October 27, 2002

Tom Dowd

Recording Engineer Tom Dowd

The Triumvirate

The Atlantic Records triumvirate: Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, and Tom Dowd.

Thomas John “Tom” Dowd was born on October 20, 1925 in New York City and into a musical atmosphere: his father was a concertmaster, his mother an opera singer.

While attending Columbia University the military drafted him, but he continued to attend Columbia University and also working on the Manhattan Project” the secret development of the atomic bomb.

Recording Engineer Tom Dowd

Recording Engineer Tom Dowd

Physics lab to recording studio

He thought he would continue his studies in nuclear physics, but decided to work in music.

According to his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bio, “After the war, he was hired as a sound engineer at a New York studio in 1947 and began doing freelance work for Atlantic Records in 1949. Under Dowd’s direction, the label switched from recording onto acetate discs to tape, resulting in improved fidelity and preservation. He introduced the label to stereo recording in 1952. Atlantic hired him as a full-time engineer in 1954. In addition to engineering countless sessions, he built the label’s recording console and designed its eight-track studio.sole and designed its eight-track studio.”

In his memoir, Rhythm & the Blues: A Life in American Music, Jerry Wexler described the relationship between Ahmet Ertegun, himself, and Dowd: “Our gig [Wexler and Ertegun] was to get the music played right and righteous in the studio; Tom’s job was to capture it on tape. It was up to him to find a mix of timbres, bass, treble and midrange; to load a much volume as possible without distortion. Tom pushed [the volume controls] like a painter sorting colors. He turned microphone placement into an art.”

Whose music was Dowd an integral part of? The list is a who’s who of great music over the decades:

  • Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife
  • John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things
  • Aretha Franklin’s Respect
  • Cream’s Disraeli Gears
  • Allman Brothers Idewild South, Eat a Peach, Live at the Fillmore East
  • Derek and the Dominos’ Layla
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Ronnie Van Zant
  • Eric Clapton
  • Rod Steward
Recording Engineer Tom Dowd

In his own words…

Here he speaks about the evolution of recording music

Recording Engineer Tom Dowd

Lifetime Achievement

In 2002 he was presented a Lifetime Achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Dowd died October 27, 2002 (NYT obit) and in 2003 an outstanding documentary about his life  came out: Tom Dowd and the Language of Music.

Tom Dowd was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

Recording Engineer Tom Dowd

Robert Moog Herbert Deutsch

Robert Moog Herbert Deutsch

Introduced their synthesizer on October 12, 1964.
Herbert Deutsch speaking about its development:
“The Minotaur” from Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman
Robert Moog Herbert Deutsch

Sound effects

special effects when radio was theater of the mind | Old time radio, Radio play, Vintage radio

Born in 1950, I just missed the excitement of radio shows and how their sound effects made the stories “real.”  Early TV shows and movies occasionally showed those radio station sets and revealed how clever sound technicians recreated the real world with “fake” noise. Need the sound of a door closing? Close a door. Need the sound of thunder?  Move a large, thin sheet of copper suspended from a frame by wires.

Robert Moog Herbert Deutsch

Electronic Music


The mixture of electricity and sound effects created new possibilities.  Around 1896, Thaddeus Cahill developed the Telharmonium. Much like later electric organs, it used wire to transmit sound to horn speakers.

Leon Theremin developed a much simpler instrument. Below you can watch him demonstrate it. He used it much like a violin. Unfortunately for him, I suppose, most Boomers hear a Theremin (aka, the aetherphone) and think of space invasion movies.

Robert Moog Herbert Deutsch

Laurens Hammond

Laurens Hammond established his company in 1929 for the manufacture of electronic instruments. His Hammond organ used the same principals that the Telharmonium had used.

As electronics got more sophisticated, so did technicians’ ability to create more sophisticated instruments.


In 1963 Robert Moog (pronounced “Moeg” like Moe of the Three Stooges not “Moooog” like Daisy the Cow) and Herbert Deutsch met. Deutsch was a musician; Moog a technician. Together they came up with the idea of making a user-friendly electronic keyboard that had a huge range of sound. Much wider than even a Hammond organ.

And on October 12,  1964, Moog and Deutsch introduced and demonstrated their music synthesizer at the convention of the Audio Engineering Society in NYC.

Beatles and Moog

Robert Moog Herbert Deutsch

While the instrument and its later refinements did not catch on immediately, it gradually became a huge part of rock music. The Beatles (of course) via George Harrison (of course) used a Moog on their last recordings together:

  • the wind at the end of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”? Moog.
  • that lovely counterpoint to the acoustic guitar that gently slides in at the beginning of “Here Comes the Sun” ? Moog.
  • “Because” uses the Moog as well.


What was the reaction to the Moog? Ed Ward of Rolling Stone magazine reviewed Abbey Road and though that the Moog “disembodies and artificializes” the band’s sound. He added that they “create a sound that could not possibly exist outside the studio.

Since the Beatles weren’t touring or performing live, that wasn’t a problem. Having said that, if anyone has ever experienced the Fab Faux in concert and their eerie ability to play Beatles music of any era, then Ward’s comment is untrue.

What do you think?

Robert Moog Herbert Deutsch


In any case, it was was nice that Mr Moog and Mr Deutsche met and gave us a whole world of sound to add to our library.

A reader of this blog added an interesting comment: …and don’t forget Dick Hyman’s album of Moog music, which included the song, The Minitaur, which found its way into the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer playlist.

That album is: Moog – The Electric Eclectics Of Dick Hyman

Herbert Deutsch is a Professor Emeritus of Music at Hofstra University and is a visiting professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Bob Moog died in 2005, but his legacy lives on.

Robert Moog Herbert Deutsch

Rickenbacker Electro String Instrument

Rickenbacker Electro String Instrument

Patented August 10, 1937
Tom Morillo demonstrating some electric guitar techniques
Rickenbacker Electro String Instrument
Rickenbacker Frying Pan
Rickenbacker Electro String Instrument

Acoustic guitar fine, but…

An acoustic guitar has many advantages. It is lightweight. It is portable. Manufacturers can make them inexpensively.

For centuries string-instruments held a high place among musicians.

Big bands…

In the early 20th century, big brass band became more popular and its powerful sound simply overpowered the acoustic guitar.

Enter electricity

As electricity increasingly became more accessible and a part of everyday life, inventors increasingly designed devices to use that power.

Electro String Instrument

On August 10, 1937, the United States Patent Office awarded Patent #2,089.171 to G.D. Beauchamp for an instrument known as the Rickenbacker Frying Pan.

Rickenbacker Electro String Instrument

Inventor G.D. Beauchamp, partnered with Adolph Rickenbacher in the Electro String Instrument Corporation of Los Angeles, California. They had spent more than five years pursuing his patent on the Frying Pan.

A telephone or a guitar?

The idea was a simple one. Simple to understand. Complicated to design. An electro-magnet placed near a vibrating string will pick up and amplify that vibration.

A problem that Beauchamp and Rickenbacker faced was the telephone worked in a very similar manner. They had to revise the guitar’s design several times before the Patent Office accepted their guitar as a guitar and not a telephone.

Their design resembled a circular magnet that surrounded the strings. That design is no longer used.

The same, but different

All the things that a guitarist could do with an acoustic guitar to vary its sound could, of course, be done with an electric guitar, such as bending the strings.

What an acoustic guitar could not do (at least not at first and not without magnetic pickups) was color the sound.

The simple current set up by the vibrating string within the magnetic field is not enough to make a loud sound. An amplifier is necessary. Put some other electronics between the guitar and the amp and a rainbow of sounds is produced.

Here is additional information about the earliest days of the electric guitar.

Rickenbacker Electro String Instrument