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Jack Douglas realized he had the best job in the world not when he received his first gold record, nor when he was handed his first platinum disc. It wasn't even when he posed with his first multi-platinum award – and he has tons of those too. It was back in the late '60s, when, as a low-paid "general worker" at the Record Plant Studios in New York, he encountered rock royalty.
"Jimi Hendrix offered me a joint in the studio," Douglas says with a laugh. "I thought, This is unbelievable! What a great job I have. And it just got better and better.”
Douglas quickly rose through the ranks to engineer, and it wasn't long till he was producing a glittering array of artists such as Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Patti Smith and his hero, John Lennon. In some cases, he was on to a bands first or very early in their careers. At all times, his criteria for working with an act remained constant.
“I look for originality," Douglas says. "But I also want something completely different from the album I just finished. A band has to have something about them that makes me go, ‘Wow, that’s new!’ It helps to keep me fresh. Also, the band won’t suffer from me repeating the same tricks I just used on the record before theirs."
In this day and age where more importance is placed on singles over albums, Douglas' view on on the art form of the long-player is the same as when he began cutting tracks. "I’m not a big singles guy," he says. "I’ve always liked albums, and that’s what I want to make." By his own assessment, he's only called a single once: John Lennon's (Just Like) Starting Over. "That one was so obvious," he says. "The minute I heard it, I knew."
Beyond hit songs, Douglas says that the human aspect of vocal chops and hands on instruments is key to a spectacular recording. "You can’t have a great album without people playing and singing the hell out of a tune," he says. "There’s many ways to get a real performance – new ways, old ways, in-between ways – and my belief is, whatever it takes. I want a record to sound like the band is really playing, not like it’s all coming from a computer."
Although his credits are drool-worthy by any stretch, the producer does admit that a few choice acts have eluded him, chief among them The Rolling Stones. "I know all of the guys, Mick is a friend, and I’ve worked with Ronnie Wood," Douglas says. "There was a chance to get in there, but that’s when they started working with Don Was – and he does a great job with them, so there’s no reason to try to upset that cart."
Even without a Stones plaque hanging on his wall, he's done well for himself, and on the following pages, Douglas shares the stories behind 18 of his most memorable records.