Arif Mardin: In Conversation
AAJ: You worked with the Bee Gees in the '70s also, you did "Jive Talkin?," which was a huge, smash hit.
AM: Right, but that was kind of state-of-the-art technology too.
AAJ: Some people worry that was the end of the artist-driven music market and the beginning of the producer-driven scene. Then the '80s came along, and it was sort of a dark age for pop music, with payola in the industry?
AAJ: ?and overproduced, out-of-touch music, whereas jazz-rock and punk rock were pushed underground.
AM: In the and '80s I was very happy to work with Chaka Khan for example. We made great records. [Mardin produced 1979's Chaka Khan, featuring "I'm Every Woman," and 1984's I Feel for You.] Again that was sort of a state-of-the-art fusion of rap and synthesizers. But the drummer was playing drums!
AAJ: That's real, organic drumming and not a synth drum?
AM: Excuse me, that was a drum machine. I will be giving a speech in October at the AES [Audio Engineering Society] Convention, and it is about, will technology replace the artist? I'm going to say that technology is great, you can't stop it, because people will invent new devices, new machines all the time. It is, in whose hands the technology will be, because you can use the technology to great advantage, or you can manufacture an artist, a singer from nothing. Those are the points that you have to weigh.
AAJ: Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but is Norah Jones a kind of penance for Boy George?
AM: Whoa. What did I do with Boy George?
AAJ: Some people would think he's sort of one of those produced artists who isn't relevant today.
AM: No, no, totally wrong. Boy George belongs to the punk generation. I remember, when we were doing vocals, he did one vocal, right? I said, "Can I have another one?" Because I would like to take maybe a good verse from another take. He said, "Why?" I said, "For insurance." [He said,] "You think I'm going to die?" He refused to give me another vocal. So whatever he sang, it was one take. He definitely was not a manufactured person.
AAJ: You're working on your memoirs?
AM: I am. It's a little slow, but I have four chapters finished and maybe [three more] chapters outlined. It's slow: correcting, looking at my old scrapbooks, putting photographs together and things like that.
AAJ: Can you give us a taste of what you'll talk about?
AM: It will be nothing but music and anecdotes and jokes. I don't know artists? sex lives; I'm not involved with what they do after the studio. There will be no tabloid kind of thing. It's going to be music history, who played what; also my early life in Turkey, how I was brought up, and early jazz activities.
AAJ: What would be your most memorable moment in the studio? Whom do you remember best, working with?
AM: There are so many great moments. Definitely with "I'm Every Woman," we had a feeling that this is going to be great. Of course any session with Aretha Franklin, I would go home and tell my wife: "You weren't there. She sang incredible stuff."
AAJ: Do you have any plans to work with her or any other of those artists again?
AM: Usually it happens. We always talk to each other on the phone. Being a producer my relationship with artists, it's always like family. [Aretha] picks up the phone and asks advice, this and that. We did work much later, when she was with Arista. So if she calls me, I'll work [laughs].
AAJ: Speaking of family, you have a son and a daughter?
AM: Yes, Joe and Julie. Joe is a producer-arranger-orchestrator, and he's working on many, many projects. Julie is an avant-garde artist; she creates imagery'she used to do it in the dark room, now she's scanning stuff. She creates visual art, usually it's about toys that promote war or violence against women and children. She's a very driven, young lady.
My wife [Latife] also writes novels. She's been in top-10 in Turkey. They're all historical novels, 19th century. She writes in English, and it's translated back into Turkish. She has a very interesting system.
AAJ: You did Smokey Joe's Cafe [in 1995 with the original Broadway cast]. That was a Lieber-Stoller [review]?
AM: Yes. It was their life's work actually, and it was a musical review on Broadway. We all got a Grammy for that.
AAJ: I heard the song ["Smokey Joe's Cafe"] by the Robins, who became the Coasters, in a Brendan Fraser movie set in the ?50s, and I thought it was really catchy, and I got the album and realized almost all their songs were by Lieber and Stoller.
AM: Yes. The Coasters were fantastic. That's just a few years before my time, before I joined Atlantic Records. Coasters were probably recorded ?58. I was in Berklee College of Music at that time, and joined Atlantic in ?63.
AAJ: So you heard it on the radio, but you weren't working with..."
AM: I never listened to that kind of music; I was totally "jazz." I shunned all kinds of rock or pop music.
AAJ: So how did you open up your ears to other music?
AM: When I was hired by [A&R chief at] Atlantic Nesuhi Ertegun, a true jazz fan and a great guy, I was working in the studio as an assistant, and really watching him produce jazz recordsMJQ, Herbie Mann. When they paired me and Tom Dowd, a great engineer and my mentor, with The Young Rascals, I was a novice. The first record we made became number one, so I said, "Maybe I should concentrate on this." So that was like, jazz-to-back-burner a little bit, but not too much, because I still worked with jazz artists at that time.