Arif Mardin: In Conversation
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.
AAJ: Eddie Harris had huge hits in the ?60s [Mardin produced The Electrifying Eddie Harris with its hit single "Listen Here" in 1967], and Charles Lloyd played at the Fillmore Auditorium [when the club was dominated by psychedelic-rock acts], Laura Nyro played on a bill with Miles Davis?
AM: Yeah, I worked with her.
AAJ: ...so that was maybe just a time when promoters put together more colorful bills.
AM: This gives me a good idea, that we should really pursue that.
Arif Mardin Portrait by Julie Mardin