Producer Elliot Mazer has died at the age of 79. The news was confirmed by his sister, Bonnie Murray, who told Rolling Stone that Mazer had died of a heart attack after years spent battling dementia.
“Elliot loved music,” said Murray. “He loved what he did; he was a perfectionist. Everybody has so much respect for him, and he’s been suffering for a couple years.”
Mazer was most famous for his work with Neil Young, working on a string of releases including Harvest, Journey Through The Past, Times Fades Away, Tonight’s The Night, American Stars & Bars, Hawks & Doves, Everybody’s Rockin’, Old Ways, Lucky 13 and the recently released “lost” album Homegrown.
Famously, Mazer put together the band used on Harvest after meeting Young at a party he threw for the cast of The Johnny Cash Show in Nashville. Young mentioned to the producer that he had some songs he wanted to cut while he was in town, and asked if he could get a drummer, a bass player and a steel player into his studio the next day.
The A-team of Nashville musicians regularly went fishing on weekends, according to Mazer, so he had to dig deeper. “Weldon Myrick, the steel player, couldn’t make it because he had to do his regular gig on The Grand Ole Opry,” he said. “So we found Ben Keith, who went on to work with Neil for the next 30 years.”
“Harvest was just easy,” said Young. “I liked it because it happened fast. Kind of like an accidental thing. I wasn’t looking for the Nashville sound, they were the musicians that were there. They got my stuff down and we did it. Just come in, go out, that’s the way they do it in Nashville. There were no preconceptions. Elliot Mazer was in the right place at the right time.”
Born in New York in 1941, Mazer was hired by jazz label Prestige when he was 21. The first album he worked on was Standard Coltrane, a collection of John Coltrane outtakes.
Over the next 50 years he would go on to produce the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Chubby Checker, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Cheap Trills), Bob Dylan, Andy Fairweather-Lowe, Michael Bloomfield, Gordon Lightfoot, Barclay James Harvest, Frankie Miller, Rory Gallagher (Notes From San Francisco), The Band (The Last Waltz), Y&T, The Tubes, Dead Kennedys and the Dream Syndicate.
“To me, rule number one is that there are no rules,” Mazer told Sound On Sound in 2003. “I make records when I can visualise a finished product. I dream arrangements and mixes. Some engineers claim to use the same mic, same compressor, same EQ every time they record a snare, for example, but I don’t have any rules and I do not have any favourite ways of recording things.
“To me, there is no line drawn between what is being played and how it sounds.”