Twenty-time Grammy winner Al Schmitt, whose extraordinary career as a recording engineer and producer included albums by Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and many other of the top performers of the past 60 years, has died aged 91.
Schmitt’s family announced on Facebook that he died on Monday, without identifying a specific cause.
Schmitt lived in the Los Angeles area.
“The world has lost a much loved and respected extraordinary individual, who led an extraordinary life,” the Facebook posting reads in part.
“The most honoured and awarded recording producer/engineer of all time, his parting words at any speaking engagement were, ‘Please be kind to all living things’.”
He won his first Grammy in 1963, then collected 19 more competitive awards and the honorary Recording Academy Trustees Award, in 2006.
Schmitt worked on more than 150 gold records, in a wide range of styles.
He engineered Henry Mancini’s Moon River and Sam Cooke’s Another Saturday Night, Steely Dan’s Aja and Madonna’s This Used To Be My Playground.
He engineered Natalie Cole’s blockbuster Unforgettable album and Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were.
He produced Volunteers and several other Jefferson Airplane albums, helped produce Neil Young’s On The Beach and more recently Dylan’s Shadows In The Night and Sir Paul McCartney’s Kisses On The Bottom.
Brian Wilson, whose album of Gershwin songs was remixed by Schmitt, was among those offering tributes, tweeting: “Al was an industry giant and a great engineer who worked with some of the greatest artists ever, and I’m honoured to have worked with him on my Gershwin album”.
Michael Buble, Journey’s Steve Perry and Michael Bolton also praised him.
Schmitt was married twice, and had five children, eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.
Born in Brooklyn, he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s and became a staff engineer for RCA Records.
Schmitt received his first Grammy for engineering Mancini’s Hatari and was still winning them in his 80s, including one for Sir Paul’s Kisses On The Bottom and another for a concert version of the ex-Beatle’s Live Kisses.
His memoir Al Schmitt On The Record published in 2018, included tributes from Dylan, Young (“Al is the master,” he wrote), Streisand and the Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen, who remembered Schmitt’s skill and patience with “this bunch of musical anarchists”.
Schmitt had his own stories to tell.
He became close to Cooke and dined with him just hours before the singer was shot and killed in 1964 at a Los Angeles motel.
He remembered Natalie Cole crying in the studio while making Unforgettable as she worked on “duets” with her father, the late Nat “King Cole,” whose vocals were joined to hers thanks in part to the studio tricks of Schmitt.
He learned to work with, and work around, the musicians, whether the Airplane’s indulgence of drugs and sonic effects or Sinatra’s request that he sing in front of the studio band and not in the recording booth, despite such enticements as cigarettes and a bottle of Jack Daniels.
He got to work with the singer through his friendship with “Duets” producer Phil Ramone.
“I did an interview with a magazine where they asked me if I had any regrets in my career,” he wrote in his memoir. “I answered that I had one regret: that I hadn’t worked with Frank Sinatra.
“Three weeks later, I got the call from Phil Ramone.
“That happened with Paul McCartney, too; somebody asked me who I hadn’t worked with that I’d like to, I said, ‘Paul,’ and shortly after that it happened — I did a record with Paul!
“Bob Dylan, too; I’ve pretty much gotten my bucket list done now.”