Tom Dowd

The Award for Musical Excellence


Tom Dowd (1925-2002) was a scientist who deeply loved soulful, funky music. His attention to sonic detail, embrace of new technology, and love of music gained him the trust of rock and roll's biggest stars who asked him to record their greatest albums. After completing high school he worked at Columbia University in the Physics Department where he conducted research on nuclear power and became a technician in the now infamous Manhattan Project. His dreams of becoming a nuclear physicist research specialist were sidetracked when he began using his engineering knowledge to work as a freelancer for various New York record labels. In 1954 he was brought in as a staff engineer and producer at Atlantic Records. "Tom's contributions to the development and evolution of Atlantic Records was inestimable," said Jerry Wexler, "you couldn't quantify it, it was just enormous." Dowd was responsible for embracing a number of technological innovations at Atlantic including the use of stereo and eight-track recording machines. But for Dowd it wasn't simply about turning the EQ knobs on a mixing board. He tried to find ways to capture the spirit and visceral energy of musical performance and reproduce it on record. At Atlantic he recorded, and occasionally produced, artists such as Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding - to name just a few. Dowd never allowed himself to be boxed into a single musical sound. His ears were always open, and in later years he helped to create the signature sound of the Allman Brothers, Cream, Dusty Springfield, Rod Stewart, Bette Midler, Chicago, and the James Gang.

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