Jonny Dollar: Musician and producer whose work with Massive Attack pioneered the genre of trip hop

With its moody, ominous sound and pioneering mix of beats, samples and strings, Blue Lines, the debut album by the Bristol collective Massive Attack, defined a new musical genre, trip hop. Released in April 1991, the landmark album contained three hit singles – "Unfinished Sympathy", "Safe From Harm" and "Hymn Of The Big Wheel" – spent the next 18 months in the British charts and became part of the soundtrack of the early Nineties alongside grunge and Britpop.

As well as establishing Massive Attack, Blue Lines launched the careers of their collaborators, the singer Shara Nelson and the maverick figure of Tricky. Alongside his co- producer Cameron McVey, the musically-minded and gifted producer Jonny Dollar played an important part in helping Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles, the founder members of Massive Attack, realise their vision and bring the project to fruition.

"Jonny was really important," Del Naja said. "There was a chemistry between us which made the first album. We were bringing the DJ world we were coming from – how we used to present music, cutting up on decks on a sound system, chucking instrumentals with vocals, very much a hip-hop way of sampling small pieces of music – and then linking them and making them into whole tracks. It was a completely new way of working. Jonny and Cameron were vital because they took something very raw and helped to fashion it into something a lot more sophisticated."

Dollar also worked with McVey on the Neneh Cherry albums Raw Like Sushi (1989) and Homebrew (1992), and co-wrote the anti-racist message song "7 Seconds", her haunting duet with the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, which became a worldwide hit in 1994. Five years later, Dollar produced several tracks on Gabrielle's chart-topping Rise album, in particular the single of the same name which featured a sample of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and went to No 1 in Britain.

Born Jonathan Sharp in Cornwall, Dollar met McVey, a model turned producer and manager looking after his partner and future wife Neneh Cherry, who had just scored a major hit with "Buffalo Stance". The couple were looking for collaborators to complete Cherry's first album. Sharp came on board alongside McVey – billed as Booga Bear – Vowles and Del Naja.

"Cameron liked what he heard," Del Naja recalled. "He thought it was a good idea for us to work with Jonny. We all camped out in Cameron's house in Kensal Rise, in London, for more than six months, pretty much all in one room, working on a few synths and early samplers. We were a very loose bunch of characters with very disparate ideas, not very fully-formed either. We had a lot of concept and not a lot of experience, and Jonny brought some much-needed experience. He was more musically literate than us and he had the skills to see an idea through."

Having submitted a few tracks to Circa, the label distributed by Virgin, Massive Attack secured a record deal and finished what became Blue Lines with McVey and Dollar, who co-wrote the group's debut hit, "Unfinished Sympathy". According to Del Naja, "it started out as a jam in the studio in Bristol. It was just break beats, a percussive line. Jonny started playing a keyboard, just a couple of chords, and we developed the song. When we got to do the vocal, we removed the chorus and we decided to fill the dead space with strings. That's how it changed from a conventional pop song into something sort of symphonic. Jonny got in touch with Wil Malone and he helped to score it out. We recorded the strings at Abbey Road. A lot of the beauty of the track was in the arrangement and the removal of certain parts was as vital as the writing of other parts. We had that philosophy about taking things out. We'd write more than we wanted and remove it, leave the bare bones. That was the way we wanted to hear the music."

As well as programming and keyboards, Dollar also played guitar

but most of his guitar parts didn't make the final mix. "Sometimes he was simply helping us articulate what we were trying to do and other times he was having more input in, particularly on 'Hymn Of The Big Wheel'," Del Naja recalled. "Jonny worked really hard on the string quartet motif. He was really integral to the whole project. He was the person who provided us with the key to finishing several tracks. Jonny had a very dry sense of humour which suited us because we're a bunch of piss-takers really. He knew how to handle us, he could to take it and give it back."

Massive Attack considered continuing with Dollar and demoed some of Protection, their next release, with him, but since he and McVey were hard at work on Cherry's second album, they ended up working with Nellee Hooper, their original partner from the Wild Bunch sound system days.

Throughout the Nineties, Dollar was an in-demand mixer and remixer for Carleen Anderson, Depeche Mode, EMF, Galliano, Kylie Minogue and Pulp. The Polydor president Ferdy Unger-Hamilton, who collaborated with Dollar on the Gabrielle album, called the producer an unsung hero and innovator. "As committed and driven a producer as I've ever met, I literally had to take the tracks by force back off him, he was so determined to make them perfect. The result was a No 1 single and album, Rise. He was as tough artistically as he was gentle a person."

Ashley Newton, now at Sony but one half of the Circa team which signed Cherry and Massive Attack, recalls Dollar as "this incredible sonic shape-shifter. He was a man of few words but had a beautiful and almost hippy outlook on life. We all grew enormously fond of him. I vividly remember listening to Blue Lines with him, Jonny with those intense dark eyes, spliff in hand, totally immersed in the art. He'll be much missed."

Dollar was diagnosed with cancer last August and died at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

Pierre Perrone

Jonathan Sharp (Jonny Dollar), record producer, programmer, guitarist, songwriter: born Cornwall 1964; married (four children); died London 29 May 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?