Phil Ramone: Record producer who worked with Dylan, Simon, McCartney, Sinatra and Bennett

 

The record producer Phil Ramone won 14 Grammy awards, including Album of the Year for Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years (1976), Billy Joel's 52nd Street (1978) and Genius Loves Company, Ray Charles' final album (2004), featuring duets with Norah Jones, Willie Nelson and Elton John, another artist with whom he enjoyed a long association. Indeed, Ramone pioneered the concept of cross-genre duets albums, pairing Frank Sinatra with Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and Bono on two million-selling releases in the 1990s, recording their performances separately. He also produced a brace of Tony Bennett collections, including his duet with Amy Winehouse, "Body And Soul", her final recording, in 2011.

While some producers put such a distinctive stamp on their work that you instantly know who was behind the mixing desk, Ramone started out as an engineer and viewed his role differently: "We, as producers, are way in the back. You have to put your ego where it belongs: with the artist, with the song and with the crew that you put together."

Ramone's résumé includes such '70s classics as Paul and Linda McCartney's Ram, Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks and the soundtrack album for A Star Is Born. A workaholic, he sometimes had three projects on the go, juggling Joel, Simon and Stephanie Mills in 1983, the same year Joel's "Tell Her About It" replaced another of his productions, Michael Sembello's "Maniac" from the Flashdance soundtrack, at the top of the US singles charts.

So wide-ranging were his talents that a Radio 2 series devoted to him in 2005 ran to six half-hours, all the better to focus on the story of his A&R Recording studio, his stage and screen work as well as his knack for producing live events and catching a moment in the studio. "Great records are all about feel," he said, "and if it comes down to making a choice, I'll go for the take that makes me dance over a bland one with better sound."

"The Pope of Pop" was known for his bright, clean sound, heard to great effect on Hot Streets and Chicago 13, Chicago's much-sampled 1970s albums, and was an early digital adopter with Joel's 1982 album The Nylon Curtain, Sony's first CD. "I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band," Joel said. "So much of my music was shaped and brought to fruition by him."

Born in South Africa, he started playing the violin at the age of three and played Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole for Princess Elizabeth at 10. After the family moved to New York he earned a scholarship to The Juilliard School. However, he found the teaching restrictive and started trying to amplify his violin and dabbling in jazz.

Following a stint as an assistant at a demo studio in New York he opened A&R in 1959 and began to handle unusual assignments, including John F Kennedy's birthday party at New York's Madison Square Garden 1962, when Marilyn Monroe famously cooed "Happy Birthday, dear President".

He engineered several hits for Lesley Gore, sparking off a lifelong friendship with her producer Quincy Jones, and in 1965 won his first Grammy, for Best Engineered Recording (non-classical) alongside producer Creed Taylor on Getz/Gilberto, the jazz-bossa nova album featuring Stan Getz, João Gilberto, and his wife Astrud singing "The Girl From Ipanema".

In 1967 he was with Burt Bacharach and Hal David when they produced Dionne Warwick's recording of "Do You Know The Way To San Jose", and the Dory and André Previn-penned "(Theme From) Valley Of The Dolls", and engineered more hits for Peter, Paul & Mary and Janis Ian. He received his first production credits at John Barry's insistence for his work on the Midnight Cowboy and On Her Majesty's Secret Service soundtracks in 1969.

By the early '70s his versatility had made him indispensable to Bacharach and David – he won the Best Musical Show Album Grammy for producing their musical Promises, Promises – and he produced Paul Simon's "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" in 1972. Their association continued with There Goes Rhymin' Simon the following year, and included the 1980 album One Trick Pony and 2011's So Beautiful Or So What. He also produced Simon and Garfunkel's 1975 reunion duet "My Little Town", their The Concert In Central Park 1982 live album, and Everything But The Girl's sublime 1993 cover of Simon's "The Only Living Boy In New York".

However, his most fruitful association was with Joel, starting with The Stranger in 1977, and its breakthrough single and Grammy Record of the Year "Just The Way You Are", and encompassing the albums Glass Houses, An Innocent Man and The Bridge and the 1983 UK chart-topper "Uptown Girl". George Martin had also been under consideration in 1977; in 2002, he and Ramone teamed up to produce Party At the Palace for the Queen's Jubilee.

In 1984, Ramone produced Julian Lennon's debut Valotte, and later helmed further McCartney releases, including the "Spies Like Us" and "Once Upon A Long Ago" singles in 1987, and tracks on Ringo Starr's 1991 album Time Takes Time. The risqué solo album he produced for Karen Carpenter in 1979 and 1980 nearly gave the A&M big wigs a heart attack, but it was issued in a revised form in 1996.

This was a rare misstep for Ramone, considered a safe pair of hands; he often drew the best out of female artists like Phoebe Snow and Sinéad O'Connor, whose Am I Not Your Girl? of standards he produced in 1992. In recent years, he specialised in retro albums, producing George Michael's Songs From The Last Century (1999) and tracks for Rod Stewart's Great American Songbook series.

Ramone was arguably more innovative with his use of technology than his approach to production. He was instrumental in the development of surround sound and pioneered the EDNet fibre-optic system to record the Sinatra Duets albums in real time in different locations.

In 2000 I watched Ramone as he attempted to turn around a live album by Elton John and guests over a weekend at Madison Square Garden. When Friday night found the superstar in a dark mood, Ramone remained cool and made the most of the Saturday concert before helping John fix the odd bum note in a studio on the Sunday. The resulting One Night Only wasn't on a par with recordings he had previously supervised for John – notably the in-concert 17-11-70, and Aida, the 1999 concept album with Tim Rice – yet it was testament to his skills. "I'm there to give artists encouragement when needed," he said. "Players are like prodigies, thoroughbreds. You have to handle them with care."

Philip Ramone, record producer and engineer: born South Africa 5 January 1934; married Karen Ichiuji (three sons); died New York 30 March 2013.

Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit