Phil Ramone's 'Musical Mind' Set Him Apart As A Producer

Phil Ramone was a violin prodigy; he played for Queen Elizabeth when he was 10. As a fledgling recording engineer, he manned the booth for "Alice's Restaurant." And as a producer, he recorded hits for Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel and Paul Simon. As NPR's Sami Yenigun reports, Ramone died Saturday at the age of 79.

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Phil Ramone's resume boasted some of the biggest names in pop music. He produced for Paul Simon, Carole King, Billie Joel and Aretha Franklin, just to name a few. Ramone died yesterday. NPR's Sami Yenigun reports that Ramone was a producer who understood both music and musicians.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Phil Ramone first picked up a violin when he was three years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

PHIL RAMONE: Nobody took it seriously till I was about five or six.

YENIGUN: That's Ramone speaking to NPR in 2004. He was a prodigy who performed for Queen Elizabeth II when he was 10, but he became famous for his work on the other side of the studio glass.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG MONTAGE)

PAUL SIMON: (Singing) Well, I'm on my way. I don't know where I'm going.

ASTRUD GILBERTO: (Singing) The girl from Ipanema goes walking...

BILLIE JOEL: (Singing) I want you just the way you are...

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) The look of love is in your eyes...

YENIGUN: The voices of Paul Simon, Astrud Gilberto, Billie Joel and Dusty Springfield all imbued with a piece of Phil Ramone's magic. Ramone's credits include an astounding collection of 20th century talent: Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Loggins, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Carole King - the list goes on and on. Chuck Granata is co-author of Phil Ramone's memoir, "Making Records."

CHUCK GRANATA: He had not just the engineering skill and the ears of a good engineer, he also had the musical mind. He could read music. He could edit music. He could understand the performance side of it as well. And that's really what set Phil apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUCKETS OF RAIN")

BOB DYLAN: (Singing) I've been meek and hard like an oak, I've seen pretty people disappear like smoke. Friends will arrive, friends will disappear.

YENIGUN: Phil Ramone was known as a producer with a soft touch, keeping the focus on the talent rather than on his production techniques. And he was known as a producer with a human touch who always put his musicians first.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

RAMONE: I think when you take the fortunes of my having to been in those positions to record these people, there is one common thread which is the amazing talents of those people.

YENIGUN: Again, Chuck Granata.

GRANATA: To take the most powerful egos and musical brilliance that the 20th century has ever known and to be able to kind of bring it all down to a common level, we're all here together to make music, is simply amazing. And Phil truly epitomized the consummate musician, the consummate recording engineer and certainly the consummate record producer.

YENIGUN: Phil Ramone once wrote: The greatest interaction in the world is the creativity involved in making music. Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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