Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b '25, NYC; d 27 October 2002) Recording engineer who served with Atlantic Records for 25 years from 1948, working with the legends (Ray Charles, Joe Turner, the Clovers, the Drifters with Clyde McPhatter, Aretha Franklin, et al.): the immediacy of the sound was remarkable, and Dowd also became an arranger/ producer. He was a musician, playing in a school orchestra, later at football games in the Columbia U Band; he studied maths and science and at City College in 1942 worked in a physics laboratory on what turned out to be the Manhattan Project, inventing the atomic bomb. He served in the military, staying with the Project, travelled for a year, answered an advert for a recording engineer and entered the industry at exactly the right time: small labels were a sideline of radio, operating on the cheap, and Dowd had a talent for getting the best out of the equipment and the artists; a dozen or so R&B labels were making a lot of money while the major labels were scrambling. Dowd recorded the first big hits for Atlantic ('Drinking Wine Spo Dee-O-Dee' by Spike McGhee, 'Teardrops From My Eyes' by Ruth Brown) but stayed freelance, not committing himself to Atlantic until c1955. (See entries for LaVerne Baker and for rock'n'roll for Dowd's stories about the record business.)
Dowd was there as Atlantic switched from recording on acetates to tape; he recorded bass and drums at full volume with extraordinary clarity, creating a unique sound for the label. In the beginning they did their recording in their offices, pushing the desks up against the wall; Dowd used a stairwell when he wanted an echo effect. As Atlantic brought in eight-track, then stereo recording facilities, he collaborated with producers to make the most of it, notably work with Leiber and Stoller and black groups the Coasters and the Drifters, which could involve 30 takes per song and hours of editing. By the time of the soul era Dowd had already worked on hundreds of legendary records; he recorded Wilson Pickett's 'In The Midnight Hour', Otis Redding's Otis Blue album, The Stax/Volt Revue Live In Europe using Pye three-track equipment at Finsbury Park in London and Barclay four-track equipment at the Olympia in Paris. After Redding's death Dowd kept a promise to record Arthur Conley. On a visit to Stax in Memphis, one-and-a-half huge hits were made by Aretha Franklin, but personal problems in the studio meant that the second track and Franklin's first Atlantic album had to be finished back in NYC: Dowd got co-producer credit with Arif Mardin and Jerry Wexler. He recorded the Allman Brothers, Dusty Springfield, Derek and the Dominos, the Modern Jazz Quartet, John Coltrane (Giant Steps) and Ornette Coleman; eventually he reverted to freelance, producing LPs with Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard '74, Rod Stewart from Atlantic Crossing '75, Lynyrd Skynyrd from Gimme Back My Bullets '76; also Chicago and Meatloaf; sessioned with the James Gang on percussion '75, and continued recording and producing until a few months before his death from emphysema.