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February 02, 2005

Jimmy Miller

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I didn't wake up until much too late to the fact that pop music is created not just by writers and performers but also by producers. I was in college, enjoying some locoweed, and groggily inspecting the record jacket of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street," an album I must have listened to 500 times. The small print featured a name I recognized: Jimmy Miller. Why did that name ring a bell?

Eventually it came to me: Miller's name was also featured on another album I loved, this one by the group Traffic. My mind started to make hazy connections. Both discs had a roughed-up, free-wheeling, wildass emotional quality ... The audio on both was complex, yet anything but oppressive ... Hey: maybe this producer-guy Jimmy Miller had something to do with it!

So I looked into Jimmy Miller some more. What I learned was that Miller had served as producer on a number of the Stones' best records -- "Beggars' Banquet," "Sticky Fingers," "Let It Bleed" -- as well as on all of Traffic's best discs. As far as I could tell, both Traffic and the Stones in their post-Jimmy-Miller days put out much less interesting records. And finally I found myself thinking: hmm, maybe a producer-guy can be a creative and significant force in his own right.

The other day I was feeling nostalgic, and was wondering whatever became of Jimmy Miller. Google didn't come to much of a rescue, alas: Miller died in 1994, pre-web. But this short All-Music Guide bio sketches out the basics of his life and his work.

I wonder if a history of popular music that covered the field from the point of view of its producers would be enlightening.



posted by Michael at February 2, 2005


"Brown Sugar" -- surely one of the greatest rock songs ever -- came on the radio just as I was reading this post.

When I worked in a music store (OK, it was Blockbuster Music, but it was STILL a real music store), I was introduced to the Cult of the Producer by my manager who knew a LOT about rock history. He would wax just as eloquent about Phil Spector or Brian Wilson as any other performer/singer-songwriter.

If you're at all interested in this subject, you should check out "The Encyclopedia of Record Producers" by Eric Olsen, et. al. A good book for browsing.

Posted by: Bryan on February 2, 2005 9:01 PM

Take, also, for instance the Beatles: their producer George Martin had more to do with the sound of some of the records (esp. Sgt Pepper and MMT) than Lennon/McCartney themselves had. At least that's what I read somewhere on the internet.

Posted by: jeff on February 2, 2005 10:55 PM


the most producer-driven music in the biz. So are producers good, or bad?


Posted by: r wellor on February 3, 2005 12:52 AM

Bryan -- Thanks for the Olsen tip. I had no idea such a book existed. Does Olsen discuss the producers much in creative terms?

Jeff -- Hard to sort out the impact of producers and performers sometimes, no? We often forget how incredibly young a lot of pop performers are. Do they know how to present themselves, how to frame their music, how to get around a studio, etc? Maybe in some cases yes, but I'd imagine that many of them need a lot of help. And of course a lot of former pop performers go on to careers as producers and execs. It'd be interesting to talk to a few and ask them whether they've found producing to be as satisfying and creative as performing, and how they differ ...

R Wellor -- Rap, which I barely follow at all, seems like a producer's medium a lot more than a performer's. And there are clearly some brilliant producing talents. I don't like the genre, but some of the soundscapes I've heard have been amazing. Do rap fans generally have much awareness of how important the producers are? Or do they just idolize frontmen?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 3, 2005 12:31 PM

Jeff, maybe this is the article you are thinking of:

Posted by: sadie on February 3, 2005 1:23 PM

Michael -- Most of the entries are short bios followed by discographies. Yes, there are discussions of creative style, but some entries are heavier on those details than others. There are also a few extended interviews with producers scattered throughout the book.

Posted by: Bryan on February 3, 2005 6:22 PM

For serious fans of Jamaican music, the importance of producers is at least equal to that of individual artists. My collection (600+ CDs, emphasizing the period 1965-1983) is organized partly by singer/band, partly by producer/recording studio/record label, because that's how the releases are compiled. If you eavesdrop on a conversation among connoisseurs, they're far more likely to be talking about Lee Perry or King Tubby than about Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff.

Rap is a direct descendant of Jamaican dub and deejay music, so it isn't surprising that it too would be producer-centric.

Posted by: Mr. H.M. Wogglebug, T.E. on February 3, 2005 6:27 PM

I don't think there is any question that much of what made the Beatles' sound so distinctive was George Martin's production. One need only listen to the "Let It Be" album, which was produced by Phil Spector, not Martin, to sense how much the producer is the _auteur_ of the pop record. Not to take anything away from the true genius of Lennon and McCartney, but without Martin I doubt the Beatles would have been the Beatles. And the same is probably true for Miller and the Stones.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on February 4, 2005 1:24 PM


My god, this post is already #2 when you search for "Jimmy Miller" in google! That only took three days!

Rap is a direct descendant of the sigmoid flexure, so it isn't surprising that producers and industry people in general are all over it.

Posted by: onetwothree on February 5, 2005 6:53 AM

Mwahaha! Yes. 'Tis true.

The producer who spins gold these days is Daniel Lanois.

Every. Single. Album. He's produced for:

- U2
- Emmylou Harris
- Bob Dylan

And many others are their best, and they unmistakably bear his sonic imprint. He even gets a whole section in Dylan's "Chronicles V. 1"

Check him out, mang.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on February 8, 2005 11:24 PM

Woops. Obligatory link left out of last post:

Posted by: Yahmdallah on February 8, 2005 11:25 PM

Wow, I've been sampling Danny Lanois-produced music on Amazon, and like it a lot. Reminds me of T-Bone Burnett's work on Elvis Costello's "King of America," the Costello disc whose sound I like best. Thanks for recommendations/tips/advice from everyone.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 9, 2005 11:48 AM

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