John Boylan - Producer
A good producer will enhance a recording. With a little luck, the record will become a hit. A great producer will consistently augment the recordings of various artists over a span of decades. With a little luck, those various recordings will spawn many hits. John Boylan is one of a only a handful of pop/rock producers who have contributed to a spate of hit recordings ranging from pop to country since the 1960s. Lucky? To a degree, maybe, but only a truly talented producer can achieve what he has. In this interview, John Boylan reviews his history.
Boylan was raised in Buffalo, New York and it was there that music first became a part of his life. Boylan explains, "I started taking accordion lessons, then guitar, and then I played in a band. Typical story. Later, I went to college for a couple of years at the University of Buffalo. At the time I was kind of directionless and left to join a theater company. While at the theater company, in 1962, I was drafted. Consequently, I joined the air force reserves to escape the draft."
After his stint in the reserves, he went to Bard College in New York. Coincidentally, his younger brother, Terence Boylan, was then also a student at Bard. "My brother and I were in a band together. We played the Night Owl in Greenwich Village, opening for the likes of an early Lovin' Spoonful. James Taylor played there at that time as well with his group The Flying Machine [that also included future legendary Los Angeles session player and producer Danny Kortchmar]."
According to Boylan, while at Bard "Chevy Chase was in the room across the hall. He played drums and keyboards in bands at the time; he is a good player. Chevy, myself and my brother were working in the Village on an alternative video theater project called Channel One where we would rent a theater in the Village and show offbeat videos. This concept was really the genesis of Saturday Night Live. Channel One would do skits where Chevy would be a weatherman or announcer, similar to Weekend Update." As an aside, Chase did take music seriously enough to play drums in a group called Chameleon Church that recorded some unsuccessful sides for MGM in the late 1960s. This group also included Ted Myers, who over his career played in the legendary 1960s Boston bands The Lost and Ultimate Spinach, and who also fronted a group called Glider - which contained former Rasberry Scott McCarl - that recorded an album for United Artists in the mid-1970s.
Also of interest, while at Bard Boylan played in a group with future Steely Dan figureheads Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Recalls Boylan, "there was a band called the Disciples that was the rotating band at Bard. Everybody played in it. Fagen, Becker, me, my brother, and Chevy all were members. We only sang covers such as 'Wooly Bully' and 'Hang On Sloopy.' I knew Fagen, in particular, was special. He was just out there. He brought me his first song, 'The Bus Driver Is A Fruitcake' and it was just completely off the wall for that time." Interestingly, "Dylan would hang out at Bard, states Boylan. "He lived just five minutes away. Woodstock's right over the river from Bard."
Boylan's first professional recording was as a member of an act called Appletree Theatre. "Appletree Theatre consisted of me, my brother, and session players such as Larry Coryell and Eric Gale. When I first started producing, I gathered up the best players I could find. Being a big jazz freak, I started to hire jazz players, such as Coryell and Gale." Verve Forecast, and MGM subsidiary released the only Appletree Theater album in 1967.
In or about this time, Boylan and his brother "got jobs in Tin Pan Alley as staff writers working for music publishers [and producers] Charles Koppleman and Don Rubin." Koppleman and Rubin were hot as the publishers for the Lovin' Spoonful, and one of their writers, Tim Hardin, had just brought Bobby Darin back into the top ten with Hardin's song "If I Were A Carpenter." Remarks Boylan, "we just boldly walked in the door of the 1650 Broadway building and said you should hire us. They gave us a gig at $50 a week. Along with Hardin, Koppleman/Rubin writers included John Sebastian. Russ Titelman and Lowell George [later of Little Feat] were in the West Coast office. At the time, Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon were also writers there. They wrote 'Happy Together' in the cubicle next to me." Terence Boylan also ventured out about this time, and ended up recording solo albums for the Verve Forecast and Elektra labels in the subsequent years, before starting a book publishing company.
Boylan's first break came while working for Koppleman/Rubin. He wrote a song called "Suzzane On A Sunday Morning" which was a minor hit when recorded by Rick Nelson for Decca in 1967. Comments Boylan, "after the single charted, the record company got excited. they wanted Koppleman and Rubin to finish [producing] the album. They were working on somebody else, so they sent me instead. Rick did not mind because I was the one who wrote the song. Rick and I became pals. When I met him he was the epitome of a 1950s star that was set in his ways and directionless. One of Rick's biggest problems was that he did not have a band. I had to use session players on the albums I did with Rick ['Another Side Of Rick' ('67) and Perspective ('68)]. When I was able, the first thing I did was hire the Stone Canyon Band. I got Randy Meisner [later of The Eagles] who had just left Poco. 'She Belongs To Me' [BB #33, '69], written by Dylan, was the first Stone Canyon band single. I played on that. It took a year to get that going because Koppleman/Rubin held the power. Their basic philosophy was cut our catalog. I quit working for Koppleman/Rubin in 1968 because I could not have any control over what I was doing."
For his next break, Boylan relocated, as many did in that time period, to Los Angeles. "The Association got me to move. Boylan recalls, "they hired me to produce the soundtrack from the film 'Goodbye Columbus' ['69]. Terry Kirkman, who wrote 'Cherish', really liked the Appletree Theatre album, and gave me an opportunity. I also produced the next Association album 'Association' ['69]. The Association were great singers; they could really get a blend like the Four Freshman or Beach Boys. They were also very professional. For a first major project, I could not have asked for a better situation. However, there were lots of problems within the band, fighting among themselves. Gary 'Jules' had quit before the big hits. He then came back after the hits. Larry Ramos, the guy they had originally hired to replace him, stayed. Larry had a more commercial sense and Jules was going to be the beatnik to give the group credibility. They did not want to be bubblegum, and were getting slammed by the critics. In the late 1960s, everybody was talking about the Doors and Dylan. The Association was considered lightweight. Some of their big hits they did not write like 'Windy' and 'Never My Love'. Bones Howe, a great producer/engineer who could pick hits, had turned them into a machine like the Fifth Dimension, and they did not want to do that anymore. In retrospect, they probably should have."
Once Boylan was firmly ensconced in the Los Angeles music scene, he discovered that the Troubadour was the "in" place to be. Boylan reminisces, "there was a good music community then in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Everyone used to hang around the Troubadour." The Troubadour connection led Boylan into many of his future projects.
Boylan produced The Dillards in 1969, after the Association. According to Boylan, "the Dillards were From Salem, Missouri. They had great bluegrass harmonies and were a tremendous influence on everyone around here and never get proper credit. Crosby, Stills and Nash, Poco, and The Eagles all stole their harmonies from Dillards. They used to play the Troubadour. The band choose me to produce and that gave me credibility." Fortuitously for Boylan's credibility factor, "She Belongs To Me" Rick Nelson's big comeback hit, also came out about that time.
Continues Boylan, "thereafter, Linda Ronstandt hired me. She used to hang around the Troubadour. Everyone knew her as a tremendous singer, but had not had much national success since 'Different Drum' in 1967 with the Stone Poneys. She liked the Stone Canyon band and asked if I could put a band together for her, which I did [and which consisted of Don Henley and Glenn Frey, later of The Eagles]. I then started dating Linda. Before I was her producer, we lived together for about a year in the hills above the Whisky A-Go-Go. I produced two albums with Linda, one for Capitol and one for Asylum. I engineered her changeover from Capitol to Asylum, David Geffen's new label. I also managed her for two years by default. Originally, I took her to Peter Asher [formerly of Peter & Gordon] for management, but he was too busy at the time because of James Taylor." Later, Asher did become her manager and producer.
The Asylum connection led to Boylan's next - and greatest saleswise - plateau of success. Explains Boylan, "Paul Ahern, originally from Boston, was working as Asylum's first promotion man. The first Asylum act he promoted was The Eagles, which contained former members of Ronstandt's back-up band. We became friends at that point. Later, Ahern's partner in Boston, Charlie McKenzie, found the original Boston demo tape. Boston became Ahern's first management client. Nobody knew what to do with [the demo], and a couple of labels [including Epic] had already passed on it. Ahern played it for me and I said 'if you let anyone but me do that record, we are not friends anymore.' The tape sounded like a finished record, and was mostly Tom Scholz playing the instruments. Epic signed the band. Boston was really five warm bodies we put together for the label. I produced the first Boston album released in 1976. It just hit sixteen million units. Originally, the album broke on its own, but CBS Jumped in big-time with the big guns. That is why as an artist you want to be on a major label."
As an aside, in the middle of producing Boston, CBS hired Boylan to be an A&R/staff producer. His CBS contract allowed him to produce one outside (non-CBS) project a year. During his A&R gig, he signed the groups Angel City and 'Til Tuesday, featuring Aimee Mann. "Aimee Mann is one of the great songwriters of our age," expresses Boylan. Says Boylan, "I also tried to sign Bruce Hornsby, but CBS would not come up with the money; they thought he was too country. That was one of the reasons I left the company. When SONY bought CBS, I took the parachute they offered and went independent again in 1986." Ironically, Paul Atkinson [once of the Zombies] at RCA outbid CBS and signed Hornsby.
Without missing a beat, Boylan landed on his feet again in 1977. As Boylan describes, "Rupert Perry, head of A&R for Capitol, brought me in to produce The Little River Band. I went to Australia and had a great time. My first hit with them was 'Help Is On The Way' (BB #14, '77). I did three albums with them; all went platinum. Then, the members started changing and the group wanted a producer change. I did not feel too bad though, because they hired George Martin to replace me. Singer Glenn Shorrock of the band had the radio voice, like a Don Henley."
Boylan again made his mark in the early 1980s producing Quarterflash. Boylan explains, "David Geffen called, said he had a new label, and he had just signed an unknown band out of Portland. He wanted me to fly and see them. They were called Seafood Mama. I had a choice to produce either Pablo Cruise or this new group. I went to see the group and saw a girl in a granny dress playing a sax, but I heard two hit songs: 'Find Another Fool' (BB #16, '82) and 'Harden My Heart' (BB #3, '81). They found the name Quarterflash in my library while staying here. I produced two albums for them and both went platinum."
Continues Boylan, "in the 1980s, I got heavily involved in soundtracks. For 'Urban Cowboy' I produced eight cuts, including the hits 'Lookin' For Love' (BB #5, '80) and 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia' (BB #3, '79). I also produced tracks for 'Footloose', 'Back To The Beach', 'Fast Times At Ridgmont High', 'Born On The Fourth Of July' and 'Arachnophobia'. In the 1990s, Boylan has branched off into producing children's records.
Other notable Boylan productions over the years have included: Brewer & Shipley, Michael Dinner, Roger McGuinn, Danny O'Keefe, Pure Prairie League (including the hit "Amie"), Michael Murphy, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, Mickey Gilley, Johnny Rodriguez, and Nelson.Copyright 1998, Ben McLane
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