Ron Nevison: Rock & Roll Dreams Do Come True!

Ron Nevison:  Rock & Roll Dreams Do Come True!

By Jeb Wright

Ron Nevison has made the most out of every opportunity that has come his way in his long and famous career.  He began his musical career as a child vocalist before becoming a roadie, a soundman, a studio builder, and finally, as a highly sought-after and successful producer.

Can you say The Who?  Led Zeppelin?  Joe Cocker? Ozzy Osbourne?  Heart? Those are but a few of the band’s Ron has worked with in the studio.  He also worked sound at Woodstock, worked in Eric Clapton’s studio and was there the night Derek and the Dominos broke up!

To say he has ‘been there and done that’ is a major understatement!  This guy is a living and breathing rock icon who has a story about each band, each song, each overdub…

In the interview that follows, Classic Rock Revisited sat down with Ron for a couple of hours and rolled tape, asking an occasional question but mostly listened in awe of the tales he told!

Read on… this is a rock ‘n’ roll history lesson!


Jeb: What was the path that led you into the music business?   

Ron: In third grade my teacher said I was a good singer.  She said that I should attend the Temple University Boys’ Choir on Saturdays.  I joined.  We sang Mozart and we sang Christmas Carols, and all of them. 

I became a soloist when I was eight or nine years old.  I became a singer.  Fast forward to the mid-sixties, the hippie days, when I was sixteen, or so, I wanted to be in the music business.  I managed a band, which didn’t work out very well.  This was all in Philadelphia.

Next, I promoted a concert in Allentown, Pennsylvania at a place called the Fairgrounds for the band Vanilla Fudge.  I did that in partnership with a hippie clothing store.  It was the hip clothing store in Philadelphia called the 13th Street Conspiracy.  We broke even. 

I hired a guy to do the sound who was part of The Festival Group.  The Electric Factory was one of the big rock clubs at that time.  Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin all played there. 

I ended up working for The Festival Group as a sound man.  At first I was humping the gear. 

I did an interview where the guy asked me about my early career just like you did.  It occurred to me that my two favorite things when I was growing up were to buy transistors to make radios, and then I would go to choir.  It is logical that my two passions would come together in an electronic music career.

Over the next couple of years I became a main sound mixer for bands.  I did Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishman tour.   I did it for Derek and the Dominos.  I was the soundman for Traffic. 

I am talking the live soundman.  From the front of house (FOH) I was the soundman.  That is really how it began, starting in the Sixties. 

I was on tour with Traffic and Chris Blackwell, who owns Island Records, was driving in a car with me in Ohio from one gig to another.  I told him that after two or three years I was burned out.  I wanted to get into the recording studio.  I wanted to take what my knowledge was of live mixing and get into the studio and stop this bullshit of loading trucks. 

Picture going to a gig and working all day setting it up and then when all of the pretty girls are running out of the arena you’re standing there wrapping microphone wires around your arm and then driving to the next gig overnight and doing it all again.  I was over that. 

Chris said, “I have a studio in England called Island Studios and you could work there.”  I moved and I started at the bottom of the barrel.  I was what they called a tape operator.  Here they would call it an Assistant Engineer. 

I had a head start over other guys because of my knowledge.  I worked my way up to being an engineer, and then I got fired. 

I left one session to do another session and I wasn’t supposed to do that.  There was a band called Spooky Tooth, and I was an assistant on a different session and their engineer didn’t show up, so I got someone to cover me and I went to do their session, but their manager didn’t like that, so I got fired. 

I answered an ad in Melody Maker… this is all in England and it’s around 1970.  I got this interview for this company called Trackplan.  It turns out Trackplan was a company that was building studios for musicians and was owned by Pete Townshend. 

One of my first jobs was to build a mobile studio for Ronnie Lane in an Airstream Trailer.  In that trailer I ended up recording Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti and the first two Bad Company albums. 

We didn’t do the entire thing, but we used that mobile studio to record the basic tracks and then we moved into the studio.

The first Bad Company album was at Headley Grange and so was Physical Graffiti.  The second one was at Clearwell Castle.  It was really cold, but it was great… and it was a wonderful atmosphere. 

They rented it out to rock bands in the winter.  The only night we couldn’t work was on Saturday night when they would bring in busloads of people to do this medieval type of dinner.  They would have wenches serving everyone and they would be throwing lamb pieces at people.  They would be breaking glasses and all sorts of stupid shit.  That was the Straight Shooter album.  We then went to Air Studios to finish that one. 

By the time we got to the third Bad Company album they were too rich to stay in England to do it. We rented a villa in the South of France. 

I don’t want to skip Quadraphenia.  I skipped ahead.  This should be first.  Ronnie Lane and Pete Townshend were buds and they were both devoted to the same guru.  Pete owned the company and Ronnie paid for it, and I built it. 

They were building the studio called Rampart in London.  The studio was ready, but the control room was not.  They had a schedule, so Pete called up Ronnie and said, “Can we use your mobile studio for a while until our control room is ready?”  Who better to use the mobile than the guy who built it?  They hired me.  They kept me for a few years.  They hired me to cut the tracks and then I did the whole album and I did the Tommy film after that, too.

Jeb: To me, Quadraphenia really was a big jump in Pete’s songwriting.  He took things to a new level of excellence. 

Ron: Who’s Next is fantastic.  It is a totally different thing as it is more basic.  It is not the concept that Tommy was, but it was amazing.  Quadraphenia saw him become much more proficient with his synthesizer stuff and with his songwriting.  We spent eight months on that album. 

Jeb: You were a music guy.  Did you notice that things were sounding pretty incredible?

Ron: You know, I worked so hard that I don’t really have time to think about stuff like that.  When I got home I just put my head down on the pillow and tried to get some sleep. 

You don’t really realize it until it is finished and then you go, “Oh shit!”  I have to tell you, Jeb, sometimes I listen to records that I did and I think, “What was I thinking?”  A lot of time on the mixing I do that.  I wonder, “Was I even there?”  Sometimes I listen and I do the opposite and go, “That if fucking phenomenal.”  It is pretty strange.  You just keep working and you do the best you can under the circumstances. 

This brings us up to 1975 when I decided to come to L.A. for a number of reasons.  I built a studio for Ronnie Wood at his house.  The Faces were doing a tour of L.A. and the Record Plant mobile was recording the shows.  Ronnie Lane and Woody were friends with the guys at the Record Plant and they invited them over to England.

I was doing a session in Ronnie’s studio at his house.  I met them and they knew I had done the Who and that I had done Bad Company and they offered me a job on the spot to be the chief engineer at the Record Plant in L.A. 

I didn’t take it immediately, but I took it eventually.  There were a lot of people leaving England at that time due to the Labor Government who closed of all of the tax loopholes.  Rod Stewart moved to L.A.  The Stones moved to France.  Elton John moved to L.A.  A lot of people were leaving because they were taxing people on out of the country earnings. 

If you stayed in England more than 63 days a year then you were subject to taxes on anything you earned anywhere in the world.  Everyone was leaving and I had a job offer in L.A. so I took it. 

The final straw for me was when they offered me a house in Beverly Hills where I could live.  They rented me a house.  I moved there and, of course, at that time The Record Plant had three studios in L.A. and two studios in Sausalito where I am now. 

I used to shuttle back and forth when I wasn’t doing sessions and just oversee all of the engineers and assistants.  After a while I decided to leave, not because I didn’t like the job, but because I couldn’t work anywhere else. 

I had big clients that told me they wanted me, but they didn’t want to work at The Record Plant.  Not everybody liked The Record Plant.  They didn’t like the sound or whatever.  I decided that I was doing well enough that I should go independent and I’ve been independent ever since.  That was probably in 1977. 

I still worked at The Record Plant a lot, but if somebody wanted me to come to London to work, which UFO did, then I could do that.  I did Lights Out in 1977 and I couldn’t have done that if I was still tied into the job.  It was a time-consuming job being a chief engineer of a major studio. 

Jeb: Before we get too far ahead, I have to ask you about working with Eric Clapton. 

Ron: I had been the soundman for Derek and the Dominos.  I was mostly the monitor guy for that band.  I made friends with the head roadies and all of the people. 

When I got fired at Island Studios I didn’t have a place to go to.  Bobby Whitlock let me stay at the house that he was renting from Ringo Starr in Weybridge, England.  Derek and the Dominos roadies told me that Eric needed somebody to help him out.  I moved out of Ringo’s house and into Eric’s house.  Eric was not in good shape, let’s say... 

Jeb: His heroin use was in full gear…

Ron: He’s not shy about talking about what was going on.  This guy was building his studio and I helped him out a little bit.  I roadied for Eric on the second Derek and the Dominos album that he was doing at Olympic Studios with Andy Johns, who died last year...  He was a wonderful guy. 

I had a Bentley at that time—it was an old Bentley but it was a Bentley.  I used to put his guitars in there and drive from his house with his guitars.  He would drive his Ferrari.  We would go to the studio and I would sit there and absorb what was going on. 

I was there, actually, when they broke up.  The night that they broke up was a very simple thing where Eric was taking forever to tune his guitar and Jim Gordon, who was the drummer, who is in jail now for killing his mother, who was a nutcase, but was also a very sweet guy… he was certainly trouble.  Jim said something like, “Why don’t we do a song about tuning?”  Eric put the guitar down and walked out.  That was it.  That was the end of the second Derek and the Dominos album. 

We have not even got to my producing years yet!  How much time do you have?

Jeb: I am sitting here watching a storm.  I have time!  The other thing I wanted to talk you about before we talk about producing, is that you didn’t like working with Bad Company… they weren’t as much fun as working with other bands.  Why?

Ron: Oh, don’t get me wrong, I did find it enjoyable.  With Bad Company and Led Zeppelin, they treat you like someone would treat a housekeeper.  You know what I mean?  You don’t get a lot of respect.  You’re just an employee.  There was no comradery. 

It wasn’t like that with Pete Townshend.  Pete and I worked for eight months on that record and we were very close.  Keith Moon and I were very close.  Keith was the only guy that was single in the band at the time, so Keith used to take me out at night after the sessions with his driver and we would go to this club called Tramps. 

We would walk in and there would be Mick Jagger, Michael Caine and you’d have Prince Andrew all there.  You’d have film stars with rock stars and royalty all in the same place.  Keith and I were really having fun. 

There was a difference between that and the Bad Company guys, who were very nice to me, and the Led Zeppelin guys, who weren’t that nice to me. 

I really didn’t work that much on the Zeppelin album.  I just cut the tracks and did some overdubs.  Zeppelin has a history of using a lot of different engineers.  They will fly to New York and they will just use the engineer at that studio.  They have a history of doing that. 

I didn’t get fired from that album.  They were a month late doing that album and I had a start date to do the Tommy film.  It ran into that and I called them up and said, “Look, I can’t finish this.”  They were very annoyed.  I don’t think anybody had ever quit Led Zeppelin before. 

This was a long project and I probably had another week or two with Zeppelin and The Who needed me for a six month project.  I had already committed to it.  That’s what I meant by that.  I enjoyed the music immensely. 

Those three Bad Company albums and the Led Zeppelin album and Tommy kept me busy.  I also did another album called Nightlife with Thin Lizzy around that time.  That album is one of the albums that I said to myself, “What was I thinking?” When I listen to it I think it is not that good.  Those are few and far between.  I admit that I’m not perfect.  Who is?

Jeb: History says you erased Jimmy Page’s guitar solo on Physical Graffiti.

Ron: That is wrong. 

Jeb: You are stuck with that.

Ron: I will tell you why it is wrong.  I didn’t know until the album came out that they had used previous songs from Houses of the Holy.  I only did eight or nine tracks on Physical Graffiti.  I never worked on that song.  Those tapes were never brought to me.  I was never in the studio with them. I was only at Headley Grange in Ronnie’s mobile studio.  There is no way I could have erased that.

I think Keith Harwood or one of the other guys blamed it on me when it happened. 

I don’t really care.  You know what they say about publicity?  For them to put that on the album… Here’s the other thing…  I didn’t do any final guitar overdubs with Jimmy Page.  I only did track overdubs where they were replaced later.  I didn’t do any finals.  There is no way, even if I had that tape, that it could have been erased by me. 

Jeb: You got sold down the river. 

Ron: You know what?  I could give a shit about that.  I’ve got another Eric Clapton story if you want to hear it.  

Jeb: Sure.

Ron: I’m at Eric’s house and it is the summer of 1972.  He decides that he wants to go to the south of France with his girlfriend on a wine tour or something.  I am the only one left at the house.  Now, the gatehouse… it is an old house where there is a little gatehouse and in that house was where Mr. and Mrs. Eggby lived.  He was the gardener and she was the housekeeper and then they had a kid, and I can’t remember the kid’s name. 

I had a girlfriend at the club called The Speakeasy.  I would work at the studio during the day and then go see her at night.  I usually stayed at her place at night and came back the next day to work, so I was not at the studio all of the time. 

I came home one morning and there was a guitar missing.  It was a big 12-string with a big heart shaped F-hole.  I called up the head roadie and I said, “There is something going on here.”  We got to looking and there were four guitars missing plus other stuff.  A gold record was missing.  There was a bass gone and an acoustic was gone.  The most important thing was that Blackie was missing, which was Eric’s main guitar. 

He immediately got, with my help, on the phone with all of the serial numbers.  We called all of the local shops with in a fifty miles radius—all of the music stores.  It paid off.  Someone walked in a shop with one of the guitars.  It was a young kid.  He was from where they would call Shirlinka now.  He was a neighbor.  He was a friend of the Eggby’s kid. 

This kid would go to the Eggby’s house and take the key off the latch.  He would put something out back and then bring the key back.  Then he came back and picked it up later.  He did this for a few days. 

It looked to me like somebody was starting a band.  They took a bass, a guitar and they took an acoustic.  Anyway, we got everything back.  The problem was when Eric came home. Of course, he was furious.  I was furious that it was on my watch.  I don’t think he was mad at me.  He knew what happened. 

The real problem was that George Harrison had invited him to come to the Concert for Bangladesh in New York.  When Eric went to the police station to get his guitars they wouldn’t give them to him because they were evidence.  Eric said he would drop the charges, but they would not let him do that.  Eric had to go there with another guitar.  That’s the story. 

Jeb: You mentioned Thin Lizzy.  I love that band. Was that your first role as a major producer?  Nightlife?

Ron: It wasn’t the first one.  That was a band called Chili Willi and the Red Hot Peppers.  That was more like a pub kind of band.  They were a country rock band.  Yeah, Thin Lizzy maybe was the first notable one. 

I had never worked in the studio called Trident before.  I was a novice guy.  I couldn’t really get the hang of mixing there.  I recorded okay.  It was truly the mixing when I listen back to that album where I think it is not up to par.  I would love to have a chance to remix that album knowing what I know now.  Don’t dwell on that [laughter]. 

Jeb: What was it like to work with Phil Lynott?

Ron: Phil was great.  He was a little bit in trouble, too.  So was Michael Schenker!  Some of the people that I’ve worked with have had issues.  Phil was one of the nicest guys.  Scott Gorham was great to work with.  The entire band was great to work with.  It was me that messed up. 

Jeb: I like the album.

Ron: I think it is a good album.  I am the kind of guy that never loves everything that I’ve done.  There is always something that I think I could have done better.  There is always something I will find fault with.  I guess you could call me a perfectionist.  That’s kind of the way that I am. 

Jeb: You came back to the USA… who was your first big American client when you went Indie?

Ron: The first production I did here was Flo & Eddie.  Moving Targets was the album.  I co-produced that with Skip Taylor who was their manager.  I learned a lot from that experience. 

I was looking for an arranger for strings and horns.  Somebody turned me on to a guy named Alan McMillan, who was a Canadian guy who had done work with Alice Cooper.  I thought, “If he has worked with Alice then he knows rock and roll.”  I used him and I used him a lot.   I used him for that Flo & Eddie album and I used him for Dave Mason.  I did this album with Dave Mason called Let it Flow

When I was with Traffic, Dave had already left. The first Traffic album that I did the front of house for they were a three-piece.  Chris Wood played the saxophone with this thing that was a sub-octave thing.  He blew the bass line and when Steve played guitar he used bass pedals.  It was wild.  It was the High Heeled Boys tour. 

Back to the story… I was in The Record Plant and I did Flo & Eddie and I did Dave Mason and then I got a call from Chrysalis about UFO.  I had left the employ of The Record Plant and I went to London. 

I listened to the previous UFO albums that Leo Lyons had done. Leo was the bass player for Ten Years After.  They sounded great, but they all sounded the same. I wanted to do something different with them.  I had great success with Alan McMillan with some of the stuff we had done in L.A.  I brought Alan over and he did the stuff on “Love to Love” on the Lights Out album and some of the other stuff.  We did a cover of “Alone Again” and it is beautiful.  It was a new beginning for UFO. 

Jeb: For all intents and purposes it was the beginning of UFO.  It took it to a different level.  I have heard those guys didn’t like each other.

Ron: It wasn’t that.  The biggest problem that I had with UFO was that Schenker didn’t write with the other guys.  He wrote these anthemic pieces and he wrote these riffs but he didn’t write complete songs.  I had to put verses in places and change arrangements around these great riffs in order to make things work.  It all worked in the end. 

The other thing was that Phil Mogg was famous for not writing lyrics until the last day.  When you’re a producer, you want to know what the song is about.  You want to know how to produce it in order to relate to the lyric.  It all worked out.

As far as them not liking each other, I don’t think that’s true.  Not on the three albums I did with them.  I didn’t find that.  They were… I mean Schenker was a loner.  He really didn’t hang out with them.  I didn’t find any kind of dislike.  They never showed that to me. 

They had a falling out after I worked with them.  It was after I did the Strangers in the Night album.  It’s funny, we went to Cleveland, I think.  We went to Youngstown.  They were big in Chicago.  They were popular there.  That was the biggest arena that we used.  I don’t remember what the name of the arena was.  We also did Youngstown.  We did Columbus.  We did Cleveland.  I might be wrong about this… you’d have to check and see where all we recorded. 

I picked most of it from one of the shows.  There was not much from Chicago.  I used the Chicago audience because it was a lot better than some of the other ones. 

You have to remember… before we get into Strangers in the Night we should talk about Obsession.  I did that in a post office.  It was a vacant post office sorting center in Beverly Hills with The Record Plant remote truck. 

Jeb: They were set up in an empty post office?

Ron: Yes.  I like the ‘liveness’ of big rooms.  I wanted UFO to have a different sound for this particular record.  I will never forget Schenker… right in the middle of this hall, right next to his Marshall amp… I am watching him from the truck on closed circuit TV.  He is playing and two policemen come in and tap him on the shoulder and he almost had a heart attack. 

Somebody complained that we were being too loud.  I went out there and said that we would shut it down.  I told them not to worry about it.  We told them we would not work this late again. I will never forget the look on Michael’s face! 

Jeb: Michael Schenker is a really talented player, but he never got the mass respect he deserved here in the U.S.  Written in the Sand is a great record….

Ron: It is not just his playing.  It is his writing.  He is really responsible for most of the really good stuff in UFO.  They all contributed.  Pete Way contributed, but Michael did the majority of the writing of these great anthems that they did.  Schenker was the man, no question about it. 

When we were working in the studio on Lights Out, I put the band on the roof and ran lines up and down just for the vibe. 

Jeb: I loved the sound of the song “Lights Out.”  You got such a strong powerful vibe on that entire album. 

Ron: The song “Lights Out” was actually a tough one.  It is fast.  It is hard to get guitars to articulate when they are that fast. 

I think my favorite is “Love to Love.”  I love the guitar work on Obsession.  I did more of the parts with him… different licks in-between phrases… I did tons of stuff, much more than on Lights Out.  We had Paul Raymond in the band, too.  There were keyboards, but I remember Paul, who is a lovely guy, saying to me when we were doing Lights Out… I said to him, “Paul we are going to have to do your part over after the tracking.”  He said, “Why?”  I said, “You’re making a lot of mistakes.”  He said, “Why do I have to be playing with the tracks then?”  I told him, “If you’re not playing, then somebody is going to creep into your part.” 

If he was not there, then someone else will play more and there would not be room for his part when we wanted to put it back on.  He said, “Okay.”  He couldn’t argue with that. 

I think I mixed Obsession at The Record Plant.  I love that album.  You have to understand in the vinyl days you only had forty minutes of time for a rock record.  You had twenty minutes a side.  If you have a song like “Rock Bottom” then you’re not going to get many songs on an album!  So, that is why Strangers in the Night is a double album.  “Love to Love” was another long live song.  Anecdotally, there was a French restaurant right next to The Record Plant called Entourage where I used to go and have lunch.  I was in there having lunch and I hear Frank Sinatra playing “Strangers in the Night.”  I thought what a great fucking title for UFO.  Everybody loved it.  It all happened because I went to a French restaurant and heard Frank Sinatra.

Chrysalis did the launch for the album and the rented out The Planetarium in L.A. It was called The Griffith Park Observatory.  That is where we did the launch party, and it was very cool.  I think that was for Strangers in the Night.  It was for one of them.  I don’t think it was for the other two. 

I do remember bringing “Lights Out” back to Los Angeles and going into the board room with the entire staff of Chrysalis and playing it and getting a standing ovation.  You know, that was very, very incredible for me. 

Jeb: The Baby’s came about during this time.  They may not have been as much fun to work with.

Ron: Because of what I had done for Chrysalis with UFO they wanted me to do the same thing.  Like UFO, The Baby’s had an album that was not very successful.  They wanted me to do the next one which was the Broken Heart

Terry Ellis was adamant about having a hit.  I found this song called “Isn’t It Time,” that was the hit off of that album. 

John Waite hated it.  First of all, they all hated doing an outside song.  I had a mandate from the management from the record company to have a ‘hit’.  I had to do that.  I had to be the bad guy. 

When it came to John singing the chorus on that, he couldn’t really sing it.  I got these black background singers, who became The Babette’s and that is how that happened. 

John couldn’t sing the chorus or he didn’t want to.  If you listen to that song, he hardly does anything in the chorus.  That is how that happened. 

Jeb: Head First was their big hit.   

Ron: There is another story about the Head First album… I finished the album without the song “Head First.” 

I was lying on the beach in Hawaii on a vacation after the album was finished.  I get a call from Terry Ellis and he says, “This album is not finished.  It needs a hit.”  I came back and I found the song “Every Time I Think of You,” which was written by the same duo that wrote the other song. 

In the meantime, the band had written the song “Head First.”  We cut both of those and they became the two biggest songs on that album. 

The biggest problem, Jeb, in those days was that Chrysalis L.A. was a very young label and they had independent distribution.  It wasn’t really until Blondie and Pat Benatar that they really started selling records.  We had big radio hits, but the albums were not in the stores. 

Chrysalis was Terry Ellis and Chris Wright.  They were college friends that started with Ten Years After and Jethro Tull.  Those were the two big bands and they were also a management company.  They parlayed that into Chrysalis.  It was much like Richard Branson parlayed a little record store on Oxford Street into an empire called Virgin. 

Jeb: Which Jefferson Starship album had “Jane” on it?

Ron: That was Freedom at Point Zero.  I got a call… this is after The Baby’s… I got call from my manager.  He said that Santana needed a producer and Jefferson Starship needs a producer. He told me that I had to go meet them both.  A limo picked me up at the airport and took me to meet Santana.  I always loved Carlos.  I loved their Latin flavor and I loved all of that.  There was never a really great singer front man in the band because Carlos was the front man.  I met them and they were lukewarm.  They were like, “Here’s the guy that Bill Graham sent over.”  I was not that impressed.

I got back in the limo and went to Paul Kantner’s house.  Mickey Thomas and Ansley Dunbar had just joined the band.  Craig Chaquico had taken a bigger role writing songs.  It was a rock and roll outfit. 

I loved the whole thing.  Here’s the problem… I had been their soundman in 1969.  In fact, I did their sound at Woodstock as Jefferson Airplane.  I was afraid that they would think that they would not want to hire their old sound guy as their producer.  I had shaved my beard off and I looked different so I didn’t tell them.  Marty Balin and Grace Slick had left the band.  Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy had left the band.  It wasn’t the same band at this point. 

I thought, “Shit, if they don’t remember then they don’t remember.  That’s great.”  They didn’t remember. 

That is the album that had “Jane.”  I did three albums with them.  Modern Times was a great album.  The other one was Nuclear Furniture

I was talking to the roadies, who were the same roadies from the 1960s.  One of the guys turns to me and says, “Wait a second.  You’re from Philly, right?”  I said, “Yep.”  He said, “Did you work on the sound for us?”  I said, “Yep.”  This was after three records… They figured it out.  I figured enough time had gone out that I could let the cat out of the bag. 

I used this guy named Peter Wolf.  Not the singer from J. Geils, but another guy.  He is brilliant.  They wanted to go in a softer direction on the third album I did with them. 

We are now getting into the ‘80s.  The next big thing I did was Survivor, which had three hits on it.  It was a huge Platinum album with “Can’t Hold Back” and “High On You” and “Search is Over.”  It did really well even though they always got that faceless band moniker.  They were all good looking guys, but that is just the way it was. 

Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan were the main songwriters.  Jim came up with the more interesting melodic stuff and the ballads.  Frankie came up with the riffs.  I didn’t do “Eye of the Tiger” but the guitar on that was great. 

Survivor was a collaboration.  Working with them was fabulous.  I had gotten a call from my manager to go to the city of Chicago to do one song.  It was a soundtrack song for The Karate Kid called “Moment of Truth.”  They liked working with me again.  I had done an album with them that I got fired on in the ‘70s for some reason. 

John Kalodner didn’t like what I was doing.  He used to send me these notes “remove cymbals.”  Like I could take the bell of the cymbal out of the drum tracks? 

I did Moment of Truth and they liked that, and the next thing I did with them was Vital Signs in L.A.  I did another album with them called Seconds Count.  It didn’t do as well, but it was a really good album.  It had one of my favorite songs I did with them called “Man against the World.”  It is an amazing song. 

Peterik was great.  The entire band was so nice.  I can’t tell you how much fun I had working with Survivor. 

Jeb: You skipped one.  Eddie Money.  The album was Playing for Keeps.

Ron: He’s a total asshole.  I used to call it Playing for Creeps.  I will tell you why… He sabotaged the album.  It was like he wanted to produce the album himself, but Bill Graham wouldn’t let him.  He figured he would just, you know… do it himself with me. 

One year after this album I am talking to the guitar player and he says, “You know, that album… when we went through the doors from the control room into the studio Eddie would go, “Don’t do what Ron said.  Do this.’” 

I would be going “What the hell is going on here?”  It never occurred to me that somebody would sabotage their own album.  It makes no sense. 

John Waite was the other one I had a difficult time with, but I did three albums with him.  I wanted to strangle him.  I just didn’t want to go to jail.

I’ve done about 100 albums and they are the only two I really didn’t get along with.  I don’t want to get into the why those things happen; otherwise this will be an eight hour interview. 

Jeb: Let’s talk about Heart.

Ron: I got a call to go to Seattle and see Ann and Nancy Wilson, to do a couple of their ballads.  I had a lot of success with ballads with The Baby’s and with Survivor and with Starship.  I had dinner with them. 

Ann picked me up at the airport and she took me back to the airport.  We had dinner and we had a great time and the next day they called and said they wanted me to do the entire album.

This was a time where they had a new manager named Trudy Green.  They were now on a new label, Capitol Records.  They told them when they signed Heart that they had to mutually agree on the songs and mutually agree on the producer.  They agreed to that.  Capital was happy with me and so was Heart.

I liked their songs a lot, but I didn’t hear a hit with what they were writing.  Heart had fired their boyfriends who were in the band.  They were the guys who wrote a lot of those classic songs.  They had done these softer songs on the album Passionworks.  Epic dropped them after that. 

I was going up to Seattle to do pre-production and my manager handed me a cassette.  He also manages Bernie Taupin.  He handed me a cassette and the song on there was “These Dreams.”  Bernie had written that song with Martin Page.  I listened to it on the plane and I thought it would be perfect for Nancy to sing instead of Ann. 

I never ever thought it would be a number one song.  I was looking for a song for Nancy because she is a very dreamy type of girl.  I just thought it would be perfect. 

Also on that tape was “We Built This City.”  I thought, “That’s the stupidest fucking song I’ve ever heard in my life.”  I think that song was the downfall for Starship.  It was a hit but… It is like this… I couldn’t do rap music.  You need somebody that is in the culture to do it.  Peter Wolf, as much as I love his expertise, was from Austria.  He had no idea about American rock. 

Jeb: Talk about “What About Love.”  Did you know when you heard the demo that it was right for Heart?

Ron: When I played them “What About Love” Nancy ran downstairs crying because they didn’t like it.  What they didn’t like was the vocal on the demo. 

I sat them down and I said, “I think this song can be a great Heart song.  This song can be yours.  Try it.  Work on it a bit.  If it doesn’t work out then you don’t have to do it.”  After they worked on it for a while they loved it. 

Jeb: The Heart album has a great sound to it. 

Ron: It had some teeth to it.  It has some rockers.  It had a couple of Holly Knight collaborations. One of them was called “Never.” 

“Looks Could Kill” I stole off the desk of Don Grierson at Capitol Records.  That song was headed for Tina Turner.  As much as “All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You” was the wrong song for Ann Wilson, “Looks Could Kill” was right for her.  I begged for that song. 

Jeb: We can’t begin to wrap this up without talking about Ozzy Osbourne The Ultimate Sin.  That album was a return to harder rock for you. 

Ron: I do whatever the band I am working with is doing. 

I listened to what Ozzy had done before, just like I did with UFO.  Ozzy had Jake E. Lee at that time, who is a fantastic player. 

I went to London to do Joe Cocker, actually.  It was on that “You Can Leave Your Hat On” album.  I didn’t do that song, but I did a few songs for Joe that were on that album.

Another story right there… I was the soundman on Mad Dogs & Englishman.  I was worried about him remembering me like I was worried about when I worked with Jefferson Starship.  Joe didn’t remember the day before, or the day after, so I was safe!  He was great to work with.

While I was in London doing that, I got a call to go see Sharon and Ozzy.  I just stayed in London and did that album.  When it came time to do the vocals, I couldn’t get Ozzy to turn up.  He was not on time.  I went to Sharon and I said, “Where can I take Ozzy?  Where does he hate?”  She said, “He hates France.”  I said, “I’m going to take him to France to do the vocals.” 

Ozzy and me and a ‘minder’, one of his roadie guys, the three of us go to Paris.  We go to this studio and he is so bored being in France that in ten days we had all of the vocals done. 

You’ve got to do what you need to do in order to get the job done. Sometimes you have to piss people off.  You wait for them to go, “Oh, I am going to show you!”  I am like, “That’s what I’ve been waiting for.” 

Jeb: Back to Heart… Bad Animals was not a great album.

Ron: I found that song “Alone” which was a number one song. That was a number one billboard hit.  Bad Animals… we sold ten million records between those two.  No one does that these days. 

Jeb: Your discography is all over the map.  You have Chicago and you have Ozzy and you have Kiss.

Ron: I was doing Kiss and I was doing Melissa Manchester.  I get called up.  I don’t solicit these people.  They call me up. 

I could only do in those days maybe three albums a year.  I had to turn down a lot of people.  I turned down Bon Jovi because I just didn’t have time to do it.  I had to do the ones where the timing was right on. 

Why should I not do Kiss?  Those guys were so professional.  I worked with Paul [Stanley] mostly.  Once Gene [Simmons] had done his bass and his one vocal, he was gone.  He would come to the studio and sit in the back and read Varity

Jeb: Did Gene play all the bass parts?

Ron: Oh yeah, Gene played all of the bass on that. 

While I am talking about the Ozzy album, there is a song called “Shot in the Dark” that the bass player wrote.  Ozzy didn’t want to do that song. 

Sharon went, “Well, Ron, what do you think?”  I said, “I think it is only one song.  It could be a hit.”  At the end of the day, it is a hit.  She calls and says, “What’s the next single?”  I said, “You didn’t want me to do that one.  I could have done more like that one.” 

Jeb: The Damn Yankees were a big one for you.

Ron: The story on Damn Yankees is that John Kalodner put the entire thing together at Geffen.  That is what he does.  He’s a good marriage broker. 

He got Ted Nugent, Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw together.  He did some demos and Ed Rosenblatt, the President of Geffen turned it down. 

Warner’s called me up.  I go over there and I listen to the demos and I went, “I love this.” 

I would have loved it even if the songs weren’t as good because of who it was.  “High Enough” just floored me.

These guys were seasoned pros, so it was great in the studio.  Everyone was great.  The only thing I can say about Damn Yankees is that I wish Nugent would have spent more time in L.A. doing stuff. 

Tommy Shaw is an underrated guitar player.  People don’t think of Tommy as a guitar player, but he is great.

I wanted to have two guitar players playing off each other.  Instead, I had to do all of Tommy’s guitars and then Ted would fly in and do all of his guitars.  It was kind of like a film director would have to do scenes with one guy without the other guy there and then edit it all together. 

I can’t really fault anything that Ted did as far as his playing.  I wish he would have spent more time with the band.  He had his bow hunting thing going on.  It was Ted’s World. 

I like the guy.  I hate his politics, but he’s actually a likable guy and I had a good time with him. 

To give you an example, when I go in to record guitar solos, usually everybody has prepared.  You’ve got to be on the record button, or these days the record mouse.  You have to be on the button immediately because the first one might be the best time they ever do it.  Well, I am sitting there doing the first solo with Ted and he didn’t even remember what key the song was in.  Within like a half an hour he had a brilliant solo. 

He is so consummate and so cocky that he didn’t have to listen to the songs.  It was a month or two later after we had done the songs.  He didn’t remember them.  They were Tommy and Jack’s songs mostly.  I had given him cassettes but he obviously didn’t listen to them, but he was brilliant.  He was so confident and he did a great job.

Jeb: Who does the opening to “Coming of Age?”

Ron: That’s Ted.  That is Ted’s idea.  Ted came up with that part.  That’s Ted’s thing. 

Jeb: I want to close by discussing one that was not one of your best-selling albums.  I love Meat Loaf.  You did Welcome to the Neighborhood which I thought was great.

Ron: I did too.  I took that album over.  There is a story to everything.  In fact, there is a story to every song and there is a song to every overdub.  We don’t want to get into that minutia. 

What happened was that I had done an album with Never the Bride.  It was these two girls who were actually lesbians.  They were a great punk band from England.  They had come over to L.A. and it was a great album but it never did anything.  It was one of those albums that gets lost. 

Meat Loaf’s manager, Allen Kovac, is sitting in the office and he goes “What do you have that’s hot lately?”  They played him the Never the Bride.  Allen listened to it and he said, “Who did that?”  They told him I did that.

Meat Loaf had kind of been producing himself.  They had Miami Steve Van Zandt doing some stuff on that one.  I flew to New York and they had already spent like a half a million dollars when I got there. 

I did a bunch of tracks.  I kept some of them and I fixed some of them.  I brought in some great guys to play on the album.  The result is the mixture of what they had done before and what I did. 

You just have to kind of figure out what works.  You have to work your way through it.  You’ve got to keep going. 

There is a certain threshold as a producer that you have to look at.  You just can’t be one hundred percent because there is not enough money in the world to be one hundred percent.  You set a certain threshold in your mind and you don’t want anything to fall below that.  You work to that threshold and that is how I work. 

Jeb: When Meat sings in the studio is it earthshattering?

Ron: No.  In fact, his biggest problem is lack of stamina.  He can’t sing that long.  His pitch isn’t that good, either.  This is before the software that we have now came out. 

It took a long time with him.  He did great.  He just doesn’t sing as long as most people do.  He would do maybe a half a song at a time and only a couple of takes at a time.  I need more than that.  I need a whole song and five or six takes, or whatever.  

I would work with him for an hour or so and then do the rest of the stuff that I had to do.  I would take whatever he had done the day before and comp vocals together and I would know what I needed to do the next day.

Jeb: I am a huge Styx fan.  Brave New World is not a good record.  It came close, but there was so much BS in the band it didn’t work out.

Ron: Here’s the deal.  I am not a technical mixer.  I am more of an emotional mixer.  There was a big rift between Dennis DeYoung and JY Young and Tommy Shaw.  It was growing.  Dennis wanted to mix his songs in Chicago.  He wasn’t happy with the choice of me mixing his songs.  He called me up and he told me that.  He basically said that he thought I sucked.  He wasn’t really happy with it.  I don’t think he said I sucked, but he said something like, “What are you doing?”  But I understood what he meant.  That was really the end of them all being in the band. 

It wasn’t because of my mixing.  It was long before that that things had really fallen apart with them. 

Jeb: OK, Last one:  How can you look back at your career and not be in awe of yourself?

Ron:  You can’t operate like that or else you sit back on your laurels. 

There were two albums I did in the early ‘90s that got swallowed up because of Kurt Cobain.  I did a great album by Vince Neil called Exposed.  Steve Stevens played guitar.  It was a great Metal album. 

I did an album with John Wetton that didn’t do well.  John has a sound.  We did a wonderful record.  Both of those are great albums.

Those two albums never saw the light of day because everybody ran to Seattle.  So, there are things that don’t work out. 

I was very disappointed in how those were received.  That’s what happens in the music business. 

http://www.ronnevison.com/

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