Born c. 1938 (some sources say 1937 and 1940), in Chicago, IL; married. Addresses: Management--Shel Talmy, c/o Schur and Sugarman, 9229 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 505, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Website---Shel Talmy Official Website: http://www.sheltalmy.com.
An American who became the first independent record producer in England, Shel Talmy has been praised for his innovative, influential recording techniques, his abilities as an arranger, his versatility, and his extensive credits. His career has spanned more than 40 years, from the early 1960s to the present. During the 1960s Talmy worked with seminal English rock bands like the Kinks, the Who, and the Creation, fashioning a sound in the studio that captured the power and energy of their live performances. Talmy is credited with developing several groundbreaking production techniques, such as adding extra microphones on guitars and drums, using compression to get fat, heavy guitar sounds, and for being among the first to record guitar feedback. He is also known for his production work with artists who played softer, acoustic-based material, such as folk/rock/jazz quintet the Pentangle and pop duo Chad and Jeremy. Many of the records that Talmy arranged and produced were international hits, such as "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks, "My Generation" by the Who, and "Friday on My Mind" by the Easybeats. Talmy also worked with a number of other artists who created quality music but did not attain wide recognition, such as the Creation.
Talmy wrote or arranged a number of songs, and also played guitar or tambourine on some of his productions. He was the musical director for the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), which included the Academy Award-winning song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," and for the horror film Scream and Scream Again (1970). He was the founder of Planet Records, a company that released music by the Creation and other English artists in the mid-1960s, and also held several non-musical occupations. The writer of several mystery novels, Talmy worked in publishing after taking a hiatus from the music industry. He became a consultant for the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit think tank in Santa Monica, California, and also worked with a computer company that specialized in optical scanning and storage.
Music and Technology
Talmy was born in Chicago, and from an early age he was interested both in music---early rock, rhythm and blues, folk music, and country music---and technology. At 13 Talmy appeared regularly on the popular NBC television show Quiz Kids, a question-and-answer program out of Chicago. He told Chris Ambrose of Tokion, "What it did for me was that I absolutely knew that this was the business I wanted to be in."
Talmy wanted to become a film director, but his poor eyesight posed a problem, so he chose the related field of record production. At 15 he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a page at a television station before becoming a recording engineer at Conway Studios. Engineer Phil Yeend trained Talmy on three-track recording equipment, and three days after starting at Conway, Talmy had his first production assignment, the record "Falling Star" by Debbie Sharon. At Conway he worked with surf bands like the Castells and the Marketts. Talmy and Yeend often experimented with production techniques. They played with separation and recording levels and built baffles and platforms covered with carpet, using them to isolate vocals and instruments. In an interview with Terri Stone in Music Producers, Talmy recalled that Yeend "would let me do whatever I wanted after our regular sessions were over, so I used to work out miking techniques for how to make drums sound better or guitars sound better .... There really weren't many precedents, so we were all doing it for the first time together. It was all totally new."
Independent in England
In 1962 Talmy went to England, and Nick (a.k.a. Nik) Venet, a producer at Capitol Records for whom Talmy had done some engineering, gave him a stack of new acetates to take along with him. After arriving, Talmy went to Decca Records and landed a job as a record producer. In a meeting with Decca head Dick Rowe, he passed off two of Venet's singles---the Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari" and Lou Rawls' "Music in the Air"---as his own. After hearing the songs, Rowe hired him on the spot. Talmy demanded an agreement as an independent producer, one who got both royalties and a retainer. Rowe gave Talmy a contract with Decca, with a loophole that would allow him to work as a free agent. This contract was the first of its kind in England. Talmy began working with Decca's pop performers. When he was paired with an Irish harmonica trio, the Bachelors, Talmy--a big fan of close harmony singing--decided to teach them how to sing in parts. After six weeks of rehearsals in Talmy's apartment, the Bachelors cut a country song, "Charmaine," in 15 minutes, and the song became Talmy's first hit single.
One afternoon in 1963 Talmy was in a London music publishing office when Robert Wace, the manager of a group called the Ravens, came in with a demo tape of the band. Impressed with the group's potential, Talmy agreed to find a record deal for the band, who changed their name to the Kinks. He brought the Kinks into the studio, and their second single, "You Really Got Me," became a landmark recording. Talmy worked with songwriter/rhythm guitarist Ray Davies on the track, which had a fuller bass and drum sound than most British records of the time. The track's chunky rhythm chords were provided by Jimmy Page, an ace session guitarist who often worked with Talmy, and who would later found the blues/rock band Led Zeppelin. According to Jon Savage of the Kinks, "What Shel Talmy and the Kinks did with this particular record was to concoct the perfect medium for expression of the adolescent white aggression that has been at the heart of white popular music. ... 'You Really Got Me' is that rare thing: a record that cuts popular music in half." Talmy had additional hits with the group, including "Tired of Waiting for You" and "Sunny Afternoon," until 1967, when Davies began to produce the band himself.
This Is "My Generation"
Peter Townshend, the guitarist for the mod band High Numbers, liked "You Really Got Me" so much that he wrote a similar number, "I Can't Explain," so that Talmy would produce his group. When the song was played over the telephone to Talmy, he agreed to hear the band. Now called the Who, the group bowled Talmy over with their exciting stage act. He signed the Who to his production company, got them a contract with Decca in America and with their subsidiary Brunswick in Britain, and financed recordings that he modeled on their live performance. The intentional feedback on the band's second single, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," caused Decca executives to send back the recording, thinking that they had received a faulty pressing. Working with engineer Glyn Johns, Talmy and the Who created a historic recording with the group's third release, "My Generation." An explosive youth anthem that contained the line "Hope I die before I get old," the song featured Townshend on guitar, John Entwistle on bass, Roger Daltrey on vocals, and Keith Moon on drums. Entertainment Weekly called "My Generation" the "quintessential rock single."
Talmy produced other notable singles for the Who before producing their first album, My Generation, a collection of original songs and R&B covers. However, tensions arose between Talmy and one of the band's managers, Kit Lambert, who felt that the producer was trying to take over control of the group. Lambert fired Talmy, but the producer held on to the master tapes of the Who's first album. This prevented a proper re-release of the LP until 2002, when the dispute was finally settled in Talmy's favor. My Generation was remixed by Talmy and issued on compact disc with bonus tracks. In his book Before I Get Old, Dave Marsh commented that the records that Talmy made with the Who "are technically among the best that the group ever did, and they have a distinct, original sound."
"Making Time"---and Taking Some Off
Talmy continued to work with other distinguished British performers throughout the 1960s, including singer/songwriter David Bowie. He also produced "Friday on My Mind" for the Easybeats, an Australian band that had relocated to England. Writing in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Colin Larkin described the song as "one of the all-time great beat group singles of the 60s." Bowie later covered "Friday on My Mind" on his album Pin-Ups. Talmy has said that he did some of his most essential work with the Creation. A mod/psychedelic band that often used pop-art imagery, they were well-known as the creators of "Making Time," a song that appeared on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson's film Rushmore (1998).
Talmy formed the short-lived Planet Records around the Creation in 1966. The label folded after just over a year, due to difficulty with its distributor. Talmy then began to concentrate on more acoustic-based music, including work with the Pentangle, a group that blended medieval music with rock and jazz. In the 1970s Talmy began to diversify himself professionally. Disenchanted with the corporate climate of the music industry, he worked in publishing, in consulting, and in real estate. He returned to recording in 1976, producing albums by folksingers Ralph McTell and Tim Rose and proto-punkers the Damned. Concerned by the loss of some of his vision and hearing, he retired again from music. However, as Talmy told Stone, he "frankly missed being around artistic people," and again decided to return to full-time production. He recorded albums by such artists as glam rockers Nancy Boy, surf revivalists Jon and the Niteriders, and garage rockers the Fuzztones. In 1997 the Wellwater Conspiracy released the song "Shel Talmy" on their album Declaration of Conformity, and in 2003 a tribute to Talmy was aired on the radio program Little Steven's Underground Garage.
Who Produced the Who and Created the Creation?
Talmy has been regarded as a legendary figure, a producer who helped to define a musical generation through his craft. Although sometimes criticized for his disputes with managers and record companies, and for bringing in session musicians to replace band members, he has nevertheless developed a reputation as one of rock's singular producers, an originator who brought an American sound to British music. Richie Unterberger stated in All Music Guide, "Whatever problems may have existed, it's undeniable that Talmy produced some of the best and most innovative work of the Who, the Easybeats, and others, results which are unlikely to have been achieved by sheer chance."
Dave "Digger" Barnes of Sixties British Pop Culture concluded that Talmy "generated the soundtrack to all of our lives." Talmy told Barnes, "I never considered the music I produced as throw-away pop. I considered each project as doing the best I could for the time and hoped that it would be a hit and hoped that it would last."
by Gerard J. Senick
Shel Talmy's Career
At age 13, appeared regularly on the NBC television program Quiz Kids; moved to Los Angeles at age 15 and worked as engineer at Conway Studios; at age 21 took job with Decca Records, London; became first independent producer in England; signed the Kinks to Pye Records, 1964; signed the Who to Brunswick, U.K., and Decca, U.S.; worked with numerous individuals and groups, including the Easybeats, the Creation, David Bowie and Jimmy Page; produced music for films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; retired from the music business, late 1970s, to concentrate on book publishing, real estate, consultant work, and other pursuits; returned to production full-time in the 1990s and worked with bands like the Fuzztones, Nancy Boy, and Jon and the Niteriders.
- Selected discography
- (The Kinks) "You Really Got Me"/"It's Alright," Pye (U.K.), Reprise (U.S.), 1964.
- (The Kinks) The Kinks Pye, 1964, as You Really Got Me Reprise, 1964.
- (The Kinks) Kinks-Size Reprise, 1965.
- (The Kinks) Kinda Kinks Pye (U.K), 1965, Reprise (U.S.), 1965.
- (The Kinks) The Kinks Kontroversy Pye (U.K.), 1965, Reprise (U.S.), 1966.
- (The Kinks) Kinkdom Reprise (U.S.), 1965.
- (The Who) "I Can't Explain"/"Bald-Headed Woman," Brunswick (U.K.), Decca (U.S.), 1965.
- (The Who) "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"/"Daddy Rolling Stone," Brunswick (U.K.), 1965, Decca (U.S.), 1965.
- (The Who) "My Generation"/"Shout and Shimmy," Brunswick (U.K.), 1965, Decca (U.S.), 1965.
- (The Who) My Generation Brunswick (U.K.), 1965, as The Who Sings My Generation Decca (U.S.), 1965; reissued with remixes and bonus tracks, MCA, 2002.
- (The Kinks) Face to Face Pye (U.K.), 1966, Reprise (U.S.), 1966.
- (The Who) "Substitute"/"Circles"/"Instant Party," Reaction (U.K.), 1966, Atco (U.S.), 1966.
- (The Creation) "Making Time"/"Try and Stop Me," Planet Records (U.K.), 1966.
- (The Creation) "Painter Man"/"Biff Bang Pow," Planet Records (U.K.), 1966.
- (The Easybeats) "Friday on My Mind"/"Made My Bed, Gonna Lie in It," United Artists, 1966.
- (The Kinks) Something Else by the Kinks Pye (U.K.), 1967, Reprise (U.S.), 1968.
- (The Easybeats) Good Friday United Artists, 1967.
- (The Pentangle) Sweet Child Transatlantic (U.K.), 1968, Reprise (U.S.), 1968.
- (The Pentangle) Basket of Light Transatlantic (U.K.), 1969, Reprise (U.S.), 1969.
- (Nancy Boy) Promosexual Equator (U.K.), 1995.
- (Nancy Boy) Nancy Boy Elektra/Sire, 1996.
- (Various Artists) The Best of Planet Records RPM (U.K.), 2000.
- Selected writings
- Whadda We Do Now, Butch? Pan Books Ltd., 1978.
- Hunter Killer Pan Books Ltd., 1981.
- The Web Dell, 1981.
- Howard, David N., Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers and Their Maverick Recordings, Hal Leonard, 2004.
- Larkin, Colin, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3rd edition, Muze Ltd., 1998.
- Logan, Nick, and Bob Woffinden, Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, rev. edition, Harmony Books, 1977.
- Marsh, Dave, Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who, St. Martin's Press, 1983.
- Neill, Andy, and Matt Kent, Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere: The Complete Chronicles of the Who, 1958-1978, Friedman/Fairfax, 2002.
- Savage, Jon, The Kinks: The Official Biography, Faber and Faber, 1984.
- Stone, Terri, editor, Music Producers: Conversations with Today's Top Record Makers, Hal Leonard, 1992.
- Billboard, February 15, 1997.
- Guitar Player, March 1998.
- Tokion, September/October 2004.
- "Digger's Conversation with Shel Talmy," Sixties British Pop Culture, http://www.home.clara.net/digger/sixties/shel.htm (November 1, 2004).
- "100 Greatest Moments in Rock: The Who Record `My Generation',"Entertainment Weekly (October 13, 1965), http://www.ew.com (November 1, 2004).
- Shel Talmy Productions, http://www.sheltalmy.com (November 1, 2004).
- "Shel Talmy," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 3, 2004).
- "Shel Talmy," Richie Unterberger's Unknown Legends, http://www.richieunterberger.com (November 1, 2004).