Al Schmitt, 23x Grammy Award-Winning Producer-Engineer, Dies

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Al Schmitt (Photo via his Facebook page)

Producer and engineer Al Schmitt, who reportedly received more than 150 gold and platinum albums for his work over the course of his six-decade career, died April 26, 2021, in Bell Canyon, Calif. The cause of death has not yet been reported. Schmitt was 91.

Schmitt received 23 Grammy awards, beginning in 1963 (for the Henry Mancini soundtrack to Hitari!). According to Wikipedia, he received more Grammys than any other engineer. He was the first person to win both the Grammy and Latin Grammy for Album of the Year, according to the site. Schmitt received Grammys in six consecutive decades, and in 2006 he was honored with a Recording Academy Trustees Award.

Schmitt’s list of productions includes Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation

The list of clients with whom Schmitt worked is staggering, including Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan, Jefferson Airplane, Chick Corea, Barbra Streisand, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Thelonious Monk, Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, Toto, Al Jarreau, Duke Ellington, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jackson Browne, Sammy Davis Jr., Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Madonna, and hundreds more.

Listen to Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me,” engineered by Al Schmitt early in his career

Albert Harry Schmitt was born April 17, 1930, in Brooklyn. As a child he spent time at his uncle’s recording studio, Harry Smith Recording, and at age 19, Schmitt began working at New York City’s Apex Recording Studio. Mentored by engineer Tom Dowd, Schmitt began his career in earnest by helming an Ellington session. He worked at several other New York studios before relocating to Los Angeles in 1958, where he became a staff engineer at Radio Recorders.

In the early 1960s, Schmitt took the same position at RCA Records, where he worked with many of the label’s top artists, including Sam Cooke—Schmitt’s credits include the hits “Cupid,” “Bring It on Home to Me” and “Another Saturday Night.” Schmitt also engineered Presley’s first post-Army sessions for the company.

Al Schmitt (center) with Don Was (left) and Joe Walsh

In 1966, Schmitt left RCA, although he continued to produce and engineer many of the label’s artists, including the rock group Jefferson Airplane (beginning with 1967’s After Bathing at Baxter’s).

In an interview with this author, Schmitt recalled the atmosphere in the studio when he first started working with the Airplane. “They drove motorcycles in the studio. We had a tank of nitrous oxide in the studio. We played basketball in the studio. At night, when everybody was gone, it would be two in the morning or something and we’d take breaks and go out and play stickball. And a lot of the groupies were around, both male and female, people who wanted to hang out with the band. Everybody would come by, from Janis Joplin to Mama Cass–you name it, they all came by. We had visitors all the time–the Byrds. It was kind of a social thing, and everybody knew we’d be there until four in the morning. People that would be working in other areas or working in clubs or finishing up stuff would just drop by. I think maybe that’s one of the reasons it took  five and a half months to make the album. But most of them were pretty good when it came to working. Even though they were on drugs, they could handle it fairly well.”

Even as music styles changed drastically, Schmitt kept on top of the technology and was called upon to produce and/or engineer a long list of major rock artists. He continued to work with R&B and jazz artists throughout his career as well: In 2005 he won five Grammys for Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company, including Album of the Year, the most Grammys won by an engineer in a single year.

Related: Schmitt engineered Dave Mason’s Alone Together. Read our Album Rewind

After moving to Hollywood, Schmitt worked primarily for Capitol Records. His latter-day credits also include engineering on Bob Dylan’s standards albums, including 2017’s Triplicate.

Al Schmitt’s partial discography can be seen here.

In 2006, Schmitt was given the Grammy Trustees Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2013, the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing honored Schmitt at An Evening of Jazz in recognition of his ongoing support for the art and craft of recorded music.

Watch Al Schmitt at work in the studio with singer Melody Gardot

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Jeff Tamarkin
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  1. Jazdrums
    #1 Jazdrums 28 April, 2021, 13:06

    Many thanks for your presentation on Al.

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