The history of rock and roll is littered with decisive behind-the-scenes figures whose names have remained in the liner notes of history, who have never been given their rightful due outside of the industry. Producer Jack Douglas is one of those figures, and in our final installment with the legendary producer—arguably one of the most pivotal figure in the 1970s music scene, and beyond—he tells us about working with Aerosmith, a band in which he's considered the 6th member. Also making appearances: Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Nina Simone, Derek Jeter(?!), and more.
You said John was one of your favorite artists you worked with? Yeah. But I also liked working with Patti Smith. I loved working with Patti.
You worked on the follow-up to Horses, right? Yeah, I worked on Radio Ethiopia. As you can see [in the photo above], we're all goofing around, we had a great time.
So you knew her from the Max's Kansas City/East Village scene? And from working with Lou— I worked with Lou on that Berlin album.
With Bob Ezrin. Those must have been intense sessions. Yeah, they were. Too intense. Lou would be in a vocal booth with the lights out, and be like, "Okay now we’re gonna do a vocal." Then silence. Lou? Lou?” then we'd have go out there and check on him.
Was he okay to work with? Was he better than his reputation has made him out to be? Yeah he was very nice.
He wasn’t like, biting people’s heads off? No. Not in the studio. A lot of people that I got to either assist on or engineer, like Miles Davis, had the reputation for biting people's heads off, but they were just sweet, sweet people in the studio. The toughest guy I worked with was Buddy Miles. He was a piece of work.
Was that a solo album for him? Yeah he was doing the Buddy Miles Express. But he was not fun. Judy Collins, Nina Simone, they were great.
What was [Nina] like to work with? She was really nice.
She's one of my favorite singers of all time. And player.
What album did you work with her on? Or was it just random sessions? People came in and out [of Record Plant]. I worked with Groucho Marx on a live album at Carnegie Hall [An Evening With Groucho]. I've worked with so many different people, it's crazy. I remember we got that gig to do it in a lounge in Beverly Hills. I was sitting there, and suddenly, look, it’s Groucho Marx sitting over there! My buddy said, “Let’s go over and talk to him”. He was another one of my heroes, Groucho Marx. And we went over there and he was with this gorgeous blonde who he said was his nurse.
I also did a session, one of the last sessions with Bo Diddley... he had a gorgeous nurse too. Anyway, we got to talking, and Groucho said he was giving a concert at Carnegie Hall, and we said why don’t we record it?
I had a break in the '80s and did drugs. First it was to escape talking to any people in the press. I did an Aerosmith record [Rock In A Hard Place], and I don’t know. I did a bunch of records in a row, barricaded myself, and it finally came to me again. If I’m gonna do drugs and embarrass myself, I’m gonna get out of there. And I took a break, to the early '90s, and came back with a Supertramp album [Some Things Never Change ]. And then just continued on.
So how did you get involved with Aerosmith? That was through the New York Dolls managers [David Krebs and Steve Leber]? They set me up in Boston to see the "baby band" that they had.
Did the band already have "Dream On?" That had not yet been released. And then I went in a bit later with them, and did their second album, Get Your Wings.
And you went on and did a few multi-platinum albums in row? We did Toys in The Attic, Rocks, and Draw The Line.
And then they had their first break-up, right? They had the break-up, and I did Joe Perry’s solo album and then they did a record [Night In The Ruts], and I did the next record, Rock In A Hard Place. I suggested they bring on Rick Dufay to replace [Brad] Whitford on guitar. [Dufay apparently was the one who suggested to Steven Tyler that he should reunite with Whitford and Joe Perry in the late '80s.]
I still stayed friends with Rick, he’s a very interesting character. His daughter is Minka Kelly. And that’s how I met Derek [Jeter], another New York icon.
Right, because they were dating for a while. I’ve known her since she was a baby.
Oh, you’re friends with him? That’s how I go to the games.
How is he in real life? He’s great. Couldn’t find a more humble guy.
Now that his baseball career is over, what’s he going to do with himself? Yeah. Something about a publishing company and owning a team.
So you were really close with Aerosmith, I read you were considered the "sixth member." Yeah, still I guess.
From what I've read about them, it sounds like they were pretty out of control with drugs and partying throughout the '70s. And the funny thing was, I was the one guy always sober. [Then] they were the guys who came after me during that period when I finally got out. And they said, you know, we’re sober now, a couple of years.
When you have Aerosmith telling you to get clean... Steven and Joe said “We did it. You can do it. It’s not going to be a problem”. So I’ve been sober 20 years next month.
Congratulations. Do you feel like it fueled some of their creativity in the '70s? Labels were giving them drugs. It was written into the project, and in the case of Columbia, they had guys who delivered it to you. And they finally got busted for that, people lost their jobs and it became a huge scandal. Columbia Records: If they could keep you doing coke, then the records would get done faster. That was their philosophy. And you know, for those guys, they did quite a bit. But then you gotta come down, and you gotta find something to come down with. So it’s either pills or heroin. So through Toys, everything was fine, it was working. Rocks, that’s a pretty drug-fueled record, but it was really working. It was a dark record, too.
That’s always been my favorite album of theirs. For me, it’s the one record, of all the records that I’ve done, where every element is right and in its place. Every lyric, every key, every sound. Everything is right about that record, for what it is. Because it was written and conceived and recorded in the same place, in A. Wherehouse in Waltham, Mass. So we had the place where they used to rehearse. It was done in the dead of winter, and they would come in to record with nothing but a few licks. “Here’s my song”...“Okay”. That's gonna take some time. And we would develop these tunes. It was the same with Toys In The Attic, but there was a little more written for that album. There were never lyrics written though. Lyrics were last. You’ve heard the "Walk This Way" story. We couldn’t find any [words] for that until we saw Young Frankenstein.
[According to Wikipedia: "Deciding to take a break from recording, band members and producer Jack [Douglas] went down to Times Square to see Mel Brooks' 'Young Frankenstein.' Returning to the studio, they were laughing about Marty Feldman telling Gene Wilder to follow him in the film, saying "walk this way" and limping. Douglas suggested this as a title for their song."]
When you heard that lick, was there an immediate feeling, “yeah, we need to do this one”? No. I knew we needed to record it, but I was ready to throw it out because there was no lyric we could make fit with it, there was no time, there was nothing. And it worked really because Steve pretty much rapped it. It’s pretty much a rap song.
Was he influenced by Dylan or anything? Like "Subterranean Homesick Blues"? Not really...if anything, [that influence was] on Draw The Line, you'll see my name on a lot more … that’s also where the drugs stopped working.
How do you feel about the records that they made in the interim. The sober records. Like Get A Grip? I liked those. I missed some of the rawness, but to me they’re miracle records. The fact that they came back. And they’re the result of smart writing and producing and smart direction from the Geffen label. Really smart direction.
And you helped write "Kings and Queens" and a few others on that record, right? Yeah, I wrote a bunch of them. I brought in David Johansen to help too. I was more influenced by Dylan [than them]. In fact, Bob Dylan and I co-produced Allen Ginsberg. It’s now part of a compilation, I believe.
What was it like working with Dylan and Ginsberg? Oh, it was very exciting. Yeah. Except I was young, and good looking, I guess I had a pretty nice ass. I used to say, "Bob, please don't leave me in the room with [Allen]," because he was so aggressive.
I’ve heard stories about him being a little bit of a lech. He was so aggressive. But I absolutely loved Allen. We had so much fun making those records.
And that was in the city right? Yes. He wouldn’t keep still. So to do a vocal, he would dance around the studio. He was so physical. So to get his vocals, I had my assistant with a boom chasing him. It was like nothing you’ve ever seen in a recording session. In a studio, being chased around by a boom.
What was Dylan like? Very shy. He didn’t talk to me. Very quiet. Didn’t talk to me for about a week while we were doing that record. He would send me little notes.
He was co-producing. I was engineering and co-producing. He would send me little notes. A little grunt and groan, and then finally one day, he opened up. And he told a really corny joke. And I thought, wow, this is just a guy from Minnesota. He doesn’t have to put on any airs with me, it’s totally fine. He doesn’t have to be cool, he doesn't have to be Bob Dylan, he’s gonna be Robert Zimmerman and that’s totally fine with me. And he told me a corny joke and I completely cracked up because not only was it coming out of him, it was so funny. And I was like fine, it’s fine, and then he was totally cool. He had that whole iconic persona… and then he started telling me what a pain in the ass it was.
Did he talk about that period, receding from the public? It was very purposeful I assume. Yeah. He loved being back in the studio. He really, really had a problem with what everyone expected from him. Stays on the bus to this day. Have to get off the bus, Bob.
His "Never Ending Tour" is aptly named. He seems very comfortable on the road and playing for people. Yeah, he still makes great records.
Previously, Douglas shared his stories with us about his friendship with John Lennon, and being with him the night he was killed. Also: partying with The Who and getting sushi with David Bowie.