By Jane Spietz
WHAT: Alan Parsons Live Project
WHERE: Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
WHEN: Friday, May 9, 2014 8 p.m.
COST: $45/ $65
Alan Parsons has made significant contributions to the world of music as a highly respected sound engineer, producer and musician. His remarkable resume includes work as an assistant sound engineer with the Beatles on their Abbey Road album at the tender age of nineteen. Parsons’ engineering credits also include Let It Be, Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway and Wild Life, as well as George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. He produced popular works by Al Stewart, Ambrosia, the Hollies and others. Parsons received critical acclaim and his first Grammy nomination for his production of Pink Floyd’s classic album, Dark Side of the Moon.
Alan Parsons and the late Eric Woolfson collaborated in 1975 to form the Alan Parsons Project. This progressive rock band released major hits like “Eye in the Sky,” “Games People Play,” “Don’t Answer Me,” “Time,” “Damned If I Do,” and “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You.” One of the most recognizable Project tunes, “Sirius,” serves as the Chicago Bulls theme and is played during numerous other sporting events. It was also performed during the 2010 Super Bowl as the victorious New Orleans Saints entered the football field, and was featured in the movies Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and Beerfest.
Parsons and Woolfson parted ways in 1990. The Project then began to perform live. They continue to tour today with various musicians alternately taking on the different instruments.
Parson’s 3-DVD set, The Art and Science of Sound Recording (2010), consists of an educational video series on music production. It is narrated by Billy Bob Thornton.s
Members of the Alan Parsons Live Project include Alan Parsons (vocals, keyboards, guitar and tambourine), Guy Erez (bass), Danny Thompson (drums), Manny Focarazzo (keyboards), Alastair Greene (guitar), P.J. Olsson (vocals) and Todd Cooper (sax and vocals).
Recently I called Alan at his home in California to discuss details of his amazing career and the current activities of the Alan Parsons Live Project.
Jane Spietz: Who were your early musical influences?
Alan Parsons: My early years, before the Alan Parsons Project, were heavily influenced by blues artists like BB King, Eric Clapton, and all the guys doing great blues music. I actually played in a blues band for a while during the late ’60s. I was just another electric blues fan who wanted to be Eric Clapton. But when I got my job at Abbey Road, I left my guitar playing as I was getting my engineering career underway.
JS: Throughout your career, you have worked as a record producer, sound engineer, and musician. Which role have you found to be the most personally satisfying and why?
AP: I think I feel the most comfortable in production. I say that because, especially in the early years, I always engineered everything I produced anyway. It became an automatic process, doing the two jobs. But, I’ve become a little more hands off with engineering because of the way that technology has gone. Everything to do with sound engineering has now become computer based. I think my days are better spent not clicking a mouse all day. I’ve handed over the engineering side to others. So the strongest of the three roles is definitely production.
JS: You worked with the Beatles as an assistant engineer on Abbey Road. Please share your recollections.
AP: It was a very exciting time. I was nineteen and very impressionable. Very much a Beatles’ fan. Very green to being behind the scenes with essentially what was the greatest rock band of all time. I felt so fortunate, so lucky to be a part of it, to watch what was taking place. Then, if that wasn’t enough, I went on to actually engineer for Paul McCartney as a solo artist. I also worked very briefly on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. I did a few sessions with George. I was fortunate to be there when the guitars were being overdubbed for “My Sweet Lord.” You’ve never seen so many guitar players in your life! It was nice to be associated with the album.
JS: Early on you put together reel-to-reel copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at EMI Records. Talk about that experience.
AP: This was in the days of analog tapes, so every record factory in the world needed a copy of the album so they could manufacture vinyl albums from those tapes. Every popular record needed a large number of copies sent out to various parts of the world. That was one of the jobs I had to do. It’s hard to imagine how many times I’ve actually heard the album. If you listen to it every time you make a copy––you have to check it. I somehow never seemed to tire of it.
JS: Talk about the creation of the Alan Parsons Project.
AP: It all started soon after some of the first successes I had as a producer. The first few bands I worked with did really well. Pilot had a hit in America, “Magic,” and John Miles had a top tune with a song called “Music.” At that time, I was introduced to Eric Woolfson who was working at Abbey Road at the same time I was. We hit it off really well. We started chatting and he said “I think you really need a manager.” That was in ’75, and at that time it was really quite unusual for a record producer to have a manager. So we teamed up and did some business with the record label, with immediate results. It increased my bank balance almost overnight! (Laughs) Then we decided to move into creative areas. There were songs ready that were based on the Edgar Alan Poe stories. I said we could make an album based on them and that’s what we did. We went to Midem, the big music industry convention in Cannes in the south of France. We met with the label that was known at the time as 20th Century Records. We made a deal and we got the money to make our first album. The rest is history.
JS: The Alan Parsons Project concept album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, with its beautifully complex instrumental sounds was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe writings.
AP: It was the result of our first collaboration. It didn’t sell incredibly well, but it did okay, and it attracted enough attention for Clive Davis to sign us up to the Arista label, joining forces with the likes of Barry Manilow. We signed for a series of albums. I Robot, our second album, really put us on the map.
JS: You received your first Grammy Award nomination for engineering
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which last year celebrated the 40th anniversary of its release.
AP: I’m still to this day very proud of it. I still have the Grammy nomination hanging on my wall. In fact, I’m looking at it right now. (Laughs) Yes, it was a great feeling. To get a job working with a band that was so studio savvy and so into making a great sound and experimenting like that was a dream come true. It was really fun working on the album. It did me a lot of good and did them a lot of good. Good times.
JS: Your huge documentary video project, The Art and Science of Sound Recording, was released in September of 2010. What has been the response to it?
AP: There has been a tremendous response, mostly from educational establishments who have had huge orders. We’ve had university courses running recording programs. People are hearing about it online and through word of mouth. It’s kind of timeless; we’re lucky in that sense. It’s doesn’t seem to grow old––at least not yet. We’re doing a companion book that I’m working on as we speak. That should be out in summer sometime.
JS: Alan, if you had the chance, who would you love the opportunity to work with?
AP: They’re mostly contemporaries. I hear some new music that sounds great, but the people I really admire are those that I grew up listening to, and that would be anything that Pete Townshend is involved with. I would also love to work with Sting. I’ve met both of these people, and I’ve told them so! (Laughs) So far the phone hasn’t rang.
JS: Talk about your latest release.
AP: The latest release for the Alan Parsons Project is the box set which just came out a couple of weeks ago. That’s all of the albums together on CD in a box. That’s something to pick up if you’re missing any albums. It’s out at a pretty good price for ten CDs. There’s an unreleased album in there. For a Project historian, it’s interesting.
JS: Tell us about the new live album, “Live Span”, which contains the single “Fragile.”
AP: That’s actually only available as an import out of Germany on physical CD and as a download. I’m very proud of that. It’s a hugely superior live album to anything else we’ve put out. It’s a full, almost two hours of music with all of the hits. And they’re really good versions. I’m hoping it does well as a download.
JS: Alan, you have had such an amazing career full of a rich variety of experiences. Given the opportunity, what else would you like to explore creatively?
AP: (Laughs) I’ve started auditioning as an actor. I come from a family of actors. I’ve been coached by a wonderful acting coach from Los Angeles. He’s steering me toward, one day, a small part in a TV series or a feature film. I’m really hopeful that I can get one reasonable part in a good movie. Usually bad guys, I’m thinking. (Laughs)
JS: So glad to hear that you’re returning to the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee to perform.
AP: Oh, I love the Pabst Theater! We’ve always had a really great experience there.