Joe Hardy, Producer and Engineer For ZZ Top, Steve Earle & More, Dies at 66

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Producer, engineer and musician Joe Hardy, who worked on many ZZ Top albums from 1985’s After Burner to playing bass on guitarist Billy Gibbon’s 2018 release The Big Bad Blues, died at home Tuesday (Feb. 12) after a brief illness. He was 66. 

The news was originally reported by Memphis’ news site Commercial Appeal, part of USA Today, and confirmed by Hardy’s wife, Trish.

Since beginning his career in the late 70s, Hardy went on to work with a range of artists, from engineering and mixing The Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me and Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road to producing The Georgia Satellites’ Another Chance and Steve Earle and The Dukes’ The Hard Way.   

For a spell, he worked with a spate of Canadian acts, Colin James, Jeff Healey, Kim Mitchell, Leslie Spit Treeo, and as producer of Tom Cochrane's U.S. solo breakthrough, Mad Mad World, featuring the Billboard top 10 single "Life Is A Highway."

Hardy's long history with ZZ Top began with engineering work on 1985's After Burner, and continued with 1994's Antennae, 1996's Rhythmeen, 1999's XXX,  2003's Mescalero,.and  2012's La Futura. He also co-produced Gibbons' solo debut, Perfectamundo,

"Our friend Joe Hardy played a huge role in our lives," ZZ Top posted on its Facebook page. "He was a true innovator in a field where many just did it 'by the book.' He threw away 'the book' and wrote his own. The result took our audio signature and just about everything he worked on to new sonic frontiers. When we met in Memphis more than four decades ago there was an instant connection and the relationship was cherished until he left us. Joe will be missed but, in a very real sense, we'll be able to always hear him.  #RIP Joe Hardy #MemphisJoe."

Colin James also posted his condolences and memories:  "It's a sad day today as one of the smartest , funniest and most incredibly talented engineer/producer/musician's musician has passed. When Joe Hardy produced my second record Sudden Stop in 1990, I felt that and I was in the best possible hands. When you worked with Joe it was you and Joe against the world.  An artist's producer for sure.

"I was always in awe of his intellect and unworldly computer skills. Modest, funny as hell and irreverent as they come.... in the best of ways," he added. "When I first heard the mix on ‘Just Came Back,' I was floored and felt so lucky to have crossed his path. We made 4 records in total. He had an amazing work ethic and would always strive tirelessly to get the job done right so he could back home to his beloved Trish as fast as possible."

Born in Kentucky, Ardent relocated to Memphis in 1972 when he recorded at Ardent Studios as a member of the band The Voice of Cheese. He then chose a career behind the board instead, working out of Ardent as one of their in-house engineers/producers.

"Joe was such an important part of the life of Ardent," said Ardent executive Jody Stephens told Commercial Appeal. "My job in those days was to wave the flag for the studio. It was always a joy to sit down in front of A&R guys in New York or Los Angeles and play something Joe had recorded. People knew we were doing stuff in Memphis that was as good as anything being recorded in the world. And Joe's work stood out." 

Ardent moved to Texas, home of ZZ Top, at the start of the millennium. He last worked with them on 2016's live album, Greatest Hits from Around the World, which he helped mix.