'Tone Guru' Nick Blagona, In-Demand Studio Engineer, Dies at 74

Nick Blagona
Courtesy Photo

Nick Blagona

TORONTO — Producer and master studio engineer Nick Blagona, a.k.a. "The Tone Guru," whose credits include multiple Deep Purple and Ian Gillan albums, as well as recordings by Rainbow, The Bee Gees and Canadian acts April Wine and Alexisonfire, died Jan. 4 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. He was 74.

Just before the holidays, his wife Mary-Jane Russell posted a note to his friends, colleagues, clients and fans stating that "he's not doing so well. His heart and kidneys are failing at the same time and he's not likely to live for very long." She said he's still conscious and she would read him any messages. 

On Sunday (Jan. 5) a post appeared on his personal Facebook page written by Blagona, except for the last line filling in the date and time of his passing.

"I am of sound mind and spirit and I wish to express my appreciation," it begins, thanking key people and companies in his career, among them "Alex Andronache, Gil Moore, all the staff at Metalworks [recording studios], for all the great years of mastering that they entrusted me with," and "every artist whoever entrusted me with their creative output and hope I did each of you proud."

Blagona — born Nicolai Blagonadegny in Bavaria — had a long and successful career lasting some 50 years. His parent emigrated to Canada in the 50s by Red Cross boat. He grew up in Montreal, where he became enamored with records and how sounds were produced. In early adulthood he attended McGill University and Radio College of Canada, then went to England to apprentice as an engineer at Decca Studios, which led to a staff position at Wessex Studios.

He returned to Canada in the 1970s to become the in-house engineer at North America's first residential recording studio, the famed — but since defunct — Le Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec. His engineering credits that decade included recordings for Chicago, Rainbow, The Bee Gees ("You Should Be Dancing," below), The Police, The McGarrigle Sisters, Uzeb, Robert Charlebois, and several by Cat Stevens and Nazareth.

He started producing as well, beginning with opportunities from Canadian rock bands Streetheart and April Wine for which he also earned his first Juno nomination for engineer of the year (1980); his second would come in 2002 for his shared engineering work with singer Jeff Martin for multi-platinum act The Tea Party.

Blagona's bio says "by late 1983, with offers requiring Nick to take substantial time away from 'Le Studio', he decided he'd pursue work as an independent engineer/producer." He also became the creative engineer/mixer for Deep Purple, engineering and mixing Perfect Strangers, House of Blue Light and Slaves and Masters, as well as engineering and mixing several solo and duo albums for Roger Glover and Ian Gillan.

Later, he added film scores, and film and television to his C.V. along with a key skill — mastering engineer, and went to work at Metalworks Recording Studios in its newly built world-class mastering room, where he went on to master more than 2,000 projects, according to his bio. 

The new millennium included multiple projects for Canadian multi-platinum act The Tea Party, Todd Kerns (now with Slash), Moist, Michael Lee Jackson, Protest The Hero, Ian Gillan, Alexisonfire and more.  He also opened his own 5.1 studio after projects for The Tea Party and Moist.

Blagona had numerous health issues in recent years, including a hospital stay in 2014 for pneumonia and flu, and then a few years later undergoing a quintuple bypass surgery. But in a 2017 blog, he wrote he was "back to work." His last two listed projects were Cootes Paradise's self-titled album, and Michael Lee Jackson's Los Gatos Malos.