Legendary producer Phil Ramone — who helmed classic albums by Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Carly Simon and many others over a career that reached back to the early 1960s — died this morning in New York.
In a special issue honoring Ramone in 1996, Billboard published a lengthy, fascinating Q&A with Ramone by Paul Verna, where the producer talked about a private meeting with John F. Kennedy; working with Sinatra, Simon, Streisand, Joel, and many others; his admiration for Prince’s work; the time one of his productions knocked another out of the no. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983; and much more. The interview took place shortly after Ramone had supervised the music for the 1996 Grammy Awards telecast, and was in the midst of recording vocals for a Johnny Mathis album and shooting a promotional video for the pro audio division of Yamaha.
The article follows in full. Billboard.biz will have much more on the life and career of Phil Ramone in the coming hours and days.
BILLBOARD: I have heard artists and producers marvel at your sensitivity to the artistic process and your total focus on the artist’s needs in the studio. How do you do it?
PHIL RAMONE: The artist has to feel that, when the producer walks in the room, he’s totally concentrated. I don’t want my doctor reading and answering phone calls and having the nurse come in and babble, and say, “Oh, he’ll be back in 10 minutes.” If he has an emergency, fine, but if I walk there I want those 15 or 20 minutes to be mine.
Rudeness is something I just can’t tolerate. The engineers and the people who bring you the coffee are as sacred to me as the people who are at the door. So you have to deal with your own psyche and be humble. When you get to know an artist, you find out the things that have peeved them over the years, and it’s generally the stuff that has to do with somebody not wanting to do things their way in the studio.
BILLBOARD: Your discography lists you as music producer for President Kennedy’s famous birthday party where Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to him. How did you get involved with the White House?
RAMONE: Richard Adler, who was a songwriter who was producing commercials, came to the studio where I was working and said, “Can you come to Washington with me to this event with the President to honor the Arts Council?” So we went, and the event was in an armory where you couldn’t hear or see anything. It was a mess. Danny Kaye was conducting the orchestra, and they had a television hookup to another symphony, but the transmission was horrible. Well, who got blasted in the papers but the President?
Afterward, Richard got a call from the head of the Democratic Party, asking him to resolve the situation for the first anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration. So Richard hired four of us and gave us carte blanche. Now, you have to understand, I was young and I was not known for architectural interiors. But I drew out an idea that I thought would work, which was to build risers with carpeting and stuff everything that could rattle with fiberglass. Then I asked Altec to design a speaker system that could be hung in tiers going straight up towards the audience, so that for every 10 people there’d be a pair of speakers. At that time, this was overkill; nobody had ever done it. Then I went to Richard and said, “I really want to do something to the ceiling (to improve the acoustics of the room). I know there’s an experimental balloon that NASA uses for weather.” So we took these 12-foot balloons, stuffed them with styrofoam and put netting over them. And then they hung 10,000 balloons underneath it, so when you looked up it was a celebration of red, white and blue. We had a goal that was Olympian in its design. Nothing could be any more unattractive than what was handed to us, and it worked. With many thanks to Tom Dowd, we did it.
BILLBOARD: Did you get to meet the President?
RAMONE: Well, here’s the funny part of it. At 7 in the morning, my phone rang, and the voice at the other end said, “This is Jack,” and I said, “Yeah, right. Lemme sleep!” And I hung up. On the President! (laughs). I didn’t know it was him. But the next ring of the phone came within minutes. “Mr. Ramone,” and I heard the Boston accent, “this is Jack Kennedy.” And I said, “Mr. President, I can’t believe I hung up. I can’t believe anything! I’m really sorry. I really feel bad.” And he said, “Mrs. Kennedy and I would like to have you come over.”
So I went to the White House, and he said, “Well what about the music, how does this work?” I said, “Mr. President, I’ve heard you don’t have recordings of these wonderful evenings, these state dinners.” And he said, “Well, can it be remedied?” I said, “Yeah!” Then we went into this plan of how the East Room could be converted into this theatrical event and then go back to being the East Room.
The next event we did at the White House was an evening of great Broadway favorites, and Agnes de Mille had directed a piece for it. Because we couldn’t fit the orchestra and the actors onstage, we had to pre-record the orchestra. The show was very precise, and it started very well. We did two or three numbers, and all of a sudden a guy plugged in a spotlight and the lights went out. Just gone. The tape machines just drew to a halt, and all the actors were frozen in position. Now, you talk about being frightened and worrying about what was going on! The Secret Service was up with their flashlights, and we were yelling for the maintenance guy. After what seemed like hours, he managed to put back the power, and we went through another 12, 15 minutes and then the same thing. Now, I figured, not only was my career over, but the embarrassment! I was just despondent; I couldn’t figure out what to do. At that moment, I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a voice, in that Boston accent again, saying, “Stop worrying, Phil. This is not something you could have controlled. It’s something we have to evaluate tomorrow, but this audience, even though they were stunned, saw the professionalism and the artistry.” And then he said, “Would you consider doing these events for us?” I said, “Mr. President, I’d be honored.” So I went on to do special events for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and later for the Carter administration.
BILLBOARD: That would have been a thrill for anyone, especially a young man in his early 20s.
RAMONE: Oh, yeah. That training for me was the backbone of respect, continuity, artistic integrity and everything that I hold to be holy to the making of records. And one of the great things about my involvement with the Kennedy administration was getting to know the Social Secretary, whose job it was to keep up with everything that was happening everywhere. One day she said to me, “There’s a group that’s very exciting; have you heard this single from the Beatles?” And the Beatles hadn’t happened here yet, but the Kennedy administration was going to ask them to perform at the White House. Well, obviously it didn’t work out that way, but it’s interesting that it could have happened very easily had Kennedy lived.
BILLBOARD: Before you became a record engineer, you were a musician. Tell me about those early days.
RAMONE: I started playing the violin at age 3, and I was very fortunate because there were people who heard me who were influential in getting me auditions. By the time I was 7, I was playing concerts — it was just ridiculous. Believe it or not, there’s a camp for these kinds of kids, and I grew up with it. My parents, particularly my mother, never allowed me to think I was different from any other kid. Later on, I was put in the hands of a great teacher, and then I became a scholarship student at Juilliard. So it was those prodigy years that are really the essence of where my musicality comes from.
BILLBOARD: I heard you played a command performance for Queen Elizabeth. How did that come about?
RAMONE: It was great. I was 10 years old. I played the Lalo “Symphonie Espagnole.” As you can imagine, it was a major event in my life to do a symphonic performance in front of the royal family.
BILLBOARD: How did you make the transition from violin virtuoso to recording engineer?
RAMONE: Well, there was a side of me that rebelled against the rules of classical music. I started playing jazz and amplifying my violin to make it sound different. In a classical world, you’re not allowed to do that. I was picked up by many variety shows and I developed a style that was inspired by Jack Benny, George Burns, Fred Allen, Victor Borge-that kind of humor. It was a great conflict at Juilliard. I mean, they didn’t like any of this, and they really put their foot down because, at the time, I was concert master of the orchestra, and they thought I was really off-the-wall. So I started doing club dates as a strolling fiddle player and got a job as an assistant at a studio called JAC, run by a guy named Charlie Layton, who’s still around. And I got totally into it. The engineering side of me was there without my knowing what it was.
BILLBOARD: Have you ever gone back to your classical roots?
RAMONE: Yes. I did this record last year with the Symphony Orchestra of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, with Andre Previn conducting. Andre comes from that same classical training, but he can turn on a dime and play blues and jazz. He’s the role model who doesn’t stop his classical growth. He’s the essence of what I think a musician should be.
BILLBOARD: How do you define the role of the record producer?
RAMONE: I get asked that in many places. People say, “What did you do to make something better?” Well, the director of a picture is the same. We have similar roles. If it’s the script for them, it’s the music for us.
BILLBOARD: Do you believe a producer should leave his or her stamp on a project?
RAMONE: Don Was talks about his lack of interference as a producer, and I agree with him. I don’t get caught up in the stamp of approval, because we, as producers, are way in the back. If our names were on the front cover, it’d be different, but it’s not on the front cover, and the audience doesn’t care. I don’t think they go to the Phil Ramone section in Tower Records. They just don’t. So you have to put your ego where it belongs: with the artist, with the song and with the crew that you put together. If you think you have a style and you perpetrate that onto people, you’re hurting the very essence of their creativity. The reward of producing comes when somebody inside the record company who has a lot to do with what’s going on actually calls you and says, “Boy, this record really came out great.” Or when other artists call you and want to work with you.
BILLBOARD: Who are the producers who have had the most profound influence on you?
RAMONE: Well, Quincy Jones is not only a good friend but a unique producer who has large vision. Arif Mardin is another one of the great producers. Don Was and a couple of this generation of producers — like Babyface, L.A. Reid, Trevor Horn and Glen Ballard — are just incredible. I think David Foster has a versatile career. He’s a hell of a musician, and he’s got a tremendous amount of taste. George Massenburg is a great musical guy and a technology genius, and I don’t use that word loosely. Of course, Peter Asher is a guy I have looked up to for years and was happy to have him as my manager. I listen to people like Prince — I’m a huge fan of his music and his production. He has a minimalist approach to a lot of things, which I love. Then there’s George Martin. A lot of people didn’t give George credit, but he was able to receive all that information from the Beatles and put it to use. You have to be less than egotistical in order to do that.
BILLBOARD: How do you feel about being called “the Pope of Pop”?
RAMONE: Oh, I can’t take that too seriously, can I? The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, all those terms, they’re funny to me. Obviously, it was done by somebody who said it in an article somewhere, and people picked up on it. Maybe it’s the combination of the words “pope” and “pop.” It gives people the opportunity to do what they want with it, but I don’t take it seriously at all. It could even be offensive to a lot of people. And I can’t personally say that that drives me to work every day. I don’t wake up and look in a mirror and go, “Hey, you’re the Pope of Pop.” And I certainly don’t even think of it in the holy sense. It’s kind of like somebody calling you Duke or Earl — I think of it in those terms. But I love nicknames. Quincy calls me “Garbage,” so Pope of Pop and Garbage go right together (laughs).
BILLBOARD: Why does Quincy call you Garbage?
RAMONE: He’s named everybody, but over the years, I’ve had this great ability, when I’m dressed up, to end up with ketchup on my tie or my shirt, so he would call me Garbage. And in front of certain people he calls me Felipo. It balances me very well, from Garbage to Felipo to Pope.
BILLBOARD: You had quite a juggling act on the Hot 100 chart once, with one of your productions knocking out another one of yours at No. 1. Do you recall that?
RAMONE: Yes, I think it was “Maniac” by Michael Sembello, from the “Flashdance” soundtrack, and “Tell Her About It” by Billy Joel. “Maniac” was at No. 1, and “Tell Her About It” at No. 2 one week, and the following week “Tell Her About It” jumped to No. 1. When I look back on it, nothing could be as successfully planned. It was wonderful. (The period in question was the weeks ending Sept. 17 and Sept. 24, 1983.)
BILLBOARD: Although you’ve been independent your entire career, would you consider working with a record label in a production/A&R capacity?
RAMONE: I think the trend now is possibly to think about it, because the labels put down their foundations and they’ve got well-organized places where the marketing and so many of the other things have been thought out. It would be nice to be musical director of a label. Your knowledge and experience could be useful in a loft atmosphere, with the writers and artists (interacting) in a creative environment.
BILLBOARD: Do you see any down side to a producer-label situation?
RAMONE: Sure, if your function is to go to 12 meetings a day, I don’t think it would be pleasant.
BILLBOARD: You mentioned your interest in developing artists. Can you tell me about some of the young acts you’ve been working with lately?
RAMONE: There’s a group called the Tories who I’m really interested in. I think they’re going to be a big, wonderful recording group. Their demos are sensational. You wonder what could be done to make them better. There’s also a band called Swamp Boogie Queen, who I’m developing, and Fran Lucci, a singer/songwriter who I think is extremely talented. And then there’s Kyle Davis, another talented singer/songwriter.
BILLBOARD: Has any of these artists been intimidated by the prospect of working with you?
RAMONE: I don’t think so. Take a young actor. If they’re going to work with a Scorcese or any of the fine directors, they’re going to have the same intimidation as if they’re working with an unknown. It’s not fear; it’s anticipation. Also, there’s a lot of pre-discussion. There’s no showing up on Monday and “There’s the artist.” That’s over. And I’m not age-conscious at all. I don’t know the Tories’ age, and I don’t think they’re intimidated by me. If you are honest enough in your production to say, “Listen, I screw up, just like a dad screws up with his kids,” you gain a different kind of attitude between you and the artist. It’s not school. I’m not there to punish or admonish anybody.
It’s interesting. I walked up to Benny Carter the other night, and he said, “Gee, I’d love to do an album with you,” and it stunned me. I turned to Quincy and said, “Hey, Carter wants to make an album with me,” and he said, “Great idea.” None of us said, “He’s 89.”
You want to be as enthused and as young as you ever were. I can stand next to a rock ‘n’ roll band and get just as excited as anyone else in that room. The music is what rules for me. I don’t think you can class yourself. The age-level thing is all about your personal energy.
BILLBOARD: And you’ve never lacked energy. I heard that you once had Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Stephanie Mills recording at the same time in different rooms at A&R, and you went from session to session, literally working around the clock. What was that like?
RAMONE: It was totally nuts! You could plan your life as well as you wanted to, but sometimes somebody would cancel a booking, or somebody would come in unexpectedly. And the collision was fun, but it was crazy. ABC did a documentary called “The Professionals” where they followed me through a day with Stephanie, Paul and Billy, and it all started to collide. And it’s funny, because the guy who produced the documentary had no idea that Paul and Billy had a running gag figured out. Billy talked about this singer, kind of a Paul Simon-ish guy, and Paul talked about Billy, and they both said things like, “Thank God you’re not working with that guy, Phil.” And the producer didn’t figure it out until he got to the editing room (laughs).
I didn’t take on those sessions to be a musical whore. Nobody wants to do that. But sometimes it happens. What may be the start of the demo portion of an album becomes the album, and another artist may feel they should spend more time finishing their vocals. Also, Paul had been used to getting the studio and his favorite engineer at any time, and I assured him that that was the way it would be.
Now, he might book a week in the studio, and after the second day say, “I’m out of here, it’s not right.” And the studio manager would say, “You can’t do that,” and I’d say, “Yes, I can.” That’s how eventually the separation between me as producer and me as a studio-owner had to come about. Because great artists deserve the room. And if there’s suddenly four days open, you call up a young group and say, “This time is yours.” That’s how you develop a loyalty from the artist to come back for other projects.
BILLBOARD: The artists with whom you are most closely identified — Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra — are indelibly associated with New York. Is this just a coincidence, or is there some deeper connection?
RAMONE: There’s a lot about New York that is unique, and there’s always a culture and a subculture going on everywhere. You get a tremendous emotional contact with people in every borough. It’s 10 or 15 countries in a 20-mile area. It’s amazing.
BILLBOARD: Let’s talk about your work with these giants of popular music. What’s it like to be in the presence of an artist like Frank Sinatra, who is so much bigger than life, so universally revered?
RAMONE: It’s an experience you never forget — the professionalism and the style and the mood in the room. He has a shorthand, which is misinterpreted as abrupt. What he conveys to the players is that they’re the best in the world, and they’re prepared and he’s prepared, so therefore there’s no reason to do more than two or three takes of anything. And that probably is one of the lost moments of our business, in the sense that we tense up and don’t do that any more.
BILLBOARD: What about Paul Simon? He’s another one of the all-time greats, and the work you did with him is acknowledged as some of his best.
RAMONE: I was fortunate enough to work with Paul on a single one time when his producer, Roy Hallee, wasn’t available. So he came into A&R and we did “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard.” I did something different at the time than somebody else might have done. Roy Hallee is one of my heroes, so I thought, “What would he do?” He’s been known to put drums in an echo chamber, he’s done some wacky stuff. So I miked the solid-body guitar that David Spinoza was playing; it wasn’t going through his amp. Paul was just playing the song to show it to the band, and I just rolled tape. I do that all the time. I roll tape — cheapest commodity on the date. When we played it back, Paul said, “I like the sound of that.”
Paul took chances, and he gave me the chance to make errors, and sometimes these wonderfully, surprisingly good mistakes would work into something else. As long as I had that, I knew I could always come up with an answer to something he would request. And it wasn’t always an easy request. I was very inspired by the Hallee sounds. I mean, “Bookends” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” really opened up my brain.
BILLBOARD: After you had made a few records with Paul, you joined up with another of the artists you are most closely associated with, Billy Joel. There must have been enormous pressure on you when you first got together with him.
RAMONE: Yeah, there was. Everybody at the label loved him and was determined that he should have a hit record, but he’d been there five, six years and nothing big had happened-as was the case for Bruce Springsteen and other people. Sometimes you have to go two, three albums deep before the big ones come.
We talked about the hit factor — we were so aware of that. And we decided there was nothing we could do about it other than to make the music count.
BILLBOARD: In looking through my album collection, I came across “The Stranger” and “52nd Street,” the first two records you did with him, and was struck by the fact that you’re practically listed as a band member, with your picture in there and everything.
RAMONE: Billy and I became real good friends. There was a real unity between the band and me, a great cohesion. I went on the road a lot with him and understood what performed well, what didn’t perform well. It’s funny, every time we made an album, he’d go out on the road, and the new stuff never got the applause — not until it was a hit.
BILLBOARD: What do you value most about your work with Billy Joel?
RAMONE: We had the best 10 years. For myself, personally, I value the gift of both the music and the friendship, and the kind of respect and experimentation we had. There was never a moment when I couldn’t try something.
BILLBOARD: Another one of the legends you’ve worked with is Barbra Streisand. Any special anecdotes you’d like to share about your work with her.
RAMONE: Yes, there’s a great story dating back to “A Star Is Born.” Barbra had stopped performing in front of an audience for many years, and there was an important moment in the film where the main character shows up late for a show, the crowd is angry, and she goes out there to sing and she wins the audience over. While that scene was being shot, backstage some people were wondering whether she should do it live — because she insisted on not having anything prerecorded. I looked at her and thought, “This is her moment.” And she went out there, and there was this big cheer. When she opened her mouth to sing, the crowd just melted. There were about 50,000 people there, in a big stadium, and it was all live. You could see the emotion on her face. It was one of the most spontaneous and creative moments you could ever experience.
BILLBOARD: You produced Bob Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks,” which was a pivotal album in his career. What do you recall about that project?
RAMONE: Well, it was an interesting time in Bob’s life. The album was recorded at A&R, which had been the original Columbia studios, and Bob had a lot of his breaking in there He had left Asylum (1974, following the release of “Planet Waves”) and was coming back to Columbia, and John Hammond — who was his mentor, in a way — and Don DeVito and myself were the only people in the room. Bob just started playing. We got a sound on him real quick, and he did the 10 or 11 songs he had in his mind, with no particular attention to when any verse or chorus would come around. He stayed extremely within himself. Something explodes when you make a record like that. There’s no formality, no feeling that you are guiding anything. You’re just a receiver.
You know, he’s been criticized in all kinds of ways, but Dylan goes on. And evidently, everyone looks back on that album as a major stepping up and back in. He made a deep impression upon what I was doing. I think it helped for people to know that I was involved. He’s an amazing guy. People talk about the simple chord structures of his songs, but when you get home and you listen to the melodies, there’s a lot there.
BILLBOARD: In addition to working with icons of popular music, you’ve worked with children of icons — Julian Lennon, Arlo Guthrie, Frank Sinatra Jr., and Bloodline, whose members include the offspring of Miles Davis, Robbie Krieger and the Allman Brothers Band’s Berry Oakley. What are the challenges of these types of projects?
RAMONE: I certainly would never want to be in their position. People accused me of trying to make Julian sound like his dad, and I would reply to it in the same way I would now: I don’t have control of that person’s voice. I wouldn’t even dare suggest that they phrase like their dad, but it’s totally possible that some of it is genetic. Now, I know many people who have less-than-famous parents, but the icon still lives in their eyes. I mean, Paul Simon’s dad was a working bass player who achieved a lot, and I think if you look at several of the people I’ve worked with, they’ve had some member of the family who is strong and powerful.
BILLBOARD: In the past few years, you’ve made a lot of records with Latin American, European and Asian artists — Raul Di Blasio, Patricia Kaas, Julien Clerc, Seiko Matsuda, to name a few. Any observations on these projects, or on working outside the U.S.?
RAMONE: Americans used to think the only record market was here, but in the last few years Europeans have been selling records at a pretty good rate. They charge more than we do, and they have a real audience that’s connected. They buy our product, but they have their own product, and you have to respect that because Patricia Kaas is a star not only in France, but in Indonesia, Germany and a lot of other places. Sony has a very good investment with her. We did an English album, which we’ll see soon, but in the meantime I’m going to cut a French album with her.
When I first went to Europe to make a record, around ’88 or ’89, the trend was to get five of us to produce an album, which was difficult because they never put the five producers in the same room. I wanted to get away from that pinch-hitter approach, so I worked on two or three projects that made me feel like I was part of the big picture rather than an isolated player.
I think one of the few people who is successful at using multiple producers is Clive Davis, who has done it with Whitney Houston and made it work. But he’s a song man. He has a drive that gives you this artistic integrity, and he’s criticized by some, but I admire him for his overview — if you have to redo, redo, redo until it reaches a satisfactory point, then you do it. He’s successful because he drives each person into what he feels is right for the artist, and that’s the key here.
BILLBOARD: I’d like to hear about some of your current projects. Tell me about the Brian Setzer Orchestra album.
RAMONE: We recorded part of it last year, and then there was a sabbatical in the middle, because both Brian and I were busy during the summer and the label (Interscope) was going through some changes. That was the best privilege we could get — reflection time to consider, “Is this really the best song? What is Brian Setzer about and what image does the whole album project?” Well, it’s an aggressive, rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll album.
BILLBOARD: What decisions did you and Brian make as a result of this period of reflection?
RAMONE: Well, Brian, Tom (Whalley, then president of Interscope) and I had a chance to look at other songs, so we went in in January and did four cuts; some are originals, others are standards. There’s the old Gene Pitney song “Town Without Pity.”
BILLBOARD: Another one of the big projects you’ve recently completed is an album with Johnny Mathis. It’s been a while since we’ve heard new material from him. Can you tell me about the project?
RAMONE: It’s an album that features the voice and sensuality of Johnny Mathis, who is a very sincere and honest pro, with up-to-date backgrounds and orchestrations. The way we treated the rhythm tracks, it has an R&B and swing feel. We’re using some great songs by Burt Bacharach, Diane Warren, Stephen Bishop and Gerry Goffin & Carole King, and some new material. The arranger, Mark Portmann, was very important to the project. He provided unusual arrangements and voicings.
BILLBOARD: I know you’ve just taken on some high-profile cast albums, as well as a project with Luciano Pavarotti. Can you talk about those?
RAMONE: Yes, I’ll be producing the cast albums for “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” and “Big,” and I’m going to do a live album and video of the third “Pavarotti & Friends” concert, which will take place this June in Modena, Italy. Part of the proceeds from the Pavarotti project benefits War Child, a charity devoted to improving the quality of life in Bosnia.
BILLBOARD: Billboard recently reported that Eric Clapton and Elton John are confirmed to perform with Pavarotti at that concert. Are there other confirmed participants at this point?
RAMONE: Yes. Besides Eric and Elton, we have confirmations from Sheryl Crow and Liza Minnelli, and there are other artists we’re talking to. It’s going to be a very exciting event.
BILLBOARD: You have always been an advocate of technology, and you campaigned passionately for the CD, which many people in the industry dismissed as an expensive toy.
RAMONE: I was laughed at. What got me the break was a couple of radio stations played a CD and a vinyl album and opened up the lines. People called saying there was a big difference. And the CD sounded better, with a lot more interesting low end. We couldn’t cut that low end on a vinyl disc. People don’t understand that. So with the CD, many people thought I was out of my mind because the player at the time was somewhere between $1,700 and $2,000. Manufacturing was not possible, and everything was not going to work. However, it was like going from black-and-white to color. It was far better than what we had.
BILLBOARD: What do you think about the characterization of digital sound as “cold,” as compared to the “warmth” of analog?
RAMONE: People always said that transistors were cold and tubes were warm. Well, what year is this, and we’re still saying it: Digital’s cold, tubes are warm. In 2020, those people will be saying, “Remember those old CDs, how warm they used to sound?” I promise you. The people who are involved with vinyl have a sentimental attachment to it, and I’ve heard rock ‘n’ roll groups say that vinyl sounds better to them. I’m not claiming that they’re right or wrong. I’ve just suffered too long making decent LPs that were half of what the tape should sound like, and unfortunately a lot of the tapes have been stored as the equalized LP version, not the raw tape as it was mixed before it hit the mastering room.
BILLBOARD: What are the most exciting technological events or products on the horizon?
RAMONE: Well, being involved in the latest experiments in transmission of uncompressed audio via fiber-optic cable with EDnet, I’m excited that it’s here. The next step will be getting music to the labels in a safe, encoded-decoded format. If Congress is worried about the safety of intellectual property on the Internet, there are a lot of rights that have to be dealt with. The invention of this whole fiber-optic system gives us the clue that we should encode all the rights information on the disc so that when it’s broadcast, there’s a computer that reads what time it was played, and the publishing and royalty information. So that’s the technology that has to come. It has to be agreed upon, but it’s a world-rights situation.
BILLBOARD: As you look ahead to the turn of the century, any thoughts on the future or reflections on the past?
RAMONE: I’m not a person who looks back and says, “Oh, the good old days.” The good days are now! It’s a lot more fun now. There’s a lot more interest in how you make the record, how you prepare the record, what goes on between you, the artist and the label.
The most important thing I can say is that I’ve been extremely fortunate to be involved in so much great music, and I will keep trying to do things that are musically challenging. I’d like to pass this information over to people. It’s not just being a teacher. It’s having an environment where you create great records and you share that adventure later. I love that the young people who are just starting have tremendous faith in the fact that they can make it. They need to be told that they can make it.
I’m a private person, and the people I work with are private, so what speaks for me is the work. I’m looking forward to the next several years. I think they will be an incredible musical experience for all of us.