Tom Dowd & the Language of Music

The title Tom Dowd & the Language of Music is not kidding. There are two movies in this documentary, both about the late, very great, Tom Dowd. The first is an in-depth look at how music recording evolved over time, from mono to stereo to eight-track, and finally to digital. This section is interesting, but ordinary viewers may lose themselves in the terminology. Dowd, who is the man essentially responsible for the look of the modern editing console, enthusiastically talks about the development of engineering and producing music. Before he invented this, he had to twist dials in order to achieve the correct mix. The process made him look like some sort of wizard, especially given the results.

Dowd is clearly the star of this film. Everybody interviewed loved and respected him, and it's easy to see why. He has a genuine love of music, and was amazing at what he did. He communicated well with musicians, and was an all-around nice guy. And this really comes out in the second half of Tom Dowd, once the technical aspects give way and director Mark Moormann moves into the early years of rock. Here is testimonial after testimonial of artists talking about what Dowd did for them, and their joy is palpable. The one sour spot is how each artist is introduced; not by a title card but with each person saying his/her name and birthplace. It's cute the first few times, then gets old.

Still, one needs both sections of this movie to understand fully what Dowd did. Dowd paved the way for mega-producers like Phil Spector or Dr. Dre (how's that for contrast?). When he started, the engineer was considered a nobody. Dowd was the one who convinced people that he was smart and talented enough to help the artists out. Heck, he was smart in general. In college, Dowd helped out on what would be called The Manhattan Project. He returned to music only because colleges had not caught up with the science he already did. It's a great thing he did.

Dowd transcended genre, and this is what makes him such an important figure in music history. He started with R&B and jazz, working with such greats as Ray Charles (who appears in the film), Thelonius Monk, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding. He moved to artists like Tito Puente, then finally moved to rock where he befriended an initally wary Eric Clapton (both from Cream and Derek and the Dominoes), Les Paul, and Lynyrd Skynrd, and the Allman Brothers. Tom Dowd is a great primer on a quick history of music. All of it is seen through Dowd's eyes, which gives all of the proceedings a nice, personal touch.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Not Rated but contains some language, a PG-13 easy or maybe an R.

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