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4.8 out of 5 stars
Tom Dowd & the Language of Music
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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I have been anticipating this DVD for a few weeks, after hearing Moormann's interview on NPR, and I was not disappointed in the least. Tom Dowd was an amazing man who led an amazing life, and it is pieced together beautifully in this engaging documentary. But you don't have to be a fan of Tom Dowd to appreciate this disc. Anyone who loves music will find something here to appreciate, whether it's archival footage of Otis Redding, an interview with Eric Clapton, or Dowd's rendition of "I Love a Piano" by Irving Berlin. And in the process of telling Tom's story, the film also provides a fascinating history of record producing, from its primitive beginnings, through the marvels of 8-track tape, straight up to the computers of modern music production.

Like most people, I had never heard of Tom Dowd but have been touched by his musical influence. I am grateful that Moormann chose to do this project, to bring Tom's work out into the light for me and other music fans. It is a perfect way to honor Tom's memory, and I will enjoy watching it again and again.

This documentary has several goose-bump moments, and as the final credits roll, you can't help but feel inspired. We should all be as fortunate as Tom Dowd--to find such joy in our life's work, and to be so darn good at it.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The previous poster, that song you want to know is LAYLA by Derek and the Dominoes..the piano part is 4 minutes in, and was written by the drummer Jim Gordon (just the piano part, clapton wrote the words), who also is playing the piano (though some piano parts are played by Bobby Whitlock)...not to be confused with the version Eric Clapton did in that MTV unplugged thing..Ok, this was a great bio/documentary on an unsung hero of the music industry. The only thing else I could wish for is maybe interviews with Aretha Franklin or Wilson Pickett? How cool is it that this guy not only worked on the Manhattan Project, but worked with greats such as John Coltrane, Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers band etc. They all respected his work too. He seems like such a regular guy, and pretty much was a regular guy. The montage in the begining (with Tales of Brave Ulyssess in the background) is sometimes a bit much, but very artistic. Other than that, a great docu, and be sure to check out the bonus material with extra interviews and deleted scenes. I really like how they keep going back and forth to his youth working with Physics. Some of the most fascinating bits of the film. Most of the historic footage is from TV shows featuring the artists.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 4, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Firtsly, my wife who hates most of my music sat transfixed through this movie - from the Manhattan project, through the early years of Atlantic, Stax to the Allman Brothers one cannot miss both the impact and the enthusiasm of Tom Dowd. The commentaries by both the musicians, Jerry Wexler, Ahmet Ertegun and Phil Ramone as well as Tom's own commentaries show what a special individual Tom Dowd was. All though this movie - especially seeing the late Ray Charles - the magnitude of what was committed to film is highlighted. This is a special movie about a very special person - I loved the comments on the primitive nature of the recording hardware in the UK compared what Tom Dowd was using in the 50s and early 60s.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
I grew up seeing the name "Tom Dowd" on a host of the albums I owned, from Led Zeppelin to Otis Redding to Aretha Franklin to Cream to the Allman Brothers to Derek and the Dominoes. Precisely who he was and what role he played wasn't clear to me, but I learned that odds were any release from Atlantic Records was going to have his name on it. This splendid documentary puts a face to the name and explains precisely who he was and what he accomplished. The list of people he worked with is even more impressive than I had already known, and extends to the Coasters, the Drifters, John Coltrane, Ray Charles (who makes a prominent appearance in the film), Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Booker T. & the MGs. That, of course, is an absolutely stunning array of talent.

What the documentary does a great job of is telling us both who Tom Dowd is and why he was such a crucial figure in the history of popular music in the past. The narrative is nonlinear, so that in the opening images in the film it isn't at all clear why the atomic test at the Bikini Atoll was shown (you could tell it was the Bikini test because a vast number of ships, from both the allies and the Axis powers, were involved). We learn later in the movie that Dowd was originally studying to be a physicist at Columbia University and was throughout WW II involved in the Manhattan Project, unlike many on the project actually working in Manhattan. Dowd explains that he abandoned the study of physics because he had been working on cutting edge issues in the field, but after the war physics departments were actually behind the times. Instead of regressing in his studies, he followed his other great love, music. The film tells how he became involved as a sound engineer, eventually becoming the sound engineer and a producer at the fledgling Atlantic Records, where he pioneered recording techniques that went behind the single microphone set up that had been standard before then. A nod is paid towards recording pioneer and virtuoso guitarist Les Paul, who in his own studio created the first eight track recording techniques. Among the other innovations that Dowd brought about were the replacement of knobs with the slide wires that are now standard. Throughout two things are clear: Dowd's technical mastery and his tremendous musicianship.

One of the joys of the documentary are the remarkable figures that are interviewed and help in telling the story. These include people like Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler, Eric Clapton, several members of the Allman Brothers, and many others. My favorite moment was defintely when Ray Charles, who of course was blind, was being asked about Dowd, unaware that Dowd was standing off to the side. When he reveals to Charles that he is there Ray reacts with joyous outrage and it is great to see the affection the two have for each other.

My only beef with the movie is a personal peeve I have, and that is the tendency of the filmmakers to do "reenactments" of scenes from the past. This is a technique I consistently detest in documentaries. Others might not be bothered by it, but it bugs the heck out of me and I cringed whenever that happened.

I think fans of music ought to see this not merely to learn more about one of the seminal figures in popular music of the past several decades, but to learn more about how the music we hear on albums is actually created. Often, the musicians need producers to help at crucial moments. A great example of this comes when Dowd recounts doing a recording session with Cream. They had a song that wasn't quite coming together, when Dowd suggested to drummer Ginger Baker that he employ a drum pattern that was much like the tom toms one hears used by Indians in Westerns. The pattern worked and the result was one of Cream's greatest hits, "Sunshine of Your Love." Sadly, Dowd did not live to see this film released, dying in 2002 shortly after filming was completed. The film serves, therefore, as a memorial.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I have this on VHS and it tells the great life of Tom Dowd. He was truly an amazing engineer, producer, and person. His work has impacted many of us, watch this movie and it will show you who he has worked with. Everything he created was genius. I definately recommend this to any musician, engineer, producer, or music fan.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This DVD's main feature is the stunning one-and-a-half-hour movie. The beginning is a out-of-sync history of Dowd's life before entering the music business (30's and early 40's) alternating with his entry into the music business (late 40's and early 50's) and specifically Atlantic's recordings, the backbeat being the recording technology (and recording engineer) of the time. This part is punctuated, oddly enough, with a psychidelic montage of A-bomb stock footage with Cream's "Tales of Brave Ulysses" dubbed on top. This montage makes more sense as you learn more about Tom Dowd and the music and more that he made in his life.

After this we get to meet some of the R&B musicians that Tom Dowd recorded and worked with, mostly alternating between interviews of Dowd and interviews of the musicians, and occasional footage of the artists on the stage or occasionally (and very rewardingly) in the studio with Dowd. In particular there is some stunningly exemplary footage of Dowd in the studio with Aretha Franklin.

Dowd has an almost overly friendly presence in the interviews, which at first seemed (to me) put on for the camera but I later figured out that this is the guy in real life.

Interviews recount the technical and artistic relationship between Atlantic and Stax records, with again Dowd serving as the centerpiece of all activity.

The last part has extensive interviews with Eric Clapton and members of the Allman Brothers culminating in Tom Dowd at the mixing board with the master tape of "Layla". For any fan of music this will be a thrilling moment, and it's only made better by Dowd's rediscovery of the original tracks. Moorman was interviewed on NPR about this and he was running-over with the glory of working with Dowd on this particular segment.

Beyond the regular movie, there is bonus material of additional interviews with all the artists and the movers-and-shakers at Atlantic, especially Jerry Wexler. These interviews are not to be missed, if you have any interest at all in the folks who made all this music happen you have to read this. Dowd back at Columbia University is a real treat.

And, after watching this, I went to the record collection on my shelf. Sure enough... Tom Dowd. His name is on them all, but I never knew him until now.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The first time I became aware of Tom Dowd was in 1968 when I got a copy of Aretha's Gold and was putting names and faces together with the pictures on the back of the record. It just seemed that the person holding it all together was Tom Dowd. As I grew older and began to play music and do a little recording, I became obsessed with the names on the back of the record. No one was there more than Tom Dowd. As I matured as a listener I began to understand that not only had dowd produced many of the record that were part of my personal soundtrack, but he was one of the creators of modern recording and that most major movements in the post war era musically had passed through his hands. Simply put the Dowd legacy was/is amazing. This makes him a great subject for a documentary.

While one can quibble with some of the methods used in telling the story, the most important voice shines through clearly-the voice of Tom Dowd. Through interviews we hear his story, see his personality, feel his passion for the music and the people he worked with. Much of the emphasis is on his work with the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd and Clapton in part because they were easily accessible, but also because they were the cornerstones of his work in rock and roll. Perhaps mor interesting are the stories about the early days of Atlantic Records. I would like to have heard more about the jazz sessions, but you can't have everything, in part because many of the artists have passed on.

If you don't want to cry when you see his joy at pushing the faders on the master tapes of Layla and emotionally being in the presence of Duane and Eric all over again, you need a soul transplant. All in all an enjoyable, informative DVD that I highly recommend.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Wow! Was I impressed with this gem. A friend sent me an email with just the URL for the Amazon location for this DVD. We are both old musicians and I should have known better. I trusted him and just ordered it. I was blown away by how much I learned, how much Tom understood how to capture the studio moments and just how influential he was. What a wonderfully interesting and entertaining man he is. The film is top quality and they must have known the sound better be perfect to make this film - awesome clips thoughout and all the interviews are so passionate. It is so much about recording business history and advancements. Tom was certainly the man! If you liked the sound Jerry Wexler heard in "Ray" you will understand how it happened with Tom behind the boards. He would say, "I don't care if it is 92 tracks - what does it SOUND like?" I can't recommend this highly enough. Cheers!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
It's hard to overstate the impact Tom Dowd had on the recording industry, yet few outside the industry know anything about him. I can name a dozen engineers and producers that are better known although they did not accomplish nearly as much. This documentary was strong on it's interviews while occasionally falling into the trap of contrivance in an attempt to dramatize certain events. Overall it is a strong effort however, and if you love music the performance footage along is worth the price of admission. Obviously the filmmakers had the cooperation of many people in laying their hands on this footage. The interviews with Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records and Les Paul inventor of the electric guitar and multi-track recording are singular and of historical cultural significance as well.

The DVD has a very good collection of extra features that are not merely afterthoughts, and include literally dozens of interviews that didn't make it to the final film. Dowd's family was barely addressed in the film itself, but there is a section in the extras devoted to it. This is a comprehensive chronicle of a landmark individual. While I initially rented this DVD from Netflix I have since purchased it. This one's a keeper.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2006
Format: DVD
When Tom Dowd died in 2002, in his adopted state of Florida, he was neither rich nor famous. For the record, he died of emphysema, a week after his 77th birthday.

Although he was well-known in the recording industry, his obituary rated only 712 words in The New York Times, and not much more than that in Rolling Stone Magazine, although Rolling Stone published a picture, too.

Very few people outside the recording industry knew anything about what is shown in this documentary. However, Dowd's impact on the industry affected millions of fans of Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Tito Puente, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, and Phil Ramone. All of those artists appear in this documentary.

Dowd also recorded a host of others, from perky Eileen Barton's hit If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake, for National Records in 1950, to Charlie Mingus, to assisting Abba in 1979, to Meat Loaf [!!] in 1983, to the Bee Gees in 1990, to the Allman Brothers Band. The discography on the documentary's website, [...] is 99 screens long, in other words, huge.

In February 2002, Dowd received a Grammy for his services to the recording industry. Eric Clapton said that Dowd had encouraged him to realize "what my skills were."

Dowd built the first control console to use sliders (linear faders) instead of knobs. He popularized to eight-track recorder invented by Les Paul.

This documentary was supposed to fix the problem of Dowd's relative obscurity.

However, the director and editor, who had never directed or edited a feature-length documentary before, may not have been experienced enough to bring such a complex and wonderful story to the screen. The time and place seem to shift out from under the viewer, as the film moves from archive footage, to re-creations, to contemporary interviews. Despite his seven years dedication to the project, Mark Moorman has put together a pleasant 90 minutes that do not, unfortunately, do justice to the subject.

An article in the Miami Herald, published just before this documentary was due to be shown at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival said the film "was supposed to be finished last week and at festival headquarters in Park City, Utah. But Moormann [sic] is still scrambling to complete the final mixing, putting in 16-hour days at Cineworks, a Miami production facility."

"That's part of making movies," he says of the last-minute rush. "We've got to have it done by Wednesday."

Moorman had worked hard on the film for seven years. He had paid for a lot of it himself, shuttling back and forth between the film and his regular gig as a cinematographer. The State of Florida gave him a puny $5,000 grant, and that was it.

Early in the process, Dowd handed Moorman a manuscript. It was Dowd's autobiography. In an interview with hybridmagazine.com, shortly after the documentary was shown at South by Southwest, Moorman said, "I was just amazed that one person could have been a participant in the making of so much history."

Maybe Moorman bit off more than he could chew. He told the interviewer for hybridmagazine.com, "I'd go on the Internet or go to the library and get books and I'd find out who Ahmet Ertegun was, and where he came from. And I did a lot of research on each individual person before I went to interview them."

Asked by Roxanne Bogucka of hybridmagazine.com about the use of re-creations, a dubious documentary technique which fell out of favor after it was used in the "March of Time" documentaries during World War II, Moorman explained, "That was about keeping the audience involved, you know. I mean the content could potentially be rather dry in nature - technical stuff like, you know, knobs and two-track, four-track."

"I mean it all seemed to be a little bit boring. It could potentially be boring, so I was like, well, 'let's spice this up and let's get these guys in town,' these jazz guys, and I used their music. It sounded like it could have been 1940s, but it was modern and cool. So I got the guys who did it and brought them in the studio, we shot it black-and-white, and had an art director come in and make the studio kind of look like 1948. And it was just about keeping the audience interested."

One key to what is missing in this documentary comes up in the hybridmagazine.com interview. Asked about Dowd's directorial genius, Moorman replies, "I didn't really have conversations with him about directing, but it is certainly something that has been brought up before, in that directors actually could get a really, in terms of what they could watch this film and really get some good feedback on how to direct, because Tom wasn't so much forcing his style on other people, he was getting the most out of the musicians and the artists he was working with."

Those conversations never had, might have been quite an addition to the film.

Everyone who worked on this documentary had the very best of intentions. Dowd's wonderful disposition -- he is always smiling -- comes through. It is a Valentine of a film to Dowd, for Dowd, about Dowd.

It is not a bad documentary. It is well worth watching. The music is GREAT! Just be prepared, after it's over, to want more, a lot more.
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