Chris Thomas (record producer)

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Chris Thomas (born 13 January 1947) is an English record producer who has worked extensively with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, Roxy Music, Badfinger, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Pulp and The Pretenders. He has also produced breakthrough albums for The Sex Pistols and INXS.

Thomas is quoted as saying

I've been fortunate in that it's always been a case of the band contacting me rather than me being hired through a record company. So it hasn't been a manufactured arrangement. That's good because it shows they trust me, and if you haven't got the artist's trust, it doesn't matter what you do in the studio, you're not going to get anywhere.

Early life[edit]

Thomas was born in Perivale, Middlesex, and now lives in London. Thomas was classically trained on the violin and piano as a child. He began playing bass in London pop bands, turning down at one point the opportunity to play with Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell before Hendrix had struck fame.[1]

After several years, Thomas decided that he had little interest in making a career as a performing musician. In a 1998 interview, he stated "I realized that being in a band you were dependent on all these other people, and I also knew that if I'd ever been successful in a band, I would've wanted to stay in the studio and just make the records; I wasn't that interested in playing live."[1]

Recording sessions with The Beatles[edit]

Looking to break into production, Thomas wrote to Beatles producer George Martin seeking work and in 1967 was employed as an assistant by AIR, an independent production company which had been founded by Martin and three other EMI producers. Thomas was allowed to attend sessions at EMI with the Hollies and, in 1968, The Beatles during their sessions for the White Album.

Midway through the sessions, Martin decided to take a vacation, and he proposed that Thomas assume his duties as producer. "I had just come back from holiday myself, and when I came in there was a little letter on the desk that said, "Dear Chris, Hope you had a nice holiday. I'm off on mine now. Make yourself available to The Beatles. Neil and Mal know you're coming down."

Thomas later recalled

....I was scared stiff and couldn't speak for hours! Ken Scott was engineering. He was 21, I was 22. The tape op was probably 20... The Beatles completely ignored me, and I got quite worried. Then they had a little break after three or four hours and... I heard John [Lennon] say, 'He's not really doing his job is he?'...

"So I went back upstairs and they started again and they were doing a take and somebody made a mistake, so I pressed the button to interrupt them to say, 'Try again.' And in that studio the interruption was a klaxon – this huge RRRRAWWWWK! [Laughs] And they didn't hear the mistake, so they came up to the control room to have a listen. And I thought, 'God, if I've hallucinated this I'm in real trouble!' But they heard it and then they went back downstairs and started again.

In the interview, Thomas stated that he played keyboards on five songs: "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", mellotron on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill", piano on "Long, Long, Long" and "Savoy Truffle", and harpsichord on "Piggies". The 6 March 1993 edition of Billboard states that Musicians Union records show that Thomas was paid for playing on four songs: Harpsichord on "Piggies" and "Not Guilty", Mellotron on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill", and Piano on "Long, Long, Long".[2]

Because the album does not include song-by-song musician credits (and both the Beatles and producer George Martin frequently played keyboards on songs)-- and the mixes for the mono and stereo versions differ, it is not possible to definitely state which of Thomas's performances were included on the final mixes. Most scholars would credit Thomas for three songs.[3]

Early production credits[edit]

Thomas was not credited as producer or co-producer on "The Beatles", although his name appears as co-producer on some of the original session sheets. By the end of 1968, he had received his first solo credit: The Climax Chicago Blues Band by the Climax Blues Band.

Procol Harum would be the first band with which Thomas would enjoy a steady working relationship, producing their albums Home, Broken Barricades and Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra during 1970-71. Thomas subsequently travelled to Los Angeles to produce Christopher Milk's 1972 album Some People Will Drink Anything (Warner Bros / Reprise), and met John Cale, who invited Thomas to produce his Paris 1919 album at the AIR Studios.

At the sessions with Cale, Thomas met Roxy Music singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry, who asked him to produce the band's second album, For Your Pleasure. The collaboration continued for the next four albums (Stranded, Country Life, Siren and Viva!).

Recording sessions with Pink Floyd[edit]

In 1973, as Thomas' work continued to attract interest, he took on mixing duties with Pink Floyd for their The Dark Side of the Moon album. In his Mix interview, Thomas claimed he would finish work on the Pink Floyd album at midnight and drive to AIR Studios to do more work on Procol Harum's Grand Hotel album until 5 AM.

In a February 1993 interview, guitarist David Gilmour described Thomas' role on The Dark Side of the Moon as a referee for arguments between himself and bassist Roger Waters.

"I wanted Dark Side to be big and swampy and wet, with reverbs and things like that. And Roger was very keen on it being a very dry album. I think he was influenced a lot by John Lennon's first solo album [Plastic Ono Band], which was very dry. We argued so much that it was suggested we get a third opinion. We were going to leave Chris to mix it on his own, with Alan Parsons engineering. And of course on the first day I found out that Roger sneaked in there. So the second day I sneaked in there. And from then on, we both sat right at Chris's shoulder, interfering. But luckily, Chris was more sympathetic to my point of view than he was to Roger's."[4]

Thomas disputes Gilmour's assessment, saying "They were all there all the time because we were recording and adding things at the same time we were mixing. And contrary to some things I've read in the last ten years, there was a very nice atmosphere in the studio."[1] In 1994, Thomas helped mix Pink Floyd's album The Division Bell (1994) with Gilmour. He also co-produced Gilmour's solo album On an Island (2006).

Recording sessions with Badfinger[edit]

Thomas produced a trio of albums for power pop group Badfinger on the tail end of their career, beginning with 1973's Ass, and 1974's Badfinger and Wish You Were Here albums. Ass was originally recorded with Badfinger producing, but the group later admitted they were incapable of producing themselves. Members Pete Ham and Tom Evans solicited Thomas' help in cleaning up existing recordings and laying down new tracks. Although the succeeding album Badfinger retained Thomas from the outset and was considered by critics to be an improvement in production, neither album was successful in the marketplace. For their third project together, Thomas held a meeting with the group and pleaded that they all concentrate on making the best record they could muster. It turned out that Wish You Were Here garnered the most positive critical response from periodicals, including Rolling Stone magazine. Thomas later said:

I mean it goes back to that first meeting. We thought 'We really pulled it off.' They came across as great songwriters and singers. I thought it was the best album I'd made to that point.[5]

Thomas is quoted as saying that he was sorely disappointed when he learned that Wish You Were Here was pulled off the market, after only four months in release, due to legal troubles between Badfinger and Warner Brothers Records.[5]

Recording sessions with the Sex Pistols[edit]

In 1976, he was asked by Malcolm McLaren to produce the debut single by the Sex Pistols. He recalled:

When I first heard the Sex Pistols' demos that they brought to me, I thought, 'This has the potential to be the best English rock band since The Who. It's a three-piece again – guitar, bass and drums.' The first single was Anarchy in the UK which made quite an impression ... Anarchy has something like a dozen guitars on it; I sort of orchestrated it, double-tracking some bits and separating the parts and adding them, et cetera ...It was quite labored. The vocals were laboured, as well.

Thomas’s colleagues in the recording industry were horrified by his involvement with the Sex Pistols, particularly when he found himself producing the band at the same time as he was working with Paul McCartney. His work with the band also led to one of his most curious album credits. Co-producer Bill Price explained:

The simple facts of the matter were that Chris was hired by Malcolm (McLaren) to do a series of singles for the Sex Pistols. I was hired by Malcolm to do a series of album tracks with the Sex Pistols. Life got slightly complicated, because I did a few album tracks that Chris remade as singles. Also, Chris started a couple of tracks, which got abandoned as singles, which I remade to be used as album tracks. On quite a large number of songs, when we'd finished the album, we had two versions of the song. I couldn't quite understand why Malcolm kept chopping and changing between different versions of different songs. It slowly dawned on Chris and myself that Malcolm was trying to slip between two stools and not pay Chris or me. So we said, "I'll tell you what, Malcolm. Whatever's on the Sex Pistols' album, it was either done by me or Chris, and you can pay us and we'll divvy it out amongst our little selves." Which is what we did. But it did force that very strange credit, simply because the sleeve was printed long before it was finally decided which version of each individual song was on the record. If we'd known, it would have said 'produced by Bill Price' or 'produced by Chris Thomas'. That's how you ended up with that credit, 'produced by Bill Price or Chris Thomas'.

During 2007, Thomas produced a brand new studio recording of Pretty Vacant for use in the new video game Skate. John Lydon, Steve Jones and Paul Cook all play on this new version, which was recorded in Los Angeles in July 2007, with only Glen Matlock absent.

Work with other artists[edit]

Thomas also plays Moog synthesiser on the song "Son of My Father" by Chicory Tip with its drum phasing very similar to that of Itchycoo Park by The Small Faces. This was the first ever UK No. 1 song to feature a synthesiser and Brian Jarvis's Stylophone which was also used on David Bowie's "Space Oddity".

In 1985, Thomas played a critical part in achieving a worldwide breakthrough for Australian band INXS. INXS keyboardist and main songwriter Andrew Farriss explained:

We'd already finished the Listen Like Thieves album but Chris Thomas told us there was still no "hit". We left the studio that night knowing we had one day left and we had to deliver "a hit". Talk about pressure.

Thomas recalls he was worried that the standard of songs the band had laid down was not as strong as he wished.

Then Andrew brought in three demos – two songs that had been completed and he played me a thing that was just this riff – dink, dink, dink-a-dink-and it was great. I thought, 'I could listen to that groove for ten minutes!' I said, 'Let's work with that groove.' So we went with that and in just two days it turned into the song that eventually broke them, 'What You Need'.

Thomas helped guide Chrissie Hynde into a recording career, producing The Pretenders' first (self-titled) album; his work on 1984's Learning to Crawl earned him the sobriquet on the liner notes as the "fifth Pretender".

He regards Pulp's Different Class as one of the best records he has made, and admits: "I love working with writers. That's the person I always respond to most in a band.'’ and says his role as a producer has changed little since the 1970s.

The essential thing, if you want to be crude about it, is people want to make a hit record. So that means I'm still in there advising them to chop a few bars out of this part over here, maybe suggesting they change this riff, and that sort of thing. I've always been very interested in arrangements. The technical side is interesting, as well, but that's more just a means to an end. I don't want to imply that I'm in there all the time changing these songs around; not at all. Most of the time I don't have to say anything about that. That's one of the advantages of working with great writers.

Production credits[edit]

Albums produced or mixed by Thomas include:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Jackson, Blair (1 Jan 1999). "Producer Chris Thomas: THREE DECADES ON THE CUTTING EDGE AND THE CHARTS". Mix Magazine. Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "Happiness is a Warm Gun". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Murashev, Dimitry. "'The Beatles' (White Album) credits". Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  4. ^ Lenny Baker. "GUITAR WORLD Magazine Presents Legends #16 Classic Rock (February 1993)" 
  5. ^ a b Matovina Dan (1 June 2000). Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger. Frances Glover Books. ISBN 978-0-9657122-2-4. 

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