Tom Dowd was, arguably, one of the most successful and coveted record producers of his time. Born in Manhattan in 1925, Dowd was constantly immersed in a musical background. Dowd’s parents were heavily involved in music, his father a concertmaster and his mother an opera singer. Have grown up around music all his life, Dowd, naturally had an affinity for correct pitch, tone, and tempo. He played piano, violin, tuba and string bass, and by 1942 he had graduated high school at the age of 16 and continued his musical education at the City College of New York. By the time Dowd was 18, he had been accepted into Columbia University, where he conducted a school band, and, later worked in physical science for the US government.
World War II was a pivotal time in Dowd’s life. Shortly after being drafted to the military for his academic superiority in physics, Dowd began working on the Manhattan Project, which eventually contributed to the development of the first atomic bomb. Because Dowd’s work for the US government was so advanced and secretive, when Tom Dowd returned to school to obtain a nuclear science degree, he knew more than what was being taught to him at Columbia. Sworn to secrecy and bound by frustration, Dowd soon returned to music where he created quite a name for himself.
Before Dowd’s iconic status at Atlantic Records in New York, he began recording classical music shortly out of college. Dowd, however, had bigger aspirations inspired by the ongoing blues and rock movements of the 1960s. He shortly became a top recording engineer at Atlantic, where he later would record Ray Charles, The Drifters, The Coasters, Ruth Brown, and Bobby Darin. He also pioneered the first eight track recording unit at Atlantic Records, enabling Atlantic to be the first record company to record using multiple tracks. By the mid 1960s Dowd had struck it big with the beginnings of rock and roll, having recorded The Allman Brothers, Lynard Skynard, Eric Clapton, Derek and the Dominos, Meatloaf, Rod Stewarrt, Chicago, and many more.
Perhaps some of Dowd’s most famous work came from an impromptu jam session with Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, and Jim Gordon. This was the beginning of some of Eric Clapton’s best work with the formation of the late 60s rock band Derek and the Dominos. While on stage, Duane and Gregg Allman looked down to the first row during a concert. Standing there was none other than Eric Clapton. The Allmans recalled that this was the only time when they had ever frozen during a performance. After the concert, the Allmans, Gordon, and Dowd went to a studio to have a jam session. Tom Dowd happened to be on hand that evening, and, as the musicians played, Dowd secretly hit “record.” What followed was an unmixed, raw collection of songs which would eventually end up on the album “Layla and other Assorted Love Songs.” The album would do poorly within its first two years of release. However, after being found and played inadvertently by a radio DJ two years later, the album gained international fame and success.
In the early 1970s, Dowd moved to Miami, where he worked at Criteria Recording Studios. The 70s were a busy time for Dowd, having gotten divorced, then remarried and having his first child, a daughter. By the time the 1980s came, Dowd’s clientele was changing dramatically. The post-disco decade featured the music work of new wave and punk artists and groups. Dowd began recording many more albums in 1979 and throughout the 80s, featuring Kenny Loggins, Michael Bolton, Meatloaf, and Diana Ross. By the mid 90s, Tom Dowd had been in the recording industry for half a century and was still going strong. He was nominated for a Grammy in 1996 for his work with the Allman Brothers Band and John Coltrane. By the late 90s, Dowd began to chronicle his manuscript and legacy in a self-entitled work “Tom Dowd and the Language of Music.” Entering the new millenium, Dowd’s mind was as quick and sharp as it had ever been, but his body’s capacity for the stressful work began to slow and tire. His most notable contributions by the year 2000 included his 30+-year collaboration with the Allman Brothers Band and produced an album for the 2000 “Best New Artist” Grammy nominee Susan Tedeschi. Two years later, the year of Dowd’s eventual sickness and, later, death, Dowd received a Grammy for his numerous contributions to the music industry for over half a century.
Throughout his entire life, Tom Dowd produced music for Gregg Allman, Mose Allison, The Allman Brothers Band, and countless others. However, on the morning of October 27, 2002, Dowd passed away from a length battle with emphysema. His movie was completed in January of the next year and played to critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. Dowd was 77 years old at the time of his death, but his contributions to the music industry have been essential and timeless.