Fringe Box



A Love Affair With Producing Artists and Their Music

Published on: 5 Mar, 2013
Updated on: 5 Mar, 2013

You may not know the name, but John Schroeder has been the producer or co-producer for no less than 175 music artists, including Cliff Richard, the Shadows, Helen Shapiro and Status Quo.

Cover of John Schroeder's book Sex & Violins – my affair with life, love and music..

Cover of John Schroeder’s book Sex & Violins – my affair with life, love and music..

He lives in Woking, and is a good friend of Ben Darnton of Ben’s Collector’s Records in Guildford, and often attends the record fairs Ben puts on at Guildford Guildhall.

Virtually every field of popular music has been touched by John Schroeder’s talents, from the orchestral jazz-based stylings of Sounds Orchestral through the pop-soul of Geno Washington to the exciting black rock of Cymande, an outfit that was the first British-based black rock group to break the American R&B charts wide open.

Here Guildford-based writer JOHN SILKE (an avid fan of vinyl records) talks to John Schroeder.

John Silke: What was the first record you bought and what was the latest record you bought?

JS: Well, you might think this really strange, but I never bought records. Even though I made lots of records, produced at least one hundred and seventy artists during my career, I was not an avid record collector. People ask me again and again, ‘you must have a fantastic vinyl record collection?’ I don’t. I have a very small vinyl record collection. I never really went out and bought records, I was given the majority of them, because I’m in the record industry. I did buy Oscar Peterson plays Count Basie, because I love piano jazz.

The other problem I have is that I can’t enjoy listening to records, and the reason I can’t is because I dissect them. I dissect the music that’s being played to me. I listen to the drum sound, I listen to the guitar, I listen to the balance, I pull it apart, favourably or unfavourably in my head. Whatever the record might be, I can’t sit there and enjoy music.

John Silke: You must have owned some amazing test records?

JS: I have, and demo records. The thing in those days, when you were looking for artists and hearing songs, all those artists that are brought to you would usually come through someone who’s made a vinyl demo. Or a song, someone who’d written a song would send a demo version on a 45 record to a producer.

Then when you’ve found the right song for the right artist, before it is released you get a test record that the record company makes, of the product you have made, and it is listened back to by various record company people, usually on a crappy machine.

John Silke: Because that’s how the end user will listen to it?

JS: That’s right yes, and if it sounds really good and you say, that’s how it’s going to sound coming through a little Dansette record player, or radio, you think great that’s the record we should go with.

John Silke: So a lot of these test pressings and demos are very valuable aren’t they, because they’re different to the mass produced well known versions of songs.

JS: They are, because they can be changed, and they are changed. They’re listened to for various reasons before they ever get to the public’s hearing. They’re listened to by people within the record company.

John Silke: Back then when you were making an album with an artist, how much did it affect your approach that the end product was a vinyl record with an A side and a B side?

JS: Well I’ve always been brought up on side A and side B. I mean I find that the record industry of the 60s, 70s and 80s, the 60s particularly, to be the most exciting ever.

John Silke: Have we lost something, in album production now that there is no A/B side?

JS: We’ve lost everything, well 90%. The music industry today has not got the excitement or the atmosphere or the competitiveness or the energy or the creativity to me today, of what we went through in the 60s and 70s.

John Silke: I feel like the listening experience is lessened now. I liked having to turn the record over.

JS: I just made a fourth album with a band called Cymande. Now when I made that album as we mixed the tracks, I actually put them in an order I would have done in the 70s as an A and B side. If it finally ends up being released with no A and B side, but just tracks one to ten, those tracks have got flow in a certain way to me as the producer of the project, that will entertain the listener and bring the listener to highs and lows. You can’t just sling out ten titles haphazardly, to my mind. I’ve been bought up with the A and B side, six tracks on the A side six tracks on the B side. What should be track A what should be the last track, how should the last track on side A complement the first track on side B?

John Silke: When you saw the final product of an artist you’d worked with, was it more exciting to see your producer credit on a vinyl record label than on a CD?

JS: When the advent of CDs came along, and you’d go into a record shop, which I’m sure you’ve done many many times John, and you see all these CDs in there, what do you see? You see all these plastic boxes with nothing that hits you in the face from an artistic point of view. With vinyl you see covers that shout at you, you know, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and god knows what. Even my own band Cymande had the gatefold cover with the dove on it. CDs are nothing. They don’t do anything to get you excited about that product.

The only thing that’s a plus about today’s music is that kids have access to a hell of a lot more music than they did in the 60s and 70s.

John Silke: That’s true and I do use Spotify and iTunes and buy CDs myself as well as buying and playing records daily. But a lot of younger people have an interest in vinyl now. I saw a girl today in an antique shop in Sussex, in which I have a used record stall. She was maybe mid-twenties and buying records, and seemed excited about them. She has grown up in the digital age, but clearly sees something of worthiness in vinyl records.

JS: Vinyl sales are increasing, which means that album covers on new products may have a resurgence. I’m hoping the new Cymande album will be on vinyl.

John Silke: Did you ever go to a vinyl pressing plant and see any of your work being produced at the final stage?

JS: I worked in one!

John Silke: Wow, where?

JS: I worked at EMI Hayes for six months. It was part of my education as a producer. My boss Norrie Paramor wanted me to experience all facets of producing records. He said you have got to know what the factory does, after we have made the record. So down to Hayes I went and I was there six months. Incredible.

John Silke: What were you doing there every day?

JS: I was down there working with the guys pressing records. And then Norrie sent me to the art department to see how the artwork was done, then the promotion, the marketing, it was an incredible job.

John Silke: So when the final album was ready did you get a nice sealed box of new stock copy LPs delivered to your door?

JS: No you got the test pressing, but you had to buy the final album if you wanted it!

John Silke: John, thank you very much.

JS: John, a pleasure.

John Schroeder’s autobiography Sex & Violins – my affair with love, life and music is available from Ben’s Collector’s Records in Tunsgate, Guildford. Paperback, it costs £9.99. Click here to go to Ben’s website.

You may also like to try John Silke’s Kindle book, Record Collecting in the Digital AgeClick here to see its listing on Amazon.

Check out our previous story on Ben and his amazing shop. Click here.

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