I hope you don’t find some of my posts dispiriting, but I’ve had an unusual amount of truly amazing friends pass on from this life in recent days. And yes, I do understand that at my age this is going to be more frequent. It does not however, make it any less sorrowing.
I’ve worked with many extraordinary individuals in my career, and I just learned that one of them, my good friend and longtime engineer, Joe Neil is no longer living. I understand that his wife, Ruth found him in their barn and unresponsive.
Joe Lived in Atlanta and was co-owner of Doppler studios as well as a mobile facility called Sam’s Tape Truck. He was a fixture in the music community there for decades, and related so many wonderful stories about his work with the likes of Isaac Hayes, R&B and gospel artists.
Joe and I worked together on projects for Sandi Patty, Larnelle Harris and Steve Green. He taught me many things about the R&B culture and so much more. We had a wonderful time when we went out of town to work. Joe would drive up from Atlanta and we’d hop on a bus the artists would send to pick us up in Nashville. It would be just the bus driver, Joe and myself on the ride. We’d stop off at Wendy’s or some other restaurant when we wanted to take a break…and sleep on the bus along the way if we were tired. We had some great conversations and wonderful times on those buses.
I remember one trip when we stopped at a restaurant and a young man…a real good ole boy, stopped us as we were walking out of the restaurant, and asked us what artist was on the bus. Without a pause, Joe said, “We really can’t tell you because it’s top secret.” The young man was relentless in trying to find out who it was. “Man, can’t you just give me a hint”. Joe paused, and then said “Well just because it’s you that’s asking, and I know you can keep a secret, I’ll tell you this one time…but it’s all hush-hush.” This guy almost wet his pants. “I won’t tell nobody. Who is it?” “Well”..Joe whispered….”It’s the king”. This revelation left the boy dumbstruck …”NO…NO!!!… you’re just kiddin’ me.” Joe replied…”Well you asked”. He muttered, “Yeah, I don’t think you’re telling me the truth… but I know Elvis couldn’t really go nowhere, not even down to the Wallmarks….cuz he couldn’t get no privacy.” “ He followed up, “Really..he’s really in there? Joe drawled, “if I’m lyin’… I’m lyin’.” I told him we had to leave because couldn’t stay in one place for very long. He nodded in the affirmative, “Oh, I hear that“. We hopped back on the bus and watched him through the window as we left…his mouth wide-open, waving his hand and trying to get a glimpse of the disingenuous. We laughed till we cried. That was my pal….Full of fun and mischief.
Joe was an incredible engineer and musician with the finest ears a producer could ever hope to have. People think when you’re in the studio, it’s all about what the producer is hearing and deciding. .The truth of the matter is, there is such a symbiotic flow of creativity between the producer, engineer, artist (when they’re there) and musicians that make the recording what it is. It’s never about one person. The producer only manages what is occurring. These recordings could never be what they were without the wisdom of Joe‘s valuable suggestions.
So many fond memories of this gentle giant…my southern bearded buddy. I wrote about him in the chapter on artists in my book “Runaway Horse“. We’ve kept track of each other all these years, sharing happenings of our families, sending each other jokes and talking about life. I loved this guy…I’m really really going to miss him…..Joe Neil is my friend…always… and I will never ever forget him.
“To me, fair friend, you never can be old, For as you were when first your eye I eyed, Such seems your beauty still.” (William Shakespeare)