Producer Don Was tells Dave Cobb About Working With Bob Dylan, George Harrison, The Rolling Stones, Greg Allman and more on Southern Accents Radio on Apple Music Country

Article Contributed by Apple | Published on Monday, January 23, 2023

Legendary producer Don Was joins Dave Cobb on the latest episode of Southern Accents Radio on Apple Music Country. They discuss the valuable lessons learned from producing Bob Dylan and George Harrison, producing Greg Allman’s final record before his passing, and how The Rolling Stones’ ‘Blue & Lonesome’ was an accident.

Don Was Tells Apple Music About The Valuable Lessons He Learned While Producing Bob Dylan and George Harrison…

All my life, I wanted to produce Bob Dylan. There came a day in 1989 when I was in the studio producing Bob Dylan, and George Harrison came in to play a guitar solo on a song. Bob's messing with him. He moves the engineer, Ed Cherney, out of the seat, and he sits in the engineer's chair. He's working the remote control. George Harrison says, "Don't let him do what he did to me last time, which is he just recorded me one take, and that was it. I didn't get to fix the thing." I said, "Okay. Yeah. Sure. No problem." Bob, of course, hears that, and he's going to do the same thing. George hasn't even had a chance to tune up or to hear the song. He doesn't even know what key it's in. Bob fast forwards to the solo and is like, "Go." He hits it into record. George figures out what key it's in. All things considered, it was a respectable effort, but it wasn't the solo that you wanted from George Harrison. Bob shuts the machine off after the solo. He says, "Okay. That's great. Thank you, man." George Harrison turns to me he says, "Help, Don. What do you think?" Bob looks at me and goes, "Yeah, what do you think?"

Well, the whole room dissolved in the echo. Time slowed down. I flashed on the time I tried to sell my car to get a ticket to go see the concert for Bangladesh. George and Bob. Here they are, three feet away from me, saying, "What do you think?" I'm in this tough bind. Thankfully, a voice came into my head and said, "He's not paying you to be a fan." I thought, "All right. You got to tell the truth here." So I said, "It was good, man. But let's tune up, try another take. Let's see if we beat it." George was like, "Thank you." I guess I passed Bob's test. But that was a pivotal moment, realizing  that I'm not there to be a fan and that they're actually paying me to do something.

Don Was Tells Apple Music About Playing Live With Bob Weir And Being Part of Wolf Bros…

First of all, he's a wildly creative guy. I love the way that he approaches the songs as a singer, which is, he tries to inhabit the character every night. The whole thrust of Wolf Brothers, as opposed to doing another Grateful Dead band, is that we give him space to interpret. We don't crowd each bar with a lot of information so that he can phrase without fighting any of us. One of the songs we were working on the other day, I held an E for a couple of bars because he was singing. Don't fight him. That's all you need, is that one note. He's an incredible interpreter of songs. He's the wildest guitar player you're ever going to hear.

Don Was Tells Apple Music About How The Rolling Stones’ ‘Blue & Lonesome’ Was An Accident…

It’s absolutely the right record for them to make, and I love that record. But it was an accident. We were at a point where we were making a new record, and it was getting a little intense. So just to diffuse the room a little bit, Keith said... I can't remember which one he picked now, but he picked one of the songs. And they just did it in one take. And it was like, wow, that's really good. And no one wanted to go back to fighting over this other song. So it was like, "Eh, let's do another one." So at the end of the day, we had six great blues tracks. All of them first takes. And so we said, "Well, yeah. Let's do it again tomorrow." But no one ever mentioned, let's make a Blues record. It was a little like when a guy's pitching a no-hitter, you don't bring it up in the dug up.

Everybody knew that, wow, this could be an album. But no one said anything about it. So we did it over a couple days. Eric Clapton was in the other room, and he walked in. Keith handed him a guitar. And he played on a couple of songs. And he had the same look on his face that I had. Because he's a little younger than them, and he had gone to see them when they were a pub band in Richmond.

Don Was Tells Apple Music About His Reflections On Producing Greg Allman’s Last Record Before Passing…

He knew he wasn't going to be around long. I knew that he wasn't going to be around long. But he and I never once talked about it. He didn't want to talk about it or acknowledge it, but you can tell in the choice. I submitted many, many songs for him. But you could tell in the reflective nature of the ones we ended up recording that he was really trying to tie up loose ends. The last song we cut was Song for Adam, a Jackson Brown song. And he and Jackson were old friends. They crashed in some apartment in the 60s together before either one of them was famous. And they remained good friends.

And we got to the last verse [and] it seems like he stopped singing before his song was done, basically. And that got Greg all choked up, and he couldn't get those lines out. He just left those lines open. But his health declined right after. It was almost like he was holding out to make this record. So all those vocals on that album are the live vocals that we did in Muscle Shoals. He literally stopped singing in the middle of the last song he recorded.