ROCK JOURNALIST JOE VIGLIONE’S
ROCK’S GREATEST RECORD PRODUCER
Writing about Jimmy’s legacy.
As I write this at 10:15 pm on September 13, 2020, producer Jimmy Miller has broken yet another record. His final album with the Rolling Stones, Goat’s Head Soup, re-released on the fourth of September, 2020, hit #1 in just eight days in the United Kingdom! 13 #1 albums in a row according to the Universal Music Group online newsletter UDiscoverMusic dot com which states:
“Goats Head Soup was recorded between November 1972 and July 1973 at Dynamic Sound Studios, Kingston, Jamaica; Village Recorders, Los Angeles; Olympic Studios and Island Studios in London. It became the band’s fifth consecutive No. 1 album in Britain on September 22 and their third in America.
Suddenly it is 8:50 pm on Monday, September 14, 2020, almost twenty-four hours after I started researching this “Foreword.” How does one research a foreword, you may ask? Well, we are talking about, arguably, the greatest record producer of the rock and roll era, and his primary group in his legacy being The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.. kind of like the Fantastic Four being “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.” I buy into both, actually.
As Johnny Visnaskas from Pure and Easy Records – who was with Miller at Sanctuary studio where Gary Shane, a Pure and Easy artist, was recording, “Jimmy was flamboyant in the studio.” I regretted not having rolled cameras a la 1 + 1 – the Jean Luc Goddard classic recordings of “Sympathy for the Devil” but Johnny V felt not having cameras there was the right thing. Jimmy was, of course, all about vibrations in the studio and those good vibrations may have been inhibited by cameras. So this book will capture that flamboyance as only people who were around Jimmy for a length of time would know about. It will capture the history, Jimmy left us twenty-three handwritten pages about his life. I will be using portions of those writings in each chapter letting Jimmy give his autobiography while I go into the memories of working with Jimmy and an analysis of the production work by this master of the recording studio.
Jimmy Miller signed three contracts with me in 1983, 1984 and 1986. Miller/Viglione Productions was our company. In the contract we agreed to come up with a book on Jimmy’s life, the title Jimmy chose from the song “Tumbling Dice” – Fever in the Funk House (now!) Jimmy walked in to our office at 30 Dragon Court in Woburn, Massachusetts. I had this wonderful little CD player that did magical things other more sophisticated players could not. (*side note. Jimmy and Jo Jo Laine walked in at another time and that little player isolated “”scuse me while I kiss the sky” over and over again. They both smiled and got it right away – “Only Joe” Jimmy said to Jo Jo. It kept repeating and, of course, sounded like Jimi was singing “ ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy.) But during that initial time Miller walked into the house I was playing “Tumbling Dice” over and over and over again…loud. Jimmy said “I don’t want to hear that song again,” with a smile. “Mick Jagger made me mix that about 45 times” he declared. My reply – “Jimmy, it is one of your greatest productions and one of my all-time favorite songs.” The chicks wailing, Jimmy’s own drums kicking in when they’re singing “You got to roll me…” It’s a masterpiece from the album Exile on Main Street. But, of course, we’re talking about today, September 2020 and the re-release of Goat’s Head Soup.
There are interviews with Jimmy, engineer/producer Rob Fraboni, Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, Robert Greenfield, author of • • Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones (2006), Stones historian Jon Marko and many others. But in this Foreword, and to give you a taste of things to come in the book, we’ll talk about “Angie,” the #1 hit from the #1 album back in the day, Goats Head Soup.
Giving a listen to the tracks the Rolling Stones have generously put on YouTube, a smart business approach by utilizing YouTube as a 1970s radio station for the whole world, you can listen to various mixes of “Angie,” including fan-created “extended mixes.” Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, is technically proficient. However Jagger’s voice is too pronounced for me to spin this repeatedly. As a proponent of getting as many mixes as possible of all songs out for the world to hear, they key is what is the best representation of the song for you. For me, the Miller mix is a masterpiece. There’s a density to it, everything perfectly in its place, like “Tumbling Dice,” like “Gimme Shelter,” like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Jagger hired Jimmy for a specific reason when the Stones were recording Satanic Majesty’s Request and Miller was producing Traffic down the hall. Yes, I like alternate mixes, but they also prove how brilliant legendary Jimmy Miller was and still is. Lo and behold, there’s an “Ultimate Mix” of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” that is coming out October 9 (well, it’s actually already out on YouTube) that is evidence of what I’m talking about.
The three greatest record producers of the rock era, and I don’t think there’s any argument about it, are George Martin, Jimmy Miller and Phil Spector. I’ve always considered them in that light, all at #1.
“Instant Karma,” like “Tumbling Dice” is one of my all-time favorite songs and productions. The “ultimate mix” has John Lennon’s voice front and center – as with Mick Jagger on the new “Angie” mix, but it doesn’t work. I mean, it’s a marvelous vocal by John, and there is a bootleg on YouTube of “Instant Karma” with Lennon’s voice totally pushed up in the mix, but without the reverb and the band generating intensity behind the Beatle, even in this loud vocal mix. But the original Phil Spector/John and Yoko mix is the best, far and away. “Karma” is a Gospel/Pop song from Lennon and Spector and when you raise the vocal the way this “Ultimate Mix” does, you lose the intensity of the trademark of Spector, the “Wall of Sound.” Everything falls behind Lennon in the same fashion that, as beautifully as Giles Martin polishes the instrumentation, the 2020 mix of “Angie” loses the heart and intensity.
The Lennon mix, coming a month after the “Angie” mix, is all the evidence one needs to feel the vibrations that the original producers offered to the world, men who were masters of their craft.
This book is going to be a fun ride telling you stories of Jimmy Miller while exploring his production work. We co-produced Buddy Guy together in 1986 and 1987, Jimmy putting Joe Perry from Aerosmith on the tapes, I letting Nils Lofgren have some fun playing the blues on the overdubs. The Buddy Guy sessions are remarkable yet the record labels at the time were wary of releasing blues in the 1980s. Buddy’s Damn Right I Got the Blues album, of course, proved them wrong, and our Buddy Guy sessions are a pure delight, including Jimmy Miller singing a guide vocal for Buddy on “Jiving Sister Fanny,” the Stones song from Metamorphosis, which would have been their next single, reportedly, had they not moved on to Atlantic Records with their own Rolling Stones Records.
According to Jimmy, Mick Jagger asked him to be president of Rolling Stones Records, but Jimmy declined to stay within the role he wanted, as the band’s producer. Marshall Chess then headed the label, which we’ll discuss in the book. So if you like the way this story is heading in this Foreword, I think you’ll like our historical saga and the digression into music reviews and music analyses for a biography that is unique. “As the Miller told his tale” Procol Harum sings in “Whiter Shade of Pale,” the song Jimmy, as head of A & R for Island Records, wanted to release. We spoke with Gary Brooker about Miller’s support for the band in their early days, and that is what we are going to bring to you in the pages of this book. As the Miller told his tale, in the Funk House, with fever running high.