Joel Dorn Obituary
" April 7th, 1942-December 17th, 2007
I have been very fortunate to know Joel Dorn who made regular visits to my radio show, and who always gave me the feeling that he dug what I was doing, whether that was true or not I don't know, but he always seemed to light up and gave me the impression that he enjoyed the airtime. As a kid Dorn was a mega hero to me, having been a major architect at Atlantic Records during the mid to late '60's through the mid '70's, so much so, as whenever I looked at an LP from those years, I always felt confident buying any recording that bore his name on it as a producer, and I always knew the musicianship would be of the highest caliber. I once said to Joel, man you made so many great records! Dorn's humble answer was; Bob you have pretty good ears, and if you had the budgets I had at Atlantic, you could have made a few good recordings too. How cool was Joel Dorn? Very cool indeed!
Some Joel Dorn history: Dorn was one of the most prominent producers in pop and jazz, who made records with some of the largest names in music's history. Amongst them such diverse genre acts such as; Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Roberta Flack, The Neville Brothers, the Allman Brothers, Les McCann, Leon Redbone, just to name a few. Dorn got his start in public music in 1961 as a disc jockey in his home town of Philadelphia at jazz station WHAT-FM. Ah but that was not enough as Joel always felt he could produce records. So much so he constantly wrote and called Atlantic Records founder Neshui Ertegun asking to make records for the great Atlantic records recording label in New York City. This eventually resulted in an offer to allow Dorn to produce an artist of his choice for the company's jazz division; Hubert Laws was his first selection, and the 1964 LP, "The Laws of Jazz" became somewhat successful, so much so that by 1967 Dorn was offered full-time employment at Atlantic as Neshui Ertegun's assistant. Not only did Dorn produce great LP's for Atlantic, he was also multi-talented and worked in the A&R and marketing departments. It didn't take Dorn very long before he was quickly was promoted to the lofty position of Vice President. The vinyl Dorn worked on were mostly jazz and R&B efforts, but he always had a special pop sensibility, which became his signature sound trademark, as well as he always possessed a great ear to always hire top-notch session players that always gave his recordings that extra special glow. Amongst his hits as a producer were Roberta Flack's two Grammy winners; "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Killing Me Softly," and Bette Midler's debut, "The Divine Miss M." Dorn left Atlantic in 1974, and started working with a very wide range of performers that included the Neville Brothers, Leon Redbone, Lou Rawls, Asleep at the Wheel, and Mink DeVille. During the mid-1980s, Dorn formed Night Records, which was a label devoted to issuing previously unreleased live material from the likes of his old Atlantic buddies; Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, and Cannonball Adderley. In 1995, he formed another reissue label, 32 Records, and then went on to work at Hyena Records where he released records by Dr. John, Bobby Darin, Joe Williams, Don McClean, Rahsaan, Monk, and many others. Joel once told me he liked keeping his clock and calendar back to where he enjoyed music most, which meant the '50's, '60's, '70's, and '80's.
Dorn will always be remembered for his brilliant production capabilities, but he was also a very talented writer (check out some of his liner-notes on Rhino compilations, 32Jazz, Label M, and Hyena Records, as his style of writing will hold you in the palm of his hand.) Joel Dorn was also special at anywhere he could speak in front of people at a gathering or on-air. This became quite evident to me as having Dorn on the radio was always incredibly special for me, as his quick wit, analogies, and sincere recall of numerous meetings with music royalty were always fascinating and often mesmerizing. If you had ever seen or heard Joel speak; you would have to know that Dorn was a supreme story-teller, who could easily get enthused (like a youthful child) to telling stories about Rahsaan, Monk, King Curtis, Dr.John, Doc Pomus, Duane Allman, plus all the great session players he utilized like; Chuck Rainey, Cornell Dupree, Bernard Purdie, Fathead Newman, Hank Crawford, Willis "Gatortail" Jackson, Jerry Jemmott, Richard Tee, Bob Cranshaw and on and on and on.
Dorn once told me he was a running partner with Duane Allman and King Curtis- together at the same time; can you imagine what kind of insanity went on with that trio? On another particular show, I had Ruth Brown on the phone and Dorn in the studio, and the conversation was so memorable. Ruth told Dorn that she had shoes older than him. Dorn than asked Ruth how she was doing collecting her overseas royalties, and Ruth said she occasionally gets enough bucks to buy a loaf of bread, Dorn quickly chirped back saying that royalty collecting should be classified as an Olympic event. You see Joel just had a marvelous way with his words, and often liked to make musical references to sports greats like the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers, or music associations to Muhammad Ali's jabs and punches. Dorn also shared great stories about Brother Ray, Tom Dowd, Herbie Mann, Eddie Harris, The Rascals, as his repertoire and life experiences were incredibly deep. Let's face it, Dorn saw a lot, and helped create a golden era, and he was just a real down to earth regular guy that you could easily hangout with.
* For a detailed view of the enormous body of work Dorn was involved with, go to allmusic.com and click this link to see the six pages of Joel Dorn credits:
But perhaps the most significant memory I have of the now late great Joel Dorn is the fact of how he always made himself available. Especially to talk about great music or to help out with our station fund-drives, often with stacks of CD's to giveaway to would-be pledge patrons. Damn, I will miss you Joel Dorn, as will so many others you touched. Fortunately we have his musical legacy that will live on, as well as many great memories of all he did so gracefully, for which we all should be forever thankful.
Amen, with a smile and a tear for Joel Dorn, as there will never be another one like him.
Bob Putignano www.SoundsofBlue.com