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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: FRED MOLLIN

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: FRED MOLLIN

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

I think the Fred Mollin story, to this day, even makes Fred himself take a step back once in a while and think; "I can't believe how blessed I've been". Considering his 40 yr production discography, one would think that, Mollin would be one of the highest profiled producers in the biz but, such is not the case. In fact, 'Under the Radar' is an understatement, when describing his remarkable career, which started with a record deal and a Grammy nomination, for the very first artist Fred ever co-produced.

Fred Mollin
Fred Mollin

Mollin: I really have to say that most of my career was born out of Toronto. I had my singer/songwriter career that started around '71-'72, and then my producer life which happened by accident. I sort of got backed into producing. In 1974, I was 21 then, with no real interest or even thoughts about being a producer, I was doing a lot of gigs with Dan Hill. I'd open for him and he would open for me. So, we just became great buddies. One day he said to me; "I'm doing a demo, and I wanted to know if you would produce it for me." He thought I'd be a good producer, because he knew that I was very devoted to all of the information that I would get out of hearing a record. I knew all the musicians, who played on it, who engineered it - so, I was a Musicologist without knowing it.

Three Dan Hill albums later, in 1978, Sometimes When We Touch, written by Hill (lyrics) and Barry Mann (music), emerged from his LONGER FUSE album, flew to the top of the Billboard charts and received a Grammy nomination. The musicians on the sessions included, Bobby Ogdin (piano), Larrie Londin (drums), Bob Mann (guitar), Don Potter (guitar), Tom Szczesniak (bass), co-produced by Fred and Matt McCauley , at Manta Sound, Toronto.

Mollin also recently produced 2 albums for the iconic Mr. Johnny Mathis, both of which were nominated for Grammys, he received 3 Juno Awards in Canada, his publishing deals along the way spawned a healthy number of film and TV cuts plus two others by Cher and Eric Clapton. Fred received a Gemini Award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, 5 SOCAN Awards for film and television music and...just a portion of his iconic body of production work includes duets & solo productions with; Jimmy Webb, Johnny Mathis, Dan Hill, Billy Joel, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Barbra Streisand, JD Souther, America, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Art Garfunkel, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus, BB King, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Carly Simon, Barry Mann, Glen Campbell, Alison Krause, Frank Stallone, Michael McDonald, Shaun Colvin, Jackson Browne, Daryl Hall, Collin Raye, Carole King, and Willie Nelson.

Needless to say...As a legendary record producer and well-known international film and television composer, Fred Mollin's busy schedule has earned him unique credibility through his numerous creative endeavors.

After Sometimes When We Touch, Mollin found himself working as a composer for TV and film for over 15 yrs, after which he continued to work in the record arena as producer for such critically acclaimed albums such as Jimmy Webb's "TEN EASY PIECES",  Kris Kristofferson's "THE AUSTIN SESSIONS", and Johnny Mathis' Grammy-nominated "LET IT BE ME - MATHIS IN NASHVILLE".

Fred grew up on Long Island behind his first love, 'a drum kit', until The Beatles came along, at which point he picked up a guitar and joined the ranks, as a singer/songwriter. Fred's older brother Larry, who became an actor and sort-of mentor to Fred, moved to Toronto and eventually invited him to move there. Fred had tried to get a record deal in New York as a singer/songwriter but he didn't have a lot of connections so, after a year of not really having any luck, took his brother up on his offer and moved in with him and his girlfriend.

Fred Mollin: I was probably 16 and I loved drumming but found that, when I saw The Beatles in February of '64 I realized that I'd better get a guitar, and start writing songs because, it seemed like the girls really loved these guys, and the music was incredible. Then, a few years later, I sort of went organic and did more of an acoustic guitar singer/songwriter thing, because I was very affected by the James Taylors and Neil Young and all these things that, I loved in the acoustic world. I quit school when I was 16 which was a freaky thing, because back in those days 1969-in my neighborhood a nice, Jewish boy didn't really quit school at all. And my mother, who is now 97 and still sharp as a tack, was my protector and my support system.

Then as fate would have it, most probably one of the most-pivotal moments in Fred Mollin's career took place...

Mollin: Matthew and I in 78' had a classic 'Hollywood moment'. Because I was so enamored and so inspired by Jimmy Webb, I wanted to produce him and Matt did too. After we had 'Sometimes When We Touch', the guy at 20th Century Fox Records invited us to his office. He was smoking a cigar and he said, "All right, guys. Who do you want to produce next? Whoever it is, I'll get them for you." Just like that. Like a moron I said, "Jimmy Webb". In reality I should have said, "James Taylor or Elton John", HAHAHA? And the guy said, "Why?" and I said, "Because he's the greatest songwriter in the history of song. He has a unique voice, and he's never been produced right. I think we could do an incredible record with him." The next day we were meeting with Jimmy's manager, and then the next night we were at Jimmy's house, and I've been with him ever since.

That created a lifelong relationship of collaboration with Jimmy Webb as his musical director and producer. It's heading almost into 40 years together. I always loved Jimmy, because he wrote everything, incredible music AND incredible lyrics. He is our Gershwin and our Irving Berlin. I was never driven by the money. I am a musician first and a music lover. I wanted to work with the people who inspired me. That's it. Now, I'm regret at times I wasn't quite as mercenary, but it ain't me.

As an artist, Mollin's projects include "DISNEY'S LULLABY ALBUM" for Walt Disney Records (Billboard Magazine's second best selling children's album in 2001), and "DISNEY'S PRINCESS LULLABY ALBUM", as well as "DISNEY LULLABY ALBUM VOL. 2" and "DISNEY'S CHRISTMAS LULLABY". These instrumental albums have sold over 2 million copies, worldwide.

In 2007 and 2008, Mollin took a hiatus from his freelance career and became Vice President of A&R for Walt Disney Records in California. Along with his executive duties, Mollin was Executive Producer of such Disney successes as "HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL-THE CONCERT", "DISNEYMANIA 5", and "DISNEY CHANNEL HOLIDAY". The year culminated at Disney with Mollin producing Billy Ray Cyrus's hit album, "HOME AT LAST" cd, which included the Certified Gold Single (charting at #2) "READY, SET, DON'T GO" a duet with Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley Cyrus. In 2008 finds Mollin became freelance again and went back in the studio full time again in Nashville, after an enjoyable year in the corporate world.

And...As a composer for television, Fred has run the gamut from high tension (CBS-CBS TV's Gemini award-nominated child abuse drama "LIAR LIAR" and CBS's "LITTLE CRIMINALS", the award winning drama about young offenders) through fanciful flights of adventure (William Shatner's "TEKWAR" and USA Network's "BEYOND REALITY") to the darkest reaches of the medium (Paramount's "FRIDAY THE 13TH" television series and movies, and MGM-UA's "THE OUTER LIMITS"). His work on such cult series' as Tri Star's "FOREVER KNIGHT" and hit series such as Fox's "BEVERLY HILLS 90210" and Paramount's "HARD COPY" was an integral part to the success of these classics of tv entertainment.

Fred's adventures in the feature film realm include his orchestral score for "THE FALL" starring Craig Sheffer and "BORDERLINE NORMAL". One project dear to Mollin's heart was the VH-1 television movie "DAYDREAM BELIEVERS- THE MONKEES' STORY" where he not only composed the underscore, but also served as the projects' musical director. Mollin's most recent songwriting for tv has been as one of the main composers and lyricists for songs on the Disney Channel series, "HANDY MANNY".

His most recent album productions include the Johnny Mathis album, SENDING YOU A LITTLE CHRISTMAS, STILL WITHIN THE SOUND OF MY VOICE by Jimmy Webb. Fred is currently producing another album with his good buddy, Johnny Mathis, as well as finishing a new Christmas project with 13 yr old phenomenon Lexi Walker. And there's plenty more where that came from.

Like I said...'Under the Radar' is an understatement.

The Producer's Chair: How did you and Mathew McCauley wind-up co-producing Dan Hill?

Mollin: We went to this place in Toronto called Captain Audio, a little 4 track place on Hazelton Lanes. I walked into the basement and I saw a guy there. It wasn't the engineer. It was a young guy. He had a big, black beard and long, long hair and a white flowing shirt. I whispered to Dan, "Who is this?" Dan said, "Oh, I want you to meet someone." "Matt McCauley, meet Fred Mollin." Matt was one of his friends from school, whose father William Alexander McCauley was one of the great musical directors of Canada.

Matt, I didn't realize, was a genius, and had, sort of, learned at the feet of his father about how to arrange and conduct orchestras and so on. At age 20-I was 21, he was just so gifted. He was a complete absolute phenomenon. Dan had decided-in his wisdom-that he would create a creative blind date for us and not tell either one of us that we were going to produce the project that he was doing-this little demo. He just wanted to make sure that, you know, we both show up as opposed to one of us getting pissed off.

Then, it was sort of like 2 roosters in a cage for the first couple of hours. "Why are you here?" "I don't know. Why are you here?" And then by the end of these little demo sessions that we did, we really connected. Matt and I, to this day is my best friend. He's been my creative partner on many records early on, and then he stopped producing. He had other things that he wanted to do. Matthew is still the person I will go to for string arrangements. Again, he's part of my life every day. He's the brother that I found. Dan was so smart to know that we would be the perfect team. We really became a great partnership, for the years that we did work together which was '74 to about '79. From that first meeting and the demos came a record deal. The record deal was for Dan, and it was the first album called 'Dan Hill'.

The Producer's Chair: Did you walk Dan Hill in and get him that record deal?

Mollin: No, not at all. Matthew's parents decided they would invest. So, they actually financed a record and an album which Matt and I produced for Dan. Then, GRT Records in Canada signed the McCauley's production deal and signed Dan. So, here we were. This wonderful situation occurs and boom, the next thing you know, within a year we have 2 top 3 records in Canada from all these singles from Dan's first album. Dan became a Canadian star, and we became producers.

The Producer's Chair: What's the back-story behind 'Sometimes When We Touch'?

Mollin: The first album was called 'Dan Hill'. The second album was called 'Hold On'. Then, on the third album we had a U.S. deal with 20th Century Fox Records. It was sort of interesting, because at that point we had a lot of pressure because they had to break Dan in the U.S. Otherwise, we would lose that deal. I think Dan's publisher at that point was the McCauleys, co-published by ATV.

People in L.A. set Dan up with a writing assignment to co-write with Barry Mann - one of the greatest songwriters of all time. (Barry and Cynthia Weil have been in my life ever since and are like family to me) - I was so thrilled that Danny was writing with him but, it turned out that Dan was so scared and intimidated by the co-write that he didn't do very well. As he was leaving Barry said to Dan, "Well, do you have any lyrics that you want to give me? I'll try to put music to them later." Dan pulled 'Sometimes When We Touch' out of his guitar case, which he had already written music to, but the music was weak. Barry took it home, and I still have the cassette that Barry gave me of him just singing into a little cassette machine of him just whipping off this Elton Johnesque song. It was like hearing the sound of your entire career ahead of you. Because Barry is just singing and playing away and it's like - this is a hit. Like an Elton John thing. Sometimes When We Touch become a smash hit all around the world, and to this day it is an iconic record. Of course, we didn't know it would be. We were just thrilled to be making music. We were very precocious kids, but we were blown away at how successful that was. We were very proud of it.

The Producer's Chair: Can you tell us about the significance of your 1996 Jimmy Webb TEN EASY PIECES album?

Mollin: I was missing producing. Jimmy Webb was having a rough time. He was in the world's worst divorce with a wife of many years and 6 children. He was virtually suicidal. He had a substance abuse problem, a drinking problem, a terrible divorce. The IRS attached themselves to 10 million from him. He had to sell his publishing off to a publisher at probably one third the price. I mean this is rough stuff. He was literally on the edge and calling me and telling me that. I said, "Buddy, I've got to think of something that we can do together." So, I called Jay Landers who is an old friend of mine who was at EMI. I said, "What do you think if I do an album with Jimmy of his most famous songs, just literally piano, vocals, and a couple extra things here and there. It will really be a historic record." I said, "I can do it mostly in my house." And he said, "Well, I'll give you 25 grand if you can do it." It was a low budget, and it meant that I wouldn't get paid. I was getting used to being pretty well paid in TV and film, but it wouldn't have mattered if he had said $1,000. I would have done it because it was a means to an end, of great importance.

So, I called Jimmy and I said, "Buddy, here's a great idea I came up with, and I got the green light from EMI." And he said to me over the phone, "Freddy, I'll never do that record. Those songs killed me." And I'm like, "Oh, boy." His frame of mind was so bad, but also his belief was that he never got his due as a great songwriter or especially as a great singer/songwriter. I said, "You must do them please. I beg you. Come up here to Toronto. You'll get out of all this misery you're in right now. Physically, I'd like to get you out of ground zero. I'll put you up in a hotel near my house, and we will work and do this beautiful stripped down album of you."

I convinced him, finally. I said, "Do it just for your children so they have an archival recording of you singing your most famous songs." So, we did this record called 'Ten Easy Pieces' which became an ironic title by Jimmy, because it was really ten tortured pieces but it saved his life and it changed his life.

Jimmy got through the divorce. He got through everything. He got his sobriety a couple years later and he's been traveling and performing all over the world ever since-just piano and vocal. And it was all because of that. I felt very good about the fact that I was able to help him. And it is a lightning strikes sort of album.

The Producer's Chair: How did you wind up producing Kris Kristofferson: The Austin Sessions?

Mollin: It was a beautiful project. In 1996 I was still doing a lot of film and TV in Toronto, and we had already had this incredible response to Jimmy's album critically-And then Jay Landers said, "Well, let's make a series now with these kinds of records with the great songwriters." So he said, "Why don't we do Kris Kristofferson?" And I said, "Well, I couldn't do Kris like I did Jimmy, because Jimmy is such a brilliant piano player that it's so captivating in that record to hear him play. He's orchestrating as he plays, and it's wonderful." I said, "With Kris I'd like to do it with, maybe, four players in the studio and do it like - "Kris's biggest inspiration was that he became a janitor at the CBS Studios here in Nashville just to hear Bob Dylan, possibly, in the studio. That was when Bob was doing 'Blonde on Blonde." So I said, "Let's cut Kris doing his most famous stuff, but in a 'Blonde on Blonde' vibe because, Kris really can't solo guitar very well. So, he couldn't really do just a voice and guitar thing on the record. It would sound sort of one-dimensional. I thought if I surrounded him with 4 great players from Nashville, we'd have a magical situation. The problem was, he was doing a movie in Louisiana so, we had to go to Austin to do this. That was the closest place that had a studio-or a reasonable facsimile-to where he was shooting in Louisiana. The four musicians and I converged in Austin, and we made this record over the course of a week that was really wonderful. Kris considers it his greatest album. It's the way he always wanted his songs to sound. I'm very proud of it. The album is called 'The Austin Sessions'. It's very precious to me. I love Kris. We had such a terrific time. I know he's just come out and said that he has Alzheimer's, which is obviously heart-breaking.

The Producer's Chair: Speaking of iconic songwriters...I understand that you knew Gordie Sampson before he moved to Nashville. How did your friendship with Gordie come about?

Mollin: Gordie is one of the great writers out of Nashville now - I moved Gordie down here from Canada. I feel like I discovered Gordie for The US. I said, "This guy is one of the most amazing creatures, ever. I have to get him down to Nashville. I've got to get him a publishing deal. I've got to help him out." When he told me that he had nothing really going on in his career, I said, "This guy is a monster." brilliant engineer, brilliant musician, brilliant arranger, brilliant performer, brilliant singer, brilliant producer. I just felt like I could find him a publishing deal. And that was no problem, because when they heard Gordie, they just said, "Oh my goodness". Gordie signed with Ken Levitan and Chris Farren at Combustion. And the rest is history.

The Producer's Chair: Are you also an engineer/mixer?

Mollin: No. Here in Nashville I have a team. I have Dave Salley. I've worked with him for 10 years. That's my house engineer. He's just become someone who is so fantastic. I also work with Kyle Lehning. I've known Kyle since my first visit to Nashville in 1972. We're just very deep, close friends. He will mix for me whenever I need, and he's a very important person in my life.

The Producer's Chair: Do you have an A team of musicians?

Mollin: I do. Actually, I have a bunch of A teams. I have guys who would be the perfect guys for Americana. I have guys who are the perfect for a little more of a rock thing. I have guys who are perfect more for the country stuff. I have guys who would be better for a little jazzier thing. So, I probably have actually 4 or 5 A teams. Isn't it wonderful to have that, in a place like this? Nashville is amazing.

The Producer's Chair: How well did you get to know Linda Ronstadt?

Mollin: I remember Linda telling me that, when Jimmy would open for her, she would just stand by the side of the stage to watch his opening act. And she said to me that, someone came up to her and asked, "Why are you always watching Jimmy's set?" And she goes, "Because he frightens me." Just to see that genius on stage. And at that point he wasn't a good performer. So, every night it could be different. She was just so frightened and in awe of his genius. They are both very connected still. I became friends with Linda and we are great pen-pals. She's really a special person and I had the honor of producing her last recording.

The Producer's Chair: What do you enjoy doing the most today?

Mollin: Well, I love performing. I always have. I'll wind up performing three or four times a year backing up for someone or musical directing for someone. And I love that. So, I think that is something that I would love to be doing more of. I always love producing the basic tracks, because I'm out on the floor either playing or conducting. I find it the most exciting part of my life.

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