Cutting his teeth in the golden age of recording, there was nobody more trusted behind the console than Al Schmitt. His passing marks the end of an era.
Al Schmitt, the most awarded recording engineer in history, passed away on Monday, April 26th, aged 91. His death with confirmed by his family, with a touching tribute that was uploaded to his Facebook page by his wife, Lisa.
“The world has lost a much loved and respected extraordinary individual, who led an extraordinary life. The most honoured and awarded recording producer/engineer of all time, his parting words at any speaking engagement were ‘Please be kind to all living things”.
Over Schmitt’s career, he recorded more than 150 gold and platinum albums and won 20 Grammys for his work with everyone from Paul McCartney and Steely Dan to Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. He won a Grammy trustees award in 2006 and a Latin Grammy album of the year award.
Schmitt landed his first job as an apprentice in Apex Recording Studios aged just 19. His first recording? Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. Schmitt told Billboard in 2012:
“I got thrown in, we got it done…The nice thing was it gave me confidence that I was able to do it. I often think that if they’d told me the night before I was going to record Duke Ellington the next day, I would probably have called in sick”.
In the late ’50s, Schmitt relocated to LA, where he worked as the staff engineer at RCA in Hollywood, manning the console on records by Sam Cook and Elvis Presley. Once he began freelancing work in the ’60s, demand for his services skyrocketed, which saw Schmitt producing and engineering LPs and singles for a number of musical legends. Think Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Natalie Cole. The list goes on.
Paul McCartney once said of Schmitt:
“If Al made furniture, it would be Chippendale. If he was a painter, he would be Monet. But Al makes music and it’s a Schmitt!”
Schmitt was inducted into the TEC Awards Hall of Fame in 1997, and you can visit his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. More significant than the accolades, however, is the colossal body of work he contributed to, which represents his lifelong commitment to advancing the art of sound engineering.