There are music makers who, after just one minute of listening to a song, can tell what an artist is capable of. They also know, instinctively and by experience, what the public wants to hear. It is their talent for talent scouting and ear for hit songs that have both reflected and shaped American musical tastes for decades. They were the ones to put the grooves in the vinyl, both musically speaking and literally. And back in the days of pressing records, where America was going the rest of the world followed.
Consequently, where producers went, musicians showed up too. That’s how Jon came to know Norbert Putnam, the first producer who encouraged him to move to Nashville. Early in his career as a bass player, Putnam and his rhythm section opened for The Beatles at their first concert in Washington, D.C. As Nashville’s top pop/rock producer, he opened Quadrafonic Studio with friend David Briggs, and later, The Bennet House studios in Franklin.
“Norbert always had a different way of looking at things,” said Jon. “It was a very sophisticated, urban perspective on Country and Pop music. He was also a very successful and highly respected entrepreneur and business man. Although he retired from playing many years before, we occasionally talked him into bringing out his bass, and he just amazed s us with his technique and feel, with his command of the instrument.”
Another producer who had a hand in Jon’s career was Brent Maher. Maher’s early credits included pieces performed by Burl Ives and Wes Montgomery. As a recording engineer he worked with Ike and Tina Turner and Bobby Darin. He produced for various artists including Kenny Rogers, The Judds, Michael Johnson’s Bluer Than Blue, and Dave Loggins (Please Come to Boston).
Maher invited Jon to move to Nashville to play guitar in Dave Loggins’ band and on his self-titled album. Jon also co-wrote a song with Loggins called You Made Me Feel Love, recorded by Loggins, and later Kenny Rogers and Smokey Robinson.
“Even if a take wasn’t quite there, Brent knew how to compliment an artist or musician and encourage the individual to do better,” said Jon. “When I worked with Brent I felt like I was in his home. He made everyone feel relaxed. He once told me that he would do whatever it took to make an artist feel comfortable: turn the lights on or off, add candles, have people in the room or have no people there, or make the room warm or cool.”
It was while playing on Amy Grant’s first big album, My Father’s Eyes, that Jon first worked with Brown Bannister. Bannister produced many artists of Contemporary Christian music, including Steven Curtis Chapman, Twila Paris, CeCe Winans, and Sandi Patti, along the way winning 25 Dove Awards and 14 Grammy Awards.
Said Jon,” Brown had the most amazing knack for getting the best performance out of people. He was extremely sensitive, patient, and supportive. He was a natural at communicating and suggesting what I would call ‘trigger ideas.’ Brown knew how to draw out of us that something extra that made the recording. It was no wonder why he was such a successful producer.”
There was also John Boylan, producer of Boston and The Little River Band, and vice president of Epic Records. Jon worked with him in Hollywood when he produced The Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ self-titled second album. “He was extremely organized,” said Jon about the producer. “John had a plan, and knew the sequence of events from the beginning to end. But he was also flexible and accepted input from the musicians, and was ready to change direction quickly when needed.”
While working on one of Crystal Gayle’s albums, Jon met Allen Reynolds, who produced a number of Country stars and went on to work with Garth Brooks on his biggest records. Reynolds was the owner of a legendary Music Row studio called Jack’s Tracks. Located in a remodeled house, the studio maintained the feel of a living room, a relaxing environment that allowed for a sense of camaraderie and a free give and take on creative solutions. Reynolds always provided a meal for the musicians, which made them feel extra welcome.
“Allen was one of the most kind and respectful producers I’ve ever worked with,” said Jon. “Recording songs was effortless in his studio, in part because he knew how to put together perfect combinations of musicians, artists, and engineers. Most of the time he was content to let the musicians guide the session, but he would be ready to suggest something that inspired them in order to polish the arrangement and get a really good take.”