London, UK (January 17, 2017)—English engineer and producer Bill Price died on December 22, 2016 at the age of 72. Across his career, Price worked with everyone from Engelbert Humperdinck to the Sex Pistols to The Libertines. “Quite simply, Bill was one of the best engineers this country ever produced, which means that he was one of the best in the world,” recalled producer Chris Thomas, who worked with Price on numerous classic albums.
Price started his career as an engineer at Decca Studios in West Hampstead in 1962 at the age of 18, working with the likes of Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Julie Felix. He subsequently recorded the Moody Blues, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Climax Blues Band, John Mayall and Marmalade’s 1969 multi-million-selling single, “Reflections of My Life,” while at Decca.
In an interview with Chris Michie for MIX magazine in 2000, Price recalled, “When I started in ’62, blues and soul music were penetrating England, or just about. Those pop records might have had orchestras, but the rhythm section contained people like Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, John McLaughlin, Herbie Flowers, Clem Cattini—guys that ignored the charts in front of them and played like they were in a rock band anyway.”
Within Howard Massey’s book, The Great British Recording Studios, Price relates that an audition tape by The Beatles, recorded for Decca on New Year’s Day 1962, sat in the tape room for ages. “I played it several times. It wasn’t very good,” he reported.
In the late 1960s, four producers—George Martin, Ron Richards and John Burgess, employed by EMI, and Decca’s Peter Sullivan—formed AIR Productions Ltd. with the dream of opening their own independent studio. By 1970, they had raised the funds and found a suitable location at London’s Oxford Circus. Price, who was Sullivan’s engineer, joined them.
“When eventually they started building the studio, I gave in my notice at Decca, and I joined the technical team that George had found from EMI, Keith Slaughter and Dave Harries. I was one of the launch team that put together AIR Studios in 1970,” he told Michie.
Price contributed to the studio design at AIR, and by 1975, was chief engineer, working on projects with Paul McCartney and Wings (including “Live and Let Die”), Mott the Hoople, Pink Floyd, Stan Getz, Sparks, Harry Nilsson and Stevie Wonder. “I’m very fortunate with Bill (Price); he really is a dedicated engineer,” George Martin told William Wolf in an interview published in RE/P magazine at the beginning of 1971.
When Chrysalis Records acquired AIR Studios and Wessex Studios (they were unrelated) in 1976, Price moved on to become chief engineer and studio manager at Wessex. His first job was to call in legendary acoustician Ken Shearer and Keith Slaughter, former AIR manager, to improve the sound isolation and acoustics.
Price had a long working relationship with producer Chris Thomas, at those studios and elsewhere, joining him on sessions with Elton John, Pete Townshend, Roxy Music, the Pretenders and others. “His technical knowledge seemed infinite,” said Thomas, “and I was very fortunate to benefit from that knowledge, as were so many others who learnt from him both at Wessex and at AIR. He was also extremely patient—how he put up with me, I will never know.”
Their collaboration on the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks album, released in 1977, led to the credit: “Produced by Chris Thomas or Bill Price.” Thomas being unavailable, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren initially hired Price to record the album. “Malcolm hired Chris to produce the singles ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘God Save the Queen,’ and during the course of that, we tried recording songs that ultimately ended up being album tracks, while during the course of me recording the album Malcolm heard songs that he wanted Chris to rework into singles,” Price told Richard Buskin in a 2004 interview for Sound on Sound magazine. “So, when it came to putting the album together, we had duplicate versions of some of the material produced either by Chris or myself.” Not knowing which versions would eventually be used, they settled on the joint credit.
The Sex Pistols were “a snotty bunch to start with,” according to Price. “I had a little chat with [singer John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten], telling him the artists I’d worked with, what the job was, and that we were there to help, and after that, the attitude completely changed,” he told Buskin.
Price went on to engineer, produce, mix or remix recordings by some of the biggest bands of the 1980s and ’90s, including the Clash, Public Image Limited, the Jesus & Mary Chain, the Waterboys, Human League, Big Audio Dynamite, The Stone Roses, the Cult and Guns N’ Roses. Price remained active into the early 2000s, mainly mixing but also engineering, working with Carbon/Silicon, a band featuring the Clash’s Mick Jones and Tony James from Generation X, Babyshambles, the Libertines, British Sea Power and the Beautiful South.
Price was commissioned to produce an instrumental version of the Clash’s “London Calling” for use by the 2012 London Olympics Games. In 2013, he remastered and remixed all of The Clash’s studio albums for Sony Music. Also in 2013, Price mixed UK/New Zealand five-piece the Veils fourth album, Time Stays, We Go, having mixed the band’s Nux Vomica record in 2006.