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Elliot Mazer, Legendary Producer/Engineer, Dead at 79

Legendary producer/engineer Elliot Mazer, best-known for his work with Neil Young, Janis Joplin and others, died of a heart attack in his San Francisco home on Sunday, February 7, 2021.

Producer Elliot Mazer in October, 1973.
Producer Elliot Mazer in October, 1973. Getty Images

New York, NY (February 10, 2021)—Legendary producer/engineer Elliot Mazer died of a heart attack in his San Francisco home on Sunday, February 7, 2021, after suffering from dementia in recent years, according to Rolling Stone. Mazer was a lifelong audio pro and inventor/entrepreneur whose interests—and their influential results—ranged well beyond the recording studio, though he remained best-known for his career-defining work with Neil Young, The Band and others. He was 79.

A producer/engineer for more than 50 years, Mazer worked with a broad cross-section of artists across a variety of genres, including Linda Ronstadt, Chubby Checker, The Dream Syndicate, Dead Kennedys, William Ackerman, Michael Hedges, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, The Byrds, The Tubes, Y&T, David Soul, Bob Dylan, Juice Newton, Rufus Thomas, Maynard Ferguson and many more.

Born in New York City on September 5, 1941, Mazer was raised in nearby Teaneck, NJ, and got his first taste of the music business working in retail for the then-burgeoning Sam Goody record store chain. In 1962, he became acquainted with Bob Weinstock, a customer who also happened to be the founder of Prestige Records, and soon Weinstock offered the 21-year-old Mazer a runner position, tracking tapes and delivering music to radio stations. In the course of his work in Prestige’s tape library, Mazer discovered forgotten, unreleased John Coltrane tracks from a 1958 session at the famed Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, NJ. In the intervening years, Coltrane had left the Prestige label and gone on to growing acclaim, so Mazer compiled the four tracks, which were released without the artist’s input, as the album Standard Coltrane. Soon after, the first producer credit of Elliot Mazer appeared on Dave Pike’s Bossa Nova Carnival.

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Throughout the early Sixties, Mazer worked with a variety of artists at Cameo-Parkway, from co-writing hits for Chubby Checker (“Hooka Tooka”) to recording the likes of Rufus Thomas and Maynard Ferguson, before moving on to work independently later in the decade. During that time, he hit the studio with the likes of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Gordon Lightfoot, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ian & Sylvia and others. His knack for recording live shows emerged during that era as well; throughout his career, Mazer would go on to capture seminal concerts by Bob Dylan, Michael Bloomfield, Lightfoot, Janis Joplin and Big Brother, It’s A Beautiful Day, Leonard Bernstein, Young and most notably, The Band’s iconic The Last Waltz.

Mazer moved to Nashville around the turn of the Seventies, where he quickly made a name for himself applying engineering techniques he had picked up recording different genres in New York City, thus offering something different from the region’s pros who had come up solely through country music. He established Quadrafonic Studios (a joke name, as it didn’t have quad capabilities), which in turn was put on the map when it became the musical birthplace of Neil Young’s landmark Harvest album.

Neil Young's Harvest
Neil Young’s Harvest, engineered and co-produced by Elliot Mazer.

The two met at a dinner party while Young was in town to appear on The Johnny Cash Show, and by the end of the evening, they’d arranged to track some songs the next day. Mazer called up some top session players—many of whom would go on to play with Young regularly through his career—and they went on to record the majority of the album at Quadrafonic. The resulting record, packed with classic rock radio staples like “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man” and “The Needle and the Damage Done,” became the biggest hit of Young’s career, going quadruple-platinum in the U.S. and becoming the top-selling album of 1972. Mazer and Young would collaborate on 10 more albums over the next 40 years.

Mazer produced and engineered throughout his career, going on to found another recording facility, His Master’s Wheels, in San Francisco, but his audio pursuits took him outside the confines of the studio as well. In the mid-Seventies, he co-developed the D-Zap, a simple device used by live sound pros to detect gear that wasn’t properly grounded, thus preventing artists and crew members from receiving dangerous, potentially fatal electric shocks.

In the late Seventies and early Eighties, Mazer was a consultant to Stanford University’s Computer Center for Research in Music and Acoustics—the team that built the first all-digital recording studio. While there, he also developed an interest in early AI technology, leading to his co-founding Artificial Intelligence Resources Inc. in the late ’80s to create AirCheck, an automated system for tracking songs’ radio airplay. Selling the company to Radio Computing Services in the Nineties, he continued AirCheck’s development through 2005. In 2011, Mazer joined the faculty of Elon University as a Visiting Distinguished Scholar in Music Technology, where he offered a series of master classes to students.

Mazer’s family has requested that all donations in his memory be given to the Recording Academy’s charity, MusiCares.

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