LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) — Al Schmitt, a Grammy Award-winning recording engineer and producer who helped to bring some of the most notable recordings of the pop era to life, has died. He was 91.
His passing was confirmed by a statement from his family on his social media on Tuesday.
“Al Schmitt’s wife Lisa, his five children, eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren would like his friends and extended recording industry family to know that he passed away Monday afternoon, April 26. The world has lost a much loved and respected extraordinary individual, who led an extraordinary life. The most honored and awarded recording producer/engineer of all time, his parting words at any speaking engagement were, “Please be kind to all living things.”
Over a career that spans more than 60 years, Schmitt worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Al Jarreau, Madonna, George Benson, and Barbra Streisand among numerous others.
During that time, he won an astonishing collection of 23 Grammy Awards, starting in 1962 for his engineering work on Henry Mancini’s soundtrack for “Hatari!” and most recently in 2013 for Paul McCartney’s “Live Kisses.”
A native of New York City, Schmitt joined Apex Studios as an apprentice at the age of 19 after doing a stint in the U.S. Navy. While at Apex, he was mentored by the legendary audio engineer Tom Dowd.
He was later invited by Dowd to join him at Fulton Recordings, where Schmitt also had the opportunity to work with noted engineer Bob Doherty, learning the ropes of recording big orchestras as they worked with jazz legends such as Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Bob Brookmeyer and Jim Hall.
In 1958, he headed wet to the West Coast where he worked with Radio Recorders in Hollywood, collaborating with producer Richard Bock, owner of the Pacific Jazz label.
When RCA Victor opened its Los Angeles studio in 1963, Schmitt was the first engineer to be hired and quickly expanded his reputation, working on recordings for Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Billy Eckstine, Ann-Margret, Eddie Fisher, Cal Tjader, Al Hirt, Rosemary Clooney, Glen Yarborough, the Limelighters, and the Jefferson Airplane among others.
In 1966, Schmitt left RCA to be an independent engineer/producer, working on albums such as “After Bathing at Baxter’s,” “Crown of Creation,” “Bless Its Pointed Little Head,” and “Volunteers” as well as the Jefferson Airplane splinter project Hot Tuna.
Schmitt also produced albums for other musical luminaries of the period, including Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, and Eddie Fisher
In 2006, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy by the Recording Academy and holds the record for the most Grammy Awards won by an engineer or mixer.
He was inducted into the TEC Awards Hall of Fame in 1997 and presented with an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music in 2014.
“One of the greatest recording engineers, Al Schmitt, passed away today at 91 years old. Just four days ago he wished me a happy birthday. Al is a LEGEND. His first official session was with Duke Ellington and his orchestra before he was officially a house engineer, designated to make only demos. Tom Dowd (another legend) didn’t show up that day and the Duke said to Al, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through this together.” Al was 19 years old and he did a great job. There is no space here to list his full credits, but he worked with the absolute top echelon of music business talent — Quincey Jones, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, George Benson, Jefferson Airplane (as Producer) — that will give you some idea of his scope. There are hundreds more big stars he had worked with. Al was a very kind man, very friendly and so casual about his enormous success in the business. I never had the pleasure of working with Al, but we became friends due to our work in NARAS (Grammys) on various committees and panels. He won 20 Grammys and recorded and mixed more than 150 gold and platinum albums. We were both Brooklyn Boys. I love you Al. Have a great time up there,” noted producer Tony Visconti said on social media after news of Schmitt’s passing broke.
“This is just devastating to our musical family,” added CelebrityAccess senior writer Larry LeBlanc. ” Not only was he one of the greatest recording engineers, and producers of our time, but he was also one of the industry’s classiest executives. While he died at 91, he never really aged for many of us. About seven years ago, Al arranged for me to visit the historical Capitol Records Building on Vine Street, and he took me down to the famous studios underneath. Later, we met up with former Journey singer Steve Perry upstairs, and he and I sat fascinated as Al told us of recording some of Sam Cooke’s classic hits. After I profiled Al in the CelebrityAccess’ “In The Hot Seat” series, he brought me together with Tommy LiPuma, equally iconic as a producer, for a profile. I have so many albums in my music collection bearing the name.”