I been listening to a few albums from the Eighties/early Nineties lately and of course every time I looked at the credits, Keith Olsen was the producer. Whitesnake, Kingdom Come, Scorpions, Lynch Mob and Shadow King come to mind immediately. Once upon a time as good as a band was/is, the record labels A&R guys had a view that the difference between selling millions of albums compared to a few thousand’s was THE PRODUCER.
Atlantic used that viewpoint with Twisted Sister when they told the band that Tom Werman would be the producer for the “Stay Hungry” album. Dee Snider didn’t like it and went to the Atlantic hierarchy to get them to change their mind. They told Dee if he would like to have 200,000 fans or the million plus fans that would come by working with Werman. The rest is history.
And there is a lot of rockers out there that are still buying records produced by Keith Olsen. His story goes back to the sixties, who got involved with the production side of things and at one time was an A&R dude.
Producers would get hired to produce an album and they would get a payment up front which is an advance against their portion of the royalties earned from sales. The better the producer, the higher the advance. When Keith Olsen was the man, he had a one in four ratio that the album he worked on would sell 500,000 plus copies in the U.S.
And the record labels like that stat. Like the stock market funds managers, the labels would hedge their bet.
Guys like Keith Olsen, Bruce Fairbairn, Tom Werman, Andy Johns, Martin Birch, Ron Nevison, Beau Hill, Tom Allom, Dieter Dierks, Michael Wagener, Spencer Proffer, Bob Ezrin, Mutt Lange and Bob Rock (from 1988 onwards) all had good ratios that the album they produced would make a lot of money for the record label.
That is why these guys kept on getting the more priority projects.
The labels knew that by paying upfront for an album makes good commercial and accounting sense. Because if that album sold 10 million copies plus, the money they paid the producer before the album was popular is much lower and out of proportion to what that album is now really worth.
He mentions that “Slide it In” (Olsen was the mixer) and the self-titled 1987 album were easy to produce. I remember an interview that Olsen gave where he mentioned that Coverdale liked to sing really early in the morning because he had that tone in his voice that he was happy with and he would go to about 1pm.
“Still Of The Night” was the track that took it over the top.
However, the 1989 ‘Slip of the tongue’, was extremely hard to do. David Coverdale didn’t want 1987 Part 11. Keith Olsen was booked to produce from the outset and then he was put on hold for six months (meaning he did nothing) while Mike Clink was hired to cut some tracks.
John Kalodner was always the opportunist and he was always trying to get people who had success to work with each other. So the album was cut once with Mike Clink. More pressure was added with the wrist injury to Adrian Vandenberg. By then Clink was out and Olsen was in, along with Steve Vai and the album was recut again.
Olsen did the album in 21 days and the reason why it was done that quick was Lenny Wolf.
According to Olsen, Wolf was impossible to deal with.
“He put down his musicians every minute of every session. “You guys suck! You don’t know how to rock and roll.” You know, he was German and he had a very limited vocabulary and he thought he was God.”
When Kingdom Come and Whitesnake come up in conversation, a lot of people wondered why the Whitesnake 1987 album and the Kingdom Come 1988 album became so successful.
And I always said to them that the rock world was ready for a Zeppelin like copy band.
The generation born from 1970 to 1976 saw Whitesnake and Kingdom Come as super original. While others born before that, who had exposure to Led Zeppelin saw them as copyists or to use the buzzword of today, plagiarisers. And it might sound stupid today, however as large as Led Zeppelin was in the Seventies, it didn’t mean that every single person in the world had heard their music.
Music was a luxury and it was expensive to purchase. My first Led Zeppelin purchases happened with the Remasters double CD in the Nineties. That was my first proper introduction to the band apart from the usual “Stairway To Heaven” and “Rock N Roll” that got played on Triple M radio.
And how good is James Kottak on the drums. It’s like the soul of Bonham went into Kottak.
Olsen mentions that “Russia” the last track on the Shadow King album is one of the best songs that Lou Gramm and Vivian Campbell had written. I have to agree with him. The emotion of it is superb.
The vocal track is a reference vocal track. Gramm did it so good that Olsen would not let him sing it again.
Olsen reckoned that if you’re Lou Gramm, and you do a record, you call it Lou Gramm. However as good as Shadow King was, Atlantic Records never got behind the album because in the end they wanted Lou Gramm to be back in Foreigner. Foreigner was the labels cash machine. So even if the album had hit songs on it, they never went anywhere.
“Crazy World” was the album that Keith Olsen produced and he asked them to bring in outside lyrical writers to assist with the simplified tease, please lyrics coming out Klaus Meine. Enter Canadian Jim Vallance (otherwise known as “THE SONG DOCTOR” and the rest is history. Vallance at the time was coming off his mega succesful songwriting partnerships with Bryan Adams, Aerosmith and Kiss.
Actually Aerosmith’s comeback album “Permanent Vacation” was possible because of two song doctors, Desmond Child and Jim Vallance.
The single “Winds of Change” went global and it hit at a time that had a lot of change happening in Eastern Europe.
So next time you are at a dinner party ask the people what do all of the above albums have in common.