Grammy-winning producer Russ Titelmann first meet I bought it, the legendary executive who ran Reprise and then Warner Records from 1960 to 1994, in the early ’60s, when Titelman was still a teenager and had just signed to Screen Gems-Columbia Music as a songwriter. Eventually Ostin, who died on July 31 at age 95, and then-head of A&R Lenny Waronker convinced Titelman to come to Warner Records, where he had an extraordinary career as an in-house producer for 25 years, working with artists like Randy Newman. , Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Steve Winwood, Chaka Khan and many more.
Titelman, whose Grammy Awards include record of the year for Winwood’s “Higher Love” (1986) and again for Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” as well as album of the year for Clapton’s “Unplugged” (1992), spoke with Billboard about working with Ostin during the glory days of Warner Brothers.
I would go visit my friend, [producer] Jack Nitzsche from Warner Bros. and was meeting Mo. He invited me to lunch. We went to Chow’s Kosherama on Riverside Drive. It was a deli run by a Chinese couple, so it had Chinese food and smoked salmon and corned beef and fortune cookies.
He told me, “If you ever want to do something in the record business, the door is open here for you to do it. You are welcome to come here. That was probably ’68 or ’69. Little Feat outfit, Lowell only [George] and billy [Payne] – to Lenny. Just the two of them. They sang some songs. He didn’t even hear the [full] band. He said to go up and make a deal with Mo.
I became very close friends with Randy. [Newman] and came to hang out at his house. Through a series of events, Lenny said, “Come help me make this record,” which was Randy Newman’s live album from Bitter End, which came out in 1971. That live record started selling and was calling the shots. attention. Lenny invited me to dinner and said, “Come on. This is ridiculous. Come on staff. Mo walked me through the contract and made a fair contract for me.
Lenny was my boss and he was the one who told us to make these Newman records and Mo was very open and very generous. He had this philosophy that you hire people who you think are good, who have talent, then you let them do what they do and you don’t get involved. [He thought,] “No record executive knows what’s going on, it’s the artists who know these things.” He had that philosophy. steveross, [whose Kinney Parking Company bought Warner Bros-Seven Arts in 1969] had the same philosophy. It was a group of executives who knew that talent was what was important.
Mo was a creative executive and seemed to have no ego like other executives. Look where he came from: Sinatra, [Verve Records founder and former Ostin employer] Norman Granz, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. All these great jazz people. So he had to be able to navigate those waters as well.
When Eddie Rosenblatt was asked to become president of Geffen Records [in 1980], that meant he left Warner Bros. as head of sales and promotion. And Mo took him on a trip to Europe as a gift since he was leaving. He invited me and my wife Carol on that trip. We went to Switzerland. We went to Rome. quincy [Jones] accompanied us on the trip. While we were in Rome or Positano, Mo went to England and signed Eric Clapton. And then he came back to us.
Mo just had that presence. He signed Hendrix and Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac. He never went into the studio. He just didn’t want to be in the spotlight at all. And people were attracted to him because he was direct and honest. And he knew what he was doing.
He was tremendously respected by all who came in contact with him. I think it’s partly because he didn’t show off. It didn’t seem important to him to put himself there. His job was to do his job and stay out of the way.
He trusted you. Everyone who was in that company had that philosophy. I made a couple of clinkers and spent a lot of money on some records that were useless. I made a record with [an artist] that costs so much money. No one ever gave me a peep. He never tried to tell you what to do. She was completely out of it.
It had incredible taste. He believed in these [artists]. Lenny had Randy: those things didn’t sell until a little later. [Ry] Cooder’s records didn’t sell much, but every other artist in the world thought these guys were the best.
The world has changed. I was lucky to be part of the studio system. I was able to work with my favorite artists on earth. That study system that nurtured me and others. [as in-house producers]like lenny and teddy [Templeman], no longer exists. There was competition, you know, but it was camaraderie. It was a friendly competition.
From Mo, I learned to be true to who you are and to make the music you love. That is the legacy.
Lenny said something about him: he said he was way ahead of everyone else. He was. He was super smart. Maybe he was kind of a father figure to Lenny. I think he maybe he was to all of us in that way, you know? Like, “The boss is going that way. Let’s go.”
As he told Melinda Newman