Richard Perry is one of the most successful producers in music history, and over his 46-year career, he has produced classic albums and singles with such legendary artists as, Rod Stewart, Ray Charles, Pointer Sisters, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Harry Nilsson, Julio Iglesias/Willie Nelson, Art Garfunkel, The Temptations, Leo Sayer, DeBarge, Pattie LaBelle, Manhattan Transfer, Neil Diamond, Randy Travis, Martha Reeves, Captain Beefheart, Jeffrey Osborne, Fats Domino, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Perry developed his interest in rock ‘n’ roll very young. In 1955, at the age of 12, he attended the first of Alan Freed’s live shows at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. He went on to see the next five of these shows watching every major rock ‘n’ roll artist perform. One night in particular he witnessed the legendary Bo Diddley in a midnight performance that left an indelible impression. Miraculously, Perry has held on to the program booklets of these shows for over 50 years.
He formed his first band when he was 14, and his first doo-wop vocal group at 16. Perry sang bass. Known as The Escorts, they recorded several singles for Decca in the early 60’s. It was there that Perry got his first taste of professional record making.
While at the University of Michigan, Perry was a member of the prestigious 33 voice Michigan Men’s Glee Club, chosen from thousands of students in all areas of study. The group participated in several international festivals, where they usually took home a first place trophy, competing against the finest glee clubs in the world. In addition, Perry starred in all of the major campus musicals during his four years at Michigan. After graduating in 1964 with a degree in music and theater, he formed his own independent record production company, Cloud Nine Productions, in June of 1965.
Moving to Los Angeles in March of 1967, he produced his first album, SAFE AS MILK by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. The album featured the work of a 17-year-old guitar prodigy, Ry Cooder. It has gone on to be considered a “rock masterpiece” by Langdon Winner, contributing editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, and “each song a finely polished gem”.
In June of 1967 Perry had another life changing experience. He attended The Monterey International Pop Festival, which he considers the greatest musical event of all time. It was there that the world saw Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, and The Who for the first time, along with every other major act of the era. But the performance that Perry considers the best he had ever seen was that of Otis Redding, the greatest soul singer of the generation. His performance showed Perry the power of music, and how fortunate he was to be in the business of moving and affecting people.
In November of 1967 he got his ‘dream job’ as a staff producer at Warner Bros. Records where he had his first actual hit album. It came in the form of GOD BLESS TINY TIM, the debut LP by the late-’60s phenomenon Tiny Tim (who Perry discovered in New York two years earlier). Alfred G. Aronowitz of Life Magazine reported, “It is one of the most dazzling albums of programmed entertainment to come along since the Beatles introduced the new genre into pop with SERGEANT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. If SERGEANT PEPPER’S was a wide-screen epic, Tiny’s album is a full-length-feature animated cartoon, with Tiny doing all the voices”. On October 30, 1968, at the height of Tiny Tim’s fame, Perry conducted the National Concert Orchestra for him in Royal Albert Hall, a recording of which was released by Rhino Records in 2000.
While at Warner Bros. he also produced albums with Fats Domino, and Ella Fitzgerald, amongst others. Jann Wenner, editor-in-chief of Rolling Stone Magazine, personally reviewed the Fats Domino album, FATS IS BACK. “The past and present have been precisely, masterfully, and tastefully combined into this amazing album. From the very beginning the album is just fantastic-the production is modern, the mixing superb, and Fats is Fats, better than ever…‘Lady Madonna’, is surely as good a cover of a Beatles’ song as has ever been done, as Fats brings a new depth to the song. It is a rendition that must be heard to be believed. Richard Perry, the producer, who one assumes to be responsible for the segues, the repertoire, the perfect final fade, the selection of arrangers and so many other aspects, deserves especial credit, for Perry, second only to the man himself, has brought Fats back”.
“Richard Perry would become the most renowned producer in the field of popular music during the 1970s, and the array of albums with which he was associated, made his name synonymous with success”, wrote Bruce Eder of All Music Guide. In 1970 Perry produced Barbra Streisand’s STONEY END LP. Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records, was instrumental in putting the two together, he believed that Barbra would greatly benefit from the collaboration, and he was right. William Ruhlmann of All Music Guide said, “it was so far removed from what Streisand’s fans and her detractors thought her capable of that it stands as one of her major triumphs”. Perry followed STONEY END with BARBRA JOAN STREISAND, which, according to The Modern Homosexual’s Guide To Barbra Streisand, “actually improved on its predecessor. It’s more consistent, involving and experimental. In fact, there’s not a single dud on this gem”. His last album with Streisand was LIVE CONCERT AT THE FORUM, for which she received a Grammy Award nomination.
In 1971 Perry collaborated with Harry Nilsson, on what was to become the most successful album of Nilsson’s career, NILSSON SCHMILSSON. It was nominated for four Grammy awards, and won for Best Male Pop Vocal. Amazon’s Don Harrison wrote, “It remains one of the best, most consistent, and least dated albums from the early-’70s. Nilsson’s multi-octave voice was never so full of life, and there’s a palpable feeling of comfort in both the production and the material. Long considered the American Beatle by The Beatles”, Nilsson’s album also contained the hit singles, ‘Without You’ (Number 1 worldwide), ‘Coconut’, and ‘Jump Into The Fire’.
A two-hour feature length documentary on Nilsson’s life and career, “Who Is Harry Nilsson And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him,” has recently been released in theaters and is available on DVD. One of the highlights is Perry’s candid interview about his relationship with Nilsson and includes rare footage of them in the studio in 1972 during the making of the SON OF SCHMILSSON album.
Perry’s next project was Carly Simon’s NO SECRETS. Released in 1972, it “was her best-selling release ever, thanks, in part, to the inclusion of the global smash ‘You’re So Vain’, which Raoul Hernandez of the Austin Chronicle called, “as perfect a pop song as you could ever wish for”. The album and single climbed to #1 within six weeks, and remained there for an additional six consecutive weeks. A British review stated the album was, “exquisitely produced and smartly sequenced, NO SECRETS has just the right balance of studio polish and soulful rough edges to make this a classic of ’70s singer-songwriter pop”. The album contained another top 10 single, ‘(Loving You’s) The Right Thing To Do’. Perry’s next album with Carly was the acclaimed top 5 LP, HOTCAKES, which included two major hit singles, ‘Haven’t Got Time For The Pain’ and her memorable duet with then-husband James Taylor, ‘Mockingbird’.
In 1973, Perry began work with Ringo Starr on his solo release, RINGO, which became the best selling solo album done by any of the Beatles. Maureen Orth of Newsweek reported, “RINGO is so full of fun and imagination, spangles and stars that it’s the next best thing to having the Beatles back. For the first time since their break-up, all four Beatles contribute songs, vocals and instrumentation to the record”. Ringo enthused, “not only is it my best album, I call it my first”. Orth went on to say, “The album, brilliantly produced by Richard Perry, shimmers with showmanship and style”. It yielded two successive number one singles, ‘Photograph’ and ‘You’re Sixteen’. The follow up album, GOODNIGHT VIENNA gave Ringo a third number one single, ‘The No No Song’. John Lennon spoke to Rolling Stone about the collaboration, “I think it’s great. Perry’s great, Ringo’s great, I think the combination was great and look how well they did together. There’s no complaints if you’re Number One”.
In 1975, Perry produced an album for Art Garfunkel. The result was BREAKAWAY, Garfunkel’s best-selling solo endeavor. The title track and a cover of “I Only Have Eyes for You” reached the Top 40 in the US, and topped the U.K. charts. The album was full of wise pop choices, including the singles, “Disney Girls” by Bruce Johnston, Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever),” Hal David and Albert Hammond’s “99 Miles from L.A,” and the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic, “The Waters Of March.” Perry’s eloquent production created a romantic, lush pop album, that showcased Garfunkel’s exquisite voice beautifully.
Perry’s next venture was Leo Sayer’s, ENDLESS FLIGHT. Released in 1976, it became the biggest album of his career, going top 10 in the US, and top 5 in the UK, spending over a year on the charts, and firmly establishing Leo as an international star. The two number one hits, the infectious ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,’ and the ultimate ballad of long-distance love, ‘When I Need You,’ were towering hits that still sound great over 30 years later. Not only did Perry have back-to-back number one hits that couldn’t be more different, but both records, for perhaps the first time in history, also reached number one on the R&B charts. Jack McDonough of Backbeat magazine said, “The catalyst for change was Perry, the industry’s most prestigious independent producer, who created an album with immaculate production without being sterile, and all the songs contagious without being saccharine”. ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’ went on to win The Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, and ‘When I Need You’ won for Best Male Vocal Performance.
In 1977, Perry reunited with Carly Simon to do ‘Nobody Does It Better’, which became the theme song for the James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. It is the only James Bond title track that does not feature the name of the film, and it is one of the top three Bond songs of all time, along with ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Live And Let Die’. It stayed at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a month.
Berry Gordy Jr. was so impressed with the album that Perry had produced with Martha Reeves in 1974, he asked him to do the same with Diana Ross. In 1977 they went in to the studio to record her album, BABY IT’S ME. Ross’ German website said of the album, “it is a treasure trove of irresistible tracks, and beckons listeners to the boudoir. Next to LADY SINGS THE BLUES, BABY IT’S ME has to be her best work, and it’s one of the best albums in Ross’ lexicon”.
In 1978, Perry founded his own record label, Planet Records, which was the home of the Pointer Sisters for a decade. Christian John Wikane of Soul Music’s official website wrote, “Ruth, Anita, and June won the attention of producer Richard Perry, and for their first album he salvaged their career and expanded their audience by selecting a variety of songs written by established rock artists and refashioning them with the Sisters’ distinctive voices. Released in 1978, ENERGY featured soulful covers of material by such artists as Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, and Bruce Springsteen. The slyly suggestive “Fire” (written by Springsteen) earned the Pointer Sisters their first Top 5 pop hit and became one of the trio’s signature songs”.
In the two years that followed, Perry brought the Pointer Sisters two additional major top 5 hits, ‘Slow Hand’ and ‘He’s So Shy’. Amy Hanson of All Music Guide reported, “In the fall of 1983 they released BREAK OUT, the landmark album that became the biggest success of their recording career. It was filled with space-age dance grooves that brought a new dimension to the trio’s sound. The album spawned 5 top 10 hits – half the album – that were spread between the pop and R&B charts- while the LP it self spent over a year on the Billboard Top 200”. ‘Jump For My Love’, ‘Automatic’, ‘I’m So Excited’, and ‘Neutron Dance’ were all massive hits, along with the exquisite dance ballad, ‘I Need You’. Michael Smith from The Daily Vault wrote, “BREAK OUT was an impressive piece of work by one of the most important producers of the ‘80’s, Richard Perry”. According to Wikipedia, “The album sold well over three million copies, made the group darlings of MTV, and won them two Grammy Awards and two American Music Awards”.
Perry is the only record producer to direct his own music videos. These videos have been recognized for several awards including a Grammy nomination as Director for the Pointer Sisters’ Best Music Video (short film) as well as American Music Awards for Best Black Video Group in 1984 and 1985.
In 1984, in addition to 4 consecutive top 10 hits by the Pointer Sisters, he also produced the #1 international hit by Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson, “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”, which won Academy of Country Music’s, and the Country Music Associations, Record of the Year.
In 1985, he produced the #1 single ‘Rhythm of the Night’ performed by DeBarge, which gave song writer Diane Warren her first hit, and Perry an almost unprecedented 6 top 10 singles in 12 months, making him one of the very few producers to have #1 records on all four music charts: Pop, Urban, Country, and Dance.
In 1987, Perry helped establish a new theater at his prep school of eight years, Brooklyn’s Poly Prep. He is deeply honored that this state-of-the-art facility not only bears his name, but also has become an important cultural resource for the community.
In 1988, Perry embarked on a special project that was inspired by the Alan Freed rock ‘n’ roll shows he attended as a young teenager. Entitled ROCK, RHYTHM, AND BLUES, it consisted of classic oldies from the fifties, each one performed by a different contemporary artist. Included were Elton John, Christine McVie, Chaka Khan, Michael McDonald, Randy Travis, and El DeBarge, among others. The Randy Travis track, ‘It’s Just A Matter Of Time’, became a Grammy nominated #1 country hit. Perry also directed the music video.
1992 brought Perry into the studio to do an album with Ray Charles. Released in 1993, MY WORLD produced the first top 10 solo single hit Charles has had in over 25 years, ‘A Song For You’, the classic Leon Russell composition. In addition, it earned Charles the 1994 Grammy Award for best R&B Male Vocal Performance. Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone Magazine touted MY WORLD as, “an album that brings the sixty-two-year-old father of modern soul back…Produced by Richard Perry, who twenty years ago masterminded the entries by Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson into the pop mainstream, MY WORLD takes the sound of Charles’s best Sixties records and discreetly updates it by underlining the swelling gospel choruses with crisp, techno-improved beats”.
In 1995, Perry created an album for The Temptations. It contained ten of the most memorable love songs recorded with modern R&B arrangements and enhanced by The Temptations’ exquisite vocal interpretations. Andrew Hamilton of All Music Guide said, “Richard Perry outdid himself with this production, he expertly captured the essence of the Temptations…Their signature vocal blend is emphasized at every turn, and why not, it’s what brought throngs of fans into their fold in the first place. He didn’t concentrate on one lead singer, like others have in the past. The Temptations were initially marketed as a group of five outstanding lead singers and that’s what you get with this excellent collection”. This album, FOR LOVERS ONLY, was released in September 1995, and re-released in 2002 when the track “Night and Day” was featured in the film “What Women Want.”
In 1999, Perry began working on a new project with Rod Stewart, a rock icon, singing timeless standards by the likes of George Gershwin and Cole Porter. Three years later, after being told it was a ‘tough sell’ and that it would be difficult to find an audience, Perry urged Stewart to take the album to Clive Davis. It became THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK VOLUMES 1, 2, and 3, and has enjoyed unprecedented success as the biggest selling ongoing series of new music recordings in history, with over seventeen million copies worldwide. When Vol. 1 was first released Perry conducted the orchestra as Stewart performed the album in its entirely for A&E’s “In Concert” series.
He successfully used that genre again with Carly Simon, and Art Garfunkel. In 2004 the Perry/Simon standards collaboration “Moonlight Serenade” debuted at number 7, and, with that, Perry gave Simon her first top 10 chart entry in 27 years. They went on to do a concert on the Queen Mary II that was filmed for a PBS special while on the high seas.
Perry continues to produce an array of musical projects, most recently a musical, BABY IT’S YOU. It tells the inspiring story of Florence Greenberg, who discovered The Shirrelles and created Sceptor records, realizing her dream of becoming the music industry’s first female power house. It features some of the most compelling R&B/pop songs from the early 60’s, including 5 songs by Burt Bacharach. It just completed a run at The Broadhurst Theater on Broadway where it received standing ovations nightly.
Perry’s latest project is the fifth and final chapter of the Grammy-Award wining GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK series. This volume differs from its predecessors in that it is driven by many up-tempo songs with a big band feeling beckoning listeners to dance.
HONORS AND AWARDS
In 1973, Perry was named Producer of the Year by Rolling Stone Magazine.
In 1975, he received the Outstanding Achievement Award from his alma mater, the University of Michigan. It is the second highest honor bestowed by the University. In that same year he instituted the “Richard Perry Scholarship”, given each year to a deserving musical theater major.
In 1977, he was named Producer of the Year by Billboard magazine.
In 1977, Perry was named Producer of the Year by Music Week Magazine (UK).
In 1981, The University of Michigan marching band saluted him in front of 105,000 people at Michigan Stadium. In 1984, he helped create a recording and video workshop at the University.
In 1984, Perry was again named Producer of the Year by Billboard magazine.
Perry is one of only 8 producers whose work was featured in the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ Franklin Mint Series- THE GREATEST RECORDINGS OF THE 20TH CENTURY. He was also the subject of a two-hour, four-part radio documentary narrated by Patti LaBelle for BBC 2, the UK’s most important radio station.
Perry has had albums in the top ten every decade since the 60’s.