Tape Heads and Tone Kings: Lee Townsend
By Joe Gore
The rich, humanistic warmth that Lee Townsend brings to his recordings has made him the producer of choice for both jazz luminaries and progressive singer-songwriters. The Berkeley, California, native insists there's a common thread between his work with visionary guitarists Bill Frisell, John Scofield, and Charlie Hunter and free-form songwriters Rinde Eckert, Stephen Yerkey, and Paul Durham: "They're all interdisciplinary. The jazz-oriented players are influenced by the pop vernacular, and the rock and pop players have the hearts and abilities of jazz improvisers."
Townsend has recently overseen several remarkable meetings of guitaristic minds: I Can See Your House From Here teamed Pat Metheny and John Scofield and was voted Best Jazzlbum in our '94 Readers Poll. His sessions for drummer Jerry Granelli's A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing paired Frisell and Robben Ford, and he recently completed the debut of T.J. Kirk, a band that unites Bay Area guitar luminaries Charlie Hunter, Will Bernard, and John Schott. Says Lee, "I didn't set out to specialize in guitar production, but a lot of the music I love most happens to be guitar-based. Electric guitar has always struck me as the most warm and organic of the electric instruments. It's still all about flesh on string."