Bruce Swedien, Grammy-Winning Recording Engineer for Several of Michael Jackson’s Hits, Dies at 86

Bruce Swedien in 2001. (David Goggin)

Recording engineer Bruce Swedien, whose Grammy-winning work in the studio with Quincy Jones on Michael Jackson’s classic solo albums “Off the Wall,” “Thriller” and “Bad” helped define the sound of pop music in the 1980s and beyond, has died. He was 86.

“He was without question the absolute best engineer in the business,” wrote his longtime studio partner, Quincy Jones, adding that “for more than 70 years I wouldn’t even think about going into a recording session unless I knew Bruce was behind the board.”

His death was announced by his daughter, Roberta Swedien, who wrote on Facebook that her father “passed away peacefully” on Monday night. No cause of death was given.

Swedien’s daughter described him as a “legend in the music industry for over 65 years,” and across those decades he channeled a childhood obsession with the art and science of capturing sound on tape to create magic. Swedien engineered crucial jazz and soul records by artists including the Ramsey Lewis Trio, the Rev. Cleophus Robinson, the Chi-Lites, Herbie Hancock, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. As a producer, Swedien oversaw New Edition’s 1986 hit “Once in a Lifetime Groove,” a number of solo albums by Doobie Bros. singer Michael McDonald, much of actor David Hasselhoff’s musical oeuvre, and Rene and Angela’s “Your Smile.”

But it is his groundbreaking engineering work for Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson that Swedien is best known for. When Swedien met Jones, both were in their early 20s and could spot a kindred spirit, Swedien recalled. After a few sessions, it was evident “that Quincy and I could make beautiful music together because we liked each other a lot. We think alike and our tastes are alike.” The two went on to make records with major jazz artists including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.

The two took separate paths in the early 1970s — Jones moved to Paris — but reconnected in 1975 to collaborate on albums for the Brothers Johnson, George Benson and Lesley Gore. When Jones accepted the job making Jackson’s 1979 debut solo album, “Off the Wall,” Swedien was part of the package. The engineer recalled being astounded by Jackson’s talent, as well as his eagerness to experiment.

In his Instagram statement, Jones heaped praise on Swedien’s way in the studio during the “Thriller” sessions: “I have always said it’s no accident that more than four decades later no matter where I go in the world, in every club, like clockwork at the witching hour you hear ‘Billie Jean,’ ‘Beat It,’ ‘Wanna Be Starting Something,’ & ‘Thriller’. That was the sonic genius of Bruce Swedien.”

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SOURCE: LA Times, Randall Roberts

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