Music Series at Berklee: Don Was

By
Joyce Linehan
October 29, 2009
Don Was and a student group present some of the greatest hits from his award-winning recording career.
Professor and concert codirector Marty Walsh, right, in the studio at Berklee with Don Was.

The 2009/2010 Music Series at Berklee continues with Grammy Award-winning producer, bassist, and music vlogger Don Was. He'll perform songs he's produced for some of history's most iconic rock performers, along with Berklee faculty member Marty Walsh and a student ensemble on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 8:15 p.m., at the Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave., Boston. General admission tickets are $20 - $25, and available at the Berklee Performance Center box office, at Ticketmaster.com, or by calling 617 931-2000. For information, call 617 747-2261 or visit berkleebpc.com.

Like other Music Series artists, Was will spend the week leading up to the concert as a Berklee artist-in-residence. He'll teach master classes during the day. In the evening, he and Walsh will rehearse top student vocalists and instrumentalists who will perform with the pair at the concert. The set list includes songs made popular by Was (Not Was) such as "Walk the Dinosaur," "Somewhere in America," and their cover of "Papa Was a Rollling Stone," plus hits by legends including "Born in Time" by Bob Dylan, "Good Man Good Woman" by Bonnie Raitt and Delbert McClinton, "Crying" by k.d. lang and Roy Orbison, and "You Got Me Rockin'" by the Rolling Stones.

"The idea is to highlight Don's incredibly diverse production career," says Walsh, who is producing the concert. "Don wanted to put together a band of students with its own personality, to add a new dimension to the songs. He was looking for a percussive feel, so along with the tonal instruments we have two drummers and two percussionists. Twelve student vocalists have been chosen to sing the leads, and numerous instrumentalists will be featured as well.  With so much student input at the rehearsals, the arrangements have been built from the ground up, bringing the concert a very fresh, original feel."

Don Fagenson (Don Was) along with school mate, David Weiss (David Was), formed the '80s chart-busting group Was (Not Was). Detroit-born bassist Was was heavily influenced by that city's blues and soul sounds, as well as the jazz of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Some time spent at the Recording Institute of Detroit in the '70s whet his appetite for things to come.

With the commercial success that Was (Not Was) generated, Was quickly seized the opportunity to master the techniques of studio recording.  It was behind the console that he found his true voice. Although Was (Not Was) has enjoyed highly acclaimed reunion tours, Don Was's true legacy is found in the musically diverse acts he has produced and recorded with. That list includes George Clinton, Ringo Starr, Stevie Nicks, Paul Westerberg, Randy Newman, Solomon Burke, Al Green, Elton John, the Black Crowes, and Waylon Jennings, among so many others. He's produced a number of albums for Bonnie Raitt, including 1990's Nick of Time, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year.

A winner of many awards including a Grammy for Producer of the Year, Was has also garnered awards for producing and directing the documentary on Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, and has won the British Academy Award for the soundtrack to the film Backbeat, depicting the early days of the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany.

Along with teaching at Berklee, session guitarist, songwriter, arranger, and producer Marty Walsh has had numerous production credits. He has played on albums by LeAnn Rimes, Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton, and Donna Summer, among others.  His latest project is production of the Chicago-based blues/rock band Harlan Flo

Check out Berkleemusic's online production clinic with Was.