Bob Clearmountain is among the most acclaimed engineers, mixers, and producers of all time. He’s worked with many of the biggest names in music, including Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Hall & Oates, Bryan Adams, Robbie Williams, Toto, Bon Jovi, Altered State, Simple Minds, and hundreds more.
In case you missed it we recently took a look at Clearmountain’s Domain!
Throughout his career, Clearmountain has been nominated for several GRAMMY Awards, winning a Latin GRAMMY in 2007 for Best Male Pop Vocal Album for engineering Ricky Martin’s MTV Unplugged. He’s even won an Emmy, seven TEC Awards for “Best Recording Engineer,” two additional TEC Awards for “Best Broadcast Engineer,” one “Les Paul Award,” and a Monitor Award for the Rolling Stone’s Voodoo Lounge pay-per-view show.
Early Life and Career
Clearmountain’s love for music started at an early age. Influenced by his older brother who played guitar, he decided to play bass as a teenager. During his formative years, he was also intrigued by recording technology and frequently dabbled in electronics.
In high school, Clearmountain played in band who recorded their first demo in New York City at Media Sound. Unfortunately, as high school bands tend to do, they broke up shortly after recording the demo. However, he would revisit the studio, this time looking for work.
Media Sound hired Clearmountain as a delivery person, and within hours of getting the gig he found himself assisting on a Duke Ellington session. This gave him his officially start, and he worked steadily throughout the ’70s as an engineer, carving out a niche for himself. By the end of the ’70s, his skills had garnered quite a bit of attention in the disco world for his incredible work on albums from Chic and Sister Sledge. He even mixed Kool and the Gang’s 1974 release, Light of Worlds.
In the ’80s, Clearmountain started producing records for then up-and-comers like Bryan Adams and the Church, while also engineering established superstars like David Bowie and Roxy Music.
Clearmountain really had his breakthrough in 1984, when he produced Bryan Adams’ #1 record Reckless and Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom. The same year he had the opportunity to mix Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. Clearmountain worked closely with co-producer Jimmy Iovine, mixing even more hits by INXS (Kick), Simple Minds (Once Upon a Time), and the Pretenders (Get Close).
As a technologist, Clearmountain developed SessionTools in the ’90s to help with the day-to-day workings of a modern recording studio, which was a studio management database application. He also released a series of CD-R collections of sampled bass, drum, and percussion sounds.
Over the past decade, Clearmountain’s mixing/engineering work has included Simple Minds’ Black & White 050505 (2005) and Graffiti Soul (2009), Bryan Ferry’s Dylanesque (2007), the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert film Shine a Light (2008), Bryan Adams’ 11 (2008), Alejandro Sanz’s Paraiso Express (2009), and Ricky Martin’s GRAMMY-winning MTV Unplugged.
Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.
Clearmountain mixed 1984’s Born in the U.S.A. Springsteen’s seventh studio album, Born in the U.S.A. was a massive commercial success. The record produced an incredible seven top-10 hit singles, which was an accomplishment only previously achieved by Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Born in the U.S.A. became Springsteen’s most commercially successful album and one of the highest-selling records of all time. As of 2012, the album has sold 30 million copies worldwide and is regularly considered by critics to be amongst the greatest albums ever produced. It was nominated for Album of the Year at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards.
Bryan Adams’ Reckless
In the same year as Bruce Springsteen’s juggernaut release, Clearmountain co-produced Bryan Adams’ smash Reckless. It debuted roughly 5 months after Born in the U.S.A. and achieved equally impressive commercial success as a #1 Billboard hit.
Adams’ fourth studio release is his most successful solo album. Reckless is his best-selling album in the United States, Canada, and worldwide, with sales of 6.5 million, 1.7 million, and 12.3 million copies, respectively. It was also the first Canadian album to sell more than a million copies within Canada.
The album spawned six singles, all of which made the top 15 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Until then, the only other artists who had accomplished that feat were Michael Jackson with Thriller and, of course, Born in the U.S.A just a few months before!
Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom
Clearmountain, produced, engineered, and mixed Big Bam Boom. The album was an important one for a number of reasons, notably because it was an experimental piece as far as studio technology is concerned. The album’s production relied on both tried analogue recording techniques and what was, at the time, cutting edge digital technology.
In 1984, 24-track tape machines were widely used, though digital recording was an emerging technology as well. Hall & Oates opted to record on tape rather than on digital multitrack machines. They did, however, take advantage of the latest musical tools available at the time, like advanced polyphonic synthesizers such as the Synclavier and the Fairlight.
With these innovations in recording tech concurrently happening alongside the album’s production, Hall & Oates started to digitally sample everything they recorded. For example, Clearmountain and drummer Mickey Curry recorded different drum sounds, using creative delays/reverbs to create huge dramatic low end that is representative of Big Bam Boom and the sound of the ’80s altogether.
The band also had the opportunity to experiment with unconventional sounds, like recording Boy Scout canteens, cardboard boxes, footsteps, and other ‘foley’ effects. They then loaded up their samples into the latest and greatest drum machines/samplers of the era and ‘played’ them on the record.
Bob Clearmountain is inarguably one of the greatest engineers, mixers, and producers of all time. His legacy is firmly cemented in the phenomenal work he’s done with countless artists over the past several decades.