Charles Blackwell

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From the twist to the disco boogie, Charles Blackwell had his finger in the pie, or more accurately, the studio control knobs in his mitts. His track record of hits as a producer would be impressive on…
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From the twist to the disco boogie, Charles Blackwell had his finger in the pie, or more accurately, the studio control knobs in his mitts. His track record of hits as a producer would be impressive on any terms, but the fact that at the age of 22 he was already averaging one new hit a week on the British Top Ten makes him something of a phenomenon. He rates only a medium for longevity, however, going well beyond the status of a quickie fad artist but seemingly unable to get much attention with projects in his more mature years. From Fran├žoise Hardy to David Hasselhoff is a descent, yes, but along the way there was the 1979 Boogie Down album, the sole project the producer released under his own name, or rather under half his own name. The Butterfly release was credited to simply Blackwell, although in his homeland at least one of the involved record labels fleshed that out to Charles Blackwell in order to capitalize on his considerable past success in the U.K. market.

These triumphs began in the early '60s, following several years of experience as an arranger for the acknowledged studio genius Joe Meek. Observers of sexual politics in the music business may conclude that the gay orientation of the Meek axis might have been an asset during an extended period in Blackwell's career when he was teamed up with a series of superb female vocalists, including Jackie DeShannon and Brigitte Bardot as well as Fran├žoise Hardy. Likewise, Blackwell's inspiration to have solidly British crooners nudge American country & western singers off the charts by recording cover versions of country hits is most decidedly hairy-chest stuff. In 1968, Blackwell paid for an estate simply from the royalty checks forthcoming from Engelbert Humperdinck's plea to

"Release Me." In interviews about his career, Blackwell stresses that '60s producers really did earn their money, micro-managing sessions in a manner that would be altered forever by the later development of the hands-on "artiste" pop star.

Beginning in his days as an arranger, Blackwell experienced an amount of artistic freedom that also sometimes seems to have vanished from the hit-making machinery. He has recalled that the original arrangements he created from demo recordings or sheet music were never altered in content or style unless there was some kind of budgetary problem. His skill as an orchestrator naturally led to maintaining ensembles such as the Charles Blackwell Orchestra, for one thing allowing the artists he produced the benefit of seasoned orchestral accompaniment. By the late '70s, it was public taste, and not budgets, that was cutting into the work for the studio veterans whose names lined Blackwell's phone book. Perhaps they were better off not having to play on tracks such as "Move Your Ass Gringo," one of several favorites from the Boogie Down album (like much '70s music, now the subject of adoration by certain cults). Which is more than can be said for the nadir of the Blackwell career, a seemingly endless and inevitably failed attempt to place pretty boy TV cop David Hasselhoff on the pop charts.