Lou Reizner

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Lou Reizner was never quite as visible a producer as, say, Phil Spector, Shel Talmy, or Larry Page, but during the early to mid-'70s he demonstrated a flair for the dramatic (and the dramatically large-scale)…
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Lou Reizner was never quite as visible a producer as, say, Phil Spector, Shel Talmy, or Larry Page, but during the early to mid-'70s he demonstrated a flair for the dramatic (and the dramatically large-scale) project, and for multimedia production that put him at least a decade or two out in front of his rivals. Born in Chicago, Reizner started his career in the United States and by the mid-'60s was working for Mercury Records (where, as producer of Dick Campbell's debut album, he was responsible for recruiting most of Dylan's then-current sidemen to play on it). He was always on the prowl for new talent, with an eye and ear running somewhat ahead of the prevailing public taste -- Reizner had first seen Buzzy Linhart performing on-stage in America during the mid-'60s and had tried to persuade him to sign with Mercury Records during this period, but was unable to get him onto the label until much later in the decade. In the interim, Reizner moved to England during the second half of the 1960s, where he produced some early solo sides by renowned session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, as well as helping Sullivan choose the songs that would appear on his album Sitar Beat, which was a Mercury release.

Installed as the head of European operations for Mercury, Reizner produced albums by the Eyes of Blue and finally got Buzzy Linhart signed as a solo debut in England -- he also managed to squeeze in the debut album by the Buddy Miles Express in 1968. Reizner had been a singer early in his career, and did use his position with the company to record an album of his own -- very much in the manner of Tom Jones -- at around this same time, but he never made any impact as a recording artist. Rather, it was his signings during this period that earned him a major reputation in the business. It was during Reizner's tenure as head of operations for Mercury in Europe -- albeit over his own objections, and with the serious prodding of one of his employees, Calvin Mark Lee -- that David Bowie was signed to his first American record contract, and that "Space Oddity" and The Man Who Sold the World were released. Much more visibly and significantly at the time, Reizner took personal charge of newly signed white soul vocalist Rod Stewart's solo recordings, producing The Rod Stewart Album and the Gasoline Alley album, the success of which -- coupled with his subsequent Every Picture Tells a Story -- quickly allowed Stewart to eclipse the work of his group the Faces and emerge as a star performer in his own right. Reizner's other productions included the hard rock trio Three Man Army, and he was also responsible for signing the progressive rock group Van der Graaf Generator to a recording contract.

By the early '70s, Reizner's sonic vision and creative horizons had expanded to vast new dimensions, encompassing a scale of pop music production that even Phil Spector might have marveled at. Reizner's first music extravaganza was Tommy - As Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra & Chamber Choir, which featured an all-star cast and was the first of what proved to be a string of enhanced and expanded interpretations of the Who's rock opera, in multiple media and genres. That double LP, which came in a slipcase accompanied by a lavishly illustrated libretto, actually became a top-seller during the Christmas season of 1971, and was one of the last successes enjoyed by Ode Records. Released to radio just ahead of Thanksgiving that year and in stores well in time for the holiday, it was a bit of a "coffee table" album, but its sales and appeal were driven in part by the single culled from the album, Rod Stewart's killer rendition of "Pinball Wizard," which, despite being awash in reverb that made the 60-piece LSO and the 20-voice choir behind him sound like they were singing in the middle of a cavern a mile across, was the most serious showcase Stewart's voice had ever enjoyed on AM radio. Next for Reizner was Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, with its extended orchestral and choral passages, which made it out more or less intact despite a vinyl shortage afflicting the industry at the time.

And then there came the movie and accompanying soundtrack album All This and World War II. The film (directed by Susan Winslow) was based on a novel idea for a project aimed at a mass audience, setting World War II documentary footage to the music of the Beatles, as recorded by such contemporary star acts as the Bee Gees, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Ferry, Ambrosia, et al. As an audio project it was somewhat similar to Reizner's all-star Tommy, and while most movie critics mercilessly panned the film (which quickly disappeared from theaters), the slipcased double-LP soundtrack sold extremely well, thanks to the appeal of various interpretations of the Beatles' songs. Whatever flaws the movie had, Reizner had correctly perceived the demand by the public for more Beatles music in some form (this was also the era of the stage production Beatlemania on Broadway). What's more, as bad as some of the movie reviews were, the whole project was superior in every way to Robert Stigwood's subsequent Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie (with which Reizner's movie is sometimes confused in some peoples' memories, as the Bee Gees were involved to very different degrees in both projects). Plus, it did yield a hit in the form of Elton John's version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Had he lived into the era of MTV and home video as a commercial medium, there's no telling how far Reizner might have gotten as a creator of conceptual videos -- the fit was a natural one, and he had the combined multimedia vision to have made the jump into the 1980s, but it was not to be. All This and World War II and his work producing the music for the British movie Black Joy were to be Reizner's final projects. He died in 1977, at age 43, while at the peak of his reputation and influence. In the decades since, his work with Rod Stewart and Rick Wakeman has continued to sell, his all-star Tommy has been reissued successfully on CD, and even some of his less successful acts, such as Wishful Thinking, have had their work re-released.