Among the ranks of reissue producers, Nick Shaffran is the kind to whom other producers go for advice and help. Since the 1980s, he's been responsible, directly or indirectly, for some of the best American reissues of country and rock & roll music, by everyone from Roy Orbison to the Byrds. Born in Lansford, PA, in 1940, Shaffran was led to country music by his father, Nick Sr., a guitarist and singer who performed locally, and whose idols included Ernest Tubb. Shaffran added R&B to his list of interests before he was in his teens, which was before most other white kids even knew the music existed -- he also became well-versed in pop music as the 1950s dawned, and by his mid-teens was writing songs and performing with an R&B harmony vocal group, and soon after began performing solo.
He took up the guitar during this period and held down a day job at King Karol Records -- then one of the largest (and best) independent record chains in New York -- while performing anywhere he could at night. It was at King Karol that Shaffran first began building a reputation, first locally among patrons, for knowing an enormous amount about music. He still needed to learn about recording, and went to work at National Recording Studios in Manhattan. In his early thirties, he founded a band called the Soundmen and kept up almost a full-time performing schedule.
Shaffran joined the recording industry out of an abortive attempt by a Columbia Records executive who had heard him perform and tried to get him a recording contract. The company didn't have room for Shaffran as an artist, but there was a place for him as a record producer. In 1981, he joined what was then known as Columbia Special Products (later CBS Special Products, and then Sony Music Special Products) as a reissue producer. At the time, Special Products was a highly profitable but little-known unit in the Columbia Records operation, handling mail-order releases and other reissues for outside clients, and doing the occasional historical reissue, mostly of classical and show albums, and once in a while generating sets devoted mainly to second-tier artists of prior generations, such as Gene Krupa, the Boswell Sisters, et al.
Over the next 21 years, Shaffran put together re-releases of all kinds, from budget-priced CDs to multi-disc career surveys of superstar artists -- a lot of what he worked on was in the field of country music, and Shaffran played an especially large role in restoring the Monument Records catalog to viability in the CD era, overseeing reissues of Billy Swan, Charlie McCoy, Boots Randolph, and Kris Kristofferson (and releasing a complete Kristofferson live album from what was then known as Philharmonic Hall at New York's Lincoln Center, among other finds in their vaults). Shaffran paid his most special attention, however, to Monument's most renowned artist and hitmaker, Roy Orbison.
Thanks to the policies of its managing executives in the late '50s and early '60s, Columbia Records had the work of virtually no major rock & roll artists (apart from some distinctly country-focused Carl Perkins sides) from the music's first decade in its vaults, and the presence of Orbison's 1961-1965 Monument catalog -- a result of Special Products purchase of the Monument label -- was a unique fixture in the company's library. Shaffran treated it accordingly, which was a lot better than some of Columbia's own artists were treated when it came to CD reissues -- the Orbison CD reissues from Special Products produced by Shaffran, starting with the 20-song All-Time Greatest Hits collection, sounded great. Shaffran completed the restoration of Orbison's legacy in the wake of the rock legend's death in 1988 with The Legendary Roy Orbison, a four-CD set covering his entire career and drawn from a four different labels.
Shaffran became well-known in the business for his attention to detail, combining a fan's devotion to the good of the music with a professional's ear and approach. As a result, even his budget-priced catalog reissues offered something extra -- Blood, Sweat & Tears' Found Treasures used the single edits of their classic hits, which had been neglected in the prior reissues of their work from the label's mainline reissue label, Sony Legacy; it wasn't unusual to find real stereo masters of songs that had only previously appeared on CD in mono on his reissues; and, in the case of the Byrds, Shaffran played an essential role in finding the first-generation masters and a treasure trove of lost and unreleased masters from the group's early history, most of which surfaced on the album Never Before. Similar (if less profound) finds surrounding the catalogs of the Zombies, Johnny Cash, and other Columbia artists also tended to turn up on his reissues, or those that he advised on.
In his later years at Special Products, Shaffran's work was concentrated more in country and bluegrass music than rock & roll, and included anthologies devoted to Lynn Anderson and Bill Monroe, among others. Shaffran left Sony Music in 2002 and has since continued to work as a consultant and producer on reissues of long out of print music in country music and rock & roll. His projects in the first decade of the 21st century have included reissues of classic albums by Johnny Cash, Carl Smith, and Willie Nelson.