"A pistol in the studio." For better or worse, that was how Rick Springfield described legendary music producer Keith Olsen following his death earlier this week. It's an apt description for a producer who, by all accounts, always stuck to his guns and made sure he got the best out of his clients, no matter how much they'd protest against him.
This single-minded attitude was well-founded; you only to have to look at a list of the artists he worked with during his career to realise that he was held in high regard. Over the years, he worked with the likes of Scorpions, REO Speedwagon, Ozzy Osbourne, Fleetwood Mac, Whitesnake, Rick Springfield and many more; the list just goes on. It's a list that most producers would foam at the mouth for, but perhaps his most notable contribution to music wasn't even a production job. Having launched the careers of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks by producing their acclaimed debut album, it was he who introduced them to Mick Fleetwood. This then led to Buckingham and Nicks joining Fleetwood Mac, creating the iconic line-up that would release 'Tusk' and 'Rumours', and the rest, as they say, is history.
With his work including multi-platinum selling records and six Grammy winners, Olsen had a magic touch which almost guaranteed success. "Such a gifted producer", said Rick Springfield in a tribute on Twitter. "He could be a bit of a pistol in the studio but that was part of his talent. He had a golden ear and helped so many people reach their potential."
Springfield's hit 'Jessie's Girl' is one of Olsen's most recognisable works, despite the fact that Springfield himself had reservations about it. "I remember playing him my demos and he picked 'Jessie’s Girl' out of a batch of 15 songs and said "this is a hit." I doubted him and thought there were better songs in my demo reel. Proof right there of his gift." Like anyone, Olsen had projects that didn't quite work out, including a project with Iron Maiden's singer Bruce Dickinson that was aborted. Nevertheless, the positives in Olsen's track record far, far outweigh the negatives.
He was also eager to stay up to date. Many of his works were produced at the iconic Sound City studios, the subject of Dave Grohl's 2013 documentary, 'Sound City' in which he was interviewed, but the studios' complete disdain for digital recording methods started to take its toll on business. Olsen then opened a studio next door, which had a computer running Pro Tools on it, and a "desk" with just one fader. "That's all I need", he would tell those who questioned this setup. He would later work for the Mackie audio company, for which he led a team of experts to develop their digital products.
He has left behind a legacy that most producers can only dream of. With multiple gold and platinum records and a slew of highly successful artists in his wake, Olsen has gone down as one of the great producers. "You live on in the music" said the Scorpions in their tribute, and how right they are. Let's all stick on an Olsen record this weekend in his name. He shall be missed.
Up to Eleven would like to extend its condolences to his family, friends and former collaborators.