Don Was, Blue Note’s Renaissance Music Man

Don Was is a widely-respected artist, record label boss and hugely in-demand A-list producer.

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Don Was photo: Gabi Porter
Don Was photo: Gabi Porter

Don Was was born Donald Fagenson in Detroit on September 13, 1952. A hitmaker in his own right with Was (Not Was), producer of hundreds of key albums by everyone from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan and from Bonnie Raitt to Brian Wilson, he’s also been president of Blue Note Records since 2012.

Was oversaw the exciting new expansion of Blue Note in its 75th anniversary year of 2014. He presided over the emergence of Gregory Porter and other fresh talents such as Robert Glasper and José James, the signing of Aaron Neville (for the My True Story album, which Don co-produced with Keith Richards) and the re-signing to the label of jazz great Wayne Shorter.

But Was also continues in his roving brief as a hugely in-demand, A-list producer. He played on the solo album by Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, produced multi-million-selling John Mayer’s Paradise Valley release and worked with the late French superstar Johnny Hallyday. He also helmed Vanished Gardens, the collaborative album by Charles Lloyd & The Marvels and Lucinda Williams. Was also conquered the challenging task of completing the production of Gregg Allman’s superb Southern Blood album after the great artist’s death in 2017.

He’s been the Stones’ studio confidant since 1994’s Voodoo Lounge and produced their last studio set, 2005’s A Bigger Bang, as well as Raitt’s career-changing, Grammy-winning 1989 landmark Nick Of Time, Dylan’s Under The Red Sky in 1990 and far too many other important albums to mention.

With the groundbreaking dance-R&B-pop band Was (Not Was), which he founded with longtime friend David Weiss (aka David Was), he emerged on Island’s ultra-cool Ze label in 1981. The band have released five albums to date and produced such memorable tracks as “Out Come The Freaks,” “Walk The Dinosaur,” “Spy In The House Of Love,” and their remake of “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.”

Meanwhile, back at Blue Note, Was presided over the company’s momentous 80th birthday celebrations, a milestone observed with great imagination and scope. In the studio, the early 2020s have seen him working with Ryan Adams and, again, with Mayer, on his eighth set Sob Rock.

Listen to our playlist of 20 great studio moments (among hundreds) created by one of the most multi-talented musicians of the era.

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