A cult figure in the music world whose influence has spanned half a century and countless genres already, David Axelrod has passed away at the age of 83.
The Los Angeles native was a prolific composer and producer in the late 60's and 70's, crafting jazzy, engrossing contemporary orchestral music. Amongst his fans were George Harrison and Frank Zappa, and his tendency for soulful, bombastic numbers gave his work a timeless air that earned him respect at his hometown Capitol Records.
Axelrod churned out albums of his own, wildly differing and ambitious affairs--like 1973's environmentally conscious concept album Earth Rot--and produced for the likes of Cannonball Adderley and Electric Prunes before fading into obscurity in the latter half of the disco era.
Twenty years later, Axelrod's works were reborn as samples in the emerging genre of hip-hop. Everyone from DJ Premier to Madlib, The Wu Tang Clan, DJ Shadow and Lauren Hill re-appropriated his work. But the most iconic of all was produced not far from Axelrod's own studios in Hollywood. Dr. Dre's "Next Episode" prominently features Axelrod's "The Edge," and the connection is instantly recognizable.
"I hate sampling because it takes jobs away from musicians," Axelrod was once quoted as saying. “I wasn’t into sampling until I started getting cheques...It allows me to have fun. It’s screw-you money!"
Hip-hop's fascination with David Axelrod is yet to cease. In recent times, Lil Wayne, Earl Sweatshirt, and Schoolboy Q have dug into Axelrod's archives to source a beat. To many, Axelrod became an unlikely adoptee of hip-hop culture. Born in South Central in 1933, Axelrod can claim rap's most famous neighborhood a half century before anyone else began to do so!
"David was so immersed in creativity and so pure with his arrangements he WAS hip hop," says Questlove of The Roots. "And he understood and appreciated hip hop culture. His appreciation for music and his ability to recognize musicianship is what I'll take from him. Rest in Melody."
“I’ve had such a great life. It’s just been one great adventure,” Axelrod said during an interview in 2001. “Maybe I haven’t left big footsteps, but I’ve left something. People all over the world seem to be listening to my music. So, what the hell?” They are a typically unassuming eulogy to a man whose humility is only outlasted by his talent. He will be missed, but his music will live on.
DJ Shadow shared the following message after Axelrod's death. It's best read in full:
"David Axelrod was not a familiar name to most vinyl enthusiasts when I first discovered his music in 1989 (through a sealed copy of his classic LP "Song Of Innocence.") Perhaps it's because he wasn't interested in seeking the zeitgeist of fame; indeed, during his most productive era between the mid '60s and mid '70s, he was essentially a workaday producer, seemingly content to lend his energies into making others sound better. What separates him from his contemporaries in striking fashion is that he refused to specialize, and was willing to tackle a wide breadth of genres in an era when most producers strove to establish brand recognition within the rock, jazz, or vocal field. Axelrod did them all, usually with best friend H.B. Barnum arranging: Soul (Lou Rawls), jazz (Cannonball Adderly), pop (David McCallum), even hard rock (Hardwater).
Of course it was through his solo albums that he wielded his greatest potency. Albums like "Songs Of Experience" (1969) and "Earth Rot" (1970) were challenging, intellectual social critiques and meditations on the failures of man disguised as easy-listening (On the latter point, perhaps this is why it took so long for collectors to recognize their brilliance.) As a producer just beginning to chart my path, I was hugely inspired by the audaciousness of the subject matter, and the sober singularity of his musical vision. He urged L.A.'s finest session players to create a melancholic world which felt like my world, and reflected the dread and disappointment society inevitably inspires in its emotionally vulnerable.
David Axelrod's output remains totally unique and uncommonly cohesive, which is a testament to his vision as a composer. As a producer, I count him as one of my biggest influences. He is missed and loved by all of his family, friends, and fans."