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Tom Dowd: Fluent in 'The Language of Music'

Tom Dowd had the mind of a rocket scientist, but the ears of a musician. When he died in 2002 at age 77, he left a legacy of recordings that trace the recent history of American popular music and the evolution of modern technology. If you listen to the discography of the Atlantic Records label -- from John Coltrane through Eric Clapton -- you are hearing Dowd at work, too.

Dowd never got rich. His name rarely appeared in print outside liner notes. But what liner notes they were: "Layla" by Derek & the Dominoes. "Respect" by Aretha Franklin. "Free Bird" by Lynrd Skynyrd. And the list winds on through a dazzling variety of genres and artists.

Dowd's technical contributions were equally groundbreaking -- especially his work in recording on eight-track tape.

Now, a documentary film -- Tom Dowd & The Language of Music -- has opened in select theaters around the country, giving even casual music lovers a chance to appreciate the work of an anonymous master. Later this month, a DVD with bonus features will be released. The film's director and producer, Mark Moorman, spoke recently with NPR's Liane Hansen.

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Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.