July 31, 2007
Music is the healing voice of the world
It’s understood by every man, woman, boy and girl
And that’s why
I love music...
The O’Jays “I Love Music”
The following is a multimedia article. The links therein will lead you either to song files, websites, or videos. To be able to see and download all the songs that are mentioned in the article, you can go to this page. The mp3 files represented on the page are there for you to download and keep should you wish to do so.
So I’m sitting here in the heat of summer, sipping on my fruity drink at a Starbucks by Lake Geneva, writing these words as I have my iPod’s earphones in my ears; listening to music not many people know was made by an Iranian. Hard to believe, but it was 28 years ago when I was around the same place, this time in the cold of winter, with my Walkman’s headphones on my head, rambling around with the only thing really warming me up being the same tune I’m listening to now, “The Beginning”.
The year was 1979, the revolution had just taken place and I, along with many of my compatriots, had found myself outside my country with an uncertain future. I had been a music buff ever since childhood and always liked to occupy my time with going to music stores and looking at records, buying them when they were interesting.
I clearly remember the day when I went to the Gargantini music shop, then the most famous record shop in Geneva (but which now has disappeared with the surge of mega-stores), and picked up the vinyl LP of an album I had heard in Iran on tape, called “Destination”. The tracks from that album had been the life of our last parties in Tehran. Later they only became reminiscent of friends I’d never see again, friends with whom I was supposed to spend my youth.
“Destination”... How cynically appropriate for the name of the album.
As I held the record in my hand that day in Gargantini and turned it around (yes, I’m the type that reads everything written on a record, you should too, you’d already know what I’m getting to here), I noticed something at a glimpse of an eye that I had not thought possible until that day: An Iranian name on the back cover! Oooh, interesting. “Elton” Farokh Ahi. Hmmm. Elton? No wait, there’s another one. Ardeshir Farah. Very interesting. Who IS that? And they’re the main ones, “Elton” Farokh Ahi made the record!
That was all the more interesting as, in a short span, the record had become a major hit all over the world, climbing to number one on the Billboard dance charts and staying there for a number of weeks. Four, actually. Not only that, the record had even made it to the Billboard pop charts. But that wasn’t important then. This was at a time when Disco was still thriving, and Billboard’s most important chart was in fact its’ dance chart. I should know, I was the school DJ in Tehran, and I was my school’s DJ here in Switzerland. Billboard magazine was my bedside literature.
So, lo and behold, I picked up the record at Gargantini (no I grabbed it actually!) and headed back to school in all amazement. I don’t know how many times I looked at the back cover of the LP along the way just to make sure I wasn’t thinking things, but I must have made a fool of myself in front of passers-by. Imagine the little kid who finds a cream pie he can only eat in a couple of hours. I don’t know if “staring” is the appropriate word for what I was doing with the cover of that record. I was probably devouring it with my eyes.
No one, I repeat no one had ever accomplished that feat. No Iranian had ever produced a single, let alone an album, that made it to Billboard so far. How ironic that this should happen right after the revolution. As I got back to school that day, I don’t know how many times I played the entire LP on my turntable and read the notes on the album. Elton Farokh Ahi, Ardeshir Farah... Plus other Iranian names to whom the album was dedicated. Could it be “Elton” was the man on the cover of the album? So much excitement, yet so much mystery for a sixteen year-old kid in a foreign land whose only pastime is music, who misses his country, and who doesn’t even know if he’ll ever see it again...
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The year is 2006. Disco died already in 1980 and led its place to “New Wave” and consequently, to other forms of popular music that came and went. The little kid has grown up. But throughout the years, he has kept his attachment to music as the only thing that filled those moments of loneliness, sadness, joy, friendship, love and separation, but mostly the moments of being away from his homeland. He went on DJ-ing as a side thing and even co-created a radio-station for the university he was enrolled at after he moved to the US, for which he became a music director and station manager, winning a few awards and recognitions along the way for himself and the station. But since life has to go a certain way, he drifted into the field of work he had studied hard for, and then other fields of work. Yet the music remained.
After publishing an article that really happened by chance, he thought of leaving a request on the same site to see if he could finally find the man behind “Destination” to solve the mystery he had faced all those years ago. Who was Farokh Ahi? Why was his name on some albums that the kid/yours truly had seen here and there, but with no real trace of the man himself anywhere else?
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Throughout the years, I came across the name “Elton” Farokh Ahi a few times. Once when I was in college, a friend of mine whose boat had sunken momentarily found refuge in my college dorm room for a short period. After he left, I found out that he had ‘forgotten’ a tape of his from Shahram Shabpareh called “Deyar”, probably as a token of appreciation for my hospitality. I didn’t have a lot of Iranian music with me then, and the tape really came as a relic. I listened to it many times and what was strange was the similarity of the arrangements on the tracks to what was on the Destination album.
I didn’t think of it much at the time, but while on a trip back here in Switzerland, I was surprised to hear the main track from the album at a famous local nightclub. As it wasn’t customary to hear Iranian music at local nightclubs, I asked the DJ to show me the record. It was by Shahram alright, but the fine print showed that it was produced by none other than mystery man Mr. Ahi! That explained the similarity of the arrangements to the song that had still remained the only number one made by an Iranian to date, Move On Up. Interestingly, Deyar was played at that nightclub (and other ones here, as a matter of fact) until its closing in 1993. More, it has remained one of Shahram’s best sold albums, if not the best, still after 27 years from the date of its release. It is his number one selling tune on iTunes at the time of writing this article.
Another occasion I came across Elton Ahi’s name was when, after a long time, Iranian CDs were appearing for the first time on the market. This is around when Andy & Kouros’s album with “Niloofar” and “Khodaye Asemoonha” was released (I think the name of the album was Atishpareh, but don’t quote me on that). Not being much of an Iranian music buyer, I decided I’d listen to Andy & Kouros’s album, and the first listening did it. Music-wise, this was the best thing I had heard in a long time. As I opened up the tape and started reading the liner notes, to my surprise, I again saw the name. “Produced by Elton Farokh Ahi”, it said. I’ll be damned, I thought! This was the only CD I had liked among all the ones I had listened to. My second purchased Iranian record after the revolution, and it was made by Mr. Ahi again.
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I was coming to believe Elton Ahi is someone like Quincy Jones. Those who don’t read the fine print on records don’t know that some of the most successful music ever produced was done so by him. Michael Jackson would never have been what he became without the team of Jones (the producer), the masterful songwriter Rod Temperton and the brilliant sound engineer Bruce Swedien. The albums “Off The Wall” (listen to “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” here) and Thriller (Best-selling album of all time according to Guinness Book Of Records) were both made and produced by the above team.
Anything that came out afterwards, was “Bad”, simply because the three gentlemen were not there to produce it. But that’s not the only thing Quincy Jones has done, in fact far from that. Remember “Give Me The Night” by George Benson? The album that’s still his best-selling one? That was produced by the trio of the above geniuses as well. Quincy Jones started with jazz, one of the most successful endeavors of his early career being “Soul Bossanova”. Everyone remembers his “Ai No Corrida” off the album “The Dude”, also one of the most successful albums of all time; and frankly, so much more.
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Another time when I travelled to Dubai back in the early nineties, I came across an Iranian CD by this young singer called Siavash that I didn’t know up to that point. Again, I listened to it, liked it, bought it (third Iranian album, honest well, not counting the Googoosh re-issues on CD, of course) and who does it turn out to be produced by? Elton Farokh Ahi!
In fact, Siavash’s “Hamsayeha” (listen to “Dokhtar Irooni”) is supposed to be, by many accounts, the best-selling Iranian CD of all time (I actually didn’t know that myself until I began writing this article).
But then again, who is Farokh Ahi? Is he someone like Quincy Jones who just produces hit after hit for different people, and sometimes for himself? Is he someone like Bob Sinclar, who really is a sort of re-arranger of music, but who only produces hits? Or is he like Faithless, a multi-faceted musician who’s also behind a lot of hits while he also writes and produces for himself?
The answer, as I later found out, is actually all of the above! In fact, if you take the example of Quincy Jones alone, Elton Farokh Ahi would be Jones the producer, Temperton the songwriter and Swedien the engineer combined! Not only that, he’d also be Faithless, creating new beats and Bob Sinclar, re-arranging and mixing melodies to create whole new songs (that, by the way, work magnificently lately).
But wait... That’s not all. Came the age of Internet and search engines and one of the names I first searched was Ahi’s. I had gotten very curious about the man who’s never anywhere but behind the scene, with only his name on the most successful Iranian albums ever produced, so I mean, don’t mind me nosing around a bit. Turned out he was actually producing movie scores too. In fact, the most amount of results on my Internet search led to movie scores for Hollywood, not Iranian music! The Iranian stuff, it seems, was only things he does on the side... For fun! Oh boy. But more on that later.
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So why is there no trace of him anywhere? Someone like Jones alone should get so much attention that everyone would know his face by heart. The answer, again as I later found out, is that the man is shy! Serious. He just likes to stay behind the scene. Apparently, sometimes he doesn't even mind not getting album credit. Hard to believe in such an egotistical world where people who have remotely done something on an album (or not!), sue for credit and compensation. In fact, he was so shy, it took him some 9 months to go to his “den” to dig out the pictures he had taken with some of the most famous people in pop music history, scan them, and send them to me. It had already taken him some four months to respond to my request on Iranian.com to get in touch already... I also later found out that this was the only interview/conversation he has ever accorded to anyone, besides a TV appearance back in the nineties where he hadn’t said much...
So one day, out of the blue, when I had given up all hope to find out more about Farokh Ahi, I received the following e-mail:
Thank You for the kind words. I am in Los Angeles and if
You need any information from me,
Please feel free to Email me at...
I was ecstatic! I couldn’t believe it!
The man I had spent so long wondering about had finally written to me!
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For a long time, after I started looking at Iranian CDs again, I would look to see if I can catch his name somewhere on the albums I’d look at. If it was there, I’d buy the CD without even listening to it. If it wasn’t, I’d listen to see if my theory that the album would be no good (with the exception of one or two songs, probably) was proven. I was right most of the time. No, wait, I was right all the time! The man just knew what to do with a song to make it sound good. Or, maybe it was that he just did good stuff, I don’t know. But then he did have that golden touch. No matter what album he had his name on, it would be heard everywhere I went. I had actually gotten good at picking-up signs of his footprints in the songs. For such a long time I’d hear Andy & Kouros songs here and there, then Andy songs, and I knew it was all Farokh Ahi behind it.
As I learned later, one of his own self-produced/engineered non-Iranian albums was even nominated for a Grammy just a couple of years ago. This is amazing, because along with Ardeshir Farah, his longtime friend and companion, he becomes the only other Iranian act to have done something in music that gets nominated for a Grammy. That’s with the addition of Hossein Alizadeh, whom Mr. Ahi really likes listening to, and who just got nominated this year, of course.
But then why, if the man is so monumental in (at least) Iranian pop music, there is not much talk about him? This is, after all, the Reza Badiyi of our music and you don’t hear much about him. I think beside the humility factor, there’s also the fact that the L.A. Iranian culture, where this recognition should have happened is a very odd culture. It’s still very much of a “me” culture based on personalities and egos and what have you, this being part of the reason it appears so shallow and also why there seems to be so much resentment against it, to the point that admirers of the new emerging Iranian rock talk about it with much contempt.
However, I think analyzing this point is outside the sphere of this article, as I’m only here to relate my experience talking to the man I had long admired from far away.
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He actually doesn’t sound old at all; in fact, he probably sounds younger than I am on the two-hour sound file that I recorded from our conversation. He does mix up event dates at times (like when Shahram’s Deyar album was released in the span of his career), but he has a perfect memory for the name of the songs (anyone’s), singers (even background singers), producers, albums, etc.
He amazed me by telling me a lot of things I didn’t know, lots of anecdotes from the (good-ole) days when we were growing up and when the music that came out of the loudspeakers sounded like some kind of magic. I always wondered whether it was as magical to him, and after the conversation, I’m convinced that not only it was, but that it still is.
Another thing that was funny in the conversation was the fact that after I introduced myself and told him what I wanted to do with the conversation, and then started talking about music, it was as if two old friends had met after a long period and everything one would say would make the conversation deeper as it went along.
After he sent me his pictures, I found out that this is exactly how I imagined him all along, also perhaps because of the resemblance of his voice to an old friend of mine in Tehran. Anyway, I found out many things I didn’t know and it made it all the more interesting. In fact, every time we have talked ever since, the conversation drifts into things we both know we should get out of, at the risk of spending (at least on my part) a load talking on an overseas line.
One thing I should do before I leave you with the bulk of our conversation with Farokh Ahi is to apologize if at points the talk becomes a bit technical as far as the songs we cite go. I personally think it makes it more interesting and takes away from that image of shallowness everyone has of L.A. produced music, but up to you to judge.
Anyway, without further ado, ladies and gents, here’s you, and here’s Elton Farokh Ahi. Himself!
Parham: First things first, I was looking around on imdb about you and saw something that amazed me. It said there that you were born in 1964! That can’t be true, because otherwise, you would have written and produced Destination at the age of 15!
Elton Farokh Ahi: No, that can’t be true, I agree! But the truth is I started college at a very young age. When I began my studies at USC, my father and the rest of my family didn’t really want me to start a career in music.
Like everybody else in the field!
That’s right! I actually studied architecture, but only got involved in music on the side.
So what did you do in music? Did you play any instruments?
Yes, I began by playing drums in an American band.
It was all R&B. This wasn’t a band with fixed members. We used to get together on the weekends to play. I think there were only me and another band member who stayed around. All the others rotated. Sort of like an early-college band.
So what year is this?
Oh, probably around 1972 or 73, my first years at college. It went on until I got my degree. Once that happened, I wrapped it up, sent it to my father and told him now I’m going to do what I want to do!
At that point, I left everything and began DJ-ing. I also began giving consulting services to record labels. Those were the years where Disco was becoming popular, and I used to tell them what to do with their songs in order to make them more danceable, so they could fill the dance floors.
So this must be around 1976 when Disco was hitting the highs that it did, right?
More like 1977 when I started DJ-ing. I used to DJ at 3 famous clubs at the time. I actually won a few awards for that as well. Like I became US DJ of The Year in 1977.
Yep, I was chosen DJ of the year by Billboard magazine in 1977. I was given the award the same year in NYC. I used to DJ in California back then, but also at Studio 54 in New York and at a place called Jimmy’s in Monaco, in the south of France. (Author’s note: Jimmy’s used to be a famous club along with Régine’s, belonging to French entertainment queen, Régine. These clubs were still around until the early nineties, when they gradually faded out from the scene.)
So you must know Régine (the singer/entrepreneur) as well.
Yes, very well. She used to throw parties all over the place here, like in Miami, LA, etc. She’d charge around 500-600$ per person and she’d invite a lot of famous people. I used to participate at her west-coast parties as a DJ.
How did you meet her at first?
I was working at a club in southern France, between Nice and Cannes, called Siesta. She once came to our club. I was playing something I had made myself. She sent someone to ask me what it was, and I told her it’s self-made. There was a song by Shahram, “Deyar,” that I had just produced. I used to take the instrumental version with me everywhere I went. A lot of people would ask me what the tune was.
I don’t know if you’d be surprised to know that Regine’s in Geneva used play Shahram’s Deyar every week until it closed down back in 1991. But this is already in 1979. Let’s get back to where we left off, meaning what led to the production of the Destination album.
Yes, well, there was a trend starting back then where famous singers would give popular DJs their songs for them to remix. I had won an award for a mix I’d done of a bunch of Motown songs, which was called “Uptown Festival”. That one had climbed to number one on the dance charts and it was my work. It was a medley of songs like “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, etc. This was my very first big studio experience. Prior to that, I had only managed my school’s studio and that’s actually how I learned to manipulate studio material.
Is there a sample of that one left anywhere, perhaps in mp3 format?
No, I don’t think there ever was a CD made out of it. But do you remember Shalamar?
Yes, of course. “A Night To Remember” that was a huge hit. Why?
Well that was actually a band put together by me and a French-Moroccan friend.
Yes. The person who sang on Uptown Festival was the singer of Shalamar.
So it was actually a medley made out of Motown songs, not with the original tracks.
Yes. I will look to see if I can find it, but the way things are, I don’t know if I will. Heck, I just found my Destination CD the other day after a long time! I had to buy it myself!
You can guess I have that one! I was so happy to find it on the net after all these years of being away from the record. I think I bought it back in 2000 after rare CDs became available for special order on the web. It’s actually sitting in front of me right now Again, back to where we were, you were speaking about Shalamar and a Moroccan friend.
Yes, his name was Simon Soussan. He was also behind a band called Arpeggio.
Yes, of course, Arpeggio -- major band from those years...
He also used to work with Patty Brooks. They made Thank God It’s Friday and I played drums on that track.
I’m discovering a hell of a lot of things I didn’t know here. I have an Armenian friend with whom we used to DJ way back. These are all the stuff we used to play. If I told him you were also behind those songs, he’d be amazed.
Yes, well I used to DJ back then too. That was during the night. During the day, the record companies would send me to their studios to do mixes and that’s really how it all started. That’s how I began to meet with musicians, but also the songwriters.
So who were the people you met during this period?
I think I met all the hot producers at the time. Alec R. Costandinos, Cerrone. A lot of the songs you would hear back then were mixed by me.
Like what Costandinos tracks were you involved with?
Do you remember Romeo & Juliet? I was involved with the recording of that piece at Trident studios in London. With Cerrone, I was involved in the making of Love in C Minor. Actually, Alec was doing exactly the same thing for Cerrone that I was doing for Simon. So was another guy called Don Ray. Cerrone was a better businessman than the rest of them though, that’s why he survived.
Yes, I know. I’ve heard he used to take Love in C Minor to Champs Disques and Lido Music (very famous record stores in Paris) himself to ask them to place it right in front of all the other records.
Yes and next thing that happened was Atlantic records signing a deal with him for America, meaning the US and Canada, and the rest is history.
On the other hand, I think Costandinos is a genius.
Oh yes, he’s a true genius. And he’s a fantastic guy too.
What is he doing now, do you know?
I know he’s disappointed overall. He doesn’t do much. He has quit music, but he’s well-off. I think he’s still in England, but I’m not sure. But do you remember Biddu, from the Biddu orchestra?
He’s doing great. He went back to India and became a major composer. If you remember, he had composed Kung-Fu Fighting and a few more for Carl Douglas. When he went back, he got into Bollywood and started composing for movies. That was when Bollywood was only growing, and he grew with the industry. He’s also a great guy.
Getting back to Romeo & Juliet, did you do the engineering on it?
The problem with Romeo & Juliet was that it was too long. A lot of the clubs refused to play it due to that reason. They hired me to make a shorter version of the song.
The song was released on the Casablanca label in the US, right?
Correct. Casablanca belonged to a man by the name of Neil Bogart, who died of cancer a few years later. He had signed Donna Summer and Kiss. That’s how the label got big.
So what label was Giorgio Moroder involved with?
He also was involved with Casablanca, but it didn’t belong to him. Later on when Casablanca got very big, they gave Giorgio a label that they distributed. The label’s name was “Oasis”. Moroder’s “From Here To Eternity” was distributed on Casablanca though.
So did you go straight to making Destination afterwards?
I believe the first day of recording for Destination was sometime in October 78.
And how did you get to the idea of doing the record?
Well, there came a time when I thought I’m mixing all these hit songs for everybody else, why not do one for myself? It should be simple. But I didn’t have a budget. I had a girlfriend who bought me a piano for a 1,000 Dollars. I used to work at the clubs at night and compose on the piano in the morning. Around the same time, I had a good friend by the name of Ardeshir Farah. I don’t know if you know him
We sat down and wrote some of the songs with Ardeshir. I also had a couple of friends who wrote the lyrics. The problem was, no matter where I went, I couldn’t get a budget to record the project. They all told me I had no previous experience in releasing records. I had to borrow from a couple of people so I could get one of the songs recorded for the labels to at least hear what I had done. Once I recorded Move On Up, they accepted to pay for the rest of the album though.
How did you come to choose Move On Up? We know it’s a cover from Curtis Mayfield, and it came at a time when covers were not that fashionable, this in contrast with these days where everyone is doing covers all the time.
One night Curtis Mayfield came to our club, and I asked him if he was interested in having me do a few remixes of his songs. He used to live in Chicago, but he was staying at a hotel behind our club, “Chez Moi” in Beverly Hills. I went to his hotel room and listened to the tracks he wanted to include on his upcoming album. I noticed that none were really suitable for club play. I asked him why he hadn’t made anything in the same line as the music he had made for the movie “Super Fly”. He said his record company had asked him for R&B tunes, thinking that disco stuff wouldn’t really make it! So I said “look, if you don’t mind, I’ll take one of your old tunes and remix it as a dance version for yourself”. He told me he liked the idea and that he’ll talk to the head of the company. I then took the song, changed it a bit (that’s why you’ll see my name as one of the writers on the record as well) and waited for his response. After he got back to me, he told me the head of the company felt that this would alter his public image and that it wouldn’t be advisable for him to release a dance song. The head of the company had also added that this “boy” (meaning me) wouldn’t know how to do it anyway. I asked him if he’d let me release the song with someone else. He said okay, do whatever you wish with the song! So I began auditioning for a singer. There was this dance group I used at the club, which had a lead choreographer called Danny. I asked him if he could sing. After auditioning him, I found out he could. So we got him and a couple of models for the cover and for dancing on the tours, and that was Destination! Only, Danny sued me later.
I had registered Destination under my own name. Danny was only there to sing. I actually sang some of the parts myself. The other singers were hired from here and there, like there was this girl called Belle from France who also sung on the record (Author’s note: That’s Belle from the group “Space”). Anyway, with the success of the Destination album, Danny began saying that he was also part of the success and that he didn’t accept the terms of the contract he had signed with me. I believe if that lawsuit wasn’t there, Destination would have become even bigger than it got.”
So basically he was trying to fish from muddy waters.
Yes, unfortunately so. Lawsuits are very commonplace in the US and that was one case that hit us.
Is Danny the one standing in the middle of the two girls on the cover?
Yes, that’s him. Another interesting thing that happened was that he died as soon as the lawsuit was over. The settlement stipulated that I could make one song for the second Destination album!
That’s interesting. I remember well during the days Destination was being played all over the place that they would say the person in the middle on the cover is you! I guess we find out the truth after all these years!
No, but on one of the releases from Shahram, they had placed my picture on the cover. There was also another album, this one by Siavash, where my photo was there.
Funny, I guess you weren’t there during the days Destination was a hit in Iran, right?
No, I haven’t been back since 1976.
Well it was the track called “The Beginning” that became very much of a hit in Iran those days. Move On Up followed by a close second by my guess. In fact The Beginning was a major floor-filler as far as I remember. People would then dance to Move On Up either knowing that it was the same group that made The Beginning, or because the beats followed closely. But in the US, I believe it was ‘My number 1 Request’ that also made it very high in the charts, right?
Yes, as a matter of fact, I heard it again on the radio the other day.
And a friend of mine who travelled to the States was telling me he had heard your version of Move On Up on the radio.
Yes, and there is another one, “The End”, where the singers shout “Dance! Party!” which has become like a club cult hit. They still play it because of that part. They also play it before they close down. I wrote that one with Ardeshir (Farah).
(I play the song for him) You mean this one?
So how far did Move On Up/ My Number 1 Request make it on the Billboard charts?
It went all the way to number 1!
Do you remember how long it stayed there?
Can’t remember exactly. I think it was at least three or four weeks. It was there along Michael Jackson’s hits from Off The Wall (Quincy Jones production) and Come To Me by France Joli. This was also the case with the other 12 inches I released from the album.
I used to play The Beginning on the radio a lot, along with Move On Up. I’d always explain to the listeners that this was a song that used to be very popular in my country. Another thing I did was to sit down and read even the finest prints on the back cover of the album. And I remember seeing Iranian names on it. One of them was Ardeshir Farah’s. He played the guitar on the album, correct?
Yes, we both did. One of the other names was that of my ex-girlfriend’s, who had bought me that piano I told you about.
So how long have you known Ardeshir for?
We used to go to school (university) together. We were actually classmates. We both studied architecture at USC. We never parted ways since.
That’s interesting. But by the time Destination was up there in the charts, which is even until mid-1980, the Disco phenomenon was dying.
Yes, and I was in the middle of a lawsuit because of it during that whole time. So I didn’t get to enjoy the phenomenon that much myself !
What happened later? Your specialty was Disco and you got out of your lawsuit just as it was dying.
Oh, I made other songs. One of them was very successful on the charts back around 83 or 84. It was called ‘Got You Where I Want You’ by Stereo Fun Inc. It was released as part of a compilation where there were songs by Gloria Gaynor and Michael Jackson. This was actually one of my most lucrative endeavors to date.
How about the time you spent at Studio 54?
I was there as a guest DJ during the summer of ‘77 actually. Richie Kazor was the resident DJ there. He’d play half the set and I would play the other half.
This is around the time when Andy Warhol used to hang out there, right?
Yes, and he wasn’t the only famous person coming there. I’ve got a lot of pictures with all those people. But I’ve got to look around to find them. I don’t even think I have them in my albums.
They later included your version of Move On Up on the soundtrack for the movie “54” (1998) with Salma Hayek and Mike Myers. I remember there was also a double LP from Studio 54 that came out about the same time as the story of the movie is supposed to take place (1978), which was supposed to include all the hits of the era. Did you have anything to do with that album as well?
No, I didn’t have much to do with that one.
Alright, here’s another one where I found a trace of you: Donna Summer’s album Bad Girls, which was probably her most successful one, was recorded at Rusk studios as shown on the inside label of the newly released commemoration CD. Rusk is yours, correct?
Yes! But I wasn’t the owner then. I was a consultant for Casablanca at the time and they really liked working at Rusk. So I had to go there often. Actually, later on when I started working on Iranian music, I would go work there as well. Anyway, before they went out of business, me and a few partners (including the singer Morteza) bought the place. I think it was around 1986. But I was there from the first days, when Giorgio and Donna Summer were recording. I did sound engineering and mixing work there. I also used to record my own albums at Rusk. Like Artush’s album was recorded there. Shahram’s Deyar was partly recorded there as well. So were Morteza’s albums.
Did you get to work on Bad Girls too?
No, I didn’t. I did a mix of Bad Girls that neither Giorgio nor Donna Summer liked. The reason was that Disco was dying and they wanted to have that Rock sound. My version was still too Disco-ish for them! But I was very good friends with Donna. As a matter of fact I ran into her a couple of weeks ago at a restaurant here.
I hear she became a devout Christian for a while.
She still is, but it’s not like before
I also hear you have something of Elton John’s at Rusk, correct?
Yes, he used to come to the studio often. He recorded the album Victim Of Love there.
So how come they call you Elton??
That’s another story. I went to Iran once way back and recorded a few Elton John songs for the radio. On that interview, they jokingly called me Elton Joon! The name remained since
How about Laura Brannigan? I hear you have had something to do with her hits as well.
Yes, we recorded her three first albums at our studio. I actually knew her producer well. But you know, there is a lot of music that has been recorded in my studio.
Like Britney Spears’ last two albums (you’ll see my name there on the album), N’Sync, Howie from the Backstreet Boys, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, John Cougar, Elton John, The list goes on and on. Oh, what the heck: Tom Jones (the new albums), Placido Domingo, Engelbert Humperdink, I even wrote a song for Engelbert recently.”
So you still write music?
Yes, I write Iranian music, Latin music. I recently had a hit in Japan, a few in Mexico I also do classical Iranian music. One of the recent ones was a work on Monir Vakili’s voice that we found on tape in France. I put music on it. It’s called “Resurrection”. I did that one with her daughter. I actually did the same thing with Patsy Cline’s songs, it’s called “Duets”. I re-did the music and brought people like Willie Nelson, Glenn Campbell, Crystal Gale and Waylon Jennings to sing on the album. It got nominated for the Grammys. I’m now doing the number two. There will be Dixie Chicks, Shania Twain and a few others on this one. I really worked hard on that album. I think it took me about two years to finish it.
This gets us to what you do with movies, which is actually the bulk of your work!
I do something else in the movies. I do a lot of mixing, but I also write music for some, like ‘Keeper, The Legend Of Omar Khayam’. That was me. Also Hollywood Cop, that was me as well. Uh, Young Rebels, that was me too. These were all my work entirely. There are also movies where I have done a few pieces from the set. Like The House Of sand & Fog, The Whole Nine Yards, Soul Plane, Billy Madison (Adam Sandler), Black Knight (Martin Lawrence), I won an award for The Last Of the Mohicans, but for the mixing.
I noticed you’ve also worked with Lalo Schiffrin (Mission Impossible).
Yes, I co-produced an album called “Fire & Ice” with Lalo. He has also composed for Rush Hour and Black Widow. He’s a genius.
So I hear you work with Mansour and other Iranian acts for fun as well?!
Yes, not only with Mansour, but with Andy and others too. Siavash’s “Dokhtar Irooni” was my work, meaning I wrote all the songs. I have something like 300-400 songs that I’ve written for various singers. Like Ebi’s “Ba To” is a work of mine, or I’ve written a lot for Sattar “Hamsaram”, “Shenasnameh”. That song about peace in Iran, which was sung by Moein, Morteza, etc. is also a song of mine Nowadays I write a lot of dance tunes Andy’s “Salame Asheghaneh” or the dance mix of House Of Sand And Fog, which was nominated for dance cut of the year on CD Baby. You know, as I love this work, I’d just do anything (we both laugh). But you know, I stay behind the scene, I’ve only accepted one TV interview in my whole lifetime, and I really forced myself for that one. I really try to stay as anonymous as possible I’m just trying to leave a positive mark in our society and it doesn’t matter if it has my name on it or not. I did foreign stuff because that was my bread and butter, and I do Iranian stuff because I love it.
Yes, well you’re a legend for people like me, but I don’t know how it is for yourself (Author’s note: I mean that!) Anyway, do you listen to Iranian underground rock?
Yes, friends send me a lot of stuff. Also, since I travel to Dubai a lot, they come and see me there and we otherwise communicate by e-mail. I also know Babak and Bahram Amini, who both have bands. And I appreciate whatever anyone does, with no exception. You and I might have the same taste, but it’s not the case for everyone, as people have different tastes. This means that my personal preference might go for a certain band, but it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what everyone else does.
Alright, this is a question I ask everyone I speak with. What’s playing on your gramophone right now??
Oh, I have a little bit of everything on my iTunes! (laughs) I listen to a lot of oldies, actually a lot of classical music I try to listen to music that I can learn things from. I don’t particularly like Hip-Hop, although there are some Hip-Hop songs that are really nice. I really like Iranian traditional music Shahidi ... I love that stuff. I mean, I really love that stuff! Shahram Nazeri. Works by Rouhollah Khaleghi, Hossein Alizadeh..." If you listen to “The Keeper”, you’ll see how I’ve been inspired by this music, which is very different from the pop stuff I make. I’ve used traditional Iranian instruments in a modern way in that one, for example.
What about non-Iranian pop/rock music?
To tell you the truth, I don’t like a particular artist in general. I might like a few U2 songs, but I’m not a fan of one particular band. You know what I mean, it’s not like I’m fanatical about any one group. I like a song from the Rolling Stones here, another from Coldplay there. I’m a fan of good, valuable, enjoyable music. No matter who wrote or performed the song!
What about non-Iranian classical music? I’ve noticed there are a lot of footprints of classical music in your work.
My favorite is Mozart. I love the character of his music.
Any special preferences about a particular player or conductor?
Oh I have many, but I cannot count them I’m just a fan of music! You know, I’m a self-taught musician, that’s why I have this huge sense of appreciation in me for people who are just plain good in playing.
We began this conversation by you mentioning that your father preferred that you become an architect, but you took the musical path. What did your father think about all of this later when you succeeded in your chosen field?
He was okay with it later, but it took him a long time to swallow the idea. You know how Iranian families are.
Indeed, I was watching an interview with Shohreh Aghdashloo the other day where she was saying that her father had disowned her of the family name because she had taken up acting. That’s apparently why she took her husband’s last name, whereas her real name is Vaziri-Tabar. Anyway, something I personally want to know, and the only person who could tell me after 30 years is you! On John Davis’s Ain’t that enough for you, is that Philip Bailey (of Earth Wind and Fire) singing??
Ah great!! I’ve been meaning to find this out for so long!!
John Davis is an acquaintance of mine and was producing for TV for quite a while. But you know, in Hollywood, no matter how talented you are, you have a certain time. You’ve got to do as much as you can during that period and use it as wisely as possible, because on the next day, somebody else will enter the scene, and he will be ‘hotter’ than you! (laughs). That’s why you have to use your time as efficiently as possible before you get out. And this goes with all genres, in practically every type of work. You know, in America, there are still many talented people who haven’t even found that little bit of time... >>> Photos
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