John Lennon Producer Jack Douglas, Recalls John’s last night alive.
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Well, it sounds like for many of the songs, you already had backing tracks recorded for everything and it was just him coming in and doing his vocals. No, by the end of the process I had all those tracks. We recorded everything , 8th december, in the room, John sang live on all of them. All those were keepers. When I did the stripped down version a couple years ago, it was the basic track and almost all just live vocals. So you could hear him talk to the band, talk to me. It’s very personal, there are no effects on it, it’s very dry.
Were the final sessions pretty quick? No, it was a long process. Like I said, we’re talking about like four records. He took a little time off, he told me he was going back to Bermuda to write, the plan was to do a Ringo album, Paul had already signed on. So it was going to be Paul and John and we were trying to get George to back Ringo, which would have been unbelievable.
He’d written a couple songs here and there specifically for Ringo, right? Like “I’m The Greatest”? Yeah, there were a bunch of things. Almost every song, at some point, he says, “Okay, this is for Ringo.” And it could be that the Milk and Honey record may have been… a lot of those songs ended up on Ringo’s record.
Was it you or was it John who ultimately decided which songs were going to go on Double Fantasy? It was definitely mutual. I think we just had all this material. [After we finished those sessions] he told me he was going to Bermuda and to go ahead and do whatever I want, we would start recording again [eventually], and probably the Ringo thing after the first of the year, and he was planning a tour and all this other stuff. And then he called me and said, “We’re going back. Again. I feel like I just don’t want to leave the studio.”
He got the bug back. Yeah, and said, “Just you and me and Yoko. That’s all I want. Get an assistant, get an engineer, and produce.” And by then, we went back to Record Plant and we worked up on the 10th floor in the smaller room and I had already booked to do something for RCA, I moved it back to the middle of the night. And we would work all afternoon. “Walking on Thin Ice.” We only had a germ of that record, so we made a loop of I think eight bars, and then John and I played all the rest of the instruments on it. It’s just loop based. And a loop then was just a tape machine, I had it on a two- track spinning back to a multitrack, cutting bars together. And then John and I played over it, which was very wild. It was great. We were having a blast. We just felt like we had complete freedom to do whatever we wanted. And Yoko was great.
Everyone was getting along great during those later records. Yeah, and John knew that Yoko was onto something with that one. Especially with that spoken word. And the whole feel of it was so different that she was going to have a hit. It was nominated for a Grammy. But we actually finished that song and that last night he…I would go to my session afterward, a session at nine or ten at night, and he…we were planning on mastering in the morning. And some asshole went and shot him when he got home.
That was that night? Yeah, I said, “Goodnight, see you in the morning” at Sterling, the mastering studio. And a few minutes later I get a phone call, he’s been shot. I couldn’t believe it. I went up to Roosevelt Hospital, spent the night there. But he was already gone. They didn’t announce it until 6 in the morning.
So you were one of the last people to spend time with him. Yeah. It was me, Yoko and the driver. That’s it.
Double Fantasy was already number one. We were doing that in December. I mean he came back into the studio in late October, late November and started just messing around with stuff and decided on “Walking on Thin Ice”. And it didn’t look like he was gonna leave us, either. I mean, we were just having a great time. But then it was cut short.
That’s a pretty incredible story. Do you think that he chose you specifically for that last project because of your prior relationship? I ask the same question. I mean, we were friends, I never had an agenda with him. None whatsoever. Yoko trusted me. Knew that I understood what she was doing and I didn’t think it was crazy. But I asked John… we used to have a lot of talks. We would talk for hours after a session, cause Yoko worked in the daytime for the most part. And she’d go home and John would come in and we’d work all night. And John would like to kick back after a session. He had an old opium pipe that he liked to load with some weed, [a pipe]that I believe he got from Paul.
“Are we finished?” “Yep” So we’d kick back and smoke his pipe. And we would talk. But one day we were sitting and talking just for the hell of it. Anyone in the world could be producing, there’s so many other producers out there. I do some interesting stuff, but you know, I’m not George Martin—who I actually have a great relationship with. He taught me a lot. In England he had me come over and got me a flat.
Oh, in the seventies? Did you work on a project together? We did work on that movie, Sgt. Pepper’s
The all-star production with the Bee Gees? Yeah, I cut “Come Together”, which was a hit. And then we became friends. But anyway. In fact, when I wanted Cheap Trick to play on the record, they were doing a record with George Martin in Montserrat, and I had to call George and say, “Listen, I got your guy, can I borrow mine?” And he said “With pleasure”. And they came up to record.
So I asked John, “You know, of all these different people, you could have had…” and that look he would give me, the look if you’re getting insecure about something. And I said, “Look, why me? Why am I producing this record?” And he said, “Don’t you know? You should know why.” And I said, “No” and he went like this to me [Douglas puts his hands above his head]. And I said, “What’s that?” and he said, “Good antenna”. He said, “I don’t have to say much. I know you’re ahead of me. You have an idea of what the flow is, what I’m looking for. You know I’m impatient, you know that if things get caught up I get angry, I can’t take it. It flows. It moves. If we get stuck on a song, you get off it and move on to another. Then you move on to the right one, the right order. That’s why.”
He said, “That’s why. I don’t have to work, I just let you produce”. And he was very easy to produce. One of the easiest people to produce. So easy to produce, such a pro.
It sounds like he had a lot of faith in you, a lot of trust in you creatively. I guess he did.
Did he talk much about the Beatles? All the time.
Did he feel like it was a weight on him? No, he absolutely loved it. I used to have a little Sony blaster that I would put up… It’s funny because now I do my fucking mix through a Bose wave radio, but then it was a Sony blaster. A fairly good one. And if you sounded good in there, everything was right. And one day in a few moments when nothing was going on, he would put on WNYW FM and listen to the radio. He loved to listen.
And when a Beatles song came on the radio, he would tell you everything about that session. Everything that happened. He never had a problem talking about how much he loved that band. And how much he loved those guys. He was a little annoyed at George, because George had written a book and he didn’t mention John much in the book, at that time. But he felt that that would come around.
But his love for that band. Phenomenal. It was great. It was what you hoped he would be like.
He loved them as much as everyone loved them. Did he ever discuss why they never reunited, or why they had those near-misses? Well you know he and Paul were already in the process. This Ringo album I think was going to be big.
Did you ever see them together, any of them? No. But I know that Paul was up at the Dakota.
Did they jam together? I don’t know. All I know is that Paul was preparing stuff for Ringo’s album.
Did you ever have moments when you became a fan again, and you were asking him specifically, like, “What did you do on this song?” I can’t say that I did. I did that more to George [Martin] and to their engineer, Geoff Emerick.
He has an amazing book, by the way. Geoff Emerick I drove so crazy. We’re good friends. But I drove him so crazy that when he did his one and only interview for Mix Magazine, they asked him who his favorite producer was, and cause he couldn’t think of anybody except the guy who drove him crazy, he said me. Which I always thought, but that’s like insane, you know. Me?
But both of them I drove crazy, and they both… George would tell me, real specific things, and when I was working at their studios for those months that I was, he would bring in his personal equipment for me to use and he’d show me how to use it. That he used on Beatles records. Every once in a while, I’d be working and I would look over and like… holy shit. That’s John Lennon over there. I think I maybe have a picture on my phone that expresses maybe what they were like. Because we had a lot of fun.