Producer/arranger/composer David Axelrod—who died yesterday at age 83—was the originator of a spiritual, orchestral strain of funk that made his work among the most plundered by hiphop producers. (According to whosampled.com, Axelrod has been sampled 398 times, including by J Dilla, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, and DJ Shadow; it's probably much more than that, though.)
To rock fans, Axelrod was best known for his work with the Electric Prunes. Though they bore that group's name, the 1968 albums Release of an Oath and Mass in F Minor are actually Axelrod opuses for which he tapped some of LA's greatest session musicians to play his dazzling, complex compositions. Both records are landmarks of sacred psychedelia and sumptuous funk, and, of course, absolute sample gold mines.
You may have heard "Kyrie Eleison" in that unforgettable New Orleans cemetery scene in Easy Rider. Axelrod also worked his meticulous studio magic on soul and R&B stars like Lou Rawls and South African vocalist Letta Mbulu, as well as on jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Every Axe project—perhaps especially his solo LPs Song of Innocence, Songs of Experience, the eco-conscious concept album Earth Rot, and Seriously Deep—was imbued with a transcendent melodic majesty and a subtle, inventive sense of rhythm that has influenced hundreds of musicians. His impact on music will be felt for as long as the electrical grid holds out.
Andy Zax, a renowned record executive who produced Axelrod comp The Warner/Reprise Sessions: The Electric Prunes & Pride, wrote the following remembrance today on Facebook:
Ten years ago next week, Brian DiGenti introduced me to David Axelrod, and we spent a couple of hours interviewing him at his apartment in North Hollywood. I was apprehensive before the meeting—I knew that he was prickly genius who did not suffer fools under any circumstances. But by the end of our conversation, Axe had concluded that I wasn't a fool, and over the next few years, he got into the habit of phoning me up. Sometimes he wanted to talk about music business stuff; sometimes he wanted to vent about his health issues; sometimes he wanted to tell me stories about his life, or about what it was like to work with Harold Land or Lou Rawls. He was brilliant and funny and cranky and cutting, and probably, I thought, a bit lonely. But on the phone, he was a supernova, riffing and ranting with the same sense of rhythm and dynamics that you can hear in his music. His work will live on—they'll be naming high schools and post offices after him soon enough—but our already-diminished world is further diminished without his presence.
And Andy Votel—revered DJ and co-owner of the phenomenal reissue label Finders Keepers—weighed in on Axe's death on Twitter.
NoO0Ooo!!! Not The Axe! In some circles this will be a loss of Bowie proportions. RIP, thee master, DAVID AXELROD - HOLY WAS HE! #Experience pic.twitter.com/y6hKuWNV3U
— Andy VoteI (@AndyVotel) February 6, 2017