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Jimmie Haskell: The Man Behind the Music - 2004-08-27

Behind the scenes of every hit record is a music arranger, and veteran Jimmie Haskell has arranged or produced more than 100 best-selling recordings.

Jimmie Haskell got his start in the 1950s with musician/actor Ricky Nelson, one of two sons of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson who appeared on their weekly television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Mr. Haskell says Ricky Nelson came to the studios at Imperial Records evenings after working on the set of his parents' program. "I would start with the band, and I'd rehearse them, starting around 7 PM. And Rick would show up around 8, sometimes 8:30, depending on his schedule. Well, when it came to "Hello, Mary Lou," there was a nice sound on it that I wanted to make sure was heard, so I played cow bell on the rehearsal," he says.

Ricky Nelson liked the sound, and arranger Jimmie Haskell played the cowbell on the recording.

In the 1950s and '60s, the arrangements of popular songs were usually simple. Mr. Haskell would indicate a style and let the musicians embellish, up to a point.

He says some could not read music, but only chord symbols, so he would work more closely with them to get the right sound. He did with the musicians on the Ricky Nelson hit "Travelin' Man." "We would work along, just getting a feeling for the song, until we all agreed that's the right feeling," he says.

Jimmie Haskell would later share a Grammy for what he calls his small part in the popular hit by the duo Simon and Garfunkel, "Bridge Over Troubled Water".

Jimmie Haskell was doing work for Capitol Records when a producer asked him to arrange some music for a singer named Bobbie Gentry. The main song on her two-side recording was called "Mississippi Delta." "Had Bobbie Gentry become famous for 'Mississippi Delta', she would have been known as a gravel-voiced rock and roll singer. He (the producer) said she sat on a stool and recorded a bunch of songs with just herself and her five-string Martin guitar and her singing, and we chose one called 'Ode to Billie Joe.' And we're going to put that out as the b-side," he says.

The next morning, Mr. Haskell had an arrangement ready for four violins and two cellos, and the b-side of the record went on to become a hit. That song also brought Jimmie Haskell the first of his three Grammy awards.

Mr. Haskell has worked with most the greats of the music business, from Elvis Presley to Tina Turner. He arranged the classic Wayne Newton song "Danke Schoen", and has done arrangements for Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, and Neil Diamond.

He won his third Grammy for an arrangement of the song "If You Leave Me Now", by the group Chicago.

Among his recent collaborations, Jimmie Haskell has worked with Celine Dion, Steely Dan, Laura Nyro and kd lang, and arranged the song Riverwide by Sheryl Crow, which earned the singer a Grammy in 1999.

Mr. Haskell also writes for movies, and his music can be heard on the soundtracks of such films as Pulp Fiction, Catch Me If You Can, and The Matrix. One song that he arranged became the theme of the popular television show The Osbournes.

After 50 years in the business, Jimmie Haskell is still one of the busiest people in the recording industry, a man that record producers know can write an arrangement overnight for a ballad, rock and roll tune, jazz number or pop song. Many that he has written have gone on to become hits.