Sandy Pearlman, punk and metal producer, dead at 72

Sandy Pearlman, an influential rock producer and manager who spent recent years lecturing at Canadian universities about the intersection of music and technology, has died.

Pearlman worked with Blue Oyster Cult, The Clash; taught at McGill and U of T

Sandy Pearlman, music critic-turned-producer, manager and lecturer, has died at the age of 72. (Facebook)

Sandy Pearlman, an influential rock music critic, producer, manager of bands such as Blue Oyster Cult and lecturer at Canadian universities, has died.

Pearlman, 72, died of pneumonia and other complications early Tuesday in Novato, Calif., according to his longtime friend and conservator Robert Duncan, who revealed his passing on Facebook

In December 2015, Pearlman suffered a cerebral hemorrhage "that left him unable to walk, talk or fully comprehend his circumstances," Duncan noted on a GoFundMe page set up in June to help raise funds for his medical bills.

"He was a great cultural iconoclast," noted Charlie Angus, NDP MP from Timmins-James Bay and former musician with Grievous Angels, via social media — one of a number of online tributes pouring in from former music colleagues and fans. 

Most recently, Pearlman served as a visiting fellow at the University of Toronto, lecturing about the intersection of music and technology. That came after he spent several years as a visiting professor at McGill University in Montreal. 

From critic to player

New York-born Samuel Pearlman began his evolving career in the music industry in the late 1960s as a critic for pioneering rock music magazine Crawdaddy. Pearlman was among the first to popularize the use of the term "heavy metal" in his writing to describe distorted, guitar-heavy rock.

He eventually moved from writing about music to becoming an influential player in New York's burgeoning underground music scene, helping launch the careers of bands Blue Oyster Cult and The Dictators.

He produced several albums for Blue Oyster Cult — which he also managed  including the track Don't Fear the Reaper. The song was famously spoofed on Saturday Night Live in the "More Cowbell" sketch starring Christopher Walken as the band's producer. After the sketch aired, Pearlman was fond of telling interviewers that the song actually needed "less cowbell."

'[Pearlman] saw me as fronting a rock and roll band, something that had not occurred to me, or that I had even thought possible.'- Patti Smith,

In her critically acclaimed memoir Just Kids, Patti Smith credited Pearlman with having "a vision of what I should be doing," as she transitioned from being a poet and spoken word artist to a musician.

"He saw me as fronting a rock and roll band, something that had not occurred to me, or that I had even thought possible," wrote Smith.

Pearlman also produced The Clash's second album, 1978's Give 'Em Enough Rope, which contained critically acclaimed songs such as Safe European Home and Stay Free.

Pearlman was able to move between punk and heavy metal — genres whose fans were sometimes antagonistic. He managed Black Sabbath in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Also in the 1980s, Pearlman produced Dream Syndicate's Medicine Show and helped Montreal rocker Aldo Nova secure his first major record deal.

Advisor role

Eventually, Pearlman began to take fewer jobs as an artist producer and, instead, ran a studio, managed a small record label and, in 1998, took a role as vice-president of eMusic, one of the first businesses to sell music downloads online.

Pearlman also served on the National Recording Preservation Board of the U.S. Library of Congress, which conserves recordings deemed to have cultural, historical or aesthetic importance.

He became a visiting scholar at McGill's Schulich School of Music and then a fellow of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at University of Toronto in 2014. He taught courses and gave lectures on the promise and challenges of digital music, the aesthetics of music production and the similarities between 19th-century classical music and heavy metal.


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