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Arts and Culture News

Tom Dowd: Fluent in 'The Language of Music'

Tom Dowd had the mind of a rocket scientist, but the ears of a musician. When he died in 2002 at age 77, he left a legacy of recordings that trace the recent history of American popular music and the evolution of modern technology. If you listen to the discography of the Atlantic Records label -- from John Coltrane through Eric Clapton -- you are hearing Dowd at work, too.

Dowd never got rich. His name rarely appeared in print outside liner notes. But what liner notes they were: "Layla" by Derek & the Dominoes. "Respect" by Aretha Franklin. "Free Bird" by Lynrd Skynyrd. And the list winds on through a dazzling variety of genres and artists.

Dowd's technical contributions were equally groundbreaking -- especially his work in recording on eight-track tape.

Now, a documentary film -- Tom Dowd & The Language of Music -- has opened in select theaters around the country, giving even casual music lovers a chance to appreciate the work of an anonymous master. Later this month, a DVD with bonus features will be released. The film's director and producer, Mark Moorman, spoke recently with NPR's Liane Hansen.

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