Anthony Edward Visconti
born April 24, 1944
American record producer and sometimes a musician or singer.
Since the late 1960s, he has worked with an array of performers; his lengthiest involvement with any artist is with David Bowie: intermittently from Bowie’s 1969 album Space Oddity to 2003’s Reality, Visconti has produced and occasionally performed on many of Bowie’s albums. In fact his career was to become inextricably linked with two seminal figures of the ’70s, David Bowie and Marc Bolan.
Visconti produced two early Bowie albums, Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World, beginning an association that would last, on and off, up to Bowies death. But it was Bolan who would bring Visconti his first major success. He stumbled upon Bolan in 1968 in the club Middle Earth, and produced the first Tyrannosaurus Rex album for £400. Two years and four albums later, Tyrannosaurus Rex metamorphosed into T Rex, and Bolan into the biggest pop star of the day.
He was, Visconti reflects, a complex mixture of arrogance and insecurity, and totally obsessed by his rivalry with Bowie. “I remember when we were making the last T Rex album, and David had just said he was having bisexual experiences. A day or two later, Marc walked into the studio with some fan he’d picked up and said: ‘This is Arthur, I had sex with him last night.’ You’ve never seen a bunch of heterosexual people looking in five different directions at once!”
Visconti met British producer Denny Cordell in 1968 while he was still working as Richmond’s in-house producer. Cordell asked him to assist in recordings for successful jazz vocalist Georgie Fame. Visconti moved to London—in a move that would soon become permanent.
One of his first production projects in England with was the Welsh group The Iveys (later known as Badfinger). He produced several tracks for the band’s first LP Maybe Tomorrow, released on The Beatles’ Apple label. The title track from this album was released as a single and reached #67 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1968. More early production work on the album Prophets, Seers & Sages – The Angels of the Ages for Tyrannosaurus Rex was to be of critical importance in kick-starting his influential career. It was to begin a relationship with T. Rex that would last for their next seven albums. One of Visconti’s greatest successes was Electric Warrior, the album that made Marc a superstar and cemented Visconti’s producing credentials. Marc, with a Ladbroke Grove hippie, Steve Peregrine Took (named after the character in Lord of the Rings), formed Tyrannosaurus Rex and began to build a following in London’s underground clubs. The band’s breakthrough came when an American producer named Tony Visconti walked into a club in the West End called Middle Earth. Bolan was on stage, sitting cross-legged on a carpet, hunched over his guitar, his face half-obscured in a cloud of curls, while an obviously stoned Peregrine Took banged his bongos beside him. ‘I didn’t see a musician,’ remembers Visconti, ‘I saw a star. I went up to him and he said, “Oh, you’re the eighth producer I’ve met this week. John Lennon was in here last night, and he wants to produce us.” He was totally full of himself.’ Bolan took Visconti’s card. At 10 the next morning he called from the street outside Visconti’s office. ‘He made it sound casual. “I’m just passing by, we’d like to come up and audition.” They unfurled their carpet on our floor and played their whole set.’
The first album, released in 1968 and produced by Visconti, boasted the longest and most pretentious title in pop history: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair? But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows. Bolan sang in a droning, nasal voice, which critics likened to the bleating of a goat, and wrote lyrics informed by the enthusiasms of the day – psychedelic nursery tales about mystics and magicians that the critic George Melly thought ‘rather like Walter de la Mare’. There was, says Keith Altham, ‘something of the amateur mystic about Marc, and I don’t think even he knew what it was. I think it stemmed from the fact that he was extremely bright intuitively, but not intellectually.’ Bolan told people he was the reincarnation of a Celtic bard. To his agent of the time, Peter Jenner, more accustomed to Bolan haranguing him over fees, he was ‘a flower child with a knife up his sleeve’
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