Army veteran Allan “Blaze” Blazek worked quietly behind the boards as an engineer on some of the best-selling rock records of the 1970s. You may not know his name, but you’ve definitely heard his work.
A Michigan native, Blazek joined the Army during the Vietnam War era and served in Germany as part of a unit that performed a critical task. Blazek and his fellow soldiers were actors and musicians who toured bases and performed shows designed to teach enlisted men how to keep from getting a sexually transmitted disease.
Soldier Blazek heard the work of producer Bill Szymczyk, who was getting famous for producing B.B. King’s hit “The Thrill Is Gone” and the early LPs by the Joe Walsh-fronted rock group “The James Gang.” Blazek wrote to Szymczyk and convinced him that the Army would let him use his G.I. Bill money to apprentice as a studio engineer for the producer.
Szymczyk bit and let the young veteran join his staff after he completed his service. The producer became one of the most successful studio wizards of the era, and Blazek was his right-hand man for most of the ride.
Why did Szymczyk answer a letter from a random soldier and give him a shot at a legendary career? Maybe it was his own Navy service as a SONAR operator in the early 1960s, that convinced him to give another veteran a shot. Maybe it was Szymczyk’s Polish-American roots that contributed to his decision to help out a kid with a Czech name. The decision proved a good one, and the men collaborated for nearly a decade.
Blazek died on Aug. 3, 2021 at the age of 71. He’s got a long list of credits, but here are five classic tracks that he recorded as Szymczyk’s engineer.
1. Eagles - ‘Hotel California’
“Hotel California” (the LP) may be the most iconic rock album of the 1970s (OK, it’s tied with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”) and it’s one of the best-selling collections of all time. “Hotel California” (the song) won a Grammy for Record of the Year, an award that goes to the producer and engineer alongside the artist.
Blazek also worked with the Eagles for “On The Border” and “One of These Nights” before working as producer and engineer on Glenn Frey’s solo albums “No Fun Aloud” and “The Allnighter.”
2. Elvin Bishop - ‘Fooled Around and Fell in Love’
Blues-rock guitarist Elvin Bishop wrote this #3 hit single and usually took lead vocals on his own records, but he gave this one to backup singer Mickey Thomas, because Bishop thought this tune could use a smoother voice. He was right, and this remains Bishop’s only Top 40 hit.
Thomas later was invited to replace Marty Balin in Jefferson Starship and sang the hits “Jane” and “No Way Out.” As a member of spinoff group Starship, he was vocalist on the #1 hits “We Built This City,” “Sara” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Blazek fortunately had nothing to do with those records.
3. Rick Derringer - ‘Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo’
Derringer enjoyed his lone solo hit with his 1973 recording of “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” which hit #23 on the Billboard charts. Derringer had a #1 hit in 1965 with “Hang On Sloopy” as lead singer of the McCoys.
Derringer wrote the song as a member of Johnny Winter’s band, and the group released a great version of "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" on 1970’s classic “Johnny Winter And” LP. That version wasn’t a hit, and comparing the original version to the hit recorded by Blazek and Szymczyk gives you a good idea of their studio skills.
4. The J. Geils Band - “Give It to Me”
“Bloodshot” was the J. Geils Band’s first top 10 LP and the only one they’d have until they topped the charts with “Freeze Frame” in 1981.
That success was driven by the Top 40 hit “Give It to Me,” one of the first reggae-tinged songs to be a hit on U.S. radio. The LP is the best studio representation of the group’s original sound. Symczyk and Blazek were also behind the boards for the band’s awesome 1976 live album “Blow Your Face Out.”
5. The Who - “You Better You Bet”
Blazek and Symczyk traveled to London to work with The Who on “Face Dances,” their first LP after the death of original drummer Keith Moon. The result was a Top 5 LP and Top 20 U.S. single for a band whose chart performance didn’t always match its influence.
“You Better You Bet” has the kind of American rock radio muscle that eluded the band for most of their career. It’s also the last great single from a band that’s only made 3 studio albums since this 1981 release.
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