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 might not know his name, but you’ve certainly heard his work.
A native of Michigan, Blazek joined the Army during the Vietnam War and served in Germany as part of a unit that performed a critical task. Blazek and his fellow soldiers were actors and musicians who visited bases and presented shows designed to teach enlisted men how to avoid contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
Soldier Blazek heard the work of producer Bill Szymczyk, who was becoming famous for producing BB King’s hit “The Thrill Is Gone” and the rock band‘s debut LPs under Joe Walsh’s head “The James Gang”. Blazek wrote to Szymczyk and convinced him that the military would let him use his GI Bill money to become an apprentice studio engineer for the producer.
Szymczyk took a bite and let the young veteran join his team after finishing his serve. The producer went on to become one of the most successful studio wizards of the time, and Blazek was his right-hand man for most of the ride.
Why did Szymczyk respond to a letter from a random soldier and give him a chance to embark on a legendary career? Perhaps it was his own service in the Navy as a SONAR operator in the early 1960s that convinced him to give another veteran a chance. Perhaps it was Szymczyk’s Polish-American roots that contributed to his decision to help a child with a Czech name. The decision turned out to be a good one, and the men worked together for almost a decade.
Blazek died on August 3, 2021 at the age of 71. He has a long list of credits, but here are five classic tracks he recorded as Szymczyk’s engineer.
1. Eagles – ‘Hotel California’
“Hotel California” (the LP) is perhaps the most iconic rock album of the 1970s (OK, it’s on par with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”) and it’s one of the best-selling collections of all the time. “Hotel California” (the song) won a Grammy for Record of the Year, an award that goes to the producer and sound engineer alongside the artist.
Blazek also worked with the Eagles on “On The Border” and “One of These Nights” before working as a producer and engineer on Glenn Frey’s solo albums “No Fun Aloud” and “The Allnighter”.
2. Elvin Bishop – ‘Foled Around and Fell in Love’
Blues-rock guitarist Elvin Bishop wrote this hit single # 3 and usually took the lead vocals on his own records, but he gave this one to backing vocalist Mickey Thomas because Bishop thought this track could use a vocals. softer. He was right, and it remains Bishop’s only Top 40 hit.
Thomas was then invited to replace Marty Balin in Jefferson Starship and sang the hits “Jane” and “No Way Out”. As a member of the spin-off group Starship, he was a vocalist on No. 1 hits “We Built This City”, “Sara” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. Fortunately Blazek had nothing to do with these records.
3. Rick Derringer – “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”
Derringer enjoyed his only solo success with his 1973 recording of “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” which reached No. 23 on the Billboard charts. Derringer had a No. 1 hit in 1965 with “Hang On Sloopy” as the McCoys lead singer.
Derringer wrote the song as a member of Johnny Winter’s band, and the band released a excellent version of “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” on the classic “Johnny Winter And” LP from the 1970s. This version was not a success, 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 group – “Give it to me”
“Bloodshot” was the J. Geils Band’s first top 10 LP and the only one they had until they topped the charts with “Freeze Frame” in 1981.
This success was motivated by the Top 40 hit “Give It to Me”, one of the first reggae-tinged songs to be a hit on American radio. The LP is the best studio representation of the band’s original sound. Symczyk and Blazek were also behind the stage for the band’s impressive 1976 live album, “Blow Your Face Out”.
5. The Who – “You better 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 US single for a band whose chart performances didn’t always match their influence.
“You Better You Bet” is the kind of American radio rock muscle that has eluded the band for most of its career. It is also the last great single from a group that has only made 3 studio albums since that 1981 release.
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