Producer’s Spotlight – Ron Haffkine

Ron Haffkine
Ron Haffkine
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Despite contracting polio at age 12 and being completely paralyzed for 2 yrs, part of God’s plan, among other things, for Ron Haffkine to become a “Historic Figure” in ROCK N’ ROLL history started to take shape, in the early 70’s.

At 21, Ron was a self-professed “average” musician, but his love for music drew him to Grenwich Village, in his home town of New York, where he wound up becoming buddies with famed songwriter Shel Silverstein, who was 28 at the time and had already penned numerous hits. Ron had formed and was managing a band called The Gurus at the time and he wanted them to record. So he walked into Regent Sound and explained to a not yet famous engineer named Bill Szymczyk, who later produced The Eagles, that he wanted to make a record, but knew nothing about the process and Bill said he’d like to help. During the sessions, Ron would tell Bill: “I’d like to hear this or I’d like to hear that, or…there’s not enough of this or there’s too much of that” and Ron produced his first project. When finished, Ron played it for his buddy Shel and he was so impressed that he told Ron about a couple of films that he was writing the music for and he needed someone on the inside to produce the music for both films and protect his creative interests. The two films were “Who is Harry Kellerman”, which initially wasn’t a hit, but later  become a cult film, in which Dustin Hoffman, who had already done The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy and Little Big Man, played a songwriter and “Ned Kelly” starring Mick Jagger. The soundtrack of the 1970 film features Silverstein songs performed by Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.

Although he was broke at the time, Ron recognized the opportunity and took “the gig” for free. One scene in the Hoffman film required a band on stage, but Ron didn’t like the band, so he recommended a band called DR. Hook, that he’d heard in a bar called The Sands, in Union City, New Jersey, where they were playing for $ 40 bucks a week. But the producers, Shel and Dustin all said “No”. Un-relentless, Ron said he would pay for a showcase on the condition that they all attend. They all attended and they all agreed to use Dr. Hook in the film. Ron was astute enough to know that he had to get a record deal for the band before the movie came out, so he called and got in to see Clive Davis at CBS, on the clout of Hoffman’s name. Once in, Ron tried to talk Clive into letting Dr. Hook do a live showcase in his office but Clive wasn’t interested, so Ron bluffed Davis into believing that Ahmet Ertegun, President of Atlantic Records, would. Clive agreed… So Haffkine, in preparation for the meeting told the drummer to turn over Clive’s wastepaper basket and use it as a drum. He told the keyboard player to jump up on Clive’s desk and kick off whatever is in the way and he told Ray to never sing anymore than 2 ft away from Clive’s face. To get the guys up for the task, he had them drink “half a bottle of booze” before they went in. Clive was immediately knocked out and called his business affairs guy Elliot Goldman, (who later became president of RCA) and told him to take Ron into his office and “don’t come out until they were signed.

From hanging out with Shel Silverstein, Ron had learned the difference between good songs and great songs and was also quickly becoming Dr. Hook’s #1 A&R man, as well as their producer and manager. Later, after Sylvia’s Mother Ron locked horns again with Clive Davis for 3 months over Silverstein’s Cover of the Rolling Stone because of the lyrics “We take all kinds of pills to get all kinds of thrills” and “I got a freaky old lady named Cocaine Katy”. Ron said: “If you put out another Sylvia’s Mother…Dr. Hook is done! Clive finally exhausted, went back and told the label to release it. Ron, against all opinions, now interjects on the record all the fun talking “Hey Ray…etc” and now Clive wanted drums on it but Ron said: “Don’t **** with it…it’s perfect just the way it is”. Cover of the Rolling Stone was not their biggest hit, but it turned out to be the most significant song of Dr. Hook’s career.

Ron recalled: “I went up to see, Jann Wenner, one of the founders of Rolling Stone Magazine, I walked in and said; “You guys are a bunch of piss-ants”. Jann said “WHAT?” Ron said: “I’ve just given you guys the best commercial for that rag you’ll ever get” and the rest became music history. They sent Cameron Crowe who later wrote and directed “Jerry McGuire” to do the interview, who at the time was their 16 yr. old wiz-kid reporter and in March, 1973, issue 131, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone thanks to the very savvy Ron Haffkine. Later albums produced by Ron featured Sharing The Night Together, When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman, Sexy Eyes, Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk and their biggest hit A Little Bit More, which Ron found at a flee market in San Francisco for 35 cents.

Ron Haffkine with Dr. Hook

Ron moved to Nashville in 1975 and at 72 yrs old still resides here, on Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, with his wife Sydney. In all, Ron produced 10 studio albums and 2 live albums on Dr. Hook, which garnered 10 top tens on the pop charts in the US and 67 gold and platinum awards world wide. To music historians, it’s no secret that at least two of Ron’s albums are ranked and archived, with the best music produced in the Seventies. Like the band he discovered and put on the cover, “Legendary” record producer, manager, A&R man Ron Haffkine is still in a class of his own.

I remember thinking at the time; “They did it…They got The Cover…Perfect”

To me…that was HUGE…and it still is.

– 1975 Move to Nashville

At the time, in Nashville, Kyle Lehning, now famous for his body of work with Randy Travis was producing Waylon Jennings and wanted to meet Ron’s engineer, Roy Hally,. Kyle knew Shel Silverstein, so he got Shel to introduce him to Ron, and Ron in turn introduced Kyle to Roy. When they met, Kyle said to Ron; “Why don’t you make a record in Nashville?” Ron said: “I’ don’t know how to make a record with studio musicians”. So Kyle hired the musicians and showed Ron how sessions are done in Nashville.

Later when the band signed with Capitol, the first single “Only 16” got some attention, but when Ron found a little tune called “A Little Bit More” on a vinyl record, at a flee market for 35cents in San Francisco, things exploded for Dr. Hook. At that point the offers started pouring in for Ron to not only run a couple of labels but also, to produce a plethora of artists, but he loved what he’s doing. You could always see Ron in the wings, singing along with every song and he didn’t want to chance ruining his relationships – – with anyone, so he turned them all down.

Recently, Ron began working with a new duo, Tawny River. He produced their first single release “ target=”_blank”>Aye Aye Mari  Juana” and commented that they are next big thing to hit the music scene.

Ron appeared on The Producer’s Chair full details @ www.theproducerschair.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Hey Ronnie! I sang backup at Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball in about 1971 (?), I was one of the Trident girls, and made the curtains and bed canopy for your bedroom in Sausalito. Remember me? I’m the gal on the album cover kneeling in front of the piano. Just wanted to shout out a Hello. Ha! I saw those drapes and canopy for sale at a flea market years later!

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