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MEMPHIS--What do artists like the Gin Blossoms, B.B. King, the Cramps, Travis Tritt, the Replacements, the Vaughan Brothers, Toots Hibbert, Marty Stuart, Afghan Whigs, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Robert Cray, the Bar-Kays, Marty Brown, Alex Chilton, John Campbell, and Little Texas have in common? Producer/mixer/engineer John Hampton is the common denominator linking these blues, rock, reggae, country, soul, and cutting-edge alternative acts.
Maybe it is the fact that Hampton lives and works in Memphis, Tenn., the crossroads of American music culture, that has enabled him to develop an innate sensitivity to getting the best out of many different genres. Whatever it is, Hampton has racked up credits that range from cult classics to multiplatinum.
When Hampton sat down to talk with Billboard, he was at Ardent Recording (the studio at which he primarily works) celebrating the gold certification of the Gin Blossoms' "New Miserable Experience." That album, which he produced, had a three-week run as Billboard's No. 1 Heatseeker, and contains the single "Hey Jealousy."
BILLBOARD: The Gin Blossoms are currently doing very well on the charts. What was your attraction to the band?
JOHN HAMPTON: One thing that sets the Gin Blossoms apart is that they actually have melodies, which is something you don't hear much of these days. With the album, I just made sure they didn't lose sight of that attribute.
BB: Explain your production methodology.
HAMPTON: I primarily like working with bands, as opposed to solo artists. A lot of bands that I talk with these days feel beat up by producers who just came in and took over and hardly let the band get their ideas to tape. I don't think that's right. I approach every band differently, looking for their unique qualities and bringing them out. I don't dabble and tell them what to do, and I think a lot of bands appreciate that viewpoint. I know I get better performances approaching things that way.
BB: A lot of acts that come to you in Memphis hope to tape into this town's famous vibe.
HAMPTON: Sure. They come from everywhere--Australia, Europe, New York, Japan, you name it. It's been said that it's in the water, and maybe so. But whatever it is, it's real.
BB: What blues projects have you done recently?
HAMPTON: I mixed B.B. King's "Blues Summit." Everybody cut in Ardent C, which is a live wood room. B.B. sat right next to the drums and sang. As a result, the record has a real earthy, live sound to it, not too far away from his early Kent sides.
BB: What projects would you consider among your most memorable?
HAMPTON: The "Toots In Memphis" record that I worked on with Jim Dickinson was real memorable. Watching Teenie Hodges, Eddie Hinton, Sly and Robbie, and Toots was a real intense experience. We were bridging reggae and R&B, and it seemed to work perfectly. I've done a lot of records with Jim Dickinson that I am real proud of. The Replacements' "Pleased To Meet Me" is another one. Recently, we worked on the Spin Doctors.
BB: How did Nashville's country industry pick up on you?
HAMPTON: Gregg Brown, the guy who produces Travis Tritt, was the first Nashville person to come to me. When he heard the work that I did on John Kilzer's first record, he decided that was the sound he wanted for Travis. I basically took my black music and rock roots and sonically superimposed them on Tritt's take on country music. It worked, and when [his] record came out there were like four No. 1 singles. That brought me to the attention of more producers and record label people in Nashville. Recently Little Texas came over here, with producers Doug Grau and Christy DiNapoli, and did their record with me from top to bottom. Their single just went No. 1 country. Personally, if I were going to produce any more country, I would lean more toward the edgy, outlaw side. About 50% of my mixing business is Nashville country. The rest of it is mainly rock and blues music. Even though I have gone out of town to do projects, like Robert Cray's last album, I like people coming here to Ardent and using me. Fortunately, most of them do. After all, it's the wild cultural stew that's called Memphis where my clients and I seem to find the greatest inspiration.
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