Best known as a producer of sample-ready '60s records of unique vision, David Axelrod held many chairs in his career, from drummer to composer, A&R man and especially as a recording engineer, arranger and producer. In the late '60s and '70s he created several personal statements with his drum-heavy engineering, polished arrangements, creative use of strings, funky beats and eco-oriented themes. A longtime favorite of hip-hop samplers, his music was a groovy fusion of jazz, rock and soul. His sound and style is unmistakable to the ears.
The son of a union activist, he grew up in Los Angeles and took in the city's thriving jazz scene. Early on he worked in television and did some ring boxing before cutting sessions as a jazz drummer. He produced his first album in '59, The Fox by saxophonist Harold Land, for the Hifi Jazz company. He worked for several West Coast jazz labels and became in demand as a skilled engineer before settling into his own creative projects. He notably worked with artists from the Electric Prunes to Lou Rawls to Letta Mbulu to Little Willie John and a longtime association with Cannonball Adderley.
He became a staff producer at Capitol in '63, working with Rawls, Adderley and others. He brought in a team of ringers (Carole Kaye, Earl Palmer and other "Wrecking Crew" folks) to replace the Electric Prunes for the classic Release of an Oath. In '69 and '69 he released his heady William Blake-inspired albums under his own name, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, followed by 1970's Earth Day-oriented Earth Rot. A string of albums in the '70s were released on various labels (RCA/Decca, Fantasy, Polydor, MCA, etc). He also composed music for the Sesame Street television show.
His '80s recordings were shelved and it wasn't until his re-discovery by the hiphop generation that his records started selling again and he made some new recordings for MoWax and others. In 2004 he was in full comeback mode, conducting his own work at the Royal Festival Hall. But he got ill for quite awhile and passed a couple months ago.