Legendary Music Producer Steps Out of Fast Lane

Americana, Celebrities, People, Traditions
on December 18, 2005

As he’s done for nearly four decades, music producer Bill Szymczyk sits behind a recording studio console as a drummer adds his part to a song. After the session is completed, Szymczyk (pronounced sim-zik) retreats to the lobby of a nearby hotel to soak up the soothing strains of a pianist playing a classical tune.

But this isn’t just business as usual for Szymczyk, 62, one of rock music’s most successful producers. Although he’s worked with acts such as the Eagles, the Who, Bob Seger, Joe Walsh and B.B. King, his activities on this particular day are a family affair: His son, Michael, 18, is the drummer in Szymczyk’s basement studio, while son Daniel, 13, is the one tickling the ivories in the hotel lobby after a family dinner at the Switzerland Inn near their home in Little Switzerland, N.C.

Although Szymczyk spent most of his career working in top-line recording studios in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, he moved to Little Switzerland, a resort community along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in 1990 to raise his sons in a more child-friendly environment. Truly committed to fatherhood, he vows to have a better balance between work and family than his hectic, 12-hour-a-day, six-days-a-week schedule had allowed in decades past.

“I really wasn’t there, because of my work schedule, for my first two children,” says Szymczyk, who also has two grown children from his first marriage. “So when my wife, Lisi, and I made the commitment to have children, I decided to be there for every basketball game, soccer game and piano recital. It’s very fulfilling.”

Finding the perfect balance—at least in the recording studio—has always seemed to come easily for Szymczyk, who is praised for his attentive ears, sense of perfection and patience for creating the right mix of sound. “He pioneered the careful making of records,” says his friend, producer/musician Al Kooper. “With his work with the Eagles, every little piece of music on the record was made perfect. That really hadn’t been done before.”

Musicians who’ve worked with Szymczyk adore him for his infectious sense of humor, booming voice and larger-than-life personality that complements his 6-foot-4-inch frame. He’s always had the knack of getting along with band members who can’t seem to get along with each other, such as the Who and the Eagles, who called him “Coach.”

Szymczyk grew up near the shores of Lake Michigan in Muskegon, Mich. (pop. 40,105), where his mother was a nurse and his father was a factory worker and school maintenance worker. “It was a rural Midwest town in the 1950s—very open doors, non-locked cars and kids in the neighborhood,” he says. “It was mellow and unthreatening. The upper Midwest upbringing and school of thought is just real down-home, basic common sense.”

He found this same mellowness and sense of security in North Carolina, where he and Lisi became active members of the community. They don’t hesitate to dash off a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, or vocalize their opinions at school board meetings. When efforts began in the late 1990s to raise money for a domestic-violence shelter, they tirelessly called upon their famous friends to donate unique items for two auctions they hosted that raised $30,000 for the Mitchell County Safe Place.

“He does a lot of community work, and a lot of it is quiet,” says his friend and golf partner, Jim Meyer, owner of Wildflowers Natural Foods & Etc. in nearby Spruce Pine (pop. 2,030). “We met when we were out picking up yard-sale items for a project to develop a tile wall at one of the schools. He is a regular guy, even though he’s a musical genius.”

Szymczyk continues to produce both big-name acts, like the Eagles (they’ve recorded 17 tracks for a new album), as well as local musicians, such as singer/songwriter Grant Sparks, but nowadays his travel is self-limited and the schedule is based on his terms. “I still produce and I still love to do it, but I am not angsting if the phone doesn’t ring anymore,” he says.

“I was born and raised in a nice small-town environment, [then] went to all the big cities and did all the rock and roll things and accomplished a ton,” Szymczyk says. “I’m very comfortable with how much I’ve done, and I don’t have to do anymore. I am not driven; I’m not a Type A.

“It’s almost full circle,” he says. “Here I am back in the country again.”