Celebrating the mad genius of music producer Hal Willner, who has died, likely of COVID-19

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/04/09/celebrating-the-mad-genius-of.html


More people may know him from his beautiful and unique tribute albums-- long before everyone else was doing tribute compilations Wilner would truly curate albums where he chose musicians and songs, sometimes picking the song for the musician specifically. My own favorite, and probably one of my “desert island discs” is “Weird Nightmare”-- paying tribute to Charles Mingus and Harry Partch, using Harry Partch’s own handmade instruments. It’s hard to pick another album quite like this one, the weirdness of the concept and the depth and beauty of the result.

[ETA: I was lucky enough to catch a couple episodes of Night Music back in the early 90’s. I was recently describing it to a younger friend and he thought I was joking: “yeah right, David Sandborn jamming with The Residents, Christian Marclay and Todd Rundgren, on network TV. Gimme a break.”]


Still an all time favorite for me.

I thank that album for reintroducing me to Tom Waits, Ken Nordine, and Sun Ra among others.


Oh man, Night Music was the greatest thing to ever be on television. My intro to so much good music. Thanks for posting all those episodes. It almost makes me nostalgic for my old VCR that used to record them.

Edit: sorry, didn’t mean to respond to you directly on that one @TobinL


Stumbled on a few more great Night Music moments:

It’s been like 30 years but I can still remember the start of their song, ha. "Well we are very alive and we have big thighs and we like to rock your body from side to side… "


Very saddened by this news. As a European, I got to know Hal Willner through the records that he made, starting with the utterly marvelous “Weird Nightmare”, devoted to Charles Mingus, and discovering the other four tribute albums as I was able to find them, mostly in second hand record shops. I gave away several copies of “Stay Awake” that I found during these searches as presents. But I enjoyed many of the other, more normal albums that he produced, too.

I retain a particular fondness for the soundtrack album for Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” that Willner produced and which contains several songs written by rock musicians for jazz singer Annie Ross. I arranged two of these - “To Hell with Love” (Doc Pomus/Dr. John) and “Evil California” (Terry Adams/Annie Ross/Iggy Pop) - for my previous band and have sung and played them many times.


I’m a fan of 2006’s “Rogue’s Gallery” where Willner got an amazing collection of artists to sing sea chanteys. Below, singer and actor John C. Reilly sings “Fathom the Bowl”.


Weird Nightmare for me

Do we know if Hal was previously ill or this just happened sadly?

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Nice tribute to Wllner last night on SNL, with cast members singing Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.”


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