Henry Lewy: The man behind the music

Two Ashland writer-producers are beginning interviews for “The Man Behind the Music,” a documentary on the life and work of Henry Lewy, a sound engineer who encouraged and brought out the creative best from the greats of the ’60s and ’70s, including Joni Mitchell, Herb Alpert, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Joe Cocker, Neil Young, Van Morrison, The Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

The two, Bob Burton and Evan Archerd, worked for decades in the music and television industry, getting to know the late Lewy and scores of legendary singer-songwriters whose records he produced.

Lewy’s gift, says Burton, is that he was humble, helpful and able to set aside his ego so artists could flourish in the nurturing environment of his studio. With such a stellar background, he should be famous, but, he adds, he didn’t want to force his mark on their work.

“That’s why we’re doing this documentary on his life,” says Burton. “No one knows who he is or what he did. He gave me the breaks to get going in the industry and he would do all he could to help anyone. You don’t see that anymore.”

Lewy’s longest collaboration was 13 albums with Joni Mitchell.

Burton and Archerd are raising $60,000 on Indiegogo, where they have passed the 13 percent mark with two weeks to go. The money will be used for crew and expenses for interviews with rock greats in Los Angeles.

“We’ve asked Joni and Graham Nash and Joan Baez and others and everyone says, ‘yes, I’d do anything for Henry,’” Burton says. “They all thought so much of the man. He was instrumental in a lot of artists becoming successful.”

Burton and Archerd expect to raise several hundred thousand dollars more on Kickstarter for post-production, which will happen in Ashland.

They plan to take the piece to film festivals, including Ashland’s and, they hope, to Sundance, aiming at general release by fall 2015. It would be a good documentary for HBO and Showtime, they note, with all proceeds going to music scholarships for inner city kids.

Lewy died at 79 in 2006. He fled Nazi Germany at age 13 in 1939, lived a few years in Florida, graduated from Hollywood High School in 1945, and served with the U.S. Army in the invasion of Okinawa, winning the Purple Heart. He became an engineer and radio announcer in the 1950s in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, became pals with Miles Davis and dated Maya Angelou, they note.

One story that will be in the movie, says Archerd, is that, while living in the South, Lewy would always take a seat in the back of the school bus, with black kids — and when white administrators and parents put up a fuss about it, he pulled a reverse Rosa Parks, refusing to move to the white part.

“He wouldn’t budge. It was who he was,” says Archerd.

The producers credit Lewy’s even-tempered and generous nature not just to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, but the fact that he learned Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the time the Beatles did — and practiced it daily all his life. He retired in the late 1980s to Prescott, Ariz., to be with kin and died of heart ailments there.

It’s a big job to track down so many rock luminaries, most of whom don’t want to give interviews, but Burton says his years as a publicist with NBC and CBS have taught him how to hustle and use his network of agents, managers and other publicists.


John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland

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