Blue Note President Don Was Talks About His Blue Note Vinyl Reissue Project

On Wednesday March 12th Blue Note President Don Was sat down with me to talk about the Blue Note vinyl reissues he's producing for the label. He's a music executive who is also an acclaimed musician and producer. A Detroit native and University of Michigan Ann Arbor drop out, Was's first group Was (Not Was) released four commercially successful albums during the 1980's.

He's produced and recorded with everyone from The Rolling Stones to Solomon Burke and of course he produced Bonnie Raitt's classic album Nick of Time 1990's "Album of the Year" Grammy Award winner.

He was 1995's "Producer of the Year" Grammy Award winner and he produced Rolling Stones albums Voodoo Lounge, Stripped, Bridges to Babylon, Forty Licks, Licks Live and A Bigger Bang. He also was responsible for the reissue of Exile on Main Street, but we won't hold that one against him!

He made up for that one by directing and producing 1997's Brian Wilson documentary "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" and he played bass in the back up band for this year's Grammy salute to The Beatles—lucky man!

Was was appointed president of Blue Note Records in January of 2012, succeeding industry veteran (and coincidentally my neighbor) Bruce Lundvall. Clearly he's been associated with better productions than this GoPro on the head one, and we appreciate his allowing us to "air" these two low budget productions.

iyke's picture

Audio on these videos sound less than audiophile.

At least Don Was loves Music Matters just like us audiophiles

Michael Fremer's picture

I am looking into what I can do to make these better without traveling with a video crew that I cannot afford or with a system requiring its own suitcase.

my new username's picture

thank you Thank You THANK YOU. Dunno why you were on the Left Coast this week but I'm glad you were. This interview made my day, not only to get his honest take on the purpose of their reissues but also his obvious understanding of all aspects of this nutty business.

However, we may need to take up a collection to get you a better quality GoPro and one with image stabilization. What about a small HD video camera with an external shotgun mic and a Joby GorillaPod tripod? Pretty please?

Oh, but for that publicist who made that shit up about the boss not liking the other Blue Note records' sound ...

So, yes. Very happy to take him at face value here! What a genuine and very likeable guy, right? Hoping he takes you up on your offer to visit your NJ Record Cave (sounds better than "man cave"?)

I'd be interested to learn what makes the difference in cost between all that an audiophile label does vs. "in house" as here. Packaging is part of it, but Was did mention that cutting from digital saves money. To what extent, and why?

Michael Fremer's picture

"Oh, but for that publicist who made that shit up about the boss not liking the other Blue Note records' sound ..."

rischa's picture

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the great interview. Did Don Was mention what resolution the digital masters are? I'm really looking forward to these after hearing this interview.

Michael Fremer's picture

Mostly 192/24 some at 96/24 and by excellent mastering engineers: Alan Yoshida who did many XRCDs and all of the Blue Note XRCDs produced by Elusive Disc, and by Bernie Grundman.

rischa's picture

That's good news. It will be fun to compare these to the new Music Matters 33&1/3's. The biggest news from the interview, though (espeially if sound and pressing quality are decent), is that the long term plan is to reissue every title in the catalog! This means I might eventually get some some Blue Note Sidney Bechet and Elmo Hope on quiet vinyl!

Ortofan's picture

Hard to believe that this is the same Don:

wkjeffers's picture

I only hope the quality control or lack thereof during pressing doesn't undue all the efforts of the production team. There would be nothing worse than a person buying one of these to see "what all this vinyl resurgance is about" and have them get a pressing that is poor quality.

my new username's picture

All of marketing is a curiosity. So, you have these jazz records from the 1960s, well-known (and since forgotten) to old guys. Who's intrested in 1960s jazz today besides old people like me?

It's young people, or maybe broke people, or people who stumble upon the music but aren't, won't or can't be wrapped up in audiophilia. Normal citizens.

Should we fear them? :)

Michael Fremer's picture

Are far less "age-centric" than were we at their age. There are enough of them who love great music regardless of when it was recorded to make this series successful. I'm confident of it. Why else whould they also own turntables in 2014??? And there are more and more of those too.

John G's picture

Good to see another more affordable alternative like the 304 Park Ave, "Scorpio" reissues that I have quite a few of.  Most were purchased new for less than $12.

It will also be nice to see more titles than the same old dozen or two that continue to be reissued by Music Matters...  Like C'mon, don't most of us already have these?

Michael Fremer's picture

Those are in all likelihood cut from CDs. 

John G's picture

I'm not sure what that means but they sound pretty decent on my rig. I'm strictly a vinyl guy so they provide an affordable way to get nice clean copies.  I actually just ordered Larry Young - Unity and a couple Bobbie Hutcherson LP's for less than $40 including shipping.

my new username's picture

John G: That's shorthand, meaning the LP was sourced from a CD. They played a CD and ran that signal into the cutter head, more or less.

What happens is that in Europe, the copyright laws are different (don't, um, exist as much?) and so labels like Scorpio (or Doxy, or sometimes 4 Men With Beards ...) are legally able to cut a new copy of an old title, but because they didn't license it, don't have acess to "the goods"--a master file or master tape. So they go to the store, buy a CD, and use that instead.

No one's saying it doesn't sound decent, but there's a reason why that LP was so cheap, and that one cut from a better file or from tape should--and usually does--sound better. At a price, of course.

iyke's picture

Don Was came across as a genuinely likeable person, but I'm still confused about one thing. Admittedly these reissues are digital and nowhere near audiophile quality, Why bother announcing them on a blog devoted to analog worship. Seems to me he should be pushing these reissues on blogs or publications geared toward his intended audience, mp3 crowd.


"He also was responsible for the reissue of Exile on Main Street, but we won't hold that one against him!"

By the way, Mikey, I don't think I can overlook the atrocious job that was done on that Exile reissue. I spent nearly $40 on that record and had to give it away practically for nothing at the used record store.

Fool me once...

my new username's picture

Admittedly these reissues are digital and nowhere near audiophile quality,

Admittedly, you don't, and can't know that yet.

Why bother announcing them on a blog devoted to analog worship.

Hmm, maybe because these are LPs being announced?

Your vinyl world going forward will be very small if all you ever consider is vinyl cut from tape. 

prelives's picture

Do miss the show he used to do on Xm called Motor City Hayride, yes xm sounds terrible but I have discovered a lot of good music on shows like that one. 

Blue Note's picture

or what?  Am I still better off buying use Liberty/UA releases than buying these new ones?  If Scorpio is pressing what Was is indicating to be digital copies at an affordable price, why bother with another reissue of these.  I mean, what is REALLY going on here, there is STILL no solid info indicating what is being offered other than cheaper than music matters but more than scorpio with no attendant improvement in sound quality?  Hell, I can get APs for not much more than $20 and they sure as hell kick the scorpio's to the curb, will that also hold true for these reissues?  Still, no real relevant questions answered...

Michael Fremer's picture

These are sourced from the master tapes transferred at 192/24 or in some cases 96/24 meticulously done as archival copies by Alan Yoshida at Ocean Way and by Bernie Grundman. These hi-rez copies are the digital references. Cutting from files saves money. The idea is to get these into the hands of a different audience for under $20.

Michael Fremer's picture

If Scorpio is pressing records from CDs you can't understand the value of pressing records from high resolution digital sources meticulously transferred? Really?

Blue Note's picture

if indeed these are being cut from a high-rez master.  Obviously, those files should be much better than the Scorpio cd file pressings, but I have been hearing so many different maybes about these pressings, I was not sure that the digital files were indeed high-rez.  So I now assume from your article that these new pressings will be from high-rez files and thus offer a much better sounding product than what is generally available from Scorpio and cds.  Thanks for clearing that up, Michael, much appreciated!'s picture

Mikey, what a great video interview, thanks. Don Was and Still is a cool guy. I could watch these interviews/talks on Records all day.......One of my favorate Frank Sinatra Jr songs/videos (yes that Frank jr) is Mr. Sinatra being backed by Was Was Not on I think a tune penned by Don,  " Wedding Vows in Vegas". Check it out on YouTube. Clip is from a performance on Letterman. Great vibe by the band and Mr. Sinatra.

infohou's picture

Hey Analog Man,

Thanks for this, it was informative.

If you want help with the audio and video from the GoPro you can fill out the form at .  I will do these two Was ones for free.

Take it EZ,

Robert A. Ober

Michael Fremer's picture

That's what I want to know...

infohou's picture

Hey Analog Guy,

You have been around audio pros so you know I can keframe the audio and bring up Was's level and do EQ and/or noise reduction as warranted.

I will upres the video. do color correction and grading in Resolve then produce whatever deliverable you require.

As I stated in the Grundman comments,  I will need a copy of the original camera files.

Take care,

Robert A. Ober

atomlow's picture

What a cool guy with a big heart.

I love when people talk about turntables and mention the movement, the spinning of the record. That's what I love about records above anything. By dropping a needle on a piece of plastic and watching it spin around has a huge appeal and little kids love it. They want to touch it, want to be apart of it too.

I quit smoking a few years back and never actually liked smoking all that much. But seeing the smoke roll out was what I was addicted to, I don't think I was ever really addicted to nicotine because frankly I didn't like the buzz of nicotine. It was about the movement, about thinking deeply about something. I love the sound of records and we all debate about the sound, but one thing a cd/digital file will never do is spin in such a way that trances the listener/viewer and let's be honest records are much healthier than smoking.

Thank you for trying to keep the prices down. This is a smart move that will keep the vinyl fever going for many years to come.

loop700's picture

A budget camcorder and an external mic will remain compact yet offer better quality. Add a lapel mic later.

Inexpensive Rode mic:

AnalogJ's picture

That was a great joy listening to you two talk. He's musical and has good ears. 


Regarding an alternative to a GoPro, there are compact, fixed lens cameras which are of VERY high quality, higher than GoPro that have external mic inputs. Almost pocket size, they can even slip into a jacket pocket. I think a camera, for example, like the Nikon P7800, running a bit over $400, would fit the bill. I wish the Panasonic Lumix LX7 had an external mic input, because that's a fantastic camera running about $300 right now. But go to BHPhoto, or your local good camera shop and check out the compact camera market.

davidmreyes77's picture

You know, if I was president of a record label I would want to look as cool and laid back as Don does.

Billf's picture

Don Was is a terrific, warm guy who has created some amazing music. It's refreshing to see a person like him in charge of things, rather than some little weasel fresh from MBA school or running another, non-music company. I can even forgive Don for Under the Red Sky. Handy dandy....