David Axelrod is a composer/arranger/producer who has worked with such artists as Lou Rawls, Cannonball Adderley, Betty Everett, Gene Ammons, and Merl Saunders, among others. He has also produced albums on his own, including the innovative rock version of Handel’s Messiah.
Heavy Axe is Axelrod’s first Fantasy album under his own name; it’s his first "non-concept” type LP. It is also the first time Axelrod has not produced himself, turning over the producing chores here to Cannonball Adderley. "Axe” and "Cannon” work together constantly, but Axe is usually producing Cannon—not the other way around!
Axelrod grew up on the south side of Los Angeles at a time when the city was teeming with the sounds of jazz, and filled with small clubs in which to hear it. He was orphaned by the time he was 14; he and his older sister literally raised themselves on the streets of Los Angeles. He’s paid lots of nonmusical dues too: he’s dug ditches, driven trucks, been a prizefighter, a machinist, a bus boy at the Coconut Grove. He never graduated from high school.
At age 19, David met a man who changed the entire course of his life, jazz pianist Gerald Wiggins. One night Wiggins brought David home with him and David stayed for seven years! Wiggins taught David to read music, and with friends like Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson dropping by, David learned a tremendous amount at the Wiggins home. He’s had little formal musical training—a year of night classes at UCLA in harmony and composition, and private work with Mauro Bruno.
Axelrod produced his first record when he was 22; he soon became known, in the words of Down Beat, as "the best A&R man on the West Coast.”
In 1964 Axelrod signed with Capitol Records as a producer/arranger/conductor. He worked with Cannonball, Lou Rawls, and David McCallum, and headed up their R&B division, a term he loathes. David is one of those white people who always seem black. His environment as a youth was black, and David relates to the black experience totally. A person’s color is inconsequential to Axelrod; music is the only thing that matters.
In 1967 Axelrod wrote and arranged an LP for the Electric Prunes, the "Mass in F Minor,” which was the first composition to use feedback and guitar distortion as an integral part of a total orchestration. That was the "Mass” you heard in the film Easy Rider. In 1969 he arranged and composed the album "Song of Innocence,” which prompted a fan letter from the Beatles. He also did a rock interpretation of Handel’s Messiah, including in it some of his own writing.
Axelrod is a leader. He’s always out there in the musical vanguard, defying categorization. His versatility is indeed amazing. He’s not a jazz man, not necessarily "R&B,” not even a pop music man. He’s just musical. He covers the entire spectrum of music, from the most sophisticated of classicists (i.e., Handel, Ravel) on down to the funkiest black brother on the street who whistles a tune.
In the last year or so at Fantasy, Axelrod has arranged and produced Fantasy artists Cannonball Adderley, Gene Ammons, Merl Saunders, Funk, Inc., and Betty Everett. He worked with Cannonball on a double album, Big Man, a musical based on the life of John Henry, scheduled for an August release.