‘He was a genius’: Tex Perkins remembers legendary producer Tony Cohen
Tony Cohen, producer and engineer for records by Nick Cave, The Cruel Sea, Powderfinger, Paul Kelly, The Go-Betweens, TISM and so very many more, has passed away at the age of 60.
To call Cohen a legend of the Australian music industry and an important piece of the sound that emanated from our country through the 80s and 90s would be a vast understatement. His work behind the boards helped shape the sound of underground rock in Australia and his recordings still feel vital to this day.
Speaking with Myf Warhurst on Double J today, Tex Perkins, who made many records with Cohen over the years, remembered both Cohen’s skill and character.
“He was a genius,” Perkins said. “There was nobody else like him in the studio. Most of all, he just had such a fun, positive, mischievous vibe about him. He always brought a good feeling into the studio. A lot of people loved him, a lot of people have made great records with him. We’ll miss him.”
Cohen’s list of credits is too enormous to do proper justice. But it was one record that he made with Perkins’ The Cruel Sea that looms particularly large in his catalogue.
“He worked very hard on The Honeymoon Is Over; far more than we wanted to,” Perkins laughed. “I’d never experienced mixing a song for more than a day. It drove me mad. I had to leave many times. But Tony worked very hard on that record and it paid off. It did very well and he picked up one of those pointy things for his work on that record.”
That pointy thing Perkins refers to is the ARIA for Producer of the Year, which Cohen won in 1994. But it was more than just a pointy thing to Cohen. Soon after the win, he told triple j’s Richard Kingsmill that it felt like he’d finally been recognised for his work in the industry.
“Oh yeah, [it meant] a hell of a lot. I was rapt,” he said. “I mean, 20 years of work… I've done a lot of good records. I even got up and said, 'This is richly deserved'.
“For me, it wasn't so much just for one record. I really felt that it was for quite a lot of things. It's nice to get recognised when, a lot of the time, because of associations with punk and certain underground bands, I sort of felt like a lot of mainstream record companies would be 'Oh, we can't use him. He's a bit of a scallywag. No good.'
“It felt to me like I showed them, ‘Hang on, maybe I am doing great stuff? Maybe they are good records?’. It was good, it felt good like that.”
The ARIA finally put him in sight of the major record labels, but that didn’t mean Cohen necessarily wanted to work with their acts.
“I've got a lot of bigger acts approaching me since winning this ARIA, but a lot of those I don't find very exciting,” he said. “I don't really want to do that.
“Sure, there might be money and prestige or whatever there, but it's not something I consider will be a great record, so let them stick with their regulars. Get the overseas people over and pay through the nose for them.”
Cohen would go on to win two more ARIAs the following year.
Perkins also reflected on the last time he saw Cohen, while on tour in regional Victoria late last year.
“I feel very fortunate, because I hadn’t seen Tony in years,” he said. “Late last year Murray Patterson and I did a show in Wonthaggi, that’s where Tony had been living, he’d been taking care of his old mum out there.
“We had dinner together and he stayed for the show. As I sang each song, I realise ‘Oh, we recorded this one, Tony’. I dedicated most of the show to him.
“A lot of the local community knew him, but didn’t know about his history. He was really chuffed and I feel very fortunate to have given him that tribute. For what is now the last chance I had.”