”I don’t want to be in the Rolling Stones,” murmurs a soft-voiced Don Was, the halo-haired studio wizard whose latest clients include the venerable Glimmer Twins. ”They just need someone one step removed from the band who’s of a simpatico mind-set.”
As one of the most in-demand rock producers around and an established musician in his own right, Was (ne Fagenson), 41, can afford modesty. With Was (Not Was) — the now defunct egghead-pop band he formed with childhood friend David Weiss — he made four albums and the 1989 hit, ”Walk the Dinosaur.” That same year, Was’ healer-of-veterans reputation was established with the B-52’s’ Cosmic Thing and Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time. ”His vision evolves with the band’s vision,” says B-52 Kate Pierson, ”He doesn’t listen [to a song] and say, ‘I know! I know exactly what it needs!”’
Despite Was’ credentials, which include producing Bob Dylan, Paula Abdul, Willie Nelson, and the smash Rhythm, Country & Blues, and assembling an alternative supergroup for the soundtrack of BackBeat, the Stones still needed convincing. ”The first meeting was a monologue from Keith, telling me why they didn’t need a producer,” Was recalls with a laugh.
Was — who over the course of six months recorded 30 songs with the Stones in L.A., New York, and Dublin — downplays his impact. ”I think the role of producer may be a little overvalued,” he insists. ”I don’t want to say overpaid, because that would be hari-kiri. Maybe you should view us as photographers: We’re helping take a picture of these [artists], but we can’t make them photogenic.”