You Say It's Your Birthday: Bill Laswell

Producer and bassist Bill Laswell turns 43 today. Perhaps the most prolific artist you've kind-of heard of,

Laswell has produced albums by everyone from Motorhead to Herbie Hancock

and put out numerous band and solo projects that fuse the energy and

excitement of punk with the sprawling jams and attention to dance rhythms

of P-Funk. The influence of his prolific work as a producer and artist can

be heard in the music of such artists as the Orb, DJ Spooky and Primus,

among others. Laswell was born in Salem, Ill., but was raised in Detroit, where he cut his musical teeth playing in funk bands. He moved to

New York in 1978 and formed a group called Material, originally to back up

Daevid Allen on tour but eventually as an outlet for producing experimental

music. The group played on Nona Hendryx's club hit "Busting Out" and in

1979 began to release a series of EPs entitled Temporary Music.

In 1981, the group released its first full-length album,

Memory Serves, which featured appearances by such artists as Fred

Frith and Henry Threadgill. 1982's One Down was a decidedly funky

affair, once again featuring Hendryx and Frith in addition to such artists

as a pre-stardom Whitney Houston and Nile Rodgers. That year also saw

Laswell working with a group called Massacre on an album entitled

Killing Time, and his first solo album, Baselines, was

released a year later on Celluloid, a label that Laswell assisted in

forming and running.

Laswell hit a creative stride in the mid-'80s that can only be matched by

such prolific music-makers as The Artist, Billy Corgan and Phil Spector.

He produced and co-wrote Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" in 1983 and won a

Grammy for producing Hancock's 1984 follow-up, Sound-System. Also

in 1984, Laswell started up a hip-hop-flavored solo project called Praxis

that went on to put out work featuring appearances by bassist Bootsy

Collins and guitarist Buckethead. Laswell also continued working with

Material during this time, making the Arabic-flavored Seven Souls

in 1989, The Third Power in 1991 and Hallucination Engine in

1994. In addition to his production work for such artists as the Ramones,

Public Image Ltd. and White Zombie, Laswell also began guesting on other

people's recordings quite regularly; he showed up on songs by such artists as

Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel and John Zorn, among

others. In 1990, Laswell formed Axiom Records and began exploring the emerging

worlds of ambient and techno music. Laswell continues to write, record and

produce to this day, still keeping up his frenetic pace and his prolific


Other birthdays: Ray Manzarek (the Doors), 63; Stanley Knight (Black Oak Arkansas), 49; Steve Hackett (Genesis), 48; and Chynna Phillips (Wilson Phillips),