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Sid Feller


  • Born Sidney Harold Feller, 24 December 1916, New York City
  • Died 16 February 2006, Beachwood, Ohio

One of the stalwart arranger/conductors of the recording studio system, best known for his series of albums with Ray Charles on ABC in the 1960s. Feller began playing the trumpet while in the Boy Scouts and worked with small groups in the New York City area. He also learned to play the piano and once said he owed his career in music to the fact that his mother agreed to have a piano hoisted through the window of their Brooklyn apartment.

He taught himself to write and arrange music in his early days as a professional musician. While working with a band in the Poconos, he set out one day to write an arrangement based on a tune he'd made up, and the band's leader accepted it without a question. From then on, he advertised himself as a trumpeter AND arranger.

While playing in the Hungarian orchestra at Zimmerman's Budapest, a restaurant on 48th Street in Manhattan in 1938, he met Gertrude Hager, who was working at Minsky's Burlesque. He joined Jack Teagarden's band as a performer and arranger in 1940, but was drafted into the Army a short time later. He spent his Army time playing and conducting in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he married Gertrude, and then, at Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia.

After the war, he wrote for Teagarden again, and played and traveled with Carmen Cavallaro for several years before he joined Capitol Records in 1951 as a record producer, arranger and conductor. While at Capitol, he worked with Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Jackie Gleason, Nancy Wilson, and Dean Martin and also led the band on "USA Canteen," later renamed "The Jane Froman Show," one of the many 15-minute shows in the early days of television.

In 1955 he joined the new ABC Records and became, with Don Costa, one of the cornerstones of that label. He backed Steve Lawrence and Edye Gorme, Paul Anka, and others. In 1960, he began a long collaboration with Ray Charles following Charles' departure from Atlantic Records.

Charles' style changed considerably with his move to ABC. To die-hard R&B fans, the shift to a more mainstream repertoire and the introduction of string and vocal choir arrangements was criticized, and Feller took much of the blame. He, however, not only made a conscious choice to broaden his approach but gave Feller much of the credit for making it possible. Charles later remarked, "If they call me a genius, Sid Feller is Albert Einstein."

Their first album together, "Genius Hits the Road," produced Charles' Grammy-winning single, "Georgia on My Mind," and, for many people, this version has become the definitive rendition of the song. Perhaps the best way to understand Feller's contribution to Charles' work during the ABC years is to ask what the chances are that "Georgia on My Mind" would have ever been produced by Atlantic. Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler of Atlantic certainly deserve great credit for bringing out Charles' unique talents as an R&B artist, but it's unlikely they would have been able to think outside the R&B box, so to speak.

When he began work on the breakthrough album, "Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music," Charles said, "Sid researched the hell out of it and came up with 250 tunes. I picked the ones I liked, and of the ones I picked, they were all new to me except 'Bye Bye, Love.'" The album not only produced Charles' biggest hit, "I Can't Stop Loving You," but contained several other definitive renditions, including "You Don't Know Me," a tune originally recorded by Eddy Arnold.

Feller was no clairvoyant when it came to predicting sales, however. "I didn't know that a Pop artist could do country songs and become a national monument," he later said. "You know how unimportant it seemed? I put 'I Can't Stop Loving You' in the number 5 position on the B-side of the album."

Feller stayed with ABC until 1965 when he moved to California and became a successful freelancer. He served as the musical arranger "The Flip Wilson Show" from 1969 to 1974 and worked on TV specials with John Davidson, John Denver, Pat Boone, Andy Williams, and others. He produced numerous soundtrack albums for Broadway shows such as "Fade in-fade out," and "Mack and Mabel." Bernadette Peters, and served as president and treasurer of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

He also continued his relationship with Ray Charles, and he toured with and conducted accompanying orchestras on occasions for nearly twenty years after leaving ABC. Charles referred to Gertrude and Sid as his "aunt and uncle," and their kids referred to him as "Uncle Ray."

After suffering a heart attack in the late 1990s, Feller finally stopped working. In 2001, he and his wife moved to suburban Cleveland to live near their daughter Debbie.


Recordings

  • Music to Break a Lease By, ABC-Paramount ABC-107
  • More Music to Break a Lease, ABC-Paramount ABCS-416


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