Lennon ‘Double Fantasy’: Producer Jack Douglas Flashback, Pt. 1


Celebrating the 40th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy” album in November 2020, this is a slight update of the first of four features based on my in-depth 2010 interview with producer Jack Douglas about the album, which he co-produced with them in 1980.

The stories appeared in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal newspaper; at the time I was the paper’s Online Editor and an entertainment columnist. This piece was published Friday, Nov. 26, 2010, but is now a dead 404 page on the paper’s once-award-winning website.
— SKP, Nov. 2020.

“It was more like a James Bond movie than an album I was working on,” renowned rock producer Jack Douglas said in October 2010, recalling the clandestine way he was engaged to co-produce the Grammy-winning “Double Fantasy” album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, out 30 years earlier on Nov. 17, 1980, just three weeks before Lennon’s murder the night of Dec. 8.

Douglas, not one to live in the past, was indulging a flashback with a reporter during a coffee-and-stogie break outside Swinghouse, the Hollywood recording studio where he was producing “Sensory Overdrive,” the upcoming solo album by ex-Hanoi Rocks singer Michael Monroe.

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Producer Jack Douglas at Swinghouse studios, Los Angeles, September 26, 2010. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Douglas’s Ian Fleming-esque introduction to the “Double Fantasy” project began in summer 1980 when he picked up an intriguing call from an associate of Yoko’s, asking if he wanted to get involved in a new project with the Lennons.

“Then Yoko got on the phone and explained that whatever I was told had to be kept a secret, and if I was interested I would show up the next day at noon at the seaport dock on the East River,” Douglas said.

It’s not like Ono’s call was completely “out the blue,” as Lennon sang on “Mind Games.” Douglas had worked on several projects with the Lennons in the first half of the ‘70s, and he knew both were, in a word, unconventional. So he rolled with the plan and showed up at the seaport the next day at noon.

When a seaplane pulled up on the river and docked, Douglas said, “I jumped in, the plane took off, and it landed (across Long Island Sound) in Glen Cove, where the (Lennons’) mansion was. The plane pulled up right to the beach.

“Toshi (Yoko’s assistant) came out and welcomed me,” he said. “Yoko greeted me – I hadn’t seen her in a while – and told me John wanted to do a record, and the first thing I should know is that if I mentioned it to anyone, the record wouldn’t happen. Like she had said, it was top secret.

“Then she said, ‘This is from John,’” Douglas continued. “She handed me an envelope, and on the envelope, it said, ‘For Jack’s ears only.’”

Inside the envelope were demos of songs demos Lennon had been working on the Dakota and Cold Springs Harbor during his “househusband” years, 1975-1980, and had just recorded in Bermuda, where he and son Sean, then 4, were vacationing.

“She said John was going to be calling in a couple of minutes to find out if I do or don’t want to do this record,” Douglas said.

This was a long way from his first Lennon encounter, in summer 1971, when, as a staff engineer at the Record Plant in New York, Douglas co-engineered the Flux Fiddlers’ string overdubs on six songs on “Imagine,” John’s second solo album, including the title track and “Jealous Guy.”

The Lennons had moved from the London suburbs to Manhattan by then. In early 1972, Douglas served as a tech on the couple’s “Sometime in New York City” sessions backed by local street/bar band Elephant’s Memory.

And the next year, he was an engineer on Yoko’s “Approximately Infinite Universe” and “Feeling the Space” solo albums.

In the mid-to-late 1970s, as John and Yoko were ensconced in their apartment at the Dakota on West 72nd Street, Douglas produced the first several blockbuster multi-platinum albums by Aerosmith and Cheap Trick, respectively, and became one of rock’s best-known and most in-demand producers.

The Bronx-born Douglas had paid his dues, though, first as a hungry young folk artist and then by knocking around the U.K. with various bands before being thrown out of the country in 1965 (he says he’s saving that saga for an autobiography).

Back in New York, he studied sound engineering at the Institute of Audio Research, and after graduating, landed his first gig – sweeping up at the Record Plant.

RELATED: ‘Starting Over’ by Ken Sharp Recaps Lennon-Ono ‘Double Fantasy’

Once in the studio door, Douglas soon dusted the broom and began working in varying engineering and producing capacities on projects by Alice Cooper, Artful Dodger, Miles Davis, The James Gang with Joe Walsh, Montrose, Mountain and Rough Cutt, among others.

Over the next several years, Douglas went on to earn a rep as the quintessential New York hard rock and art rock producer, working with East Coasters like Lou Reed, New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Blue Oyster Cult and Starz, as well as The Who, Supertramp and Graham Parker from the U.K. and Flo & Eddie from the West Coast.

Eight years after “Imagine,” and a year before “Double Fantasy,” Douglas – who lived just four blocks away from the Lennons – ran into John at a neighborhood restaurant.

“He asked me to come up with him to his house – he had just finished a swimming lesson he was giving Sean – and I hadn’t seen him in four years, easily,” Douglas said. “He was explaining that he was a house-husband, but he was still interested in what was going on in the industry. He said he had followed my success as a producer and congratulated me. He said, ‘Here’s my private number. Call me at the Dakota.’

“But I didn’t call him, because I didn’t want to bug him – he seemed so happy,” he said. “I figured the last thing he needed was somebody going up there getting him excited or crazy or whatever. Anyway, I didn’t go.”

A year later, Douglas was holding the envelope of freshly made demos, waiting for a call from Lennon in Bermuda.

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St. Georges Harbor, Bermuda. Courtesy Bermuda Tourism Authority.

“John calls in 15 minutes and lays it out to me,” he said. “He isn’t sure if it’s really going to happen. He says, ‘You got material there. I want you to listen to it. I don’t think it’s very good, but I want your opinion.

“I’ll call you tomorrow after you listen to it. Yoko’s going to have some songs on the album; it’s going to be kind of a play between the two of us.’ And I say, ‘OK, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’”

Ono gave Douglas a stack of tape reels of her song demos to take with him, too.

“And I went home and it was kind of a shock,” he said. “You know, you want to tell the whole world. But at that point, there wasn’t really a project, so I just kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell anybody that I was contemplating doing John’s comeback album.”

Special thanks: Ken Sharp, Rory Aronsky.

Next: Producer Jack Douglas: Flashback to ‘Double Fantasy,’ John Lennon Murder

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Producer Jack Douglas and journalist Stephen K. Peeples at Swinghouse studios, Los Angeles, September 26, 2010. | Photo: David C. Kephart.

Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990, and writer/producer of hundreds of WW1 programs in the preceding five years. • He earned a Grammy nomination as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” box set with Lou Adler and Geoff Gans (Rhino/MIPF, 1992). • Peeples was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. His first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He went on to be a Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983) and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). • Moving online, he was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). • Based in the Santa Clarita Valley just north of L.A., Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music TV show from 2010-2015 (archived online and still airing in reruns). • The Santa Clarita journalist is now a News Editor at SCVTV’s SCVNews.com, SVP/New Media for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. and developing a biography of notorious Texas Artlaw Boyd Elder. • For more info and original stories, visit https://stephenkpeeples.com/For exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to Peeples’ YouTube channel.

Article: Lennon ‘Double Fantasy’: Producer Jack Douglas Flashback, Pt. 1
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Category: News and Reviews
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com