Musical producer

RIP Norman Dolph, first producer of Velvet Underground, died at 83

Norman Dolph, the music industry polymath best known for his early work with The Velvet Underground, has died. He was 83 years old.

In a statement on Friday, Planetary Group confirmed that Dolph died May 11 in New Haven, Connecticut, after a battle with cancer. “Shooting galleries with someone who knew most of the artists personally was a privilege few people get to experience,” added Invisible Hands Music owner Charles Kennedy, a close friend of Dolph’s. “I will miss Norman dearly, but his friendship and the wisdom he imparted along the way is a never-ending well that I will cherish forever.”

Dolph was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 11, 1939. After earning a degree in electrical engineering from Yale in 1960, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a salesman in the custom label division of Columbia Records and pressed records for third-party clients like independent label Scepter Records, whose early roster included artists like The Isley Brothers and Dionne Warwick.

As he began to cultivate his record label career, Dolph also ran one of America’s first mobile nightclubs, where he often played nightly arts events. Through this scene he met a number of iconic visual artists, including Andy Warhol, who introduced Dolph to a then-unknown band called The Velvet Underground.

Using Scepter’s studio in midtown Manhattan, Norman worked on a number of tracks that would end up on the final version of The Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut. The Velvet Underground & Nico: “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, “European Son”, “Femme Fatale”, “Run Run Run”, “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “The Black Angel’s Death Song”.

Eager to find a label to release The Velvet Underground & Nico, Dolph gave the acetate of the recordings to his bosses at Columbia. It was outright denied with a note from Columbia’s A&R that read, “You’re crazy with this.” After Warner Bros. and Elektra also passed on the album, it ended up being released by MGM’s jazz imprint, Verve. The original acetate would later sell for $25,000 on eBay, one of the highest prices ever paid for a vinyl record.

By the 1970s, Dolph had moved on to songwriting. He co-wrote the 1974 hit “Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)”, recorded by an ad hoc studio group called Reunion, which would later be edited for a McDonald’s Super Bowl commercial.

As a close affiliate of the New York art scene in the 60s and 70s, Dolph continued to expand his extraordinary collection of paintings and began to paint himself. In the 80s and 90s, he wrote about software and other topics of interest to entrepreneurs for a column in Hit magazine. He also worked as an insurance manager. He married his second wife, Eve Dolph, in 1995.