I first met Phil Ramone when I played Carnegie Hall in 1976. It was my first time headlining there. There used to be an Italian restaurant across the street called Fontana di Trevi where a lot of the classical musicians and opera stars from Carnegie Hall would dine. I had dinner with Phil there, and it really was the inspiration for “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.”
Before that, I had seen Phil Ramone’s name on a lot of recordings as an engineer. I was trying to find somebody to produce my next album. I had been working with Jim Guercio on the album prior to that, Turnstiles, but he didn’t get it. He wanted me to work with different musicians. … I wanted my own sound. I wanted my own band. I wanted the New York, Long Island guys.
But then I met Phil Ramone and everything changed. He loved the energy we put out onstage. He loved the band, he loved the interaction, he loved the sound. He loved the rough edges. He liked that we were rock & roll animals. We just went out there and slammed it. And I don’t know if it was subtle. I don’t know if it was finessed. But it was the right feeling.
Phil said to me, “I love your band. I think you should work with your band. I’d love to do it, I’d love to make a recording.” I didn’t even have the material together for the next album which turned out to be The Stranger. I had bits and pieces of things, I had some ideas, I had some themes. I didn’t really know what the album was gonna be about or if there would be a concept to it.
I liked Phil instantly after we met. He’s very unpretentious. He’s funny. He’s very warm. We just had this sympatico immediately. And I loved that he loved the band. It was kind of like, “love me, love the band.”
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Photo credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Songwriter’s Hall of Fame