David Gamson in his Rose Park Studio. Photos by Matt Cohn.
In a recording studio behind a stately Craftsman home in Rose Park, David Gamson, a seasoned and successful music industry veteran, is diligently working on his next creation, without fanfare—and that’s exactly how he likes it.
Gamson, 54, co-wrote Kelly Clarkson’s 2012 number-one hit “Stronger” in his cozy home studio, but first appeared on the music industry charts 30 years ago, as part of the band Scritti Politti. Gamson is responsible for the sparkling, funky arrangements that propelled Scritti Politti to international success. During three decades of career ups and downs, his talents have been utilized by a wide range of artists, such as pop star Kesha and jazz legend Miles Davis
“I love Long Beach,” said Gamson. “The feel of it—the old houses by the beach. It’s also one of the last ‘affordable’ beach communities I felt I could get into. I take walks on the beach frequently.”
Gamson’s musical journey began in Port Chester, New York. At age five, his father started him on the violin, and he went on to spend his entire childhood in youth symphonies. On Saturdays, he attended the Manhattan School of Music’s prep program, and by age 13 had begun studying classical composition.
“The violin wasn’t in my heart, though,” said Gamson. “What I loved was pop music.”
As with so many musicians of his generation, Gamson was influenced heavily by the Beatles. In his pre-teen years he took a liking to the Jackson Five.
“In high school I got into super-esoteric European prog-rock, stuff that was also influential for my future Scritti Politti bandmate Green Gartside in England. That was our common ground,” said Gamson.
Gamson’s opening gambit in the music biz happened while he was a student at Sarah Lawrence College in the early ’80s. He recorded some “dance-y electronic stuff” and was able to get a cassette copy to Geoff Travis, founder of the UK record label Rough Trade. “Geoff ended up calling me in my dorm,” said Gamson. “He said he wanted to put my record out.”
Soon Gamson took a trip to London and met the staff at Rough Trade, who suggested that he connect with singer/songwriter Green Gartside. Gartside’s band, Scritti Politti, had begun as a post-punk, DIY-style project, but Gartside was looking for a change of musical direction, and he was pleased with Gamson’s funk-infused approach. Gamson became a member of the new Scritti Politti and the two began to co-write.
Scritti Politti (David Gamson, Second from Left) with Miles Davis. Photo courtesy of David Gamson.
One of their first collaborations, “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin),” was released in ’84 and became a hit on the UK and US dance charts. That track became part of the album “Cupid and Psyche ’85.” The album spawned the UK hit “Word Girl” and the number 11 US hit “Perfect Way,” which Miles Davis covered on his 1986 album “Tutu.” Although “Cupid and Psyche ’85” wasn’t a mega-seller, it was very influential stylistically.
Gamson, Gartside and drummer Fred Maher toured the world, lip-synching Scritti Politti tunes in TV appearances which included American Bandstand and Top of the Pops. They never actually performed live, which suited Gamson just fine.
“I hate being onstage,” said Gamson. “I like being in the studio. The only reason I ever got into this was to make records.”
After a painful and dreary year recording (and overthinking) Scritti Politti’s follow-up album “Provision,” Green disappeared from the music scene, and Gamson got a gig as staff producer and “fix-it man” at Warner Brothers Records in L.A. The ’90s found him producing Meshell Ndegeocello’s first two records and working with Chaka Khan, Roger Troutman and many other artists.
Vintage toys: Gamson’s ARP 2600 (left) and Mini Moog synthesizers.
The music industry went through big changes in the early 21st century: Thanks to technological developments, songwriters and recording artists were able to produce high-quality recordings themselves, without hiring an independent producer. Gamson shifted his focus to songwriting and moved from L.A. to Long Beach—first to a Victorian home near downtown, then to his current Rose Park crib.
He met Kesha through a friend, helped her define her synth-funk sound, and co-wrote tracks that appeared on her first album. Since then, he has written for Adam Lambert, Jessie J., and had his biggest hit with Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.”
Gamson listens exclusively to “what’s hitting in the pop world.”
“The songwriting doesn’t change that much, but the sonic palette does, and I try to keep abreast of that,” he said. He maintains his youthful enthusiasm for the pop song, and mentioned Ellie Goulding first when asked who he’d like to work with in the future.
“Once you’re one of those people who complains about ‘how the music sucks nowadays,’ you’re out of it. You’re done,” said Gamson. “If you can’t appreciate what’s going on now, you can’t be in it. I’m always trying to make something I like.”
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