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As music producer Scott Billington says, 'You've got to take care of your artists'

Producer Scott Billington, with Irma Thomas and Dr. John.
Producer Scott Billington, with Irma Thomas and Dr. John.

There’s a good chance that the name “Scott Billington” is on the back of your favorite album. Make that “albums.” As a long-time music producer for Rounder Records, Billington has tended the most fertile ground of American music.

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Charlie Rich, Solomon Burke, Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams, James Booker, Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, Duane Allman, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Soul Rebels make up only a partial list of the artists with whom Billington has worked. He’s also collaborated on projects featuring Woody Guthrie and the recordings of musicologist Alan Lomax.

It takes an empathetic ear to do what Billington does. His ability to listen deeply to artists and follow his instincts without trampling on theirs have made him one of the most trusted producers in American music. Two Grammy awards also have helped.

Billington has likened a successful recording session to “summoning a great spirit.” In the studio, he surrounds artists with musicians both familiar and unexpected. Then he nudges. And he nudges some more.

Gwen Thompkins is a New Orleans native, NPR veteran and host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, where she brings to bear the knowledge and experience she amassed as senior editor of Weekend Edition, an East Africa correspondent, the holder of Nieman and Watson Fellowships, and as a longtime student of music from around the world.

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