Tom Tucker (right)/ Star Tribune photo from 2004
He ran three of the Twin Cities top recording studios, including Paisley Park. He helped set up three different local professional music schools. And Tom Tucker worked on recordings by everyone from Greg Brown and Prince to Chaka Khan and Lucinda Williams.
"He got all the R&B gigs because of his understanding of what components make a beautiful sounding 3D mix," said musician Paul Peterson, a longtime friend, client and teaching colleague of Tucker’s.
Tucker, a widely respected recording engineer and producer who worked on many best-selling albums, died Thursday apparently of natural causes. He was 63.
"We saw each other virtually every day for the past three years," said Peterson, a member of Minnesota’s first family of jazz. "I started working with him when I was 15. He was the reason I got into education. He had a heart for mentoring. His face lit up when he would pass information on to students."
Tucker was founder and a faculty member at Minneapolis Media Institute, in Edina. Two of his children are on staff: son Tommy Jr. is the chief engineer/facility manager and daughter, Nicole Drilling, the associate dean. Opened in 2009 in Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ former Flyte Tyme Studios, the school has 150 to 200 students per semester.
Growing up in Des Moines, Tucker was a teen-aged singer and musician before moving into engineering at Lariam Studios and co-founding Triad Studios, which remains one of Iowa’s top facilities. In 1985, Tucker moved to the Twin Cities where he co-founded Metro Studios (1985-90) and Master Mix Studios (1999-2007) in the Minneapolis Warehouse District.
Tucker’s work attracted the attention of Prince, who hired him at Paisley Park in 1990. Tucker started as a mixing engineer and eventually ran all the Paisley studio operations until ’96. "He made it profitable," said Peterson. "He was a great businessman. He loved that as much as he loved mixing records."
After engineering and mixing folkie Brown’s early records in Iowa, Tucker worked with a who’s who of Twin Cities musicians: Prudence Johnson, Jevetta Steele, Ricky Peterson, Jonny Lang, Shannon Curfman, Tim Mahoney, Dave Pirner, Becky Schlegel, Ann Nesby, the Pines, Charlie Parr and fDeluxe. At Paisley, Tucker was at the control board for recordings by Maceo Parker, Rosie Gaines, St. Paul Peterson, Khan, and, of course, Prince. Tucker’s other projects included George Benson, Oleta Adams, Tuck & Patti, Big Head Todd & the Monsters and Lucinda Williams.
At his Metro Studios, Tucker got involved with the McNally Smith music school and later started his own school, IPR, and subsequently Master’s Recording school, which became the Minneapolis Music Institute (after being purchased by a Madison, Wis.-based sister school).
"The school will continue with heavy hearts, for sure," said Peterson, the institute’s recording and music technology program chair. "We’ll keep his memory and techniques and warm spirit for mentoring alive."
Tucker is survived by his son and two daughters, two grandchildren, a sister and a brother.
Services are pending.