Sid Feller R.I.P.

by Stephen Miller, New York Sun, February 17, 2006
           Sid Feller, who died yesterday at 89, was a producer and arranger whose 30-year partnership with Ray Charles produced lushly arranged hits such as "Georgia on My Mind" and "I Can't Stop Loving You."
           As the head in-house arranger for Capitol Records and then ABC Records, Feller also worked with Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Paul Anka, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme, and later in his career was the musical arranger for "The Flip Wilson Show," and a host of other televised music specials.
           But it was his special relationship with Charles that marked the highest point in his career. The two men struck up a close friendship around the time Charles left Atlantic Records in a dispute over the ownership of record masters. Feller helped woo Charles to the ABC label in 1959, and the two turned out a series of albums starting with "Genius Hits the Road." It was Feller who worked with Charles to produce the two breakthrough albums "Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music," which brought Nashville strings to Charles's unique blend of country, rhythm, and blues. Among the tunes on the two disks were "You Don't Know Me," "Careless Love," "You Are My Sunshine," and "Your Cheatin' Heart."
           In the liner notes to the Rhino recording "Genius & Soul - The 50th Anniversary Collection," Charles is quoted saying, "Sid researched the hell out of it and came up with 250 tunes. I picked the ones I liked, and of the ones I picked, they were all new to me except 'Bye Bye, Love.'"
           Charles is reputed once to have said, "If they call me a genius, Sid Feller is Albert Einstein."
           Their relationship continued after Feller left ABC in the mid-1960s to work in Hollywood, and Feller regularly toured with Charles and conducted during his appearances with orchestras.
           Feller grew up in Brooklyn. His father, an Austrian Jew, sold citrus fruit in the downtown Manhattan Washington Market. Feller learned to play trumpet, his primary instrument, while in the Boy Scouts. He also played the piano, and credited his early interest in music and arrangement to his mother consenting to have one hoisted through the window of the family's Brooklyn walkup.
           By the time Feller was in his mid-teens he was playing gigs in the Poconos and small clubs in Manhattan. Feller was completely self-taught as an arranger, and he told intimates that he began figuring out the craft one day in the Catskills on an hours-long sojourn in a rowboat, during which he produced the arrangement for a song he had composed himself.
           In 1938, he was playing in the Hungarian orchestra at Zimmerman's Budapest, a 48th Street restaurant, and also taking lessons from a trumpeter playing in the orchestra at nearby Minsky's Burlesque. It was there, while watching his teacher play, that he first spotted Gertrude Hager, a 16-year-old chorine. Three years later, they were married at Fort Knox, Tenn., where Feller was stationed as a warrant officer leading a wartime entertainment unit.
           Feller had played in Jack Teagarden's big band before the war, and continued to provide Teagarden with arrangements afterward. He toured with Carmen Cavallero ("The Poet of the Piano"), and in 1951 signed on with Capitol as a producer, arranger, and conductor. At Capitol, he worked with Jackie Gleason, Nancy Wilson, and Dean Martin. He also led a band on "USA Canteen," later renamed "The Jane Froman Show," a short-format music show on CBS.
           In 1955, Feller moved to ABC Records, where he provided arrangements for Charlie Byrd and Woody Herman, among others, before beginning his collaboration with Charles.
           Although he had few writing credits, he did get one for the song "You Can't Say No in Acapulco" for Elvis Presley's movie "Fun in Acapulco" (1963).
           Feller left ABC in 1965 and moved to Los Angeles and worked as a freelance arranger and producer, working with Ms. Wilson, Shirley Bassey, and Eddie Fisher. He added horn arrangements on the Grass Roots' 1969 album "Leavin' It All Behind," and horn and string arrangements to the "Osmond Christmas Album" (1976). His list of credits from the 1970s through this year as arranger, producer, or conductor includes blues, Broadway show tunes, comedy, jazz, Latin, and lounge.
           Feller slowed down significantly after a heart attack in the late 1990s, and moved to suburban Cleveland, where he was coincidentally featured in a recent exhibition on Charles at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was credited as producer of eight of the 17 soundtrack songs on the recent biopic "Ray."
           "I cried through the whole move," Feller told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Because as I watched Foxx's performance, I really thought I was seeing Ray again."

Sidney Harold Feller
Born December 24, 1916, in New York City; died February 16, 2006 in Beachwood, Ohio; survived by his wife, Gertrude, his children Lois Feller, Bill Feller, Debbie Feller, and Jane Toland, and five grandchildren.

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