Although best known for being the producer of Iron Maiden for the past two decades, Kevin Shirley is the ultimate guru of classic rock sound, having worked on hard rock, blues rock, classic heavy metal and program
His love of Deep Purple, Free and Bad Company was the catalyst for his formation of the supergroup Black Country Communion; he produced Journey, Aerosmith and The Black Crowes; he designed and mixed Led Zeppelin How the West Was Conquered live album and their self-titled DVD; he produced even more albums for Joe Bonamassa than for Iron Maiden.
Nicknamed The Caveman, his Hulk-like figure with shaggy hair has now been bent over a hot mixer for almost 40 years. His background also highlights his position as the ideal guardian of the classic rock sound.
Shirley, from Johannesburg, South Africa, didn’t just grow up playing hard rock, he played it too. He began his career as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist in The Council, influenced by Def Leppard, and self-produced and engineered their 1984 debut album, Rising. Abandoning a potential career as a guitarist, in 1986 he emigrated to Australia to work full-time as a producer and mixing engineer for Australian rock bands such as The Hoodoo Gurus, The Angels and Baby Animals.
Shirley’s big breakthrough came in 1995 with Frog, the debut album by Australian teenager Silverchair which broke them in the US, eventually going double platinum. With typical industry hyperbole, the precocious boys were portrayed as the next Nirvana or Pearl Jam.
After moving again, this time to California, Shirley suddenly found herself in demand and produced albums for Journey, Aerosmith and Dream Theater in quick succession. After the call from Iron Maiden, he began a long and successful producing partnership with prolific bluesman Joe Bonamassa in 2006, with You & Me.
Like illustrious producers Martin Birch and Mutt Lange, Shirley recognizes the importance of understanding the need for psychology to aid in successful production. It’s walking a tightrope between encouraging creativity and acting like a bad cop when internal band friction erupts or prima-donna rock stars get carried away with self-indulgence. But eventually with hard rock, like Shirley said Musical speed cameras in 2010, “There are no rules. The group just has to be ready to give me everything, and then everything will be fine.