Producer Kyle Lehning

Hit Making Producer Pays It Forward
Grammy-winning produc- er Kyle Lehning received career help and advice from his father, Fred Lehning (pictured with younger Kyle below).

Spike Jones  and His City Slickers? “Yes,” says Kyle Lehning, with a laugh. One of Spike’s records was the first I can ever remember listening to, in the basement of our family home in Cairo, Illinois. My dad was a huge fan.”

Lehning’s father played a key role in the development of a long and stel- lar career that has garnered the producer three Grammys and a slew of hits.

Trained on the trumpet, which he kept at through his days in the Millikin University marching band (though he did not like marching), Lehning much preferred playing a Wurlitzer electric piano and a guitar with his rock band in the 1960s.I had a Gibson single-pickup electric guitar and a 1964 Fender Princeton amplifier. I was the youngest guy in the band, and my dad would come to the club and stay until 2 a.m. so I could remain after hours.”

Lehning was also a Jimmy Smith fan, and his father bought him a Hammond B3 in 1969. “I’m looking at it right now, as we speak. There’s nothing quite like the original, but some of the software organ emulations are amazing; I also own a Nord C2D that has drawbars. It sounds great, has a double manual, and it only weighs 34 pounds!”

In 1967 Lehnings band recorded some tracks in a studio located  in Paducah, Kentucky. Tommy Morris was the owner, and in retrospect his place was well equipped. It had Ampex line mixers, Ampex mono and stereo recorders, and a collection of great AKG and Neumann microphones. He could also cut acetates, and I fell in love with the studio the moment I walked in the door. The smell of tape, oh man!

“The summer before I went to college I told my dad that I wanted to learn how to be a recording engineer. The next thing I knew I had microphones, mixers, and tape machines. I was off recording bands.”

Lehning eventually found himself in Nashville playing his band’s tapes for Ray Butts, an inventor who played an important role in the development of the electric guitar.Back in Cairo, Ray owned a hi-fi store. His daughter Katha played piano for me at band concerts, so I got to know him. He invented the EchoSonic guitar amp and also had something to do with inventing the hum bucking pick up.”

One thing led to another, and Lehning moved to Nashville, where he started engineering and became friendly with songwriter Parker McGee, whose “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” as recorded by England Dan and John Ford Coley, was produced by Lehning, and became the producers first Number One hit.

Lehnings career took another bump skyward when he took an interest in an up and coming country singer named Randy Travis.Randys like a member of my family. We met in 1985 and are in touch on an almost daily basis to this day,” Lehning says.

Lehning produced Storms of Life, Travis debut album (two of the songs album were co-produced with Keith Stegall). Released in 1986, Storms sold more than 3 million copies. It included the Number One hit singles, “On the Other Hand, and “Diggin Up Bones, as well as “No Place Like Home,” which reached the Number Two slot on the Hot Country Songs chart. “Everything began and ended with Randy, Lehning says. “The most beautiful thing about Randy is that he’s not terribly complicated. He’s clear about who he is as a person and as an artist. The sands never shift with Randy, and the songs we chose were the ones that felt most natural for him.”

Decades into Lehning’s career, he’s in a position to choose projects based on what inspires him, without being overly concerned about chart numbers. Lehning’s recent projects include a new Ronnie Milsap record, and an album by the young singer Dawn Landes. One of his long-term friends Lynda Carter, of “Wonder Woman fame also cut some tracks in his studio.

Life is good for Kyle Lehning, and he has paid the debt he owes his father forward. His youngest son Jordan is busy producing a number of projects and wrote a string chart for one of the Lynda Carter tracks, and another son, Jason, is a successful producer/engineer in his own right.

“There isn’t much in the commercial world that appeals to me these days,” says Lehning. “I’ve won Grammys, run a record label, and accomplished more than I ever thought I would. At this point its about spending time musically and professionally with people I care about.”

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