Producer, engineer and musician Joe Hardy, who worked with ZZ Top and others during his long career, has died following a brief illness. He was 66.

The Memphis-based Commercial Appeal reports that his death earlier today at his Houston home was confirmed by his wife, Trish Hardy.

The paper notes that during Hardy's 45-year career, he collaborated with many artists in a wide range of styles. He worked behind the scenes on records by Alice Cooper, Ry Cooder, the Georgia Satellites and the Replacements, among others, as a producer and engineer at Memphis' famous Ardent Studios.

But it was his relationship with ZZ Top – which started back in 1983 on the Eliminator album and carried all the way through to ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons' 2018 album, The Big Bad Blues – that helped define his and the band's careers. Hardy produced Gibbons' newest album and played bass on it.

“My friend Joe Hardy played a huge role in our lives," Gibbons told the Commercial Appeal. "He was a true innovator in a field where many just did it 'by the book.' He threw away 'the book' and wrote his own. The result took our audio signature and just about everything he worked on to new sonic frontiers."

Gibbons recalled that when they "met in Memphis more than four decades ago, there was an instant connection and the relationship was cherished until he left us. Joe will be missed but, in a very real sense, we’ll be able to always hear him.”

Hardy was born in Kentucky but moved to Memphis in 1975, when his band the Voice of Cheese recorded at Ardent Studios. The band didn't last, but Hardy stuck around and worked at the studio for more than two decades, producing and engineering some of the famous records recorded there. He left Memphis at the top of the millennium to be closer to ZZ Top at their home base in Houston.

“Joe was such an important part of the life of Ardent,” said CEO Jody Stephens, who played drums with Big Star. “My job in those days was to wave the flag for the studio. It was always a joy to sit down in front of A&R guys in New York or Los Angeles and play something Joe had recorded. People knew we were doing stuff in Memphis that was as good as anything being recorded in the world. And Joe’s work stood out.”

ZZ Top paid tribute on their Facebook page, saying that Hardy "was a true innovator in a field where many just did it 'by the book.' He threw away 'the book' and wrote his own."

In an interview with UCR in November, Hardy talked about working with Gibbons. "I know how he wants his guitar to sound," he said. "It’s always easier [when] we go in there, just the two of us and it’s easier to have somebody to bounce stuff off of."

Hardy laughed that his old friend Gibbons "can be lazy" when they were in the studio together. "'That solo is good enough.' 'Man, you went sharp on that note in the second bar of the middle solo.' I tell him stuff like that, and then he knows that he did," Hardy said. "He can hear it just as well as I can, he’s just wanting to move onto something else. So, I’m more of a taskmaster sometimes."

 

 

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