lame Luke Ebbin’s career as a music producer and
composer on his older brother. While young Luke was
learning the violin, the elder Ebbin sibling was in a rock
band, and the guys rehearsed regularly in the basement of
their family’s home.
“I was forbidden to touch any of the instruments, but when no one
was home, I’d be down there picking up the guitar, banging on the
drums, doing all that stuff. That’s how I got the bug,” Ebbin recalls. “My
brother was smart enough to become an attorney and keep music as a
hobby. But I’m the fool who turned it into a profession.”
Ebbin, who moved with his family to Montecito in 2004, has
carved an enviable career as a record producer and songwriter whose
albums have sold more than 12 million copies and earned five Grammy
nominations. He worked with Bon Jovi on their international hit record
, which helped to revive the band’s popularity, and he also
produced two additional hit albums,
One Wild Night Live
Other artists for whom Ebbin has produced or contributed songwriting
include Melissa Etheridge, Will.i.am, Alicia Keys, and Santa Barbara
band Plain White T’s, and he’s also produced or composed television
themes for Entertainment Tonight, CBS News’ 50
Anniversary, and the
1998 Winter Olympics, among others.
It’s a career he stumbled into almost by accident.
Like most young musicians, Ebbin thought he wanted to be a
rock star. He had visions of banging the drums on stage at arenas and
concert halls across the land. But when the band he joined right after
college recorded some demos at Sigma Sound Studios, where Ebbin was
working and developing his skills as an engineer, they couldn’t afford to
hire an outside producer. So Ebbin stepped up to take on the role.
“I realized almost immediately that I liked it better being on the
other side of the glass,” he says. “Producing a record is like being the
director of a movie. You’re overseeing the full creative process. You get
to tell guitar players ‘try this,’ or the whole band to pick up the tempo,
or maybe to consider something different with the vocals. You get to
influence the whole big picture. That seemed a lot more interesting than
just being the drummer in a band.”
It wasn’t Ebbin’s first time in a studio. In fact, during college, he’d
interned at New York’s Power Station, the studio famous during that
1980s era as a favored recording site for such icons as the Rolling
Stones, Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper, and Kiss.
There’s a story about the latter band’s Gene Simmons sending the
youngster on a late-night, two-hour errand to fetch muffins from a bakery
in Brooklyn, and then claiming Luke had brought the wrong kind before
sending him on a return trip.
“I think that set me up for what the music business was all about,”
Ebbin recalls. “I’ve been living variations on that theme ever since.”
Ebbin eventually returned the favor ten years later by turning down the
opportunity to work with Kiss on a potential comeback album.
Ebbin’s big break came a couple of years later, after he had earned
a growing reputation producing Lower East Side indie rock bands,
mostly for free, just to hone his chops and get some credits. He stepped
in for Todd Rundgren to finish an album for a band called Splender,
which received some acclaim and earned Ebbin a friend in influential
record executive John Kalodner.
“I’m sitting in my little apartment in New York one day when John
calls and asks me if I’m interested in doing a Bon Jovi record,” Ebbin
remembers. “He says ‘I’ll call you back,’ and I’m thinking, ‘yeah,
right.’ But a few minutes later the phone rings and it’s Jon Bon Jovi
on the line.”
Ebbin recalls the details of that 1999 project as if it happened
“We ended up talking about music for an hour and then he
invited me down to his house in New Jersey to hear some of the
demos. But I didn’t have a car. The next morning, a stretch limo
shows up to pick me up. And a couple of hours later, I’m sitting there
with Jon Bon Jovi.”
The Jersey rock legend loved what Luke came up with on his single
song assignment when he returned home, so much so that the band
actually used his demo tracks as the basis for what they eventually
recorded, following his bold new direction to the letter.
That event led to what became his trademark style over the years,
one that centered on believing in his own ideas.
IN THE STUDIO
photos by Corey Sanders