Q Magazine

R.I.P. Eric 'E.T.' Thorngren: Engineer, Producer, and Remixer for Everyone From Grandmaster Flash to Talking Heads and Kenny Wayne Shepherd

After getting his start as a musician in the '60s, Thorngren eventually stepped behind the board as an engineer and, after doing so, never looked back.

wills q template
Source: Facebook / Eric Thorngren

Eric 'E.T.' Thorngren, sitting behind one of countless boards he used during his lengthy studio career.

Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

Eric “E.T.” Thorngren, whose work as an engineer, producer, and remixer for artists ranging from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to Talking Heads, Squeeze and Kenny Wayne Shepherd kept him actively employed from the 1980s onward, has died.

Thorngren’s death was revealed on his Facebook page by his wife, Monique, who wrote the following:

It is with the deepest sadness that I announce the passing of my beloved husband of 39 years Eric ET Thorngren. I know many of you have been a part of his life and wish you to know that Eric deeply cherished his friends. Many of you also know how incredibly talented and brilliant he was as a recording engineer and mixer, and many of you have worked with him over his long career in music. Talent aside, ultimately it was Eric the kindest soul and wild man who really captured our hearts. Please know that your comments are all being read and appreciated by me, our son Ryan, and the rest of our family at this shocking time.

Peace and love,

Monique and Ryan

Article continues below advertisement
wills q template
Source: Sire Records / A&M Records

Talking Heads and Squeeze were just two of dozens of artists that Eric 'E.T."'Thorngren worked with over the course of his career.

Born and raised in New York, Thorngren started his music career in his teens, making his first splash – albeit a small one – as part of a ‘60s band called Eric and the Chessmen. By the early ‘70s, however, he’d co-founded the band Bulldog with two former members of the Rascals, Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli. (While the band’s recorded output currently remains unavailable on Spotify, you can listen to their self-titled debut album in full by clicking right here.)

Although Bulldog was short-lived, Thorngren’s time in the band still served a significant purpose in terms of his career, in that it helped steer him in a different direction.

"When I was in the studio, I noticed that the sanest guy was usually the engineer,” Thorngren told Sound on Sound. "At that point, I thought I'd like to get in with the same crew and use my fingers to dabble in not only my own career, but other people's, too.”

Article continues below advertisement

Thorngren’s first major gig on the engineering front came through a venue that might seem unlikely for those who know him predominantly for his more rock-oriented work: legendary early hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records...although it wasn’t called that yet.

“I knew a guy who was working at a record company in New Jersey, called All Platinum Records,” Thorngren told Tape Op in early 2023. “He hated engineering and wanted to be a folk singer. I said, ‘When you quit, would you call me up and tell me?’ I was living on 81st and First Avenue in Manhattan. I got a call from him. ‘I just quit.’ I called them up and I talked to Joe Robinson. I said, ‘I understand you need an engineer.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, could you work tonight?’ I took a bus to the subway and a bus across the George Washington Bridge; it took me an hour and a half to go 12 miles. I got there, I got the job, and I started working there.”

“Sylvia Robinson and Joe Robinson owned the place,” he continued. “Sylvia had been in Mickey & Sylvia, with the song ‘Love is Strange.’ Soon after I arrived, they changed the name, All Platinum Records, to Sugar Hill Records, which is a neighborhood in Harlem. When I first got there, there was a guy doing some recording and playing back on the console. On every channel, the bass was turned full blast. He had it at 100 Hz and they were all wide-open. They certainly needed an engineer to work there that time. They were happy to have me in there doing anything I wanted to do in the studio. They gave me the keys, and I would go in there and experiment.”

One of his more notable early gigs at Sugar Hill: recording the first record scratching on "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.”

Article continues below advertisement

Much of Thorngren’s career involved the phenomenon of one amazing thing leading to another. While in the process of helping Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook mix their lone album as a duo in 1984, their manager introduced Thorngren to Chris Blackwell of Island Records. In turn, Blackwell offered Thorngren the opportunity to select and mix the tracks for the unforgettable Bob Marley and the Wailers compilation, Legend. While working on that project at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, Thorngren met Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, who asked him to do a new mix of the soundtrack to Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, which in turn led to him being asked to record the band’s next studio album, Little Creatures.

Needless to say, Thorngren was rarely out of work after that.

Article continues below advertisement

"Making records can often be a journey and the journey you take is shared by the person mostly sitting at the mixing desk being creative with you and throwing balls up into the air," Chris Difford of Squeeze wrote on Facebook. "Eric ET Thorngren was one of those people who threw many balls in the air and with so much skill.

"Babylon and On was a record he helped Squeeze turn a major corner on, into a world where maybe America would have us central station on MTV and radio," Difford continued. "‘Hourglass’ was a masterful piece of work, with his desk mutes and creative mixing we had our first real hit. ‘Footprints in the Frost’ is one of my all time favourite songs, his long 12 inch mix of this is so incredible, the closest we ever got to having a dance track in my opinion. You can hear Eric in this mix."

Article continues below advertisement

Thorngren's career continued steadfastly through the '80s and well beyond, working with artists including - but in no way limited to - Eurythmics, Violent Femmes, Public Image Ltd., Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper, Lou Gramm, David Cassidy, Wet Wet Wet, Hunters and Collectors, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, O.A.R., the String Cheese Band, and Robert Palmer. Indeed, his work on Palmer's Riptide proved so effective that he was invited to do a new mix of "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)" for Palmer's best-of collection, Addictions, Vol. 1.

As recently as early 2023, Thorngren was back in the studio with Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads to work on the Dolby Atmos mixes of the band's work, as was captured in this short film. Also captured: Thorngren's obvious continued enthusiasm for the career path he chose way back when.

Article continues below advertisement

To honor Thorngren's legacy, Q has compiled a playlist which features a wide variety of songs from throughout his career, from performer to mixer to producer to engineer. It's far from all-inclusive, but at the very least, we think it spotlights the amount of variety in his discography as well as the sheer volume of work that he did over the course of his career. Give it a spin and remember E.T. fondly.

Article continues below advertisement

Never miss a story — sign up for the Q newsletter for the latest music news on all your favorite artists, all in one place.


Subscribe to our newsletter

your info will be used in accordance with our privacy policy

Read More