[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/68663?ns=guardian&pageName=Eric+Woolfson+obituary%3AArticle%3A1316217&ch=Music&c3=Guardian&c4=Pop+and+rock+%28Music+genre%29%2CMusicals+%28Stage%29%2CBeatles+%28band%29%2CPink+Floyd%2CPaul+McCartney%2CLiberal+Democrats&c6=Adam+Sweeting&c7=09-Dec-08&c8=1316217&c9=Article&c10=Obituary&c11=Music&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FMusic%2FPop+and+rock[/img]Songwriter and co-founder of rock band the Alan Parsons Project
Eric Woolfson, who has died from cancer aged 64, was that unusual phenomenon: a hugely successful rock musician who managed to remain almost anonymous. He combined his skills as a songwriter and vocalist with Alan Parsons's production expertise to create the Alan Parsons Project, insisting on keeping his own name out of the spotlight. Woolfson later commented that this had been the best and worst decision of his career – he was delighted to avoid media scrutiny and being recognised in public, but at the same time regretted that this meant "few people have any idea who I am or what I do". On balance, he decided it had been a price worth paying.
Ten Alan Parsons Project albums were released and achieved combined sales of more than 40m copies. In 1990 Woolfson successfully relaunched himself as a composer of stage musicals; his latest production, a show based on the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe, received its stage premiere in Berlin earlier this year.
Born into a Jewish family, near Glasgow's Charing Cross station, he was brought up in the city's Pollokshields district. One of his uncles was a classical pianist, which inspired Woolfson, but after finding music lessons baffling, he carried on playing by ear. He never underwent any formal musical training.
An attempt to become a chartered accountant ended when one of his superiors told him he would be "better off as an apprentice in the circus", whereupon Woolfson decamped to London and set his sights on the music business. He found work as a pianist on the session circuit and was spotted by the Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham. Oldham offered him a publishing contract with his label Immediate Records, which led to Woolfson's songs being recorded by artists including Marianne Faithfull, Chris Farlowe and Frank Ifield. Woolfson also tried his hand at record production, then branched into management. He had a shrewd eye for talent: his first clients were Carl Douglas of Kung Fu Fighting fame and Parsons.
A protege of George Martin, Parsons had worked as an engineer and producer at Abbey Road with the Beatles, the solo Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd, earning a Grammy nomination for his work on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Woolfson perceived that the two of them could combine their skills, and for their first endeavour they took an idea Woolfson had been developing for some time, an album based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. In 1976 this was released as Tales of Mystery and Imagination. It had taken nearly two years to complete, and established a blueprint for the Alan Parsons Project with its lush orchestral passages and piano-based compositions. "Everything about it was right," said Parsons. "It did well, and it paved the way for the future."
The album reached No 38 in the Billboard chart and earned the duo a contract with Arista Records. I Robot (1977) inaugurated a decade of sustained success, during which APP scored hit singles in the US including Games People Play, Time and Eye in the Sky. Though the notion of a band with no recognisable frontman defied traditional pop business practice – vocalists such as Procul Harum's Gary Brooker, Allan Clarke of the Hollies and Colin Blunstone of the Zombies would be used as required, alongside Woolfson's contributions – the Project's success validated Woolfson's proposition that he and Parsons were more like film directors than conventional rock performers – "where the people behind the camera were the important factor, or in this case, the person behind the control desk," as he put it. In pursuit of their vision, they even invented their own instruments, such as the Projectron (similar to the Mellotron), which used tape loops to produce various sounds.
However, Arista's lack of understanding of the Project's lofty aspirations triggered several bitter disputes and, after a ninth album in 1987, Woolfson and Parsons each sought fresh outlets. Woolfson made his theatrical debut with Freudiana (1990), a musical about Sigmund Freud, which ran in Vienna for a year. His next musical, Gaudi (1995), about the Catalan architect, was seen by half a million people during a five-year lifespan. It was followed by Gambler (1996), Dancing Shadows (2007) and Edgar Allan Poe (2009). Earlier this year, Woolfson released The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, an album comprising previously unreleased songs.
During the 1980s, Woolfson was a supporter and financial backer of the Social Democratic party, becoming close friends with its co-founder, David Owen. Owen described him as "a very liberal person in the very best sense of the word".
He is survived by his wife Hazel, daughters Sally and Lorna, and three grandchildren.
• Eric Woolfson, songwriter, singer and lyricist, born 18 March 1945; died 2 December 2009 d. 02/12/2009
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Guardian: Eric Woolfson obituary
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