Reinhold Mack, the celebrated German record producer who worked with Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, vividly remembers the first time he met Queen’s frontman, Freddie Mercury. They bonded over drinks in a Munich beer garden. Mack, as he is known, went on to become the Grammy-nominated producer for Queen’s albums The Game, Flash Gordon, Hot Space and The Works, and Mercury’s solo album Mr Bad Guy.
“I remember our first meeting in 1980 very well,” Mack, 70, tells uDiscover Music in an exclusive interview. “I was working with Gary Moore in Los Angeles and was told Queen would be in Musicland Studios, in Munich, and might need me. I bought a plane ticket and went to Munich. When I met Freddie, he said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I told him I had heard there might be a good chance Queen wanted to work with me. He said not really, because the band were coming off a Japanese tour and only had two more weeks to spend outside the UK. ‘Anyway,’ he suddenly said, ‘I hear they have these wonderful beer gardens.’ It was early summertime and we knew it was very nice outside, so we headed to the Chinese Tower for a couple of beers.
“What happened next was really, really funny,” recalls Mack, laughing. “Freddie was wearing ballerina shoes, and shorts that matched his Hawaiian shirt. The beer garden was packed with full tables and about 8,000 to 10,000 people were there, all told. We had to walk right through this huge crowd. We walked next to each other, his arm hooked through mine, with all his other people walking behind us, and it must have looked really weird.
“We became very happy with the beers and we went back to the studio and that is where the ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ single started for the album The Game. Freddie assured me that he couldn’t play guitar, but he would play the melody for me anyway. I just ended up recording the whole impromptu thing he did.
“A couple of hours later, drummer Roger Taylor and Deacy [John Deacon] arrived – and I asked them if they wanted to listen to the song. They weren’t sure and thought the studio I had set up was a bit basic. I said, ‘Why not give it a listen – it’s three minutes out of your life and it won’t hurt. If you hate it,’ I told them, ‘I can just wipe the tape and it’s gone.’ They checked it out and said, ‘Oh, this is really good – we should finish this’. This is how working with them started and a few hours later we had the brilliant ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ finished – and it was the song Freddie wrote in his Munich hotel.”
Mack, whose parents sold musical instruments, learned to play piano and clarinet as a child and then moved on to the electric guitar. He formed a band as a teenager. “We were terrible. We made the papers because we were called ‘the loudest band on earth’ – lots of people claim that, but we were pretty loud. Our loudness covered up the awfulness,” says Mack.
He eventually began specialising as a producer and engineer. After working on some iconic Queen albums, he was hired by Mercury to be the engineer and co-producer on the singer’s debut solo album, Mr Bad Guy, in 1985. He also oversaw the drums and synthesiser programming. What does he remember of their working relationship?
“Doing the album was a completely unstructured process,” says Mack. “Freddie lived here at the time. He had an apartment and I used to come about one or two to pick him up. We drove to the studio and decided what to do. We would play Scrabble for a while, sometimes we would go and do some shopping. Maybe we’d do a little recording. He usually came up with really good ideas in a matter of 15 or 30 minutes. He was always good at finding something, even if it was not the complete song. Sometimes he would devise the main hook really quickly. Then he developed it and I edited the stuff together. If we had the backbone of a song, we were happy. We would usually work hard until seven o’clock and then go to dinner.”
The Mr Bad Guy album was a labour of love, taking nearly two years to complete. Mercury wrote all 11 songs on it, sang the vocals, played piano and synthesiser, arranged the orchestration and worked painstakingly with Mack to obtain the sound he wanted.
Beyond their working relationship, Mack and Mercury struck up a close friendship – and Mercury loved spending time with the producer and his family. “We became good friends, and at least now I know where my money went to,” jokes Mack. “Freddie and my wife Ingrid used to go shopping. It was unbelievable. You know all the tracksuits he was wearing in pictures, like the yellow one that people remember? That all came from those shopping trips with my wife.”
The pair realised they had a close bond during the recording of the 1982 Queen album, Hot Space, when Mercury and Deacon became godfathers to Mack’s third son, John Frederick Mack. “That came about during the Hot Space sessions, when Ingrid said, ‘It’s probably easier to conceive and give birth to a child than you guys getting that album finished.’ The album took four weeks longer than Freddie being born!”
Mercury became an integral part of the Mack family life. “Freddie came to all the kids’ birthday parties, but one time was particularly memorable,” recalls Mack. “You remember the outrageous red outfit he wore for the ‘It’s A Hard Life’ video? Well, he came to a birthday party for my son Julian wearing that. I thought, He’ll never do that. But with Freddie it was: ‘I’ll show you. I can do anything.’”
The Queen singer was also fond of simple pleasures. “He played table tennis a lot with us,” says Mack. “He was a really, really good table tennis player. I could never beat him, and Julian, who is a strong player, said, ‘I can’t beat that guy.’ Freddie was also really good at tennis. He was here for nearly two years. We didn’t work every day and if it was nice we would have the excuse not to go in the studio and just spend time having fun in the swimming pool. We had dinners all the time and we became very friendly and he opened up. He was very concerned about little Freddie and if his godson was eating or going to bed early enough and getting enough sleep – more concerned than Fred’s mother!”
Mercury was a considerate, generous friend. “He was very thoughtful. He would remember things,” said Mack. “He would buy outrageous presents for my kids, like giant teddy bears. One time we were talking about painters. I told him I had this book from Salvador Dalí which was full of all these amazing things. A couple of days later, he came into the studio and threw a package on to the mixing counsel and said, ‘Open it, open it.’ There was a signed Dalí copy of one of his paintings. That is really nice, I said. ‘No, no… this is for you. I thought you liked Dalí,’ Freddie said. That was lovely, if a little over-the-top, but he was just a generous guy.”