Bruce Earl Fairbairn (December 30, 1949 – May 17, 1999) was a Canadian musician and international record producer from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He was active as a producer from 1976 to 1999 and is considered one of the best of his era. His most successful productions are Slippery When Wet and New Jersey by Bon Jovi, Permanent Vacation, Pump, and Get a Grip by Aerosmith, and The Razors Edge by AC/DC, all of which sold at least five million copies each. He was originally a trumpet player and then started a career as a record producer for Canadian rock band Prism. He won the Canadian music industry Producer of the Year Juno Award 3 times. He produced albums for many famous international artists such as Loverboy, Blue Öyster Cult, Bon Jovi, Poison, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Scorpions, Van Halen, Chicago, The Cranberries, INXS, KISS and Yes. His style was notable for introducing dynamic horn arrangements into rock music productions. Fairbairn died suddenly on May 17, 1999 due to unknown causes.
Fairbairn played the trumpet since the age of 5, as well as studying the piano. Until the age of 16, he was a trumpetist in community groups. While in the 10th grade at Vancouver’s Prince of Wales Secondary School, Fairbarn founded his first band The Spectres, managed by Bruce Allen, who would remain with Fairbairn through his career.
In the early 70s, he started producing when he was part of the Vancouver band jazz-rock group Sunshyne, on which he played both trumpet and horn. There he met bandmate Jim Vallance, who would go on to become one of the most successful songwriters in the music industry and an important music associate. After Vallance left Sunshyne in 1973, Fairbairn changed Sunshyne’s format to blues-rock-pop. Fairbairn recruited guitarist Lindsay Mitchell, from Vancouver band Seeds of Time, as singer-songwriter and frontman. Fairbairn worked through 1974 to land a recording contract for Sunshyne, using demos of two songs written by Mitchell. By mid-1975, as Fairbairn could not close a record deal for Sunshyne, he approached Vallance for assistance. Vallance reworked the arrangements on the Mitchell songs and supplied three of his own at Fairbairn’s request. One of the Vallance songs, “Open Soul Surgery” impressed an executive at record label GRT, who signed Fairbairn’s group to a recording contract in 1976.
Over the next year, Fairbairn produced an album using various musicians (including himself) from both Sunshyne and Seeds of Time. The newly renamed band Prism then released its debut album in 1977. The album reached platinum status in Canada, with sales in excess of 100,000 albums by 1978. Fairbairn himself, however, elected not to be a member of Prism, and is credited only as producer and as a session musician on the album, and did not play with Prism on any live dates.
Fairbairn produced Prism’s next three albums, all of which went platinum or double platinum in Canada. In 1980, Fairbairn won his first of three Canadian music industry Producer of the Year Juno Awards for Prism’s third album Armageddon.
In 1980, while still working with Prism, Fairbairn started production work on the debut album for Canadian rock band Loverboy. The self-titled album Loverboy would be the first Fairbairn production to break through in the lucrative US market and launch Fairbairn’s international success.
Fairbairn’s productions attracted a growing list of international artists to Vancouver’s Little Mountain Sound Studios, to work with him and his protégé Bob Rock. Over the next 5 years, Fairbairn’s work on Blue Öyster Cult’s 1983 album The Revölution by Night, Krokus’ 1984 album The Blitz and Canadian band Honeymoon Suite’s arena rock 1985 album The Big Prize continued Fairbairn’s string of international hits.
Fairbairn’s biggest commercial success is Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986), which made him a top rate international record producer. The album sold over twenty-eight million copies worldwide.
His next major production, Aerosmith’s 1987 album Permanent Vacation, was another huge international success and generated a series of hits including “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”, “Angel” and “Rag Doll”. Steven Tyler said that Fairbairn was instrumental in the creation of the album and “helped relight the fire under Aerosmith”.
In 1988 Fairbairn produced the Bon Jovi album New Jersey, which holds the record for the hard rock album to spawn the most Top 10 singles, with five singles charting on the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart, and which sold over seven million copies in United States. Fairbain also produced Aerosmith’s follow-up, 1989’s Pump, which had sales in excess of seven million and was widely acclaimed by critics, and won him another “Producer of the Year” Juno Award.
The 1990s saw Fairbairn working with a string of internationally influential hard rock acts. 1990 brought AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge, as well as Poison’s Flesh and Blood. In 1993, he produced another Aerosmith commercial smash, Get a Grip, which racked up sales of seven million and solidified the band’s growing representation as international media stars. Next Fairbairn produced the Scorpions’ Face the Heat and in 1995 Van Halen’s Balance. Also in 1995 Fairbairn went to Vallance’s Armoury Studios in Vancouver to work on Chicago’s Night and Day: Big Band, and liked the studio so much he bought it from Vallance the following year.
In late 1996 and through early 1997 he produced INXS’ ‘comeback’ album Elegantly Wasted, which while garnering mixed reviews, obtained sales that were higher than INXS’ previous albums. A year later, Fairbairn produced The Cranberries’ To the Faithful Departed, and KISS reunion-album Psycho Circus.
His last fully completed project was the Atomic Fireballs’ Torch This Place for Atlantic Records in 1999, which Fairbairn described as “a return to my brass roots”.
During the mixing sessions for Yes’ The Ladder, on May 17, 1999 Fairbairn was found dead by Yes singer Jon Anderson and Armoury manager Sheryl Preston in his Vancouver home. He was survived by his wife Julie, with whom he had three sons: Scott, Kevin and Brent. Rock declared that the same week Fairbairn died, the two would travel to New York to meet Bon Jovi for another album together.
A memorial, “A Celebration of the Life of Bruce Earl Fairbairn”, held at the Vancouver Chan Centre was attended by more than 300 people. Highlighted by reminiscences from close friends, the event included musical performances from Jon Anderson and Steve Howe performing the song “Nine Voices” from Yes’ The Ladder sessions, as well as Tom Keenlyside, guitarist, David Sinclair and finally, “Taps” played on Bruce’s trumpet by son Brent.
In March 2000, Fairbairn was posthumously awarded the “Canadian Music Hall of Fame” Juno Award for his work.