Brian Ahern was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the second of five children. His father was the music director for their Catholic parish.
At the age of twelve, Brian was hospitalized with a severe asthma condition. His father gave him a guitar (S.S. Stewart f-hole archtop). He strummed his way through school, and the folk era. When records were played at school sock-hops, Brian convinced the school administration to purchase equipment so a school band could play live. At St. Mary’s University, he was able to play Junior Varsity football as well as music.
Brian became independent, busy and successful, playing on a Canadian network summer replacement television show called “Singalong Jubilee”. Anne Murray auditioned for the show, and Brian played guitar for her. She was rejected, but two years later was invited back to audition again, and hired. Brian had become the Music Director.
Another network show with young people dancing to records was planned, and Brian convinced the show’s producers to change the format of the show to incorporate live bands. As the show’s Music Director, he auditioned various bands, picked the best individual musicians, and formed “Brian Ahern and the Offbeats”. They were a critical and popular success, fronted by this now somewhat mysterious national figure in dark sunglasses.
During this period, the same band performed on another network, in gray flannel slacks and tartan jackets, as the popular “Nova Scotians”.
Brian also had a third band, and a recording was made and released on Verve-Forecast Records in New York. Janis Ian was a label-mate.
Brian moved to Toronto, where he worked with artists such as Ronnie Hawkins, for whom he produced a #1 record of a Gordon Lightfoot song, “Home from the Forest”. He pursued a flourishing and award-winning jingle company.
In Toronto, he also began sending registered letters to Anne Murray, who was then teaching Physical Education in New Brunswick. Brian had an intuition about this unique, young talent. Finally, Miss Murray made a journey to Toronto to record an album. It was Brian who encouraged her to sign with Capitol Records, where she remains, millions of albums later. Anne Murray’s hit song “Snowbird” has become the biggest single in Canadian history. The Murray/Ahern association continued through ten albums and countless awards. In 2008, on national television, Anne Murray inducted Brian into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
Also during that early period in Toronto, Brian developed the concept for a mobile recording facility unlike any that had been built to date. Rather than an empty truck periodically filled with equipment, he proposed a fully-equipped “Control Room on Wheels”, allowing the client the total freedom to record what and where they wanted. Brian foresaw this as an opportunity to move to a completely new market while in possession of a fully professional and familiar studio. He executed this vision and thus the Enactron Truck was born.
After overdubbing the Toronto Symphony on three albums at their old Massey hall home, Enactron moved to Los Angeles, where the first mixing session was for “You Won’t See Me”, a top-five pop hit for Anne Murray (and John Lennon’s favorite cover of one of his songs).
Jesse Winchester’s “Nothing but a Breeze” album was also done around that time.
The Enactron Truck went on to accumulate over 40 gold and platinum records with numerous artists ranging from Black Sabbath to Willie Nelson, Dylan to Streisand.
It was Mary Martin of Warner Brothers who flew Brian to Silver Springs, Maryland, to hear a relatively unknown singer named Emmylou Harris. Brian was impressed, and they began to work together. The first album, Pieces of the Sky, was recorded in Beverly Hills using the Enactron Truck, and was released to an astonished and positive critical response, huge sales, and unprecedented international success in Europe. The second single from this album was a #1 record. There were four hits from Brian and Emmylou’s second collaboration, Elite Hotel, and more followed. The thirteen albums they made together have been described as “utterly timeless”, yielding a steady stream of hits and Grammys.
Brian’s 1979 collaboration with Johnny Cash, "Silver", resulted immediately in a classic #1 record, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”.
Reviews of Brian Ahern’s albums over the years have consistently mentioned his work as producer:
“On the other hand, he is ecstatically impressed by his experience working with Brian Ahern, who is far from your typical Nashville producer. ‘I learned a lot from him,’ Cash says, ‘he produced like no one I’ve ever seen. He takes days on one song just to get it right. And he’s got all sorts of ideas on what instruments sound right with each other that I’ve never thought about before. He even got me learning something a bout running the board, just by watching him.’”
-Johnny Cash, interview in The Washington Star
“With Luxury Liner, Ahern has gone to the dead center of what Emmylou Harris is all about and has produced a clean, cold, and streamlined album that so thoroughly explores the inside of the music it never gets even close to a rough edge.”
-Peter Goddard, Toronto Star
“'Roses in the Snow' is a success thanks largely to Brian Ahern’s amazingly breezy, flesh and blood production.”
-Don Shewey, Rolling Stone
Emmylou Harris said of the classic album, "Roses in the Snow", “…it was Brian who kept it going because I kind of got cold feet in the middle of it… But he said it’s really important that we make a statement no one can misinterpret.
“He taught me to make records. He’s one of the great ones.”
Years before the award-winning album "TRIO" was released, tracks Brian recorded with Emmylou, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton appeared on Emmylou’s albums:
“Well I can’t take credit for it,” laughs Harris. “I think it was Brian’s idea when we first started doing the Trio project.”
Many formative years were spent in the studio with musicians who went on to greatness, such as Ricky Skaggs. The first albums of both Albert Lee and Rodney Crowell were produced by Brian. Roy Orbison’s first Grammy-winning song was recorded by Brian in Hollywood.
Over the years, Brian produced albums for many important artists, including Emmylou Harris and Karen Brooks (who won the CMA Horizon Award). Jonathan Edwards recorded two albums in the Enactron Truck, and Brian produced the pre-American Recordings, groundbreaking Johnny Cash album, "Silver", which included two songs penned by Bruce Springsteen.
In 1989, Anne Murray coaxed Brian out of retirement to produce an album for her Canadian protégé, George Fox. This resulted in the longest charted airplay of any Canadian Song.
Brian was then asked to produce Nanci Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway” as a bonus track for Emmylou’s long-awaited duet album.
In 1991, Brian moved to Nashville with his now-legendary Enactron Truck. Rodney Crowell, Steve Winwood, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Maura O’Donnell, Jerry Douglas, Allison Krause, Sonny Landreth, Albert Lee, and Dan Seals are among the artists who have had sessions there. The Woodys’ #1 album and Seconds Flat’s #3 both topped the Americana Chart.
In 1994, Brian produced a George Jones all-star album for MCA Records called "the Bradley Barn Sessions", featuring Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Richards, Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Mark Knopfler, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette, and Leon Russell, and recorded entirely in Mt. Juliet, TN, with the Enactron Truck.
In 1995, a 12-song album with Ms. Terry Radigan was delivered to Elektra-Asylum Records, whose president described it as “groundbreaking”.
Brian has moved his equipment into the 44-ft Great Room of his Nashville home, where he mixes 5.1 Surround Sound. These 5.1 projects include Emmylou Harris’ “Producer’s Cut”, Johnny Cash’s “Silver”, Little Feat’s “The Analogue Years”, and sixty songs for Jimmy Buffett.
Brian recently produced the Grammy Award-winning “The Connection”, included in a compilation, “Highways and Heartaches”, which he mastered for Emmylou Harris, along with a new 80-song retrospective, “Songbird”.
Brian produced “Speed of Sound” for an Ethan Hawke film, “The Hottest State”, and in 2007, “Magdelene Laundries” was part of a Various Artists compilation of Joni Mitchell songs. An all-new Emmylou Harris album, “All I Intended to Be” was released in March, 2008.
In 2014, “Old Yellow Moon”, the Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell album Brian produced, won the Grammy for American Roots Album of the Year.