June 4, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Recording engineer who won Grammy for work with Eminem dies at 56

Steve King, who won a Grammy in 2002 for his mixing and engineering work on Eminem's 'The Eminem Show' album, died Tuesday at Harper Hospital after a brief illness. He was 56. )

Steve King, who won a Grammy in 2002 for his mixing and engineering work on Eminem’s “The Eminem Show” album, died Tuesday at Harper Hospital after a brief illness. He was 56.

King’s nickname with Eminem and his D12 crew was “Dirty Steve,” because of the funky feel he got on their recordings.

“He could make something feel dirty in the right way,” said his “partner in crime,” producer/Eminem music publisher Joel Martin. King’s death had Martin shaken, and wondering if he would close his studio, 54 Sound, in Ferndale.

“What a guy. ... Nothing will be the same,” Martin says. “I don’t even know why I had a studio, but for him, this was his studio.”

King had just told Martin that he needed a liver transplant. King, who is married and has a son who also works at 54 Sound, was rushed to the hospital early Tuesday when he started hemorrhaging. He died that afternoon.

King first emerged on the punk scene in Detroit as a musician in the 1970’s in The Pigs, a punk band under the supervision of Jack Tann and Don Fagenson — the latter soon became Don Was.

King learned his studio chops under Was at Detroit’s Sound Suite Studios and then United Sound Systems, where he found himself working with such Detroit legends as Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, Anita Baker and the Winans. Later he was at the board for such acts as the Romantics, D12, 50 Cent, the Notorious B.I.G. and others.

In those early days, King observed Was’ philosophy of “zengineering” —figuring out when an artist had hit the groove, and making sure he got it on tape. Was gave King his other nickname, “Dr. Ching.”

“Steve just melted into the background, and he had every reason to have an ego as big as anyone,” Martin recalls. “It wasn’t like Steve was a classically trained engineer, it was all just by feel. He knew his stuff, but you could leave him alone, he could come up with something. He was so smart, so intuitive about what needed to be done.”

“Marshall (Mathers, aka Eminem) made those records in part because Steve was the conduit, the first engineer that Marshall ever worked with. He just happened to work with the best. Everybody knew that, everybody who worked with Steve.”

Eminem valued King because he was more than just an engineer, Martin says. “What Marshall did that was so unusual, he credited Steve as a writer on a lot of his material. To this day he’s getting royalties from Marshall for the stuff he worked on. It just illustrates that he was bringing something else to the table, way above and beyond.”

While his days with Was were important, King “came into himself” working with Eminem. “He was able to make a living, when it’s so hard for any engineer to make a living,” Martin notes.

For the past three years King played bass and produced poet/professor M.L. Liebler’s group Coyote Monk. He was slated to travel to Israel a few weeks ago with Liebler, but was too ill to go.

“We just became fast friends,” says Liebler. “He’d send me these loops — he didn’t send them to Eminem anymore, so he sent them to me. We got the band together, and we recorded tons at 54 Sound. He just was a kind, open-minded soul. He didn’t criticize, he never got mad at anybody. Sometimes I got mad at him because he never got mad! But he had so much experience as a musician, an engineer and a producer, he was always right. If he said we sounded good, we sounded good. If he said we needed to take out a drumbeat, he was right.”

Just as Was and others had mentored him, King gave back to younger people by holding open forums on engineering and producing at the Black Lotus Brewery in Clawson.

King lived in White Lake Township and is survived by his wife, Roberta, and son Nick. Whether there will be a funeral has not yet been determined. “His dad just died a few months ago and he hated the whole idea of a funeral,” Martin says. But there will at least be a memorial for his many music friends at a later date.