George Tutko engineered and produced music for some of the biggest stars in rock 'n' roll and country, yet never boasted about his accomplishments.
"It wasn't like a big deal for him. You would have to pry and ask him who he was working with," said Dan Tutko, George's brother.
Singer Kevin Chalfant, a Streator native who now resides outside of Grand Ridge, said George's modesty was one of his best traits.
"He was a blue-collar guy with the work ethic of a factory guy. He worked hard. That's how we remember him," said Chalfant, owner of Clique Records recording studio in Grand Ridge.
About 40 years after leaving his hometown of Streator, Tutko, 61, died of cancer March 8 in Nashville, Tenn., where he had lived the past 20 years. He is survived by his wife, Ana, and daughters Diana and Isabella.
Artists George worked with included Bob Dylan, Kiss, John Mellencamp, Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford.
"He had a great work ethic," said Chalfant, who worked with George in groups that included The Jones Band, Fortran, The Storm, 707 and Two Fires. "A great lesson I learned from him was: 'Opportunity breeds opportunity.' I never forgot that."
Even some of George's family members weren't aware of some of his accomplishments. Daughter Isabella, 17, learned with whom her father worked by doing online research. She was amazed.
"I said to him, 'who are you?' The only people he ever mentioned were Stewart and Duran Duran," she said.
"I never really knew all the great stuff he had done. He was humble. I'm very proud of him."
After moving to Los Angeles to pursue his music dreams in the 1970s, George was a janitor at Cherokee Studios, where rock 'n' roll heavyweights worked in the 1970s to 2007.
According to Dan Tutko, in those days a sound engineer often had two assistants, and before one session an engineer was in trouble because neither assistant showed up. George filled in and soon was on his way to becoming an engineer himself.
"George just had that desire to be an engineer and producer that he sat in on all these sessions," Chalfant said, and engineered for top producers Tom Dowd, Roy Thomas Baker and Glyn Johns. "They liked George, so they shared the tricks of the trade. And he was like a sponge."
Chalfant was in the band 707 when George produced "Megaforce," the soundtrack album for the 1982 science fiction-action movie. Released by Boardwalk Records, which also helped Joan Jett and the Blackhearts break through at roughly the same time, "Megaforce" ended up on the charts.
"It spawned touring with all sorts of bands, and that really helped George," Chalfant said.
Shortly after "Megaforce," George engineered "American Fool," John Mellencamp's breakthrough album, the first of five collaborations. Dan Tutko celebrated his 40th birthday by meeting Mellencamp when George was mixing the singer-songwriter's album "Scarecrow" in Indiana.
"We had a nice, laid-back time. One thing about George: He maintained the Central Illinois ethic — work hard, treat people right and be honest," Dan Tutko said.
Dan was eight years older than George, who used to listen to his older brother play guitar. The younger Tutko instead took up drumming. A young Chalfant would hang out with Larry Kerestes, a Tutko cousin and neighbor.
"I could always hear George playing the drums in the basement," said Chalfant, who later sang in that basement as a member of the band Boston Sunshine. They later logged time in The Jones Band and Fortran before George had some success with Carbondale-based band Thunderpussy.
"They cut an album and had some minor acclaim," recalled Dan Tutko, who now resides of Forsyth, just north of Decatur.
As a producer and engineer, George shared his knowledge with others. One is Seneca's Alby Odum, who met George when he was working on a Chalfant project.
"We hit it off and did a lot of projects together," said Odum, an adjunct professor for digital audio recording arts at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. "He was a real mentor. He never held anything back and always was helpful."
Odum, who also is guitarist and producer for the Christian rock band Daniel's Window, had George as a guest speaker in one of his St. Francis classes.
"He had some fantastic stories. I was glad to have my students meet someone of that caliber," Odum said.
About 20 years ago, Tutko moved to Nashville, continuing to work with rockers as well as country artists. He grew to like Music City, Dan Tutko said, living near the Vanderbilt University campus. On visits to La Salle County, George sometimes mixed music at Chalfant's Clique studios.
George's friends and family were shocked when he was diagnosed with cancer less than two years ago.
"He was unbelievable. He took after the Slovak side of the family. He was tall, worked out every day and earned a black belt in karate," said Dan Tutko, adding that his brother worked with members of the Gracie family, whose members are big in mixed martial arts.
When some of George Tutko's clients heard he was ill, they rallied around him. According to ultimateclassicrock.com, former XYZ and current Great White singer Terry Ilous spearheaded a fundraiser to help defray the growing cost of George's care. Those efforts included the auction of a guitar signed by Vince Neil (Motley Crue), Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard), Rick Springfield and others.
George was close with Stewart, working with the British rocker on 13 projects. When George was ill, Stewart and his longtime guitarist, Jim Creagan, posted a message of hope for their friend. (soundcloud.com/severerecords.)
Dan Tutko and Chalfant attended a March 22 memorial service at Quad Studios in Nashville. One attendee even flew in from Europe to pay his respects.
"A lot of musicians and engineers came. A lot of friends and family showed up. It was a nice time," Chalfant said.
"I always knew my dad was a great man. But it was nice to hear other people say that," Isabella Tutko said.
Dan Tutko is proud of the work accomplished by the little brother who used to listen to him play guitar.
"It's an American dream kind of story: You decide what you want to do, work at it and it pays off," he said.