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Archive for June, 2010

Photo by: Tony Bonanno

Baron Wolman (Photo by: Tony Bonanno)

This Q & A is a personal treat for me because I love photography and how it captures the moment… I was fortunate to work at Rhino Records where the importance of great photo’s in CD booklets was understood and appreciated.

I married a photographer and I’ve got a couple good pals that dabble in the art as well.  So I reached out to Baron Wolman to see if he’d like to participate in my ongoing Rockonomics Q & A series.  Baron Wolman is a real America Treasure who’s captured some of the greatest musicians ever – bar none.

Q: You’re known as one of the quintessential Rock Photographers. You’ve photographed everyone from the Grateful Dead to Muddy Waters.  Is there a fun story you’d like to share that leads up to one of your photographs?
A: Filled with great apprehension I went to Miles Davis’ home just west of Central Park in New York City to shoot him for a Rolling Stone article.  I had heard he was a difficult subject and didn’t like photographers, especially white ones.  Long story short, we got along well.  After we made some portraits in his living room, he growled, “Baron, you are so out of shape.  Let’s go to the gym; I gotta get you in the ring.”  We headed to the famous Gleason’s Gym in his red Ferrari.  Along the way I had him pull over and made some color portraits of him with his car.  At the gym I photographed him training where he worked out hard and regularly, three times a week.  Miles was in great physical shape and loved to box.  He subsequently explained to me that his music was like boxing; if you listen closely you will hear all the major boxing moves: jab, uppercut, cross, hook, et cetera.  And, no, he didn’t put me in the ring with him.

(Photo by: Baron Wolman)

Miles Davis, West Side Highway, 1969 (Photo by: Baron Wolman)

Q: You once said that is was real hard to get a bad picture of Jimi Hendrix.  Can you tell me a little more about what you mean by that and what he was like?
A: Jimi had incredible style.  He dressed so well.  His clothes even influenced the late sixties changes in Miles Davis’ wardrobe.  And he had “performance style.”  His movements onstage, his handling and caressing of his guitar, his facial expressions — all were unique, all were visually exciting, all were hugely photogenic.

Q: Because you were a staff photographer for Rolling Stone and constantly shooting different bands, I understand it would’ve been hard to join a tour and focus on a particular band.  If you could’ve joined a tour what tour, which one?
A: Any of the Stones tours must have been extraordinarily exciting and would have been fun with a capital “F.”  I loved the Who; it would have been great to hang with that band.  Same with Led Zeppelin.  I’ve recently become friendly with Jimmy Page – had I been on tour with them I could compare the Jimmy of the sixties to the Jimmy of today.  Believe it or not, I would have liked to accompany AC/DC, a popular but until recently “disrespected” band – what a rock and roll power rush.

(Photo by: Baron Wolman)

Original issue of Rolling Stone Magazine issue 14. Cover photograph of Frank Zappa. Published July 20, 1968. (Photo by: Baron Wolman)

Q: What artist living or dead would you like to photograph?
A: The list is long, endless really, and includes some artists I briefly photographed before their demise.  More Jimi, more Janis, more Jim Morrison, more Frank Zappa.  I’ve recently come to admire Joan Jett – I’d love to shoot her.  Tom Petty.  Bob Marley.  John Mellencamp.  More Dylan.  I could go on and on and on.  My extensive archives notwithstanding, I regret that I didn’t fully take advantage of the some of the photo opportunities I had. Down deep I fear I’m lazy, prone to indolence…

Q: There’s a rumor that you might have another book coming out with stories and photos. Can you tell me more about it?
A: It’s no rumor.  In the spring of 2011 the book will be published.  The title is “Every Picture Tells A Story — Baron Wolman, The Rolling Stone Years.” When I hang photo exhibits and when I make live presentations, people always ask me what it was like to shoot so-and-so, what it was like to live in the Haight during the Summer of Love, what Woodstock was like, what it like to be alive in the sixties.  The book will provide some of the answers as well as stories behind particular pictures.  And, of course, there will be lots of photos, many never before published.  For all of us shooters, old or young, tales told about the photo sessions are enormously captivating and give the images an additional presence.

Q: Do you have any great photo’s that you’ve not been allowed to publish?
A: No.  Nor would I publish a photo that would demean the subject or hurt the subject in any way.  Jim Marshall, the great rock & roll shooter, titled his recent book “Trust” because he explained that between him and his subjects there existed an inherent trust that neither would abuse the other, that he would respect the privilege of being invited into the lives of his subjects. I couldn’t say it any better.

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The email came from one of the A&R guys at RCA in NYC asking me if I’d fly to San Francisco to see the Supersuckers. It was my job to go out and see bands for RCA and report to the West Coast Vice President. This was in June 2001. The Supersuckers were practically a household name with a hip crowd: surfers, skaters, bikers, etc. And they had a respectable track record with Sub Pop and their last release on Koch. They were free agents looking for a deal. Here was a band that had recorded w/ Pearl Jam, Willie Nelson, and Steve Earle. They had a fan base and could sell out clubs, and they had a great story… They all went to elementary school together, started a band called the Black Supersuckers that later evolved into the Supersuckers. It’s an incredible history, and if you haven’t read the bio on the band’s website it’s worth checking out. – It seemed to me that with a major label behind them, they just might hit it big, but it also seemed to me that the environment in the music business was perfect for them to do it on their own. Keep in mind this was 2001, right before the wheels fell off of the music industry. Around that time, people in the industry knew something was happening, but I don’t think anybody would have ever guessed it would be like it is today. So I went to Slims in San Francisco and it was awesome. One of the best shows ever..

One thing I tried to do when I saw a band was to stay objective and watch how the crowd reacted. Who exactly was the crowd (the people that actually paid for music, rather than executives that got it for free)? Who was the fan? Did they know the words? Young? Old? What songs did the crowd latch onto? Older songs? New Songs? Did the band relate to the crowd? Did the band have an email list? A mailing list? A fan club? Did they sell merchandise and how much merchandise did they actually sell? I was looking for a band that not only had great songs but had the other elements in place. And as a talent scout for RCA, it was my job to find that band. A band with great songs, a draw, personality, charm, charisma and drive.

In 1989, while everyone else was going to frat parties, I was seeing bands, working at Olson’s Books and Records in DC, and hanging out at the 9:30 club. I wasn’t sure how I’d ever make a career out of music, but I didn’t really have much of a passion for anything else. I decided I’d go work for a record company. I had no idea how. The only people I knew in the music business were the people at the record store, the reps for the labels that would drop the “promo’s” off, and some of the folks at the 9:30 Club. I had dreams of doing big things. I studied all the labels in the bin and figured I’d start mailing letters off to the people inside the CD inserts asking for an internship or a job. I sent letters to everyone from David Geffen to Irving Azoff. I was going to finish college in the fall of 1992, so I could work that summer and do an internship. Well, my letters and phone calls got me nowhere. I don’t even think I got a response, but here’s what happened…

While in College, I took a few guitar lessons from a guy named Pete in Mclean, VA and I asked him if he knew anybody in the music business. He put me in touch with a guy named Tom Rowland at MCA. Tom was also from Virginia. I had my summer internship and college credit. I tried to learn and meet as many people as I could while doing the internship. I knew after college I’d return back to Los Angeles and try and get a paying gig.

I finished at the University of Maryland with a degree in Economics in December 1991, and was back in Los Angeles by January. I had an apartment and a car, but no job. I was pounding the pavement every day, driving to record labels with a resume in my hand, trying to make friends with the person working the front desk. I didn’t mail anything because I had already learned my lesson and wasted enough stamps. I figured if I went down there in person, I’d have a better chance of landing a job. It’s much harder for them to say ‘No’ to a face rather than a letter. I was escorted out of the BMG/RCA building on Sunset which was pretty ironic considering my future position. Well, sure enough my first and only job interview at Rhino Records happened around March thanks to Elizabeth who was working at the front desk. Then I reached out to Tom to see if he could put in a good word for me. He did and I got the job. I think it was about $7.50 an hour, 3 days a week. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Soon I picked up another part time job at a classical label making sales calls and mailing out CD’s. I think that job paid about the same. The money wasn’t much but it was all the CD’s you could imagine and it didn’t take me long to figure out how much people liked getting free CD’s. Especially back in the early 90’s. I’d give a box of CD’s to the guy at the pizza shop and eat free for a week. It was all working out but sales really wasn’t what I wanted to do; it was just something I happened to be good at. I really wanted to do A&R. I wanted to go out and see bands, get them signed and launch a career. All I needed was one band, and there were a million of them in Los Angeles. I would go out to the clubs at night to see bands, give the doorman a bunch of CD’s, and never pay a cover. They treated me like a king. There wasn’t a club I couldn’t get into or a line I had to wait in. That doorman was my key. Not only would I get into shows for free, but I’d get leads on new bands, and tips like ‘all the industry guys are coming tomorrow night to check out this band called Weezer’. During the day I was working the phones at Rhino and at night I was moonlighting: seeing bands and keeping notes and tapes of the ones I liked. For the 7 years I worked at Rhino, I never told anyone what I was up to at night, but they were so stuck in the 1970’s, they never would have suspected I was out looking for new talent. Rhino was a reissue company. They were releasing the Dave Clark Five, not the next Nirvana record. Even though it specialized in hits from the past, Rhino provided me with an “in”, where I could scout bands at night and feel legit, working for an actual record company. It wasn’t a conflict, and frankly it was a great experience and an awesome label. It was chock full of some of the most creative people, such as Geoff Gans or David Gorman or walking music encyclopedia’s like my pal and old boss Dave Kapp or James Austin. Everyone at this place was passionate about their jobs and about music. I got paid next to nothing, but I learned the business inside and out. So while I’m out seeing these shows and taking notes on bands, I’d put together these tapes. Then I’d mail the tapes off to some of the head A&R guys with a note explaining that I really wanted to go and see bands and I’d include a few songs on my tapes…. Well after 3 months of this, I get a call from RCA asking if I’d come by for a meeting. Turned out one of the guys there liked the music on my tapes. I owe it all to a guy named Chris Dye, who let me record his demo’s of his band called Future Underworld Kings and mail them around… Now this is one talented guy and you probably haven’t heard of him, but FUK had these songs called Wearing Me Down, ’7AM in the Morning’ and another called Violated. These songs would stick in your head for days and the demo’s we did were fantastic.  This guy named Bruce Flohr, who had just signed the Dave Mathews Band, asked me if I’d just mail my tapes to him from now on and he’d pay me. How could I go wrong?  Whatever he needed me to hear, I’d report on it and I’d continue to provide him with my thoughts on bands that I heard over the next 7 years…  Bruce really liked Chris Dye, but for some reason RCA never signed him (Chris later changed the name of the band from FUK to Dashboard Prophets, and later was in a band called Gordon).

After about a year at Rhino, they hired me full-time. I was also doing A&R Consulting at RCA on the side. This was an awesome time for music. Some of the bands that came out around this time were truly incredible, and I got a chance to see them up close in smaller venues: Weezer, Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, Ben Harper, etc. I kept a spread sheet on every band I saw, the date, time, where, who was at the show from other labels, who the bands contact was, how many fans were at the show and what my thoughts on the show were. I’d fax my spread sheet to Bruce every Friday. I still have my notes on the Old 97’s when I saw them in 1996… You’ll note the number 7.6 Anything above a 7, I thought was worth a listen… And a 7 was hard to get in my notes. My bar was set high.

  • 5/21/96 Alligator Lounge
    Olds 97’s rated 7.6
    Another Really good Show
    Americana Style with some pop riffs
    2 Guitars, Bass, n drums
    Guitars really put a lot into their performance
    Singer had a lot of presence and band had a great vibe
    Crowd seemed real into the music
    Band had some great moments and related well to audience. In their early 20’s
    They’re from Texas. It was a real good show.
    A heavy industry crowd including Matt Aberle, Greg Sowders, Gary Gersh, Jason Markey John Weiss, Jason Bernard

And here’s what I thought of Blink in 1995 before they were Blink 182

  • 7/6/95 Roxy
    Blink rated 7
    Contact: Bill Silva (Manager)
    John Brink (Law)
    Rick Broody (Booking)
    Ska/Punk Band
    1 Guitar, Bass & Drums
    Sounds like the Offspring, Good Looking Group
    Confident Stage Presence
    Band members are early 20’s (Surfer Type)
    Good Songs, Great Draw and young crowd surfer/punk type
    25 Minute Set
    Independent CD is available through Cargo (Grilled Cheese Records)
    Has mailing list, sells T-shirts, tapes, & CD’s at show
    Favorite Songs: Carousel (See Tape 4)
    Note – 1100 People at last show in Orange County!
    In attendance – Nigel Harrison, Holly Huthison and John Weiss

My sales job at Rhino was interesting. I didn’t sell to record stores, I sold to “Special Markets”… Anyone that wasn’t a record store; mail order catalogs, toy stores, gift stores, etc. This was huge. And it really helped me understand the business. I didn’t know it then, but the days of record stores were coming to an end and Rhino was ahead of the curve in selling to a wide variety of retailers. Consumers would buy them at: Pottery Barn, the Nature Company, Wal Mart, or K Mart. You could take a particular artist or a particular style of music and sell it to a business that catered to that customer. So while at Rhino I sold the Blues CD’s to the Blues Museum in Mississippi or I sold the Take It Off! Strip Tease Classics to the Adam & Eve Mail Order Catalog. I assisted with sales into the Nature Company, PBS Stores, and even places like Toys R Us or QVC. I was also responsible for selling directly to the artist while at Rhino. So for example, if KC and the Sunshine Band were playing a show, I’d reach out and see if they needed CD’s to sell on the road. This put me in touch with a lot of artists, most of which were obviously older, but could still draw a crowd. I learned just how important it was to sell CD’s at shows, no matter what band you were, as well as the importance of calling in your sales to soundscan so they could be tracked.  Soon I began consulting for John Tesh of Entertainment Tonight, because he wanted me to help sell his music to other outlets besides record stores. Eventually I become Director of Label Operations for Tesh, while still doing consulting for RCA. It’s something I don’t often talk about because Tesh isn’t rock n roll, but he certainly was smart and I had a great run with him. But as one pal put it “I’d rather smoke weed in a van with the Supersuckers than fly on private jets with John Tesh” and I’d have to agree.

So when I got that email from the New York office asking me to see the Supersuckers, I was pretty excited. I had a good understanding of the business, but for whatever reason RCA wasn’t interested. Maybe it was because the Supersuckers were older and had already been doing it for about 10 years. They weren’t new and they weren’t sexy. And they never could parlay those rock n roll moments into something bigger. But why? I always wondered that myself… why couldn’t the band that had so many opportunities, build on them? And the Supersuckers had already sold close to 50,000 records on an independent label. They had street credibility, and a built in fan base with a reputation. It wasn’t a secret that these guys partied and wrote songs about it. They wore it on their sleeves.

That first night at Slims was awesome. After the show Eddie and I seemed to hit it off pretty well. He did most of the talking. I could tell he seemed eager to do something. I don’t think it mattered to him if it was with RCA or KFC. He wanted to get his music out to people. Eddie is very articulate and can be very charming when he wants to be. Especially if he wants something. Don’t let the cowboy hat fool you into thinking otherwise…

Stay Tuned…  More Coming Soon… Please Subscribe…Thanks!

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Redd Volkaert

I had the honor of asking Redd Volkaert a few questions. Now I must admit that I discussed these questions ahead of time with both Jordan Shapiro and Rontrose. All three of us are fans so it only made sense to make it a group effort. I can remember seeing Redd with the both of them at the Continental Club in Austin, TX. If you ever find yourself in Austin, Redd is a must see. In fact, when I get back to Austin he’s second on my list right after Guero’s Mexican Grill. Enjoy!

Q: You’ve played with Brad Paisley, George Jones, Ray Price and lots of other musicians. But the musician I always associate you with is Merle Haggard. Do you have a favorite Merle Haggard story?

A: Well my favorite Merle story is probably not so cool for normal people, and more for musicians. Merle had given me a guitar, a MH model from Fender, when they first came out. I played the guitar on tour right away and the next tour I had my old ‘58 back in tow, Merle asked “what’s wrong with the new one?” I said, nothing really, he says “come on now what don’t you like about it?” After some coaxing I caved and said, the pickups don’t sound all that great to me. They’re just stock and nondescript with no character. He said “it’s your guitar, go ahead and change them if you want, do whatever you have to, to it, to make you happy enough to play it.”

So I changed the pickups and brought it on the next tour, into the second song of the first night on the road, while in the middle of my solo he comes right beside me and says “WTF did you do to that thing? It sounds fantastic.”

I thought he was like a lot of singers and musicians that didn’t give shit, nor care about something as trivial as altering a guitar to make it sound better. But he was genuinely interested in what I did and especially what kind of pickups I had put in it. Of course he pestered me to change his in his guitar for a couple of months til’ I did. The reason it took so long is, I had had special ones hand made for me, so then, had to order another set for his guitar.

I just think that a guy, that was at that time 62 years old, still has the ears and interest in sound, must be a hell of a dedicated soul to his life as a craft. But then again he’s the great Merle Haggard

Q: Have you ever turned down a gig because, stylistically, you thought it wouldn’t be a good fit? If so, care to say who?

A: Yes I have, but I don’t think its right to name any names, kind of like saying, their music to me, is shit.

Q: What artist, living or dead, would you most like to sit down and jam with and any particular reason?

A: Jimmy Bryant. I think he was the most innovative, creative, free spirited player I’ve ever heard. Of course that’s just my opinion.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?

A: I would say musically, it would have to be Merle Haggard, because of his musical achievements, impressive body of work, longevity in his career, his songwriting and singing talent, and the balls to keep going.

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