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)
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…
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