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Archive for July, 2010

With the release of “Must’ve Been Live” in early 2002, I called in every favor I could to make this record a success.  This new venture had to breathe a life of it’s own.  It was a new beginning for all of us and laying that foundation was key.  Everyone from the fans to the clerks in the record stores had to be a part of this movement and get involved.

We hired Ken Phillips Publicity Group, who I had known from RCA, to work press.  Ken had done publicity for the band LIT while I was consulting, and had done an amazing job.  He was also doing press for Joan Jett and Brian Setzer at the time.  I had my pal Mike A., who worked at RCA, get us radio reports such as B.D.S. (Broadcast Data Systems used to track spins) as well as sales reports, like soundscan (a system that tracks sales of music).  We used this data to see exactly what markets had past radio and sales success.  And from this information, we knew where we should focus our efforts.  In other words, we wanted to find out what stations had previously played their songs and if they’d spin them again now.  If we couldn’t get a song played, maybe we could drop by the studio and do an interview.

Taking Care of Business in the Van... Photo Stephanie Neal

Eddie or even Dancing Eagle would often call radio stations from the van or email the program director at these stations.  The “Eddie Spaghetti” personal touch made all the difference.  After all I wasn’t in the band, and felt most people wanted to hear from Eddie or Ron or anyone else in the Supersuckers.  It wasn’t uncommon for the band to even send post cards to radio stations, retailers, or even fans thanking them for the support.

We used a radio promotions company called Planetary to help us get radio play in the college market. The folks at Planetary were very supportive with the Supersuckers efforts and release.

Through the sales reports, I could tell where the band sold records and at what type of record stores; independent, chains, or mass retailers…  Certainly the Supersuckers were going to sell more at an independent store than a major chain.  But what independent stores and where?  And who was the fan at that store?  I would spend hours a day calling record stores.   Usually I’d send them advance copies to play or posters to display or even create contests in order to push the record.  I’d even offer up the Supersuckers to come by and perform in their store.  I can’t emphasize enough how important all of this was for us in the beginning.  I knew that most of the venues where the band performed were 21 and up, so we were missing out on a lot of the kids.  So playing at record stores helped the band reach a younger audience.  As an added bonus we would give away tickets to shows to anyone that purchased the band’s records.  “Buy a Supersuckers CD and get a free ticket to the show”.  The stores loved it because it got people into the store and helped us get the music out of the stores.  Most importantly I just felt like we were doing something to promote the band, the music, the record store, and connecting those dots with the fans and the band.

Eddie wrote the one sheet (sales sheet), the liner notes inside the CD, the notes we’d include with our radio mailings, lots of the promotional material, etc.  Once again, putting the personality of the band out front and utilizing Eddie’s incredible writing talents.

We would also try and get testimonials from other artists that we could use to promote the band.  Eddie got one from Steve Earle and Ron got one from Robin Zander of Cheap Trick.  I wanted to sticker the release with these quotes.  And use them to get more testimonials from artists.  I figured if a DJ saw that Steve Earle liked the Supersuckers they had to give it listen.  Same with press.  If Willie Nelson liked them then it must be good and worthy of a review.  The ultimate seal of approval is often from a respected peer.

The Supersuckers understand that great rock and great country are, at least on a spiritual level, exactly the same thing. Rock on, boys. -Steve Earle

Supersuckers…I love the Supersuckers, our whole band loves you guys! -Robin Zander from Cheap Trick

They played my birthday party. They rock! Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam

We collected as many as we could.  And it helped immensely.  I remember feeling nervous asking Eddie Vedder for one when the band performed at his 40th Birthday Party, but I had to ask.  We’d also make up clever stickers to put on the CD such as 5 out of 4 stars and my all time favorite “Nominated 5 Times”.  Now I’m not sure what the Supersuckers were nominated for, but it was entertainment.  It was an attention getter. And an eye catcher in the bin and most importantly a great conversation piece.  I’ve been asked over a hundred times what the band was nominated for over the years.

And before the release of Must’ve Been Live the Fan Club aka The PIT was established.  I was surprised the band had gone as long as it did without a fan club, so the timing was perfect.  Below is an email from Eddie that was sent to the email list back in 2001.  I’m not sure how many people were on the list at the time but I’d bet only 500 around this time.  And I believe we had about 50 people join the fan club before the release of Must’ve Been High.  The stars were lining up…

October 31, 2001 12:20:55 PM MST

Hey Suckers!

Eddie Spaghetti here and it’s time to launch our new re-vamped, re-modeled and fully re-energized “interweb” sight, www.supersuckers.com ! Here you will find all the latest, greatest info ( we promise to keep up now ) as well as info about our upcoming live country record “Must’ve Been Live”. It’s the second release from our new label Mid-Fi, due in stores February and you can log on and pre-order it right now, thus ensuring your copy won’t be sold out! Tracks include Non-Addictive Marijuana, Dead In The Water, Roadworn And Weary and Hungover Together featuring Amy Nelson. It also has tons of surprise guests and odd-ball covers. It’s a ramblin’, gamblin’, good-time-drinkin’, roadhouse rumblin’, party-time country hoo-haw recorded in Dallas, Austin, and San Diego. It’s 18 tracks and almost 70 minutes worth of pure bootleg dynamite, so don’t miss your chance to grab one ( or two, if ya want ) and we’ll send it right to you.

We’ve also decided to tear a page from the books of rock stars past and start our very own fan club! For a mere 15 bones you can join the Official Supersuckers Fan Club (we’re working on a better name for it – any ideas?) and in return you will recieve two clever and witty newsletters a year, an annual single available only to members ( it’s a Christmas single this year!) and whatever other crazy things we decide to toss your way.

The money you send will go to cover the cost of making and shipping the singles and the newsletters and the extra cash will go to lining our pockets and feeding our babies.

Eddie Spaghetti…

Next, I’ll write a bit more about the beginning of the Fan Club, Website and the On-Line Store…  It’s no secret that the Supersuckers have a great site but it didn’t start that way.  Stay Tuned.  Donations are appreciated and remember anybody who donates or buys anything from my eBay store will be entered to win a guitar which includes a free lesson from Rontrose.  It’ll be a lot of fun and most likely take place in Los Angeles sometime in September


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I felt real fortunate to have Ken involved with the Supersuckers. And here’s a little Rockonomics Q & A with Ken below.  Ken Phillips played a huge role early on when I started with the Supersuckers so read on…

Q:  When you work publicity for a band what key ingredients do you look for to help with getting the band reviewed?

A: I look for originality, but mostly just rockin’ music that makes a connection.  Something that I’m excited to share with the media.

Q:  How important is doing press for an album?

A: If you don’t do press for an album release no one will know it exists.  Hopefully, the press coverage that a CD receives will turn into CD sales so the band can continue making music and pay for a publicist 🙂

Q:  Do you have a favorite Supersuckers story?

A: My favorite Supersuckers story really just involves Eddie Spaghetti.  It had been a few years since I had worked with the band and I was on tour with Joan Jett.  She was playing the Henry Fonda theater in Los Angeles and the Supersuckers were opening for the New York dolls that same evening up the street at the palace.  Anyway, I was hanging backstage and Eddie was back there with some of the guys from Eagles of Death Metal.  I was pleasantly surprised to bump into him back there and he asked if he could have his picture taken with Joan Jett.  I arranged for the two of them to meet and while we were waiting for Joan to come out of her dressing room Carmen Electra walked in.  I knew Eddie was excited to meet Joan, but when Carmen walked in the room I thought Eddie was going to lose it.  He looked at me like, Ken, that’s Carmen Electra.  Do something!!!!  So,  I introduced him to Carmen and took his cell phone and snapped a photo of the two of them.  By that time, Joan was coming in the room and I think Eddie possibly forgot he was there to meet the queen of rock…Not really, but it was just a fun night to see Eddie so star struck and very happy to be in that room with two of the most beautiful women on the planet.  I’m sure it’s a night he’ll never forget.

Q:  Was there anything the Supersuckers once did that stood out as awesome?  Personally, I always felt fortunate knowing that Eddie Spaghetti was such a good writer and so well spoken.

A: The Supersuckers were so solid as a live band.  They always blew me away when they played live and Eddie is probably one of the best writers around.  He should write a book.   He could probably have a side career as a comedian or television writer.  His sense of humor and timing is impeccable.

www.kenphillipsgroup.com

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I’ve known Chris Davies from Planetary for about 15 years. He’s always been a good pal and once provided me with some great service with the Supersuckers and the College Radio Market.  I got a chance to ask Chris some questions for my Rockonomics Q & A series

Q: Over the years a lot has changed in the radio market.  Back when the Supersuckers released Must’ve Been Live in 2002, I couldn’t imagine not working such an album to College Radio.  Do you still feel that the college radio market is as important today as it was just a few years ago?

A: Yes, absolutely.  But what was true then, is still true: college radio is most important, and at it’s best, when done in conjunction with other marketing and promotion efforts.  Obviously, there are more ways to spread the word about a band or a release.  From digital PR to just social networking, etc.  The social networking stuff, any band can do, and should.  But college radio still is a key element when working a release.  It still has a significant audience.  In fact, we recently did some cost analysis work, and found that for the money spent, radio was still the biggest bang for your promo/marketing budget buck, in terms of audience.  Hard to believe with all these eyes and ears on the internet, but true.

Q: Where have you seen examples of College Radio being viable in todays market?

A: College radio is at it’s best in development.  It’s an early indicator, and testing ground.  Gets bands their first introduction to peopl who are ready to listen.  Are you asking me Can college radio break a band in today’s market?  The answer has always been; not by itself.  There need to be other activities in any band’s ‘promotional and marketing pie’.  College radio is a good part of that pie, but only one slice.

Q: How can college radio make a difference in an artist’s career the way commercial radio can’t?

A: Development, and introduction.  Again, college radio’s biggest asset is its “new” factor.  Any new band will get it’s best shot in this area of media.  A few spins by stations with some audience, is way better than one post by a blog that no one goes to.  With commercial radio, a band HAS to be further along in it’s career.

Q: Finally, Planetary worked a lot of Supersuckers releases, was there a certain promotion or marketing campaign that we once did which stands out for you?

A: All the extras.  Videos, vinyl, the new year’s eve contests.  All those extras are what make the Supersuckers, or any band for that matter, stand out.  There more stuff we get to work with and encourage spins and support, the better.  Supersuckers has ALWAYS done more for their fans than many other bands.  Cool stuff.  Clubs, special events.  It is non-stop with the goodies they are willing to do for their fans.  And it’s those things that make our work with them special.

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with Eddie Spaghetti

After the Slims show in June 2001, my life changed forever. Eddie and I continued to chat over the next few weeks and he expressed his frustrations with the current state of the band not having a label or much press. He mentioned that the band had a manager but I got the impression he wasn’t very happy with that situation either and was ready for a change.

Eddie is a Star… I’d have to say Eddie Spaghetti is one of the most talented songwriters and one of the most creative people I’ve ever known. He rhymed Lola Falana with Marijuana, which I’m sure even Bob Dylan could appreciate. He’s engaging on the stage, as well as off. Back when I first got to know him, he had a great sense of humor; sarcastic, witty, and funny. He seemed motivated to achieve greater things…

Dancing Eagle, the original drummer, was also very engaging and for the first few months my time was pretty evenly split talking with the two of them. He was handling a lot of the business for the band, like helping with shows, selling merchandise, making their van payments, etc… But I could tell from that first night the band needed some direction. I believe it was Dancing Eagle and his girlfriend that were selling the merchandise at Slims, and when I say “merchandise” it was probably one shirt design in one size. I don’t remember seeing any CD’s or a mailing list or anything at the merch booth. It was something I always looked for at shows. In fact, it still is.

The crowd at Slim’s was amazing. A band really couldn’t ask for a better group of fans. And neither could a bar. The fans knew all the songs and were totally captivated by the show – another aspect I noted while looking at bands. These fans had a dedication and loyalty towards the Supersuckers that was almost immeasurable. Fans that had tattoos of the famous cracked logo on their forearms was something that wasn’t out of the ordinary.

That night back in June the band had so many of the ingredients from the songs, to the credibility, to the fans, to the presence, and the sales… The more I thought about it I wondered why they couldn’t venture off and do a distribution deal as opposed to a label deal. And I wondered why these guys were playing at a club and not at the local stadium…

In 2001 the music business was changing fast. RCA seemed interested in the next Christina Aguilera. Even Doyle Bramhall II, a super talent and monster guitar player that had signed with RCA around 2001, wasn’t getting much traction. I could go on and on about the bands that were signed to RCA that went nowhere, but that would be another story all together. Keep in mind this business seems to remember the hits a lot more than the misses. The climate was changing fast, so real talented acts got lost somewhere between all the crumbling of the music industry. Everyone in the business knew something was happening and that for better or worse, the internet was going to change it all. RCA didn’t seem interested in the Supersuckers, which was fine because I thought they had all of the ingredients in place to start their own label rather than sign with a major. With the right direction, they could blaze their own trail and become pioneers in the industry rather than fall through the cracks of an old and tired system.

My belief in the talent of the Supersuckers, combined, as well as individuals, led me to the decision to roll the dice and work with them on forming a label rather than searching for the next big thing. I remember telling my boss that I was going to leave RCA, move from Los Angeles to Park City, Utah, and go work with the Supersuckers. I think he was a bit surprised, but I felt there was more of a future working with a band than with a label. I still do in some cases. Honestly, if the Pope walked into RCA with an acoustic guitar I think it would’ve been a challenge to break him.

The layoffs were just starting to happen, and the days of the record stores were beginning to fade. I believe there were about 5000 stores when I started with the Supersuckers. Now that number is closer to 1000. I always felt that the folks behind those counters were on the front lines. They could play your CD in the store, promote it to their customer, and help build a following. That was another reason we did so many performances at retailers (known as “in-stores”). In fact, one in-store (Live At Barts CD Cellar) was recorded and later sold. As luck would have it, Bart’s was sold soon after the CD was done, but at the time it was a great idea. I wish we could’ve done more recordings just like it. It gave the retailer a really great item to sell in their shop, the band another catalog piece, and the fans attending the show got a great story to tell their friends (as well as a CD to remember it by).

Eddie and I continued to talk and email. About two months after the Slim’s show I was at a show Seattle where Eddie Vedder played with the Supersuckers at the Showbox Theatre. I’d say things were moving along pretty well. And the more I talked to Eddie and Dancing Eagle, it seemed they liked the idea of doing a distribution deal. Their soundman, David Fisher, had a live show already recorded. What better way to launch a label than with a live record? Live records don’t usually cost that much and they truly capture a moment for the band. The title was called “Must’ve Been Live.” It featured Mickey Raphael of Willie Nelson’s band, Amy Nelson, Audley Freed, Clay Bartlett, and a serious cast of characters that were involved with the Supersuckers, so it was perfect. I sent it to a few distribution companies so we could wrap up a deal, get it heard, and they could launch their label. Redeye Distribution was interested, but I really felt like we had a lot to do to lay the groundwork for this release. Sure the band was selling out clubs and drawing a few hundred people in each market, BUT who were these fans and how could we as a label, Mid-Fi Recordings, get the word out to them? I always wished we had the name and address of all the people that ever purchased a Supersuckers release, or of the people in the Sub Pop Singles Club, but we didn’t and we had to start from scratch.

You know that expression “know your customer?” Well I really can’t express the importance of that enough. I guess in this case it would be called know your fan. Appreciate that fan. As far as I’m concerned every day was fan appreciation day. One of the first topics of serious conversation with Eddie revolved around collecting email addresses at the shows, and emailing those fans with band updates. I remember talking to Eddie about this and saying, “imagine if you got an email from Lemmy every few weeks letting you know what Motorhead was doing” and Eddie’s response was “that would be really weird dude.” He was right, and that was a terrible example, but Eddie was a great writer (not that Lemmy isn’t but I understood Eddie’s point) and I thought we should utilize his skills and humor, and create a stronger connection between him and the fans.
 At this point in 2002, I’m starting to travel more with the band, selling the merchandise at the shows, and collecting email addresses so that Eddie can do his updates to the growing list. The list, which started as 1, and at one point reached close to 40,000. After the shows, I’d type in the addresses and we’d send these updates out. Then the next step was to start a fan club, street team, hire a publicist, and get a radio company involved. And tour, tour, tour.

with Allen Ginsberg & Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1994

In the beginning touring with this band was brutal. It was the most ridiculous touring I’d ever done. While I was with RCA I toured with Jeremy Toback from Brad, and while I was with Rhino I even did a small tour with Allen Ginsberg in support of his spoken word CD collection; Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems and Songs 1949-1993. Those tours were very organized and efficient. In the beginning with the Supersuckers, sometimes you really had no idea where you were staying. Some of the time I’d end up sharing a bed or sleeping on the floor. I remember one time driving up and down I-95 looking for a hotel. It was beyond disorganized, so I took it upon myself to try and book hotels in advance, and stick with certain hotel chains so that we could collect points and cash the points in for free rooms. Later, touring became either staying at the Holiday Inn Express (Priority Club) or Hampton Inn (Hilton Honors). Often, the promoters would have good deals, or partnerships with hotels where they would get a good rate, so I’d usually take advantage of that too. We’d call this “touring smart.” We also had some fans that worked in hotels so we’d save a fortune getting the friends and family rate. Thanks Zak, Joshua, Jerry, and everyone else! A penny saved was a penny earned for the Supersuckers, and hotels can really stick it to you when you’re not prepared.

We’re coming up on the release of “Must’ve Been Live”. Put your seat belt on- there’s more coming soon. Comments, donations, and subscriptions are much appreciated!

In the meantime, here’s the sales sheet to look over.

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As most folks know I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan!  So when I heard the mighty mighty Sid Griffin, who had written “Million Dollar Bash” (regarding the Bob Dylan Basement tapes), was going to tackle the Rolling Thunder Review tour I was thrilled!  I clicked the BUY button on Amazon and ordered his new book “Shelter from the Storm: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Years”!  and set up an interview for my Rockonomics Q&A series.

Q: I believe there was about were about 60 shows during the Rolling Thunder Review Tour.  If we were able to travel back in time, what show would you take me to and what might we expect?

A: I would think Toronto on the first tour or maybe Madison Square Garden on the first tour as that was good too. On the second I like both Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, those were two smokin’ shows but very different from the first tour’s sound and style. As for what you might expect I am afraid I discuss that at length in the book, I explain both tours shows and what you would see if you had been there. So I can’t get into that now or a key reason for buying the book is gone! But they were like old time R&B tours where various singers came out and sang a few songs and then split while the backup band was the same. Imagine that with folk-rock people instead of R&B or rock musicians and that is what, in essence, the Rolling Thunder Revue tours were. A lot of the time Bob Dylan was not onstage at all!

Q: Is there a story behind Mick Ronson getting involved and being a part of the Rolling Thunder Review?

A: Yeah, the bottom line is he walked into a Bob Neuwirth gig at The Bottom Line in the summer of 1975 and he and Neuwirth hit it off. So that was good enough to get him an invite to play on a lot of the Rolling Thunder gigs but he was not used on some of them. It is very strange, he was the best guitarist onstage by far and yet Dylan left him backstage at times. Go figure. Even stranger is Bob played some lead guitar! I noticed on the mixes of Hard Rain that Dylan’s guitar is not very loud in the mix at times because his fills, his lead guitar fills, are pretty shakey.

Q: The Rolling Thunder Review Tours were known as traveling caravans of musicians.   Who were a few noteworthy musicians that might’ve been invited but missed the wagon?

A: I could not say for sure. I wasn’t there and I am not Bob Dylan. The rumor was Phil Ochs and Eric Anderson wanted to be invited desperately but of course were not. I am sure there were tons of Dylan’s buddies who wanted to be invited but he had McGuinn, Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, later Kinky Friedman, a young T-Bone Burnett…you could hardly complain about who he picked! And then at various gigs Arlo Guthrie, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot showed up…not too shabby there, either. My only bummer is he should have let Allen Ginsberg come out front and read a poem every night. He NEVER let Allen read a single poem, not once, and the guy is America’s most favorite poet of the twentieth century! He is/was the Walt Whitman of our era and he was kept backstage. Go figure that too.

Q: This is a selfish question, I absolutely love Michael Bloomfield’s guitar playing especially on Highway 61 RevisitedBob Dylan (1965).  Is there a story you might know that involves Bloomfield and Dylan that you’d like share?

A: I don’t have any Bloomfield stories you have not heard before. It is a tragedy his insomnia and his drug dependency fed on each other and got so out of hand. Bloomfield should be here now, playing today. It’s funny, but if you read my first Dylan book Million Dollar Bash everyone says Robbie Robertson was a better guitarist than Bloomfield back in the mid-sixties. That’s quite a claim to fame.

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