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