The Producers: Öysters, Cheap Tricks, and Jake & Elwood Blues

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By the end of the ’70s, I had just about made a clean transition from A&R man to producer. My corporate title was Senior Vice President/Executive Producer, since I had gone through all the promotions one had to have at CBS in order to justify my pay grade. The CBS Records offices in LA were located in the Carlsberg Building, on the western margin of Century City, on little Santa Monica Boulevard. If I went into the office at all, it was to catch up on routine paperwork, read mail, open unsolicited cassettes, and return messages. I was trying to settle into a nice three-project-a-year groove, with a summer vacation so I could actually spend some time with my family. There was really no one at the office to whom I reported, so if I wasn’t in the studio and I hadn’t any pressing matters or label meetings, the time in between projects was mine to use as I chose.

I was beginning to feel just the slightest bit of complacency about my situation, which was as unsettling to me as it was comforting. It seemed to me that a bit of repetition was creeping into the production process, even though I was eager to keep things fresh and exciting. I remember this period as a time when I started to formulate answers to the same questions being asked by journalists, and I recall saying that I tried to avoid having “a sound” to my productions, maintaining that each project required a unique approach. In theory, I truly believed this, but in practice I found myself relying more and more on things I had done on previous albums, because they produced great results. I don’t think that I had a sound, really, and I do think that I served each artist in the proper way.

At the same time, there were certain things you could find in common on most of my productions – doubled rhythm guitars, shakers and tambourines, hand claps, Hammond organ, and a way of dividing time to create a kind of locomotive feel – that actually worked for a variety of artists. What this really meant was that the common quality to my recordings was in the arrangements, really, and not in the actual sound of the recording. I didn’t have a routine approach to miking the drum kit, and I varied the application of echos and delays, so that there was nothing comparable to a “wall of sound” or a certain presence or lack of presence to the instruments, or booming drums – nothing t hat could possible lead someone to say “this sounds like a Tom Werman record.”

20081024101953_song_album1But clearly the early ’80s was a more restless time for me – one during which I felt a drop in the level of excitement and commitment I had to my work. Eventually I realized that I needed to begin looking outside the comfortable world of CBS Records. My agreement with Epic had allowed me to do one outside project per year, but this was pretty limiting. In 1979, that outside project was Blue Öyster Cult, who were on the Columbia label. I had known Murray Krugman and Sandy Pearlman (BÖC’s producers) when Murray was at Columbia Records, and Sandy was an independent producer. I liked Murray – he was intelligent and humorous, and the band’s records were good. I was excited to be given the opportunity to work with an established band, whose past work I could evaluate and try to take to the next level.

The material they brought to the project was really quite different from “Go Go Godzilla” or “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” It was more serious, more introspective, and in my mind less commercial. They seemed to have written songs around a vague kind of theme. But I liked the guys, and I respected their musical ability. The Bouchard brothers provided the rhythm section, Donald Roeser was a fine guitarist, Eric Bloom had a vocal style that was great for the music, and Alan Lanier was a great keyboard player with a distinct musical style all his own. Yet this album really turned out to be more of an experiment for the band, like what Their Satanic Majesties’ Request was to the Stones or Rubber Soul was to the Beatles.

Having never met the band, I was a little surprised to discover that the guitarist known as “Buck Dharma” (one of the cooler stage names I had heard) was a diminutive, soft-spoken guy with a voice somewhere between baritone and tenor, with a really wonderful sense of humor. From the name, I had expected some kind of tough guy or social outcast – at least a tattoo or two. But Donald kept me in stitches for most of the project, and one night in Record Plant’s Studio B, he literally had me on the floor. It was almost midnight, and he was trying t o nail a vocal in the studio, and had been singing for an hour or two. We were all a little fatigued and a little bugged by the pressure to finish the album by a certain date, and he naturally fell into a hilarious commentary about a number of things, which caused me to laugh so hard that I literally fell out of my chair onto the floor, helpless and clutching my stomach. I’ll never forget it.

Much to Eric Bloom’s disgust, I found Donald’s voice more appropriate for most of the songs they had written, so Eric was stuck in LA with not much to do. I learned early that Donald had been the voice on most of the BÖC songs that I knew and liked, so I was ready to proceed with him as the main vocalist. I felt badly for Eric, but at the same time, I wasn’t going to go against my artistic judgment in order to be a nice guy. The album did recoup its recording costs, but wasn’t a hit by the group’s standards. On a personal basis, I enjoyed the band very much, and saw Alan Lanier back in New York a few times following the recording – perhaps because he was the only one who lived right in the city. Alan was distinctly bohemian, compared to the rest of the band. I sometimes wondered how he wound up with these guys.

The year before this project, I was sent into the studio with Cheap Trick to do the Dream Police album, which set a record for the shortest project I ever did. We completed the album in exactly 30 days, from load-in and setup to final mix. By today’s standards, or even by the standards of the ’90s, this was not so big a deal; but in 1979, it was pretty spectacular, given the end result. Once again, everything went smoothly and easily, and once again the songs were great, and incredibly varied. The label had wanted this LP to be delivered by a specific date, so we were in there working like crazy to get it finished. Just after we finished, Live at Budokan took off, and Dream Police sat on the shelf for eight months before it was released.

album-dream-police1I always called the title track “Son of Surrender,” but it was a great song in its own right. Engineer Gary Ladinsky and I are singing the answer vocals to “live inside of my head” and “come to me in my bed” on the choruses, and the falsetto “Police, Police” answer vocals at the end of the song. Rick Nielsen and Jai Winding wrote an arrangement for a large string section (Rick was always a big ELO fan) on “Way of the World,” and we recorded it with Jai conducting a 21-musician string section at the big room at RCA Recording Studios. I introduced the Hammond organ into the breakdown section of “Gonna Raise Hell,” and suggested that we get Steve Lukather of Toto to play guitar on “Voices.” Steve and I played the basic rhythm guitars on that song, too.

When Rick informed me that Tom Petersson was going to do the lead vocals on “I Know What I Want,” I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. The result was not spectacular, but it wasn’t the last time Tom would come up with requests or demands that his girlfriend Dagmar had instigated. Around the time of this album, she started a campaign to convince Tom that he needed to have more personal exposure in the band, that he could sing well, and that he should be more of a frontman. This eventually led to his departure from the group for a brief solo career.

After Dream Police, which went platinum quickly, I figured we were ready to do a real blockbuster album. Instead, the group chose to have George Martin produce their next record. How could I object? I was disappointed, but I was also excited by the prospect of having one of my favorite groups working with the Beatles’ producer. I had mixed feelings when the album proved to be less successful than Dream Police. That was the last real association I had with Cheap Trick until I got a call from them a number of years later. They had been on and off a number of labels, and had fired their brilliant manager Ken Adamany. They left Warner Brothers after Mo & Lenny left the label, and they were looking for a new home. They asked me if I would come out to Rockford, Illinois and help them make some good demos; if those demos led to a record deal, I would produce the album.

I was excited at the prospect of a reunion with the band, and they paid my transportation and room and board. We worked for a week, made some good demos, and mixed them in Chicago. Months later, when they got a label deal with these demos, they called to inform me that they had decided to produce the album themselves. I was bummed, and I advised them against it, but there really wasn’t much I could do. Yes, they went back on their word, but it wasn’t a big money deal for them, and I thought it would be petty of me to complain. When the next album came out, there was my demo, track one, side one – the one I had played percussion on, and my mix – yet there was no mention of my name, no musician credit, and of course, no financial compensation.

Feeling completely chumped, I called their manager and asked him what he thought he was doing. He told me to calm down, that things like this always happen. “Not in my world,” I replied. And that was basically the end of my relationship with Cheap Trick. After that, I was just another in a long list of names they complained about – just about everyone who had worked with them or helped them over the span of their career. This was the first of a series of events that cemented my attitude toward successful rock musicians. Generally speaking, and with few exceptions, if you aren’t doing something for them, you don’t exist, and 10 years later you’re responsible for everything they failed to achieve. It was really small and pathetic behavior, and I was pretty disappointed.

myrickcvr1We cranked out Flirtin’ With Disaster and Beatin’ the Odds for Molly Hatchet in 1979 and 1980, and then I worked with Gary Myrick and the Figures. This was something quite different from the stuff I’d been doing. The band was good, tight and lean, and the songs were compelling, Gary was a great guitar stylist and a great singer. There was space in the production, and not all rhythm guitars were doubled. I learned some things from Gary, and we had fun doing this album. As it turned out, maybe Gary was a little ahead of his time. KROQ in Pasadena played the hell out of “She Talks in Stereo,” and it appeared on the Valley Girl movie soundtrack as well. Still, it wasn’t quite enough to establish Gary in the big time. He was as accomplished a visual artist as he was a musician, and later I joined the band onstage in a few wacky club gigs we did, appearing as “The Souldads.” Gary would just start a riff on his guitar, and we’d all fall in line, spinning out these 15-minute jams while Gary just ad-libbed some humorous nonsense at the mike.

A friend of mine named Marty Cohn worked at Warner Brothers, and his brother Bruce was managing the Doobie Brothers. Marty told me about this new artist that Bruce was working with, and asked me if I’d like to come over and play some percussion on the demo. So this is how I wound up playing tambourine and shakers on the demo that got Bruce Hornsby signed. Marty and Bruce now have a very successful wine business in the Napa Valley, and Bruce’s early departure from the record business was an inspiration for my abrupt career change nine years ago.

That year, I also received a phone call at home from a fellow named Paul Cooper, who handled the west coast office of Atlantic Records for New York-based president Doug Morris. Paul told me that the Blues Brothers were planning to record a second album, and that he would like to arrange a meeting between John Belushi and myself when John was in L.A. Belushi was about the biggest name in entertainment at the time, and I was pretty jazzed. After thinking about how we should arrange this meeting, I called Paul back and told him to just bring John over to the house with him for supper, and we’d spend the evening. I looked forward to this dinner with great anticipation and curiosity.

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  • luffy66

    Great stuff- with a Belushi cliffhanger even! I can't wait for the next entry.

    Dream Police, and Flirting with Disaster are two of my favorite albums from the late 70's, an I never realized the connection with the two, as I was spinning the vinyl on my old record player.

    Thanks for these, as they bring back a lot of memories.

    Luffy

  • David_E

    Dream Police and Flirtin' were two favorites of mine, too (though I discovered them a few years later, around '83 or so). I've always had a soft spot for Mirrors, especially “In Thee,” which sounds to me like it could have come from the “New Originals” era of Spinal Tap [song-wise, not production-wise :) ] Didn't Lanier write that one?

    What was Bloom like in the studio? He always struck me as the more … aggressive … member of the group. Wonder how he channeled his disgust at playing 2nd vocalist …

  • OHW

    How much of a pain was Donnie Purnell of the KIX to work with? I heard he told you to stay and the KIX record and he would go and mix Motley Crue?

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    You have to feel a little bit of sympathy for Bloom. Technically, he is the lead singer of BOC, but being the lead singer of a band who's two biggest hits (one of which is a classic rock cornerstone) have someone else singing is like being kicked in the nuts.

  • James

    Hmm, I just watched the Blues Brothers yesterday and I posted the new Cheap Trick song to my Facebook account as well. ARE YOU STALKING ME?
    In all seriousness, I am loving these articles. More please!

  • Eric S.

    Every new column I learn something I didn't know before. I knew your work on “Dream Police” and “Mirrors” as they are two of my all-time favorite songs and albums. However, I didn't realize you were also responsible for Gary Myrick's first album. I don't know why Gary's career wasn't bigger. Along with “She Talks In Stereo”, I also thought “Message Is You” from his “Language” EP should have been a classic. Plus, he's all over John Waite's “No Brakes” LP which I heard was originally supposed to be a band project.

    As for “Mirrors”, I know many BOC purists put it down, but the title track and “You're Not The One (I Was Looking For)” are two of my favorite Cult tracks.

    Love Cheap Trick. Love “Dream Police”. It's disappointing to hear about the way the band treated you afterward. Like many Cheap Trick fans, I really didn't care for “All Shook Up” when it came out. It wasn't bad, it was just too different. I look at “Heaven Tonight” and “Dream Police” as great companion pieces, like “Fly Like An Eagle and “Book Of Dreams” or the first two Boston records.

  • Old_Davy

    “Mirrors” is my favorite BOC album, by FAR.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    Nice teaser with the Belushi story, Tom. Way to keep us coming back for more.

    I never knew you worked with Gary Myrick. Funny, I would never have guessed that you two would cross paths. I've been pestering American Beat to release his Language EP for years. Heck it's going for $27 on vinyl on Amazon…

  • side3

    I have to admit that I continue to be surprised that someone other than Rick Nielsen (or Robin Zander) would play guitar on a Cheap Trick record…now in addition to the lead guitar of “I Want You To Want Me”…”Voices ” too? I have to ask 'why?' and wonder what Rick thought of this?

    I agree with another posters assessment of “All Shook Up”. I thought it was a major disappointment compared with what had come before.

    I am also disappointed that we missed out on another CT/Werman work…I can only assume the album was “Woke Up With a Monster”?

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    I'm guessing it was 1997's “Cheap Trick.”

  • http://www.rockeyez.com/ Tom Stewart

    Man I'm bummed that another Tom Werman produced album was in the plans and didn't happen (I'm guessing it was CT 1997 and the 1st song on it, Anytime, is the one that was put on the album from the demo sessions). I think that's the best album they had done in a while at that point post Standing On The Edge, and I wonder what the end result may have been if you were there as an objective ear. And the fact that they were apparently shady about the whole episode afterwards is a damn shame since that pretty much ends any possible future collaborating. The fact is that as good as bands may be, it seems some of them can't accept that there's a magic in that silent member (the producer) adding the audio fairy dust to the project. Most band's classic output is usually in tandem with a certain producer being at the helm…getting the best out of them, providing suggestions, etc. I think CT resents the idea that their classic output happens to coincide with the same producer being at the helm….but I also consider their 1st album with Jack Douglas an absolute under appreciated classic as well.

    As I had mentioned in another post, I wonder how All Shook Up would have differed had you produced that one. I think it's a very underrated album with great, albeit, weird stuff on it, much like their debut album, but it's very thin sounding to me….not much bottom end and punch. Stop This Game could have used the Werman touch to put it over the edge a bit more in my opinion. I was disappointed in the sonics on that album and had higher hopes considering it was a George Martin project. I was only 10 when it came out, but I knew something was not quite right but didn't know what it was LOL It confused me a bit at the time. Roy Thomas Baker did a decent job on One On One except for the fake sampled snare sound on the whole album, and was another album with some great tunes on it. Next Position Please is another underrated album that was hampered by thin, mid-rangey mix and production, as much as I love Todd Rundgren. So even with great material, the producer matters maybe more than bands want to admit to???

  • Chris Baker

    Worse than that: their _three_ biggest songs (Reaper, Burnin'…, Godzilla) were sung by Roeser.

    As for Bloom: he's remarkably lucky that he fell in with talents as large as that of Roeser & Albert Bouchard. A glance at the catalog (and at the man's own words) demonstrate that his instincts were wrong, wrong, wrong. If this guy hadn't been in the band, he wouldn't have been buying BOC records.

    And I'd feel more sympathy for him if he hadn't been a jerk the two times I met him (25 years apart).

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Funny you should comment on this today. I was driving home from work and “Harvest Moon” from Heaven Forbid came up on the flash drive rotation. Got me wishing Buck would get back in the studio again.

  • Chris Baker

    I agree that MIRRORS tends to be very under-rated. I've always been a fan of the band's heaviest stuff – at least the early, heaviest stuff: there came a point when I started getting the sense it was being done by rote – but there are numerous places on this album that's so gorgeous it gives me chills. I think the production was exceptional and fit the feel of the material perfectly. And it's got a handful of Buck solos that are as perfect as anything he's ever done: “Lonely Teardrops” and “Moon Crazy” are wondrous.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Could be. That was the one they self-produced I think, but also recorded some EP tracks with Steve Albini on (“Baby Talk” & “Brontosaurus”)

  • tom werman

    Sorry for the delay — Eric was an unhappy guy during that album, but Donald Roeser never suggested that we give him some more lead vocals. I know I discussed the situation with Eric, but he's the only guy in the band who doesn't play an instrument, and if you share vocals with others in the group, things like this may happen from time to time. As I said, I felt badly for the guy, but the band was cool with it.

  • tom werman

    Never heard that particular story, but Donnie was the least trusting and most paranoid artist I ever met. The rest of the band was wonderful. He ruled with an iron fist, and was always sure that someone was out to screw him one way or another. There was no way to win his trust. I did the best I could under the circumstances.

  • tom werman

    I agree with you about Gary — a unique artist. I'm going to give those BOC tracks another listen. Haven't heard them in about 15 years. Thanks for the message. I appreciate the sentiments.

  • tom werman

    Rick's style of playing really didn't fit the songs. We did give it a try — but nothing satisfactory emerged, so I called the other guys in. Rick agreed. I believe I played the other acoustic rhythm guitar on “Voices”, perhaps because I wanted a specific feel that neither Rick nor Robin could produce. I got along very well with Lukather, and he was able to give me what I felt the song needed.

  • tom werman

    Amen to that, brother! The producer frequently does matter more than the bands want to admit — they would never admit that I was important enough to work with them again. It would simply attest to the fact that I played some kind of creative role in their albums. The band is a great one, but they do tend to blame their shortcomings on everyone but themselves. It's a shame, because I never enjoyed being in the studio more — as musicians and colleagues, they were a producer's dream.

  • tom werman

    Wow. Now I REALLY have to go back and listen to the album. Perhaps on headphones. Perhaps with a joint. Thanks for the comments.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Okay, now is the perfect time to ask this question. Lukather is the primary guitarist on Michael Jackson's “Beat It” even though Eddie Van Halen is always the focal point because of the solo. Lukather is the go-to guy for guitar all through the late '70s and the '80s. Aside from being an accomplished guitarist, what was it about him that found him on so many songs? Did producers seek him out for the skills? Was he just eminently available? And what was it like working with the guy anyhow?

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Mirrors is great, but I'll always have a special place in my dark, sticky heart for Fire Of Unknown Origin.

  • Wayne

    Listening to Mirrors with headphones is spectacular. Especially “The Vigil”. Great stuff pumped into the head! Even though he had limited vocals on this LP, I thought Eric's work on “The Great Sun Jester” is some of his best vocals ever.

  • Wayne

    Listening to Mirrors with headphones is spectacular. Especially “The Vigil”. Great stuff pumped into the head! Even though he had limited vocals on this LP, I thought Eric's work on “The Great Sun Jester” is some of his best vocals ever.

  • Wayne

    Listening to Mirrors with headphones is spectacular. Especially “The Vigil”. Great stuff pumped into the head! Even though he had limited vocals on this LP, I thought Eric's work on “The Great Sun Jester” is some of his best vocals ever.