(Editor’s Note: Since Popdose’s earliest days, we’ve been blessed with some of the smartest and most music-savvy readers on the Web — and so, when we unexpectedly made the acquaintance of producer Tom Werman last fall, we knew we were looking at a unique opportunity for a series. This post marks the start of an ongoing, occasional look back at the time spent behind the boards by some of our favorite producers — beginning, fittingly enough, with the first chapter in Mr. Werman’s career in music. Look for more of these stories in the months to come, from a variety of names — and enjoy!)
This is the first of an unknown, unscheduled number of installments.
Jeff invited me to write something, so I have decided to write a number of brief chapters in preparation for a more detailed book on the same subject — my career in the record biz during the height of the industry. For those of you interested in discovering why there is no more record biz to speak of, I suggest a good book called Appetite for Self-Destruction, about the implosion of the record industry in the digital age. Meanwhile, we will be talking about the good old days, when record sales grew every year, expense accounts were fat, and a growing number of labels were constantly hiring new people to find the next big thing.
Fresh out of Columbia Business School with an MBA in 1969, I turned down a $12,000 a year job offer (a very nice salary then) from Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, and instead accepted an offer from Grey Advertising in New York to work in the account group on Procter & Gamble products. An offer from Procter was reserved for the very best of graduate business students (which I was not), so my classmates considered me daft for rejecting it. I, on the other hand, was attracted to the hip world of advertising, and really wanted to stay in New York. I commuted from the upper west side, where as a newlywed I had scored a penthouse on the roof of a building at the corner of 98th and Riverside, overlooking the Hudson, for $180 a month.
During the year I worked at Grey, I discovered that working for Procter was as good as working at Procter, and I gradually grew less and less comfortable with my task of helping to formulate and execute marketing plans for Gain Detergent in its launch year, and then for Jif Peanut Butter. It was dull work. True, there were some interesting folks at the agency, and I befriended a couple of them, but after half a year or so when the novelty wore off, I was beginning to wake up each morning with a cloud of apprehension and depression over my head.
As the new guy, I had an interior office with no windows. All the offices on our half of the floor – the Procter & Gamble account group, which served seven Procter brands – were painted white, with little decoration. It was a no-nonsense vibe, far from what it was down on the hipper, more creative floors that housed the copywriters. One weekend I decided I would paint my little office pastel blue and pastel yellow – quite conservative, really — but for some reason I never bothered to ask permission from anyone. On Monday morning, the group head came in, passed my office, did a double-take, and came back to take a closer look. “Very nice,” he commented, returning to his spacious corner office down the hall.
The following Monday when I arrived at work, my office sported a clean fresh coat of flat white paint. Not a thing was out of place. It was as if I had actually stepped over the line into the Twilight Zone for a few seconds. At that point, I knew I had to get out of there and find more satisfying work.
In the Spring of 1969 when corporate reps were coming to interview us at the business school, I signed up for an interview with CBS Records. I spoke with a nice gentleman by the name of Bruce Lundvall. Bruce was the director of marketing for Columbia Records, and he offered me a job there on the spot. I passed, because I felt that it was simply not a big enough company for me. Besides, this was the record business – not really a legitimate industrial organization, like the ones I was trained to captain at business school. What was I thinking? I confided in one of my friends at the agency — a wonderful fellow named John Richo – and he arranged to set up a meeting with a friend of his named Thom Wilson, who worked at another label near Columbia, and who had apparently produced some of Dylan’s early recordings. I met with Mr. Wilson, and he was very helpful. In that meeting, I discovered that a position existed at record companies that was the perfect position for me — “artistes & repertoire,” or, more familiarly,
“A & R.”
I wrote a letter addressed to Mr. Lundvall and to a man named Clive Davis, who I had learned was then the president of Columbia Records. I told them about my job at the agency, and that I didn’t really enjoy what I was doing, and asked if there might be a place for me at Columbia Records. After all, Columbia appeared to be the most sophisticated of all the labels in terms of marketing, and I had a Columbia Business School MBA. I was also a musician, and knew from buying records that the label had a pretty impressive roster. I had played in several bands during college and grad school, and loved rock & roll music. Bruce responded to my letter, and I had a meeting with him. At that meeting, I bit the bullet and told him that I truly believed I was qualified to work in A&R, and preferred that to yet another potentially disappointing position in marketing. Although he was the head of marketing, he arranged for me to meet with Kip Cohen, the head of A&R for the Columbia label. For this I was truly grateful.
I met with Kip, who had been a member of Bill Graham’s Fillmore East staff before he came to Columbia. I must have passed the test, since Kip suggested I meet next with a man named Walter Dean, who was, I think, the head of Business Affairs for CBS Records. I met with Walter (now my third time in the CBS Building), and waited impatiently for several weeks, until a call came from Walter’s office suggesting that I meet with Clive Davis. I called Mr. Davis’s office, and was given a 6:30 PM appointment, which seemed strange to me, as I assumed that everyone went home at 5 P.M., as we all did at Grey Advertising.
I arrived at Clive’s office to discover that he had not one, but two young and attractive secretaries (two secretaries??) who, at 6:30, were still working busily, right along with Mr. Davis. I waited 10 or 15 minutes, and was then escorted into Mr. Davis’s impressive office. He apologized for making me wait, explaining that he had just hung up with Bob Dylan, who tended to be difficult. I swallowed hard, attempting to appear relaxed. After about 15 minutes of conversation, Mr. Davis said that the people with whom I had met had good things to say about me, and that while there were currently no positions at the Columbia label, the director of A&R at Epic Records, the sister label, needed an assistant. He offered me the job at $10,500 a year. While it was a significant drop in salary (remember, this was 1969), I accepted immediately.
It’s interesting to note that the heads of the A&R department for both labels held the title of “director”, not “Vice President”, since at that time, A&R was not a terribly important position. I returned to Grey and submitted my resignation, delighted that I was free from my bondage and about to start a job that was about as good as jobs could get at that time – although I honestly had no idea of what I would be doing.