Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Original Mama Jama ~ Mario Medious

This is part 1 of a 2-part story on record executive Mario Medious.

Industry legend Mario 'The Big M' Medious and his 1939 Cadillac.

In a business that has a reputation for attracting flashy characters with colorful personalities, how could a low profile straight-shooting accountant who kept the books at Atlantic Records surface to become the hottest promotion man in the entire business? Not since the days of the legend of Clark Kent has a person emerged to parallel his status. In similar fashion, Mario “The Big M” Medious would depart the bookkeeping department and reappear in the promotion department sporting a brand new wardrobe. Even the company’s senior brass were shaking their heads in disbelief as this slender young man shed his eyeglasses, black tie and conservative suit only to reinvent himself and dazzle key radio personnel and Rock legends alike. This is the story of Mario Medious becoming the next super hero among the label’s prestigious roster of stars. As the curtain opens...

The year was 1968 and after spending 3 ½ years pushing a pencil as payroll clerk, Mario Medious joined Atlantic’s well recognized promotion team known as “The Heavies,” a name coined for the departments advanced marketing achievements.
Gifted with good looks and a mile-a-minute rap, Mario’s conversion into the promotion department was a perfect match as the Atlantic corporate inner-structure was experiencing a changing-of-the-guard. Plus, music was also making a big transition as Rhythm & Blues and Jazz product were being overshadowed by the label's Pop Music newcomers such as; The Buffalo Springfield, The Young Rascals, Cream, Aretha Franklin, Vanilla Fudge, Otis Redding and Sonny & Cher. Supported with these transitions in motion, here’s how Mario Medious made his mark. You’ve heard the old saying that “Timing is everything.” Well, in Mario's particular case, his timing was perfect.

In the late 1960’s, there was a youth movement spawned by the dawning of The Age Of Aquarius. Wrong was right, bad was good and indifference got the upper hand. Ivy league clothing and the buttoned down look were no longer in style. Plus, Top Forty Radio was also beginning to lose it's luster. During that eminent period radio’s FM bandwidth was expanding with growing numbers of new radio stations coming on the air. Times were changing as it was now attractive for station owners to operate multi-optional programming at the FM level rather than the AM position. Many station managers’ who were budget conscious began hiring young programmers with little or no experience. As a default of circumstances, these stations were in search of their own broadcast identities and in turn began experimenting with different music formant's. Many were playing all new music as the jocks were fresh out of college and never seen the likes of a record salesman. Mario saw an opportunity there and began beating a path to these radio stations. “Man, I’d blast into these so called ‘Underground’ stations wearing my fur coat, lime-green suit and with my Afro all puffed-up and they’d think I was a Rock Star or something,” said Mario. He continued, “These jocks would be sitting there in the control room starring with their mouths wide open and I’d start up a conversation with them about the Blues." He continues, "Cause you see nobody knows more about the Blues than me." If they're playing something I didn't like then I'd say, "What y'all playing that shit for?" Then I'd ax them, “Hey you Farmers ever heard the song, 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin?" They’d sit there and look at you like you were from outer space. Then I’d tell em, “Y'all want your station to sound good don’t you? Shit Man, y'all gotta get with the program Jack cause this song’s in S-T-E-R-E-O.” Mario laughed as he told the story and said he treated them all like an adventure. He concluded, “Before I’d be out the drive way heading back to the office they’d be blasting my songs over the airwaves.”

Atlantic promo head Jerry Greenberg (R) who was also general manager from that era shared an observation by saying, “Shoot, Mario would depart the office with some new releases and go out on the road for a field trip and no one would hear from him for two weeks.” Greenberg continued, “Then all of a sudden all this major airplay began pouring-in from all these radio stations. I didn’t know what the heck was going on out there and it really appeared to be suspicious." Ha! Greenberg laughed. "But that’s when I began to figure out all this airplay coming-in was from the same cities that Mario had just visited on his road trip.” Mario defended his actions by saying, “Shit man, I didn’t have no time to call-in no airplay reports. Man, I'd be too busy for all that stuff, you dig?" Greenberg rolled his eyes and smiled while continuing his story, “When Ahmet and Jerry stormed into my office that day (Wexler & Ertegun) demanding to know what was going-on out there with our product, that's when I showed them all this new airplay being generated by Mario. About that time a dumbfounded Ahmet Ertegun stopped in his tracks and leaned over my desk and asked, “Are you talking about the same guy from accounting?”

Besides Mario avoiding to call-in daily with feedback, another corporate side-step for him was Atlantic's weekly promotion and marketing meetings. Mario stated, "Man, the entire staff would meet in the conference room once a week for these boring-ass meetings. We'd sit around and all these guys be talking bout' nothing but singles. Hell man, I didn't promote no singles...I was an album guy." Mario continued, "Plus, I didn't promote no artists unless they could play the Blues. Nothing but the Blues cats, you dig. If they couldn't play the Blues, I wouldn't mess with 'em. Shit man, I quit going to those meetings cause they be a waste of my time." Mario laughed and continued, "Man, they'd call me on the phone when I'd be out of town and ax me if I was coming to the next sales meetings and I'd tell 'em I was waaay too busy to attend cause I'd be on the road jamming with Gregg Allman and Stephen Stills."

Greg Allman and Stephen Stills jamming in Mario's hotel room.

Sometimes earlier, Mario had become good friends with Stephen Stills dating back to the days of The Buffalo Springfield. The two hung out together often and shared experiences that only Mario could parley. "When I was in the accounting department, Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay would all come to my office to get their royalty checks, you see. Cause when they were in New York we'd always hang out after their shows. One night they were in town when Otis Redding (R) was in town preforming at The Apollo. Ahmet (Ertegun) and I went down to Otis's show and after the gig we all got shit-face drunk together. That's when I suggested we take Otis over to Ondines Club on East 58th where The Buffalo Springfield were playing. Dig this man, while the band was playing, Stephen Stills axed Otis Redding to come up on stage and jam with them. Otis got really excited and jumped up immediately from his seat and ran up on stage but he was so drunk that he tripped and fell flat on his face. Passed out cold right there in front of everybody. I ain't lying."

By the early 70’s Mario was building quite the reputation. People were talking about him as he began carrying some heavy weight with key FM radio stations. Boston, Philadelphia and New York were all his radio playgrounds. When he strolled into a radio station, he’d always leave with airplay results. This was done with a combination of a flashy wardrobe and his street-hustler charm. His clothing apparel resembled something between a Sly Stone stage outfit and the Curtis Mayfield “Superfly” look. By all accounts Mario even invented his own dialect with brand new words that he had created. He was way ahead of the game long before Ebonics was established. His speed-rap sales pitch often included a word that he recently coined which was the word…”Mama Jama.” What pray tell you ask is a “Mama Jama?” Hate to tell you this but in the freaky world of The Big M, it was the same equivalent to about 400 motherfuckers. With that being said, “Mama Jama” was used in practically every sentence that Mario spoke.

In as much as Mario was the buzz of insiders in the music industry, media journalist and major magazines began picking-up on his vibe. When you stop and think and put it in perspective, Mario’s gig with Atlantic was to drum-up media support for the artists he represented. However, it was not unusual for him to inadvertently create publicity about himself all while befriending an artist. An example was when he was listed in Esquire Magazine's roster of Heavy 100 People of Rock as "Hottest Promo Man in the Biz." Later JET Magazine posted a picture of Mario sitting beside Little Richard while hanging out at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. On still another occasion Mario was featured in an impressive two-page article about himself in the October 1972 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine. In that distinctive article written by Stu Werbin, it talked how Mick Jagger was dazzled by Mario's wild shenanigans. Or how about when he was included on the cover of The Eagles “Hotel California” album? He’s the one standing behind the band in the white suit with top hat on the album jacket. In the book titled “S.T.P.” about The Rolling Stones journey through America, author Robert Greenfield talks about Mario Medious' observations of the pretentious clowns hanging around backstage at a Rolling Stones concert. Hard to believe but it was Atlantic's corporate assignment for Mario to go on the road with the Rolling Stones. Hmm...Tough job. In Fred Goodman’s noted book titled, “The Mansion On The Hill,” Mario is glowingly acknowledged by the author as ‘One of a Kind Goodwill Ambassador to the Underground.’ Goodman went on to say, "Mario proved to be the perfect FM promotion man. Plus he was the perfect businessman for a group of people who loathed business. He was like a house hippie to Atlantic Records." And you know what...he was right.

Artist Relations-promo rep Phil Rauls (L) spent time in the Rock trenches with Mario and remembers these thoughts, "The thing that impressed me about Mario was he always thought he was 18. Mario could rock with the best of them and on many occasions he'd party till sunrise. I'd be dragging and he'd still be going strong. All the artists liked Mario and wanted The Big M to go on tour with them. I think he kind of insulated them when they were off stage. That's when Mario became the show. He knew all the right people and pulled all the right strings. More importantly, he always carried the best stash. Man, without Mario on the road with you, the party would be dead at 2 AM and we'd end up at some pancake house eating cold hash browns." Rauls chuckles and remembers hooking-up with Led Zeppelin in Texas as they arrived from the West Coast. He continues his story, "When Zeppelin arrived in Dallas for the Southern leg of their U.S. tour, all they could talk about was 'Mario-this' and 'Mario-that.' There were stories about throwing TV's out the windows at The Continental "Riot" House and fishing for sharks out the windows at The Edgewater Hotel in Seattle. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and Bonzo were gushing with stories about Mario Medious and what a real Mama Jama he was. Plant must have called Mario a Mama Jama a hundred times." Rauls concludes, "Man, as his counterpart, Mario was a tough act to follow - I probably could've stayed home from that tour and nobody would have noticed."

NEXT POSTING: Part two of The Mario Medious story featuring stories of Led Zeppelin, J. Geils Band and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

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Greg Allman & Stephen Stills photo by Shelia Foote

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