Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mario Medious Keeping Heavy Company

This is the conclusion of a two-part posting on record executive Mario Medious. Please refer to the previous posting for continuing storyline. Copyright (c) 2009 All Rights Reserved.

As the music business moved into the 1970's, it introduced new fashion statements such as Rock T-shirts and satin jackets. Hippies and freaks sporting Afro's and wearing sandals could hold creditability in the business community just like their straight counterparts. The era was similar to the Wild West in the 1800's where there were no commonplace guide lines to govern the biz. This allowed many opportunists to prevail while trailblazing through the doors of the new counter-culture. An example of the times was when Rolling Stone Magazine printed a story that proclaimed, "The music business was the last of the gold mine industries." Yet, to succeed in the record business came with a price and only the strong survived. There were many pitfalls and occupational hazards to ravage the good intentions of newcomers. Be that as it may, there were many ambitious entrepreneurs who became victims as their careers flamed-out prematurely. Times were moving so fast the development of survival skills were still unfolding. Considering the big bucks being passed around and splurging of freebies there was no shortage of individuals willing to represent record companies as their marketing specialists. Problem was however, a great deal of those who jumped on the band wagon turned out to be flash-in-the-pan promoters. But make no mistake, Mario Medious was not one of those meager opportunists. He was the real deal. He had a real love of music and a keen sense for adventure. By this time "The Big M" had built-up quite a name for himself within the elite circles of Rock. His pedigree in Rock allowed him to be on everyone's VIP list. Plus, he was one of those gifted individuals who only required an hours sleep in the evenings to get him through the next day. As Atlantic Records Special Projects Manager, he always seemed to be everywhere needed and with no apparent down time. For example, Mario would be in New York attending a industry function in the daytime while promoting a concert in Hollywood that night. Burning the candle at both ends was a walk in the park for Mario. He had that special plumbing that allowed to go the distance.

Mario reminisces the times but is steadfast in explaining circumstances, "Despite what some may view as a business of pleasures, the key to being successful in the music industry was - you still had to work." He continued, "Shit man, it required the personal discipline of bouncing out of bed every morning and taking care of business, you dig." Of course that should be a no-brainer but Mario said when it comes down to the physical willpower of getting up early, "It's all between you and the alarm clock, you understand."

As Special Projects Manager, Mario stayed alert when it came to street-talk about an up-and-coming band or a vibe about an new Atlantic record starting to create a buzz. Mario said, "The Atlantic field staff had several cats who had a great pulse on the action out there." He continued, "There was John Carter on the West coast, Dick Wooley the Southeast and Phil Rauls in the South." Mario explained, "You see, going door-to-door (to the media) and creating something out of an unproven band took a certain kind of cat. And these guys could generate things by simply picking-up the phone, you understand. And they did it for the music man. They played the game because they loved good music, you dig."

But the field staff had their work cut out for them. On a early road trip with The Allman Brothers Band, Mario was escorting Duane Allman to the radio stations for interviews. After a gig at the Fillmore in New York Mario set-up an interview with WPLJ Radio's Mike Turner. Several minutes into the interview, Duane had accidentally let-go of a couple of F-bombs over the air. During a break DJ Turner scolded Mario about Allman's choice of words and instructed him about the station's strict policy about cursing over the airwaves. Mario pulled Duane Allman off to the side and warned him, "Look man, you can't be talking about fucking over the air. Plus you can't be using cuss words on the radio, you dig?" Allman acknowledged his mistake and agreed by saying, "Okay man." When the interview continued Mike Turner opened the mike and resumed. That's when Duane Allman apologized over the airwaves by saying, "Hey man - I'm really sorry and I promise I won't fucking cuss no more."

Not all of Mario's road trips with The Allman Brothers were cake-walks as he encountered challenges while traveling with the band. "Man, I was with the band sitting in their van late one night after a show when their road manager 'Twiggs' got into an dispute with a club owner for not paying the band. That's when he went back into the club to settle-up payment and got into this huge fight and ended up defending himself by stabbing the club owner to death. Creepy stuff, man." Mario continued, "They were great bunch of guys and serious musicians but we faced challenges together. When traveling with The Allman Brothers through Texas, back in the old days people didn't like Blacks and Whites traveling together and that's when these redneck bystanders would yell shit at the band by saying, "You Hillbilly Nigger Loving Motherfuckers." Funny thing though...but in a freaky sense, The Allman Brothers Band probably felt that was a compliment.

Another Mario Medious road story was when traveling on the West Coast portion of Led Zeppelin's U.S. tour, Mario escorted Robert Plant for an interview to KSAN Radio in San Francisco when upon completion they slipped out the back door of the station. It was a sunny afternoon and there weren't any fans around so they decided to let the limo return to the hotel and walk back. After walking uphill for several blocks and window shopping for a while, Mario suggested, "Hey Percy, let's catch a ride back to the hotel." Plant agreed when Mario recommended to just 'thumb-a-ride' instead of waiting for a cab. The story continues, "Man, this dude stopped and picked us up when I asked if he was going to the concert tonight?" The driver said, "What concert?" Mario responded, "The Led Zeppelin concert! It's tonight man." The driver looked confused and said, "Shit man, I hate that band. The Rolling Stones are the world's greatest band and that's all I care about." Mario rolled his eyes and responded, "Lookie here Jack, Led Zeppelin's the worlds greatest band and sittin' here in your back seat is their vocalist, Robert Plant." The driver then glanced into his rear view mirror and replied, "Yeah, right." Mario saw an opportunity when he invited the driver to the show and told him he'd leave tickets at will-call plus back stage passes for after the show. The driver agreed and showed-up later that evening with his flower girl while receiving coveted third row seats. Mario laughed as he continued, "The show started with 'Communication Breakdown' and this dude's eyes started popping-completely-out his head. I thought his eyeballs were gonna explode!" Later after the show he came back stage. Mario said, "This dude was so blown-away that he was about to pee in his pants - couldn't believe the fantasy he'd just experienced." Holding his side while still laughing Mario concluded, "I blew his mind, man! Dude could hardly contain himself when he started shouting, "Led Zeppelin's the greatest rock band in the entire world. Absolutely the greatest!"

One of the greatest experiences for a record executive is when he is responsible for the actual signing of a prospective band to the label. This endorsement could be his badge of honor or his ultimate defeat. In other words, it's his ass that's on the line and responsible for the band's success or it could be his ticket out the door. With that being said, one night Mario and Atlantic artist Dr. John were attending a show at Boston's premier rock club, The Boston Tea Party. Sometimes during the show, Mario was backstage when he heard a band on stage playing his favorite song, 'Serve Me Right To Suffer.' "When I heard the song it blew me away," said Mario. That's when he rushed stage front to get a look at the band playing the song. "Holy Shit," I said when discovering the guys playing the song were all White boys. They were a Boston band known as The J. Geils Band whose hipster front-man was WBCN disk jockey, Peter Wolf. Local critics were even claiming comparisons to The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. "Man, they sounded so Black that I thought they were Brothers, you dig." Mario was so excited about the band that the very next day he rushed back to the Atlantic office and began his pilgrimage to sign the band. "But listen to this," said Mario. "Jerry Wexler (R) and Ahmet Ertegun thought I was crazy. Both told me I was nuts and the band was nothing more than a bunch of White boys trying to play the blues." Mario was disturbed by their rejection and responded to Wexler and Ertegun by saying, "Man, why am I even out there on the road if I can't sign this band?" Deeply frustrated, Mario was ready to quit. However, as a true warrior, he was taught to never fold. You see, if Mario was nuts or foolish to try and sign The J. Geils Band, then perhaps he was crazy like a fox. He was very adamant about signing the band and kept up the pressure. Within weeks, Wexler finally became convinced and caved-in to Mario's persistence. "Shit man," Mario laughed, "I think they finally gave-in just to shut-me-up." But before the band would sign a label deal there was one very important stickler that still remained. Up to that point, Wexler had arranged to have the group sign to Atco Records, the company's Pop music label. But vocalist Peter Wolf and guitarist J. Geils (pictured with Mario) demanded the band be signed to the same label as Ray Charles, LeVern Baker and Aretha Franklin. After careful consideration and a tactful hold-out, Wexler eventually saw the band's latest ploy as any true Rhythm & Blues fanatic might view the circumstances. When you stop and think about it, how prestigious it is to be on the same prominent label as those industry giants. The band's point was made and respectfully honored as The J. Geils Band was signed to Atlantic Records. Over the next few years, The J. Geils Band would release several huge albums for Atlantic including their monster LP titled "Bloodshot" that produced three hit singles and reached gold status.

With all things considered, The Big M wasn't the type to offer a 'I-told-you-so-prophecy.' He was more inclined to go about his business in a humble manor. Furthermore, Mario had bigger fish to fry. By 1973, Mario Medious had been on the road extensively with many of the labels top bands including Emerson, Lake and Palmer. After a 18 month hiatus from the recording studio and no new album, it had become apparent that something was wrong with the label's super-trio, ELP. Their body of work had bridged many gaps between rock fusion and classical music. Mario was recruited to investigate when he discovered the band was unhappy with Atlantic Records. That's when Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer decided to form their own record company, Manticore Records. The next addition to the plan was Stewart Young, their manager, and the cards began to fall into place. While Young and the band had long appreciated Mario's keen business savvy, that's when The Big M was offered 20% of the company to form a partnership with the group and to manage their new record label. Mario accepted and became President of the company and the final piece was assembled with a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. Upon that agreement Emerson, Lake and Palmer released "Brain Salad Surgery" on Manicore Records. The single from that album titled, "Still, You Turn Me On" propelled ELP's new album to reach celebrated gold status and launched a well received world tour.

Editors Summary: Well, there you have it. From payroll clerk in the accounting office at Atlantic to the President of Manicore Records. Mario Medious' colorful career has been a magic carpet ride. His background falls into that same distinctive category of many flamboyant adventurers. Still another example of his achievements was when Ahmet Ertegun, pictured here on left with Mario and Teresa Sohn, was having some difficulties in re-signing superstar Stephen Stills and sent Mario to Stills' home to convince him to ink the deal. Mario came back and told Ertegun, "No prob man, I took care of it, done deal." Ahmet was speechless. Mario's playful banter opened the doors for many artists while his cutting-edge wardrobe drew glaring stares. And to no surprise, Mario did everything with class and style. His motormouth could out talk anybody including Muhammad Ali, Charles Barkley or Gary Paton. His competitive nature didn't shy away from any obstacles. Through his unique use of language, he had the ability to connect. Mario clicked with everybody and knew when to nudge it up a notch or tone it down a bit. Plus, I never saw him wig out on anybody. Interesting enough, there wasn't a prior role model for him to follow in their footsteps. Reason being, he invented the shtick. Plus, there wasn't a previous format that played progressive blues and rock for him to set his goals. Furthermore, there wasn't even a genre of progressive blues rock music until he arrived on the scene. He worked outside the confines of company assignments, and succeed nevertheless. Talk about a trailblazer. He never played the card of a race victim and would be the first to point the finger of a colleague who did. Jerry Wexler thought Mario was a fluke of nature and such a remarkable person that he called him a "Freak." Producer Tommy Dowd (R) personally signed for Mario's first American Express Card and called him his true friend. And if a recording artist did not believe in the almighty power of a music promoter, Mario would drop them like a bad habit. When dining with an artist who was a vegetarian and they were ordering Tofu and rice noodles, he'd order Bar-B-Q ribs with chittlens on the side. When people were in awe of Eric Clapton and calling him Slowhand or God, Mario boldly addressed him as, "Yo' Clap." Personally, I think the world of my old friend. We've known each other for over 40 years. I always connected well with Mario and discovered a long time ago that we were a good team together. Back in the days when the world was black and white, he ignored all barriers and made me proud to be his friend. Although I could never beat him in tennis, or snag as many chicks as he could, I always considered him a mentor. During The Big M's reign of glory, there were no rule books, no score cards or leader boards to shine over his successes. Didn't matter cause he always came out the winner anyway. He is my main man alright. Mario Medious is a chart bustin'-street hustling-dirty cussing-nose dustin'-Blues lovin'.....MAMA JAMA!

Mario "Big M" Medious and Phillip Rauls pictured here in Las Vegas in 2005 while attending the Atlantic Records Employee Reunion. Mario Medious has managed and produced several prominent recording artist including Funk star Rick James. Nowadays, Mario lives in South Florida and is a praticing certified public accountant. He is also a highly respected Tae Kwon Do instructor.

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