Friday, July 31, 2009

Music Biz Unsung Heroes ~ Early Years

Something that has always fascinated me are people who have the divine ability to lead others. Call it charm, call it charisma or whatever term you choose. In my humble opinion these people are real champions. Better still, I really admire the people who take the initiative to direct others while not considering themselves as actual leaders. I'm speaking of the faceless people who lead by example while not expecting anything in return. Simply put, people who avoid the spotlight. Presumably there's still a few people out there who fit that mold. Now that I think about it, I don't think anybody actually sets out their goals to be a... unsung hero. After all, recognition comes with a price and there's lots of folks who just don't want all the attention...and that's cool too. But don't get me wrong, I have the uttermost respect for people who do accept a high-profile role in leadership. Yet secretly and deep down inside, I've always kinda admired those folks who weren't trying to set the whole world on fire. Know what I mean? Kinda like a bass player in a band who always keeps things thumping while everyone always focuses on the guitarist and vocalist. Like the guy backstage who organized the big premier showing but has no desire to get on stage himself. Or like the Cinderella team that comes from behind to win the championship. Yeah, those are my guys.

In turning back the clock, when I broke-in the music business, the industry was growing rapidly. After the initial Beatle surge, there were tons of new product, lots of fresh faces plus new found technology advances that kept the wagon wheels turning. The time period was similar to the wild-wild West with an open frontier waiting to be conquered. During that time, there were no rule books or printed material to guide you through the open terrain. To survive - you simply had to fly by the seat of your pants. Everyday you were constantly being challenged and frequently used your gut-instinct to pull you through. Plus, to further mess your mind, there were many distractions and luring enticements to draw you off-task. Quite possibly, many of the sensational stories that you heard about those pioneering days, were probably true. That said, integrity was recognized, in a business of sharks. During my journey through the record industry, I came across many heroes who I admired. Those individuals held high standards and I always tried to practice the same. It is my intent as the author of this posting to give those people their recognition long overdue. Which brings us to the topic of this posting. Here's a brief story on several people who I consider as my heroes. Or my buzzer-beaters. They're my bottom-of-the-ninth inning homers. They're my Audie Murphy's. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you, MUSIC BIZ UNSUNG HEROES.

TUNC ERIM worked for one record company his entire career. That achievement alone is a remarkable feat considering he worked for Atlantic Records for over 25 years. In a high burn-out business, Tunc was indeed an industry survivor. He served in a variety of executive positions at Atlantic from A&R manager to assistant to chairman Ahmet Ertegun. Tunc's smooth personality established himself as a kindred spirit to many of Atlantic's artists who bonded with his easy going style. Plus, the radio media also connected with Tunc as many radio stations wouldn't speak with any representatives from the company other than him. Seems Tunc was Atlantic Records to many people. Often referred to as part of Atlantic's Turkish mafia and linked with Ahmet Ertegun, Nesuhi Ertegun and Arif Mardin, Tunc would often laugh-off that connection by saying, "Being connected to those Rock & Roll moguls ain't so bad."

RON SAUL was an early player on the music scene and recognized for his classy style while often being seen with a gorgeous female on each arm. He broke into the business in Seattle as a distributor rep and quickly became Mercury Records Promotion Man of The Year. Closely aligned with KJR Radio's national recognition as a force in breaking records, Saul then moved to accept a position in 1970 as West Coast Regional Promotional Manger for MGM Records while relocating to Los Angeles. Within 6 months Saul was lured to an executive position at Warner Brothers Records as National Promotion Director. There his timing was perfect as he was associated in establishing pivotal WB artists such as; The Kinks, Gordon Lightfoot, The Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Van Morrison, America, Neil Young and Alice Cooper. Saul's credibility heightened when he was individually responsible for breaking the hit, "Spirit In The Sky" by Norman Greenbaum. In 1974 Ron Saul partnered with Phil Spector in establishing a label through Warner Brothers by signing Cher and Dion as the company's first artists. He was then offered a contract with Motown in 1975 as National Promotion Director as he helped the label celebrate it's most successful years in the pop arena by breaking The Commodores and Lionel Riche. Ron Saul was a true pioneer in the business and won many national awards as one of the best in the industry.

PETER GIDION started out in Detroit as local and regional promotional manager covering Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. At that position he soon became an immediate favorite and earned the nickname of "Peter The Leader." He established many artists in the region such as; Jackie Wilson, Buddy Holly, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Rick Nelson, Elton John and The WHO. Upon that platform Gidion then moved to LA as National Promotions for MCA Records and began working monster records by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Diamond and movie soundtracks like JAWS, CAR WASH and AMERICAN GRAFFITI. In 1977 Peter Gidion moved to New York and joined world leader EPIC Records while helping establish the Meatloaf classic, "Bat Out Of Hell." Next he helped start newcomer Infinity Records along with associate Ron Alexenberg with new hits by Sprya Gyro and breaking the Rupert Holmes smash, "The Pina Colada Song." Later he helped start another label with Alexenberg called Handshake Records. Gidion went on to have a second career as an executive in the Music and DVD packaging business.

JOHN KING started out as the editor of a radio industry tip-sheet called The Gideon B. Matthews Radio Report. As a reference to the progress of regional hit records, King quickly drew command of radio programmers in lieu of factual information on chart records. Although King was originally from Memphis, his career took him to stops in Miami FL, Pine Bluff AR and Houston TX. Known among friends for being a stylish ivy-league hybrid, he always wore his uniform of a oxford cloth button-down collar shirt, faded blue jeans, Bass weejuns penny loafers with white socks and topped-off with a brown corduroy sports jacket with elbow patches. In the early 70's King became the marketing director at Ardent Records where he was responsible for organizing the National Rock Writer's Association. This unofficial fraterity was made-up of the leading music critics from all over the country and featured a who's-who of Rock journalist. In 1973, King hosted a Rock Writers convention at Lafayette's Music Room in Memphis featuring Ardent Records pre-punk sensation Big Star while helping launch their careers from this very platform. Nowadays King hosts a novel internet music station called TIGER RADIO.

STAN FOREMAN is a true Northwest legend known for his successful radio background combined with his years as a respectful force in the record industry. Foreman served in radio for 15 years before he joined Capitol Records in 1975 as their Promotion Manager for the Northwest. Based out of Seattle, there he was responsible for helping establish key artists such as; Heart, Bob Seger, Steve Miller Band, M.C. Hammer and Billy Squire while laying ground breaking work for Capitol Records Paul McCartney in his numerous solo projects. After retiring from Capitol Records in 1999, Foreman moved to the Palm Springs, CA area where he now plays music shows as a piano-vocal artist under the name of "Stan The Man Old Time Rock & Roll Dance Party."

LINDA ALTER personifies exactly what this posting is all about; People who succeed in their mission while quitely flying under the radar. Noticeably, she is the only female in this story. That's because when she entered into the business in the middle-to-late 60's there wasn't a lot of women who could tell men what to do. That of course sounds strange considering nowadays it's a common pratice for women to hold executive postions. But in the days before the women's movement was accepted into mainstream, Linda's advancement into this arena was a bold and noteworthy accomplishment. Starting out as a counter-clerk at Poplar Tunes Record Store in Memphis, Linda soon became the singles buyer and then advanced to the Billboard reporter and album buyer for the entire chain. From her position she could wedge much clout by moving enormous amounts of product into regional stores, juke box vendors and mom and pop retail shops. Linda soon became a promotion person for Shelter Records and later joined Arista Records where she prospered until being struck with an illness that took her life. Sadly, Linda Alter died in 2005 after experiencing her final years in a convalescent facility.

There you have it. Heroes who didn't try to be the top banana. I'll close this posting by sharing something I read recently by the Seattle Mariners right fielder, Ichiro. He made a comment to Ken Griffy Jr. after some fun jestering in the team's clubhouse. Griffy had been boasting to Ichiro when he told him that he needed to hit more home runs. Ichiro responded by saying, "You can hit a hundred home runs in batting pratice but it's the runs you score in a real game that counts."

All photographs (c) by Phillip Rauls. Copyright protection applied.