Interviewed by Michael Laskow
Edited by Doug Minnick

Where did you grow up?

My answer is always the same. Gypsy parents. We probably had Christmas in ten different markets. But I think of myself as being from Colorado.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An attorney. I was well on my way to law school. I had already wormed my way into the law students' poker game, even though I was just a junior. I had already found a way in. But, all the guys in my house that I lived with were musicians. I was essentially their roadie. I went to their gigs all the time. I had the major record collection. I had been a groupie of one sort or another as long as I could possibly remember.

Even my mother was a groupie. (laughter) She really was. Every winter when I was like six and seven years old, she would pack me up and go to Florida for a couple of months, while Arthur Godfrey would do his radio show from that hotel. I can't remember the name of the hotel, but I was on a first name basis with all those people because we were at the show every day.

What was it that steered you from your law career to the music industry?

A producer/publisher came to Colorado looking for talent, and my buddies were one of the top bands in that area. He wanted to make a record with them, but like most acts, they were strictly a cover band. I stepped in as a ghostwriter and said, "Hey! I've got this idea for a song." I ended up writing a song with one of the guys in the band. It wasn't until later that the producer found out that the band hadn't written the song—it was their roommate.

What was the song?

"Acapulco Gold." It was successful, at least regionally. The producer, knowing where the business was at, could have cared less about this little rinky dink band, but identified me as an interesting lyricist. He sent me a track that he had already completed with a band in California. He hated the song, but he loved the track. I wrote a new song on top of it and that was 'Incense and Peppermints' (by the Strawberry Alarm Clock). That was about the seventh or eighth song I had ever written.

How old were you at the time?

Twenty-one or something like that.

Where did you go from there?

With the success of both those records, I immediately dropped out of school. I moved to Hollywood, and continued writing songs for the next couple of years. I wasn't a songwriter/artist though, and it was that era when we were all fascinated with the Beatles and the Stones, and they were writing their own songs. It was very unfashionable to just be a songwriter. The kind of songs that I was writing were the type that someone would write for themselves. I wasn't writing the classic R & B ballad that publishing companies look for to this day.

So what did you do?

I finally got so frustrated with songwriting that I quit and moved to San Francisco. A good friend of mine was a disk jockey there. I went around trying to get a job as a promotion man. I landed a job with Atlantic, and worked very successfully there for three years. It was a fantastic time to be in San Francisco (the early 70s).

I was successful enough at promotion that I eventually got an A&R job. Then I moved down to L.A. and started with Capitol. That lasted ten years. Early in that period, I got the opportunity to produce an artist that I had signed, Sammy Hagar. That led to another production, and another production. My job description changed to Staff Producer even though I continued to actively sign talent. That lasted through '84, which were probably the peak years.

I had signed Tina Turner. 'Private Dancer' was a huge album. Then I left Capitol and got a job at A & M, a company that I had always admired and wanted to work at. It was with the understanding that I was not going to be a record producer anymore, but was going to stick to A&R. Eventually I moved to Chrysalis, then I moved to Atlantic, and I eventually moved back to the street where I became a manager. So, short of being in the spotlight, I've kind of worn all the hats—promotion man, manager, songwriter, producer, A&R.

It sounds like the only thing you haven't been is president of a label. Any desire to go that route?

I can't. Many times I've been at the crossroads where the opportunity to rise in the corporate side of things has presented itself, and without fail I've always chosen the creative path. A lot of my good friends have been, or still are record company presidents. I certainly envy their bank accounts, but not necessarily their lifestyle.

Can you name some artists who you are most proud to have worked with?

The success stories that most readily come to mind would be Tina Turner, Bob Welch, The Motels, Sammy Hagar, and Bob Seger. The thing that I can look back on and feel good about in all of those situations is that so many of the accessories to success, like managers and producers are expendable, but the fact that I was invited back to make a second and third record with almost everybody I ever worked with is something that makes me feel good.

Did you co-write with these people when you produced them, or was it strictly a producer/artist relationship?

I've been described as a lyric Nazi. Songwriting is certainly the essential foundation of everything we do. I didn't write with the Motels until after I was working with them in the studio. I wrote a few things with Bob Welch. Never wrote anything for Tina Turner. I wrote a bunch of things with Sammy Hagar. Some of my favorites, actually. But more than that, I really harassed and harassed people to improve their songwriting over the course of a project...and maybe in the eleventh hour, I finally said, "That's it. I can't stand it anymore. Here's a lyric. What do you think?" So really, it was usually as a last resort—not a first choice.

Are there any pearls of wisdom that you'd like pass along to aspiring songwriters?

All kinds of songs become successful, and therefore can be held up as examples to encourage someone that what they're doing is right, but I think, in general, it's an English lesson. Lyrics are important. It's about a story. It's about a great title. The title should have a big noun in it. Some of the best songs are even proper nouns. Nouns baby, nouns!

I've had Jobete, arguably the biggest publishing house out there for hits, go back and run a computer program on it. The result was that seventy-some percent of their hit records had titles with nouns. 'Mickey's Monkey', 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine', 'Cloud Nine.' We can go on and on and on. Paul Simon wrote the '59th Street Bridge Song', 'Mrs. Robinson' and 'Graceland.' The Beatles and the Stones wrote 'Ruby Tuesday' and 'I Am the Walrus' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. There's great imagery there. Other kinds of songs can be successful and can be very good songs, but they're usually about the groove and the melody and the guitar lick. But the copyright, the enduring song, time and time again, has those elements.

Another obvious factor is that first line, that first phrase, that first verse, are all-important. All too often, the great verse is the third verse... so shuffle it. Make it the first verse. Get me involved in this song right now. Make me care. I also preach the "middle eight." I think that time and again, the great songs have a bridge. Too many times, the songwriter is so relieved that he's written a decent chorus, that he can't wait to play his guitar solo and come right back to that chorus. No! You're not done.

How did you handle having an A&R job and producing at the same time?

I'm sure that in some ways, both suffered. In some ways, both benefited. I wouldn't just sign an artist with a great hair cut, because the producer in me knew how important good musicianship was. The A&R guy in me knew that it wasn't about the guitar solo. It really was about the material and the performance and the presence and the attitude. I think the two worked. I made a lot of records at Capitol, and when I was done in the studio, I could go upstairs to my office. That made it easy.

Early in my production career, it was difficult. Sammy Hagar and I would get on the plane and have to go to Abbey Road, just to get away from too many phone calls. In the grand scheme of things it was comfortable making records at Capitol, because being able to drag someone from the promotion department downstairs in the middle of a session was also critical to the success of a record.

Can you elaborate a little bit about the interplay between the various people who are key to making a record successful?

I got my first A&R job right after being a promotion man. The first thing that struck me about A&R was the negativity of the job—how often I was saying "no." How often I was facing a lot of crappy tapes. The illusion from the street, certainly from the promotion man's point of view is, "What great acts there are out there!" As a promotion person, the only artists that most of us would run into were the successful ones. We were surrounded by success. All we listen to is the radio. Those are the successful records. On the other end of it, of course, you are drowning in a sea of inadequate, mediocre tapes, and it's not nearly as rewarding. But as much as I can say that success is about a hit song...it's also very much about a great promotion effort, a great marketing effort. It's sales. It's timing. It's management. It's the booking agency. It is a vast network of people that go into a true success.

All of those people want to be involved in intimate and personally rewarding ways. If they can visit a recording studio, if they can brush with the experience a little more than just their own delegated area, it works. Once the artist stops looking at the record company as the villain and the enemy, and starts to see it as a collaborative effort of a lot of creative people, it's healthy for the whole process.

Can any one person in the chain kill a record?

Well unfortunately, I think it happens all the time. It can be the art work that somehow puts the wrong spin on a record. It can be timing. How hot is the record company? And that can mean too successful. They have too many records that the radio station is playing, and the station feels obligated to give another record company the opportunity.

Does that explain how some bad records make it to the airwaves?

At some point, it's amazing how radio does try to be fair in it's own way. They're allowed to play the best record. They're going to play the best record for their radio station. But occasionally somebody does get a break, and it can be the promotion person who gets the break, more than the artist.

What's wrong with the music business today?

I'm not a fan of rap music, which is certainly not a popular position. I believe that the three C's; Copyrights, Careers, and Catalogue, are really what record companies are into. A number of albums with one artist. A Greatest Hits record. A body of work. Something that sells five years after it's released, not five weeks after it's released. That's really what it's all about. Eighty percent of the profit of most record companies is generated by their catalogue. This is the good news, because it means that the profit is going to be there to give another new act a chance.

The bad news is that nobody's buying a RUN DMC record this year. For all of the huge slice of the pie, the media attention that is given rap records, they aren't catalogues. They aren't copyrights. No one's ever going to cut that song again. And it's taking up valuable media time that could be devoted to someone who is creating a catalogue and a career. For the most part rap music doesn't do that, and the whole business is suffering because of that. And will for a long time.

I have heard the same said about alternative.

I don't believe that. I think that five years from now, people will be buying a Pearl Jam record. I'm not a fan. But the fact that it sold eight million records means that at some point people are going to replace their CD's. That's catalogue. I also believe that some new kid is going to come up and discover that band that his older brother was into, as sure as they're going to discover the Eagles. I think there are some legitimately great alternative acts. It's always a handful.

Everyone thought Punk was ridiculous, but Elvis Costello and Sting and a number of the best artists of that era have matured. They've changed, but they were great then. They wore that haircut, but they were worthwhile. I can't say the same thing about L.L. Cool J. Rap is evolving though, and I'm sure that some day I'll be able to look back and say, "Oh, really? He was in the Fat Boys?! Wow!"

What positive changes have you seen in the industry in almost thirty years of being in it?

It's easy to talk about video, but I certainly remember watching Ricky Nelson on TV, and watching Ed Sullivan because of the music, and even seeing those Beatle movies and the rest. So the visual aspect of superstardom has been there as long as I've been there. Yeah. Okay, so it's much more common, but the ability to perform is perhaps more important than it's ever been. As much as we were just talking about songwriting, it's also true that a fashion statement is more important than it's ever been. I guess those are the obvious, subtle changes. The basics still remain the same.

How well produced must a demo be for you to be impressed by it?

I'm as subject to being seduced by sound as anybody else. The ability to demonstrate your creativity as a producer is as important in some styles of music as any other element, but the essential song and your vocal quality is really what it's all about. If you're a rock and roll band, production is more important than it is if you're essentially a solo singer/songwriter.

If you're a songwriter, pitching songs to an artist, is a four-track with a basic rhythm section enough to make the demo?

It can be, it can definitely be enough. The other thing I'd like to throw in is that it's probably easier for a singer/songwriter to get a deal if he or she is disguised as a band. Sure, we can find plenty of acts that are singer/songwriters and are really successful, and this may be a phenomenal generality, but my advice would be to disguise yourself as a band.

What advice would you give to an a struggling artist or band from Black Rock Arkansas trying to get themselves signed to a major record label?

"Keep your day job", is my favorite. It's a tough, difficult business, and not made any easier by being in Black Rock. I think you probably have to get to Metropolis some place. Not necessarily L.A. anymore. But I think if you're going to be a successful band, you need to be someplace that has enough venues that you can play several different rooms, and have all of the other elements around you. If that's major radio stations and major acts coming through town, then you need to tap in to that community. You used to have to come to New York or L.A. You no longer have to do that. It's a very healthy scene. There are managers and attorneys in a number of major cities all over America now. I find that I can't just run up and down Sunset Blvd. looking for talent anymore. I'm on airplanes twice as much as I've ever been, because there's a healthy scene going out there.

What gets you on that airplane? Who picks up the phone and says, "Hey Carter, come on out to Black Rock!"

I think there's a network. A lot of people have moved. I can think of probably twenty friends that I've known in the business that have left L.A., and are living all over the place. There are a lot of people out there that know when something special comes around and they can call a guy, who can call a guy.

Is there a mental check list that you go through when you fly to Black Rock and you see a band? Do you mentally find yourself saying; number one, great songs; number two, great look; number three, are they young enough? Number four, the crowd is excited. And if you do look for that set of elements, if one or two of the elements are missing, would you still consider signing the band? Or is it strictly just a "gut" thing for you?

Probably the first example. I probably do have the long checklist of career ingredients. I think that everything you just said is totally relevant. I'm looking at a band right now that I'm extremely interested in. Their drummer is weak. That's something that is very important to me. There are a million good guitar players in this world, but starting with the foundation of a weak drummer...just that thought drives me crazy. I'm taking them into the studio with the next level of engineer/producer that was unavailable to them in Columbia, Missouri. And now we're going to see what happens when they get on the plane and how they react to three days in a real studio, under the magnifying glass. Where we're going to exaggerate our talent, and maybe our weakness. I've already pointed out the fatal flaw, and this guy's in trouble. He better come through , or some miracle better happen, or changes will be made and I won't have to make them.

The band will see it on their own?

Absolutely.

And know that their career's more important than the drummer?

Absolutely. You know, it will take of itself. But still, somebody knew a guy, who knew a guy and eventually I heard the tape. It has to work that way. I really don't believe that brilliant talent is out there that's undiscovered, if they really want to be discovered.

Can you think of the best, most profound piece of advice somebody ever gave you, regarding the music industry?

It broke my heart when a very good, knowledgeable friend of mine advised me to retire from production. Two weeks before, I had been nominated for a Grammy for the Tina Turner record. He said "You're through... too big a hit of the wrong kind, you'll never work again." And it was pretty good advice. The kind of acts I was interested in, weren't interested in working with Tina Turner's producer. I wasn't prepared to make Lou Rawls records for the next five years. I had painted myself into a corner and it was very tough to walk away at what might have been the peak of my career, but it was good advice. I remember a mentor of mine once told me that the English know how to tap-dance much better than the Americans. I like that advice a lot (laughter).

What's the best piece of advice you can give to 40,000 of our readers?

You know, I don't, I don't have any short answers as I've already demonstrated.

Okay. (laughter) What would you name as the single, biggest misconception about the music industry?

Probably the money. I don't think there's nearly as much money in this business as people think there is.Seventy percent of the artists that have a hit record on the Billboard charts, never have a second record. Ninety percent that have a second record, never have a third. Some people are making money, somewhere in the system. But as far as that artist goes, you get a little taste on the record deal, maybe on the publishing deal. Probably spend it before the first record ever came out. There are usually just a handful of artists who actually have a record deal that they can make into a career.

Explain how that money is dissipated so quickly.

First step, a group signs with a record company and gets an advance for...uh, let's give them a $50,000.00 advance. That sounds like a nice advance.

Okay, and, what about recording?

Yes. So they got a $150,000.00 budget. They got a $50,000.00 advance.

So the advance goes in their pocket, everybody...

Ah, ah, ah! Not so fast with that fifty grand. Let's pay the manager his 15%. So there went 75 hundred bucks. So now we're down to 42 thousand. Then we had to pay for the attorney. He's going to be at least another 75 hundred bucks. Maybe more, but let's give him 75 hundred bucks. So now we're down to 35. Now let's split that between five guys and we all got seven grand.

Okay.

You want to pay taxes on it? Well, now it's five grand. I guarantee you most people who just signed a record deal didn't see it as $5,000.00. In their minds they split up the gross, not the net. But they paid off a couple of things they owed. They went and bought a new something and some strings for it, and it was Christmas. By the time the record was over, they've spent that other three-thousand bucks. Easy.

Now, the record company has spent fifty grand on the advance, a hundred and fifty thousand on the record. What's the...

...and another fifty on the video.

So now we're up to $250,000.00.

Easy.

How much are you going to spend on promotion for the first single?

Let's say the record starts to stick. That means that we're number twenty on some airplay chart. That's enough to generate the tour support and get them out there to follow that up now. So that tour support's going to run about 25 grand a month. Let's put them out there for six weeks. So there's 35 G's we're going to spend on tour support. And that's, that's kind of working. Everybody loves them. So now we're up to 15,000 records. It's exciting. (laughter) But we're already starting to stage it and maybe we better get ready for that second track. 'Cause we're starting to burn out.

So we've got to start thinking about the next one. Well, I mean the next video of course. But now that we're so successful, we don't want no stinkin' $50,000.00 video, 'cause we got a great idea. And that idea is only going to cost us a hundred grand. So now we just jumped into the $300-$400,000 level. We've sold 15,000 records. And by the time that video's done, of course, that second track's not added at any stations. It all starts to go away. We've spent $400,000 and we've only sold 15,000 records.

Does the group have to write a check to the label (laughter)?

No. It's on their debit balance. The band's.

So the group would have to realize $500,000.00 worth of royalties in order to walk away with $100,000.00 in cash?

Uh, you can look at it like that, but, of course, now we're going to have to make another record. And we're not going to get away with that same $150,000.00 on the next record. And another seventy-five on a video. And so, needless to say, we're six-or seven-hundred thousand dollars into it by the day of release of the second record. And of course, we can, we can paint ourselves into the spending corner one more time with the illusion of success, because airplay is not record sales.

Isn't it common for labels to dump close to a million bucks in to a new band...

Happens all the time. Record companies, with apparent success, are spending three quarters of a million bucks, and essentially not getting to first base.

Tell us the Tina Turner story. How did you revive her career?

I want to believe that I was just an element of that story. In my career I have worked with very few people as talented as Roger Davies, her manager. He had been working with her a long time before I got involved. I hesitate to take too much credit for her success. I did sign her at Capitol, but it was a great irony for me to find out six months after I had gone to Roger, I found out that he had taken a demo tape to every record company in town—including Capitol. Not to me, but someone else at Capitol—and everyone had passed. So when I came in the door saying I had an idea and I wanted to sign her, he kept his mouth shut and let me go ahead and feel like it was all my idea (laughter).

It took two years for us to make that record. The illusion is that it took two weeks, but it took a long time and I had a lot of friends coming to me, telling me how embarrassing it was, how everyone was talking about how I had finally really gone off the deep end this time. And "please change your mind and get away from this." I'm sure that was absolutely true. It could have gone the other way very easily.

But... for me? Tina Turner. One, I had always been a fan. In an interview I was asked to name three artists I would like to work with. I said John Fogerty, Van Morrison, Tina Turner. Couple of months later I'm in Tower Records. I'm waiting in line. And I think any of us in the business, when we're in Tower, we're eavesdropping and watching, and have our marketing hat on. I'm checking out and the guy in front of me says, "I can't find any Ike and Tina Turner records." And the clerk says, "Wow! We're out of those again!? Amazing!" So of course, that registered for me. I thought that was very interesting that the guy at the store would even know that there was a constant flow of Ike and Tina Turner records. So I go back to the office and sit down and phone a different record store. And said, "Got any Ike and Tina Turner records?" The guy on the phone says, "Would you stop fu#*!' driving me crazy with this Ike and Tina Turner bull&%*#?" And hangs up on me. Well now I'm really interested. (laughter) I go home that night. There's Tina Turner on this brand new show, "20-20", a story about her being an abused wife. Well, now I'm thinking I'm getting messages from the stars. I was supposed to see this. This is all happening to me. Get to the office the next day. There's a memo. Be sure and watch the Rod Stewart special featuring Kim Carnes—Bette Davis Eyes was a huge hit—also featuring Tina Turner!

Okay. It's within 24 hours, I've had four shots at it now. So I start to check. Find out that this guy Roger Davies, who manages Olivia Newton-John, is working with her. Then I find out she's selling out all these little clubs everywhere. There's something going on here. Now I'm really interested and start doing my homework. Well the TV show comes up. Of course Tina Turner blows the doors off Kim Carnes, maybe Rod Stewart. She's just fantastic. Looks great. Better than I've ever seen her with Ike and I've seen her plenty of times with Ike. And I'm in love. As a producer, I had been pursuing Bette Midler. Had fifteen songs that I thought were great that, with a little imagination, could be even better for Tina. So I basically took that body of work, go to San Francisco. She sold out a room there. Set the house record for the place. Feels great. I notice that it's Dad and the kids. It's two generations enjoying this artist. I like that demographic. I meet her. She's one of the most charming people I've ever met. She loves every song I play for her. That's always endearing as hell. And, uh, the rest was... pain. For the next two years it was really hard. Nobody wanted to give us a song.

Really?

"Tina Turner?!" "Who cares?" "Has-been." "I'm holding this song for Heart." "We're waiting for a Pat Benatar cut"...this is what we heard all the time. We couldn't get any producers interested. Which is why we eventually went to England and cut "What's Love Got To Do With It" But even that was a deal. It was, you know, "We'll cut your song, But you've also got to produce this other track. It's part of the deal." And here we want to do your song, Rupert Hine, but you've also got to do this other song for us." The only way we got the album cut was to manipulate a few songwriters.

The politics of the business once again.

Well, but, but no one was cutting "What's Love Got to do With it." That song had been sitting around for a couple of years gathering dust. We finally just began cutting songs that we thought should have been hits when they were first released by other artists. Lord knows there are plenty of those and you don't need the publishers permission to record them. That's how we got "Better Be Good To Me."

And the record sold how many copies?

I think that it's at eight or ten million or something like that.


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