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
What was it that steered you from your law career to the
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 songit 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 hatspromotion
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
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 resortnot 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
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
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 jobhow 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
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
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
If you're a songwriter, pitching songs to an artist, is
a four-track with a basic rhythm section enough to make the
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?
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
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
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
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.
How much are you going to spend on promotion for the first
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
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 townincluding Capitol. Not to
me, but someone else at Capitoland 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 CarnesBette Davis Eyes was a huge hitalso
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.
"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
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