Where did you grow up?
How did you first get into the music business?
A friend of mine named Don Black (the well known lyricist who wrote
Sunset Boulevard with Andrew Lloyd Webber) was working for a newspaper
called the New Music Express, which was, and still is, a very well known
weekly music paper. He asked me whether I would be interested in working
for a music publishing company over the summer. I went to meet the professional
manager, and he took me on. His name was Dick James. I worked at that
company for a few years, and when Dick went on his own I went with him.
When I joined the company, he had just signed the Beatles. We had about
forty percent of the charts when I joined. It was a lucky omen (laughter).
When was that?
Oh my God! I wish you hadn't asked that (laughter). I joined Dick around
At the height of the Beatles!
Yeah. I joined the company right after "Please, Please Me" was a hit.
I knew Paul. I didn't know John. John was never interested in the publishing
company, but Paul certainly was interested.
Paul was interested in publishing even back then? (Paul now owns
a very successful music publishing companyed.)
Yes. Even back then. I remember him coming and playing me a song he
called "Scrambled Eggs," which eventually became "Yesterday". He actually
played that to me in my office on a harpsichord which somebody had left
there for the summer. So that was my humble beginning in the music business.
Not so humble (laughter). Where did you go next?
I went to Island. I had never heard of Chris Blackwell or Island Records
at that time. It was 1969. They'd only been in business a couple of
years. Chris told me that I had been recommended to him by a guy called
Martin Davis, who was running United Artists at the time. He wanted
to know whether I'd be interested in running Island's publishing company.
There were only about 15 songs in the catalogue at that time, but he
had signed some great writers like Steve Winwood and the band, Free.
turned him down at the beginning because I was unsure of him. Then I
got a call from Denny Cordell (the independent producer at that time)
who was going to take his acts and go into partnership with Chris. He
said, "I know you turned Chris down, but I want you to know that all
my actsThe Move, Joe Cocker, and all the restwe're all going into
this joint company. Would that be of interest to you?" So eventually
I took the deal.
On the evening
that I took the deal, I was reading my evening newspaper on the underground
coming homeyou must remember, I was very, very straightand I read
that Denny Cordell had just been busted for marijuana. I was so scared.
I thought, "Oh my God! I'm working for drug addicts!" So I was going
to turn him down the next day. I was going to say: "Sorry. I can't work
for this kind of company." But eventually I thought "Well, let's take
Were you there for a long time.
Until Polygram bought Island Music in 1990.
Did you have a lot of success at Island?
It was a tremendous era. We really helped to start the whole underground
revolution with groups like Jethro Tull and Free and Traffic. We were
starters. We started both Virgin and Chrysalis Records. Meaning, that
they did deals with us for distribution and promotion, and came under
our wing. They eventually grew and did it themselves, but we started
having breakfast with Richard Branson (founder/owner of Virgin) where
he wrote down on a napkin all this information that I gave him about
publishing . I was going to do a deal with him on publishing, and then
he decided to do it himself because I had already given him all this
information (laughter). That was 1970.
Did Island continue to do well?
The Seventies were brilliant. The Eighties weren't as good, and then
the late Eighties were perfect. We signed U2 in '78 and we started to
come back, but the Eighties weren't very good for us. However, Bob Marley
was always big throughout that period.
You had some hits in the Eighties though...
Yeah. Robert Palmer and Marianne Faithfull and Grace Jones and U2, obviously.
But were weren't the label that we were in the Seventies, when we were
the forerunners. Everybody wanted to be with us. We had an image.
Now you're at Madonna's company, Maverick. How long have you been
I was Managing Director and President of Island when it was sold to
Polygram. During the year and a half I was there after the sale, everything
was going well for us. But the powers that be wanted a change, and I
resigned and came here in April 1992, making it three years.
And you started this company . . .
... from scratch. I mean, we had zero songs in the catalogue. It's a
co-venture with Warner/Chappell. In my first year I signed Lucinda Williams
and we won a Grammy for Country Song of the Year"Passionate Kisses"which
was recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter. I also brought M'shell N'dgeocello
into the company. Her tape had been sent to me by somebody that I'd
met in New York. Candlebox came in '93. So the company has been sort
of an instant success.
Why are you opening a Nashville office now?
Well, I've always been a song man. That's why I left London to come
to Los Angeles. Because the writers at that time (1975), were all coming
out of Los Angeles. There were places like the Troubadour, where I saw
Billy Joel, Carly Simon and James Taylor in the course of two nights.
That's not happening right now in Los Angeles. There are very few writers
coming out of L.A. or if they're in L.A., they're going to Nashville.
So I started a Nashville office because I want to be able to pick up
those songwriters. They do exist there and they're not only writing
Country. There are all sorts of writers in Nashville.
Are you signing them strictly as songwriters as opposed to artist/writers
Yes I am. A lot of the big companies won't take just straight songwriters
unless they have an outlet already built in. Meaning that they produce
acts, or they write with acts, but I will sign writers who are just
writers. I signed Benmont Tench, who's the keyboard player with Tom
Petty, and he doesn't have those outlets. But we've managed to put him
with the right collaborator, and he's just had a number four record
with Hal Ketchum. We've also had cuts with Carlene Carter. We've done
extremely well with Benmont. So I'm interested in just songwriters,
but they've got to be absolutely unique and brilliant.
Are you signing artists as well?
I will be. I'm also looking out for that sort of unique talent that
comes out of Nashville for the record company (Maverick). A Steve Earle
or a Lucinda Williams, if she were available. That's the kind of act
that I'd like to sign to the record company. Left of center, but still
with those Country roots.
Do you like to sign artists before they have record deals and do
the development necessary to get them that deal, or do you prefer to
sign them after they've gotten their deal?
If it's a songwriter that has a unique talent, then I'll sign them.
I won't sign a band and try and develop that band. I will develop a
songwriter, but it's harder with a band because you've got four or five
individuals. My own forte is to work one-on-one with the songwriter.
So, I've done that. I advised Brent Bourgeois (formerly with the band
Bourgeois Tagg) to go to Nashville. We worked together on the demos,
I sent them to Reunion, and we got him a record deal. So, yeah, I will
work with talent for the end product of getting them a record deal.
What do you look for in artists that you sign?
Songs. They have to have songs. I don't even care what kind of music
they're in to, as long as the act has songs.
What are the elements that make a song great to you?
Melody. I'm very hip to melodies first, then I get into the lyric. I
know there are a lot of people that would hear a lyric and say, "I could
never do anything with that song because it's got these awful lines".
I'll hear a melody firstand then I will hear the awful lines (laughter).
By the way, I will never publish a song that has the word "Saturday"
in the title (laughter). Or "Rock and Roll" (laughter).
So, I'm a melody
man first, and it's got to make me feel some passion. I've got to feel
the hairs on my arm stand upsomething that I want to hear again immediately.
Unfortunately, it doesn't happen very often. That's why I don't sign
a lot of acts. I like writers that can grab you from the very first
note. There are a lot of writers who don't get in until the chorus,
and by that time you're bored stiff. So, I like a writer that gets me
hooked from the very first two lines.
Do you find that even your favorite writers occasionally come up
with clunkers as well?
Oh yeah. I always think that a good percentage is one great song out
of five. I'd be worried if it was one out of ten. Because that's usually
their first year's delivery commitment (the number of songs a writer
owes a publisher by contracted.) (laughter).
Do you think it's important to write a lot to get the clunkers out
of the way?
No, I really don't think that's the answer. It's got to come from the
heart. An amazing thing in Nashville is that there are writers that
can write from 9 to 5 every day of the week and the standard will be
tremendous. But most of the time, writers that do that are only going
to write one in ten where there's something magic about it. I just don't
like that whole conveyor belt approach to songwriting. A writer has
to feel inspired. It should be like a painting. It should only be completed
when they feel that they can't improve on it anymore.
Do you prefer writers who you can work with on those sorts of elements?
To whom you can feel free to say, "I think this song needs a bridge",
or, "I wish you'd fix the lyric here"? Or, do you prefer a writer who
is so committed to their own vision that they don't want that kind of
I must admit it's happening less and less that you can actually tell
a writer that you don't like a particular chorus or a certain word or
whatever. It's getting tough because their attitude is... "Who are you?"
Years ago it was different. You could actually work with a writer. The
kind of writers that one signs now, they're not amateurs. They're all
pros. They've had success and it's tough to say to them "I wish you'd
change this chorus". I've initiated it at times. But it didn't go over
too well (laughter).
What are the biggest changes in the industry that you've seen over
The fact that most bands now are self-sufficient and write their own
songs. It's getting tough now to get covers. It seems to be a dying
art in the music business. Although, it's not dying out in Nashville,
thank God. It's still a very healthy part of our business there.
I hate saying
this, but a lot of publishers are becoming banks. The acts don't really
want to do a publishing deal unless they're made an offer that they
can't refuse. That happens a lot. Some of the deals are so huge that,
if you were a manager you'd say, "Look, I know I told you to keep your
publishing, but this is a ridiculous amount of money. Do the deal!"
It's tremendous for the bands to have the means to get large sums of
money without paying any interest, but I don't like to do that kind
Let's shift gears here. How do you get the tapes that you listen
All sorts of ways. I can get them from other musicians. I can get them
from lawyers, which is basically where we do get them from. Or, we get
tips from people that live in other cities that say, "Oh, there's a
great band playing here in Chicago." You get them from all sorts of
people you know. It's good to have that sort of network.
Do you accept unsolicited tapes?
Do you recommend that new writer's/artists hire an attorney to shop
In the last year or so, some of the lawyers that used to have tremendous
success shopping, don't shop anymore. Now, you're getting attorneys
that don't have the experience running with tapes, and it's not happening
as much as it used to. How does a writer get a tape to a publisher?
It's tough. A lawyer may be somebody who will take a lot of money from
these people and will send these tapes around to publishers with just
a letter that he sends to everyoneand that letter and the tape will
finish in the trash can. It really is tough getting an unsolicited tape
to be heard by someone.
Are there lawyers out there who will basically shop anything if they're
paid to do so, who aren't selective about the caliber of music that
they send to you?
Yeah. We know those lawyers, and we don't listen to the tapes they send
What advice would you give to a young writer and/or artist who is
trying to get heard by the industry?
I really do think that if somebody is talented enough, they will eventually
be heard. I know there are millions of musicians out there who would
say: "Well, I'm talented, I should be heard." But they're listening
to their mothers and fathers and they're not being practical. We listen.
We hear so much, and I'm telling you, that if there's somebody that's
talented, I will eventually hear about it, and I imagine that all my
peers will, too.
It's a long
process. Both my sons are musicians, and both are in bands, and they
haven't been signed. Both of them. But I do think they're talented.
My advice to them is keep going. Don't ask your parents what they think
of your tape. Mix with other music people. That's the way. Go to clubs
where the music industry is. Eventually you'll get heard. Or you'll
What if you don't live near one of the big centers like L.A., New
York or Nashville? Let's say you're in Boise, Idaho.
When I lived in London, there was no way you could get a deal unless
you came to London. It's better now. There are so many bands that get
signed from small, out of way places. We weren't even looking at Chicago
years ago, and now Veruca Salt, Urge Overkill, Liz Phairlot's of artistsare
coming from Chicago. It can be Akron or Oklahoma. People are there.
Scouts are there. There are people in record stores that will report
to record companies about what is outstanding in their territory. They're
on the record company payroll to do this.
Maybe I'm being
the cock-eyed optimist, but I do think that anyone who's talented enough,
no matter where in the world, will eventually be heard by somebody that
can get them a record deal, a publishing deal, or take them to the next
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