This is the latest installment from the book I am writing on these pages that I call: AMAZING TALES From The Record Biz—You Can’t Make This Shit Up! It’s stories about the freewheeling times of the music business when creativity and fun were the mantra before it all became about big business and sales targets. The book is written as short stories so you can pick and choose as you wish if you don’t feel like reading from start to finish. You may find it hard to believe, but everything written here is true!
EPISODE TWO – The LA Branch was legendary for it’s outrageous behavior. Our fearless leader once had to sit us down for an actual business meeting to discuss the fact that at the upcoming summer convention we would no longer be allowed to set our table on fire. Yes, a real meeting to discuss that! (and, knife throwing was out as well).
FUN PRIORITIES–FREE RECORDS–FOOD FIGHT! Part One
These next few stories are designed to give you an idea of the overall view of the times. Yes, business had to be accomplished but there was also an important camaraderie that held us together, and there was a big priority on fun and party. Indeed, sometimes the fun seemed almost important as the business. The music industry is very social and in some ways we were not forced to grow up because of the kind of business it was back in the day. Hence, many of us remain big kids, just cleverly disguised as responsible adults.
For instance, circa 1975, in the Los Angeles branch office water gun fights were common in the summer, and in the winter from time to time there would be afternoon bowling in the halls played with a plastic set of pins that I bought at the local toy store.
One summer I placed a bucket of water over the inside of the branch manager’s door and it landed on him as he entered his office. Everyone had a good laugh but he was a little pissed because he was wearing a suit at the time. So, one day I was sitting in my office and the ultimate retaliation came–and with a vengeance. The branch manager knocked on my door, entered, and unloaded an entire Super Soaker Blaster on me. It was the newly invented, biggest water gun in the world and it came with an extra pouch of water that he had strapped to his waist. The scene looked like something out of a sit com—I sat dumbfounded in my chair, totally soaked from head to toe, dripping big puddles of water onto the carpet. This from the man who was in charge of the entire LA sales branch—big kids indeed!
Let me flashback to the beginning for a moment. I began my career as a College Rep for Columbia Records in 1969. I was going to UCLA and was coaxed into the position by the company telling me that amongst other perks, I would get all my records for free. I was on the phone with Bob Moering, the man who would become my first boss and teach me so much about the business. I told him that I was a “serious” blues guitar player (hysterical!) and that I loved music but was very hesitant about the music “business” part of it all. When he started to list all the perks and got to the free records part I stopped him in his tracks and asked, “Are you serious? All my records for free?? That’s impossible, Columbia is such a HUGE label.” He said yes, that it was, but I would get all my records for free, and that also people at the other labels traded for their records as well. I was totally flabbergasted, and I told him I’d hop in my car and be right there! He had to talk me off the ledge and beg me to come and see him the next week when he had time for a real meeting as I was so bent on driving IMMEDIATELY to see him.
The interview was kind of funny in that Bob (a very big kid in his own right) was pretty straight and I was a total hippy freak (super big afro, mustache and goatee). But he was very cool and could see behind all the hair that I was quite knowledgeable about the new rock music Columbia was putting out and also had a good head on my shoulders. He hired me, and always had a good chuckle referring to me, and my later counter part at Long Beach State, as his “random freaks off the street.”
So, my first day at work I just had to see if this free record thing was for real. I filled out a gratis form for EVERY Miles Davis album the guy had recorded on Columbia—it was like 20 albums or something, and I’m thinking, this ain’t never gonna happen. Two weeks later a bunch of boxes show up on my apartment doorstep—holy sh*t!! Twenty plus Miles Davis albums!!! OMG, I was in heaven.
When I got married three years later, my new wife walked into an apartment with no furniture, just some big cushions to sit on, a stereo system, and 10,000 record albums!!!!
I eventually graduated and got a full time job as Local Album Promotion Manager for Los Angeles. Two years later as FM radio was becoming increasingly popular I got promoted to Regional Rock Album Promotion for the Western Region (my territory covered all of California, Arizona, and all the way up to Seattle). Rock music was exploding, Columbia was right in the middle of it, and they needed a rock expert to promote this music and someone who could relate to the longhairs who were taking over the FM airwaves. Well, me being the “random freak off the street,” with my big fro and facial hair seemed to be perfect—I looked exactly like them! Truth was, I related to the folks at the radio stations more than to some of the folks at the record company for a while because we were all the same age and had like minds—we were sort of all hippies together and I just happened to work for the record company and the they just happened to work for a radio station. The one thing we had in common was, that we were all workin’ for “The Man” and all of us were trying to come to grips with that one (but that’s a longer story).
Let’s get back to those fun priorities. In today’s world when someone gets promoted they’re likely to get a few e-mails from close friends and hopefully some sincere notes from co-workers. But more often than not, it seems that the work place has become a bit colder in general (I’m sure you haven’t seen much bowling in the halls lately, right?) and too often one sees petty jealousies and some folks even intimidated by another’s advancement. It’s kind of sad to me–not enough joy being spread around, etc.
Well, the ‘70’s were wayyyyyyyy different. At that time, Columbia Records’ was also known as “The Family Of Music.” And it was, indeed, a family. People watched out for one another, most bosses took care of their people and protected them. And, just like a family, when something good happened for someone there was A BIG PARTY!
My promotion celebration was in the conference room on the 12th floor of our offices overlooking the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. It wasn’t all that expensive, very homey with finger sandwiches, cheese, crackers, some fruit, a big cake, and of course, the record biz staple—champagne, lots and lots of champagne! As corks popped, in no time at all, we started to get very “happy” and I was being roundly congratulated, back slapped, and all the rest.
By the title of this chapter you may be already anticipating that some sort of food fight was in the making. Here’s the thing about food fights–you’re use to them when you’re in high school or college. But when you get into the real grownup world, you really don’t expect to see them, much less be participating!
The actual row started innocently enough, people making fun of me, and then people making fun of each other. Then someone threw a roll at someone, and that someone retaliated with a piece of fruit. The man in charge of the four branch offices in the western region–LA, San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver–sat at the head of the table. He was our “Godfather” so to speak.
The conference table was actually two long tables pushed together. Boy did that come in handy, because when someone shot a champagne cork across the table and hit another guy on the side of his head, that’s when all hell broke loose!
By that time we had certainly bypassed feeling “happy” and were well on our way to out of our minds!
It happened so fast I could hardly believe it. All out war had erupted between one table and the other. Champagne corks were flying like bullets and crackers whizzed by like Ninja throwing stars. All of the sudden both tables were turned over and dragged to opposing sides of the room. Each “army” took refuge behind their table and food really began to fly. Big chunks of my cake were used as hand grenades splattering over everyone upon impact. Peoples’ heads would pop up from behind their table long enough to take aim and fire another cork, or throw a glob of fruit across the room. It finally became violent as whole empty champagne bottles were being hurled into opposing camps.
As munitions were getting low, we finally decided to charge the enemy. We grabbed a bunch of computer sales printouts, used them as shields and bum rushed our opponents. We “captured” their captain (the Godfather) and wrapped him up in the printouts, which were on one sheet of continuous paper. When we were finished he looked like a mummy from head to toe, and the only thing sticking out was his famous red ponytail.
When we finally left, the conference room was a total disaster. The next day the walls had to be washed down and the carpet replaced. Someone had taken pictures but those would never see the light of day.
The LA Branch was legendary for it’s outrageous behavior. Our fearless leader once had to sit us down for an actual business meeting to discuss the fact that at the upcoming summer convention we would no longer be allowed to set our table on fire. Yes, a real meeting to discuss that! (and knife throwing was out as well).
Ahhhh, the good ol’ days! Stay tuned for next time, when the entire Sony Music company en masse gets thrown out of one of the finest restaurants in the world! And, I am asked to build and entire table of food at a party just so Leslie West can throw Keith Moon, head first, into it!!
Thanks for reading,
© Paul Rappaport 2013