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 THREE – “THE ENTIRE SONY MUSIC CORPORATION WAS BEING THROWN OUT OF ONE OF THE FINEST RESTAURANTS IN THE WORLD!”
BOOZE, COCAINE, FLYING BUTTER PATTIES—FOOD FIGHT! Part Two
I really don’t know why so many of us in the record biz just never grew up. Maybe it’s that 60’s “Youth Generation” thing, or just the sense that having a good dose of fun was so much a part of what helped the business actually run back then. Certainly things have changed dramatically, since the early 90’s I’d say—but the music business in general is a very social business—a business of favors, and of relationships.
Back in the 70’s and 80’s, it seemed like the people who partied hardiest were the salesmen, many of whom would eventually become promoted to the heads of sales. I think it was because, frankly, they drank so much. Most of the salesman were a bit older and came from the heavy drinking days of the 50’s. Whether it was white wine or Chivas Regal Scotch, these guys could drink! And, I mean no disrespect here—those guys were very special and talented in their own ways, and sold millions and millions of records!
I remember having to have a meeting with the LA Branch Manager and his second in command to discuss a big promotion I wanted to do. I walked in on a Friday afternoon, and the first thing they said was, “What would you like to drink?” I said, “Oh, that’s OK, I’m fine.” They said, “No, really, what are you drinking?” And, I replied, “Really nothing,…I’m fine.” They came back a third time, but with heavy punctuation. “Clearly you’re not understanding us, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WILL BE DRINKING?” Light bulb! I am not going to have a meeting with these guys unless we are ALL drinking together. I think it was their way of welcoming me into the club or something. So, I said, “Ohhh, I think I’ll be having some white wine.” They both smiled approvingly and said, “Perfect!” And then invited me to sit down.
I really loved the sales guys. They were a lot of fun and theirs was not an easy job, having to convince buyers to take on boxes of brand new releases with the promise that the label would be breaking these new artists and that consequently those albums would be selling—making the stores money and clearing the way for more inventory. They also had their own way of doing business—lots of times it was straight business and had nothing to do with using facts—just came down to relationships.
One of my all time favorite stories about how much relationships played a part in our business is when I was hanging out with one of the legendary salesmen from the Los Angeles Branch office, Tom Rainey. One of his store accounts was Tower Records in San Diego. He had a southern drawl in his voice, so he used to call them “Tar” Records.
So, one day we go down to Tar Records in San Diego and amongst all the other product we had a brand new Miles Davis album to sell. Here is the priceless conversation between Tom and the buyer.
“Hi Tom, how ya doin’? What have you got today?”
“Well hey there Bill, we have a new release from Miles Davis!”
“Is it new shit or old shit??”
Tom, now getting a bit frustrated, expecting that the buyer should somehow automatically know the answer to his own question says, “I don’t fucking know Bill! Don’t you read your God damn ‘Buyways’?!! (a one sheet that explains all the new releases). Hell, what’s the damn difference if it’s old shit or new shit??”
The buyer now speaking a bit heatedly to make his point—“Well Tom, honestly, The OLD shit, sells way better than the NEW shit!”
“OK, FINE, (Tom thinks for a second)…then it’s the OLD SHIT!!”
“OK, FINE! I’ll take two boxes!”
I thought this was one of the greatest business deals I have ever witnessed—two boxes (50 albums) of Miles Davis albums were sold into Tower Records, San Diego that day and neither the salesman nor the buyer knew the contents of the album!! Didn’t matter—the salesman’s job was to sell the records and the buyer’s job was to buy them—done and done, business deal completed!
The sales guys used to get pretty rambunctious after a couple drinks when we’d go to dinner. One of their favorite things to do was to propel butter patties high into the air until they hit the ceiling of the restaurant–and they would stick up there! Real Frat boy stuff.
But before I go further, I don’t want to keep painting the sales guys as the only wild bunch. That age group liked their Scotch alright, but those of us who came along a bit later, the children of the 60’s and early 70’s had come from an experimental drug culture. (*Special note here to my children and mom: If you are reading this, please remember this was a verrrrrrrrrrrrrry loooooooooooooooooooong time ago).
So, while the salesmen were getting sloshed, we were experimenting with the latest popular drug of the day, Peruvian marching powder. They may have been tossing butter patties, but I remember pulling a pretty crazy all-nighter with my colleague Michael K. (no need to incriminate anyone else here) where we decided to re-arrange all of the furniture in our hotel room at the Century Plaza Hotel during one of the many conventions we attended. Sounds typical, you might say for two guys speeding a thousand miles an hour blasted out of their heads on pharmaceutical cocaine, except for the fact that at the Century Plaza Hotel all the furniture is firmly attached to the walls!! Yep, not a pretty picture (had to clean off a lot of dry wall chunks and dust). I always wondered what the maids thought when they walked in, given that they were used to cleaning all rooms that looked exactly the same.
Anyway, back to the butter patties. The salesmen had perfected the art of flying butter patties down to a science. What you do is take a cloth napkin, hold it by two opposite corners with your thumb and forefingers, and twirl it so you get a nice thick rope effect. Then you let it go slack, place a butter square in the middle (paper side on the bottom leaving the exposed butter facing up) and then very quickly pull your hands apart, snapping the cloth napkin taught—that action makes the butter patty fly up like being catapulted out of a slingshot. If you snap it hard and quick enough the patty will hit the ceiling, and stick!
We got in trouble at a number of restaurants in the city for doing this (now, I want to say right here that although I was complicit in sending champagne bottles tied to parachutes made from bed sheets out many a hotel window, I NEVER SHOT A BUTTER PATTY (maybe a few rolls across the table at folks that weren’t looking, but that was about it– well,…there were the sugar packets, but whatever…).
I was sad the day we got thrown out of our favorite, Romeo Salta restaurant because they were our friends and treated us so well during our many meetings there. We just got too nuts one day, and wayyyyy too many butter patties (and rolls) were flying about. We came back to Black Rock (famous CBS building on 52nd and Avenue Of The Americas), and the head of marketing just ripped us a new one—boy was he mad! Just couldn’t believe grown men, and execs at that, could be capable of such childlike actions.
As it turned out, that was just a foreshadowing of what was to come!
In 1988 CBS Records sold to Sony Corporation and after a couple years we moved to the former AT&T building at 550 Madison Ave. Every year at Christmas time many key members of Sony Music flew in from all over the United States and from all over the world for year end meetings. As one of the perks the company always threw an annual dinner party for us at a well-known restaurant. I can’t remember exactly what year it was (early 90’s I believe) but that year we were being treated to the Five Star legendary Le Bernardin French restaurant on 51st St.. Sony had rented out the entire place for our private party. Must have been well over 150 people.
A few of the guys were feeling their oats again because we had had a banner year. People were getting very drunk very fast, and a few guys started with the butter patties. Immediately, I looked over to the heads of sales and whispered loudly, “Hey, this isn’t Romeo Salta! (which was bad enough), THIS IS LE BERNARDIN! Hellllooooo, one of the finest, and classiest restaurants in the world! We can’t be doing this!!”
Well, they either didn’t understand, where just too happy, or didn’t care. SNAP! There went a butter patty, and then another. Again, I reached over and said, “guys,..really, we have to stop this!” They just laughed and laughed, and then IT happened! One guy miss-fired and the butter patty went sideways and hit a wall. The big problem was, at Le Bernardin all the walls are covered with huge original museum like quality oil paintings!! Oops! We all watched as the butter patty started to slowly slide down this beautiful six feet high classical work of art.
Oh crap. Everyone immediately got real quiet and we all looked away pretending nothing had happened. But one of the waiters must have seen it. The next thing I know the French chef owner of Le Bernardin stormed out of the kitchen yelling, screaming, and waving his hands wildly–throwing an incredible fit, all in French. Then he turned around and stormed back into the kitchen. It all got very quiet again for a few minutes and then all of a sudden I saw people getting up en masse and leaving their seats. I looked over and asked, “What’s going on??” I was told that we were being asked to leave the restaurant. I enquired, “Just the trouble makers??” The reply was no, THE ENTIRE SONY MUSIC CORPORATION WAS BEING THROWN OUT OF ONE OF THE FINEST RESTAURANTS IN THE WORLD! From the President on down—everyone had to leave!
I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought they were joking. But no, we were being kicked out—the whole damn company. I watched in amazement as all of these key executives—label presidents, producers, heads of sales, promotion, press, and marketing people from all over the world, all got their coats one by one and walked out the front door. Wowzers!
After a few stunned minutes, the only people left, standing in amazement, were me and three of my colleagues. Everyone had gotten through most of our dinner and waiters had set up a giant table the length of the restaurant ready to serve dessert buffet style. The table was full of the fanciest French desserts on the planet—pies, cakes, fruit tarts, ice creams, chocolate covered profiteroles, etc., etc., etc..
Well, I have a real sweet tooth and I LOVE desserts. I appealed to the French waiters that were left. “Hey guys, I am so very sorry and we are so very embarrassed. But this all happened because of just a very few people who got too out there, and most of us aren’t like that. Besides, my friends and I frequent this restaurant often for business meetings and personal special occasions. It would be a shame to see all of these beautiful and wonderful desserts go to waste! Don’t ya think?? Can’t my few friends and I please stay, sit back down, have a cup of coffee, an sample some of your most artful treats?”
By then the waiters were just disgusted so they said, “Fine!” and left in a huff. My three friends and I were the only ones in the restaurant gorging on every dessert on the table! We stacked up dinner platefuls, sampling every last item. It was amazingly great but also amazingly rich and we so overly gorged ourselves that we all felt just awful for the rest of the evening—ha, what a night!
Well, that night became the stuff of legend–although the kind of legend that wasn’t a plus for us. The next year’s Christmas Dinner had to be held in a much less fancy, and less well-known restaurant, because it had to be held outside of New York City! In fact, the next year’s dinner was held in Long Island City–turns out all the restaurants in New York had heard about that fateful evening and NO one would allow us in for dinner!!! I’m actually laughing as I’m writing this—grown men, big corporation, but hey, that’s the record biz!
Well, this writing was a bit long, but as always, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the stories.
Next chapter will be one of my all time favorite adventures—THE PINK FLOYD AIRSHIP—commissioning one of the biggest blimps in the world to be painted psychedelic and turned into a Floydian flying machine, blowing minds all across the country while promoting “The Division Bell” album.
Take care and all the best,
© Paul Rappaport 2013