Social Networking Without A Net: The Indigo Girls “Rites of Passage”

The indigo girls, with no caps, always seemed to understate their success.  Finding their audience looked easy, but before the advent of online marketing, the challenges were formidable.  Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, in caps, have made significant contributions to contemporary music over the years through their folk, pop, rock harmonies, melodies and lyric.  When Epic signed them in 1988, through the enthusiasm of Roger “Snake” Klein, the label got a duo that had already established themselves as a sustainable touring act in an arc from the Carolinas through the mid-South on campuses, small theaters, and collegiate bars.  

Along with building this live fanbase, the girls sold an EP and later the album “Strange Fire” independently to where there was momentum for a major label to accelerate the process.  They also came to Epic with a song on a new, unreleased album called “Closer To Fine.”  Although slightly passed college themselves, they really represented the college marketplace of the mid-to-late ‘80’s.  In the marketing department, we were instantly excited about them, as they provided so much of a set-up for us to build upon.   

The mid ‘80s at Epic had been populated by arena rock bands and many pop hits that were the staples of contemporary radio at the time.  Often, the marketing department toiled in support of the promotion department’s success at radio.  Many times, these artists were not the most cutting-edged from an image standpoint.  The indigo girls gave us an act that was smart, lyrical, and provocative in their own way, with a regional touring base we could leverage.   There were enough tools for the marketing department to create a case for the promotion department.  John Doelp was a product manager on my staff who had risen out of the finance department.  However, he had a history of producing independent records during his college days in Boston.  I assigned the project to John and worked as his back-up through this first record.  It was one of his early successes that have led to a long and illustrious career at Sony Music.  John established a wonderful relationship with Amy and Emily that provided them enough of a basis of trust within the company to get their participation in the marketing activities we needed from them.   

The girls’ image was also more like a rock band, so we could shoot music videos more in that style, rather than gearing up the ‘glam squad’ that was essential for the images of female pop artists such as Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, or Sade.  There was less pressure, less money, and less risk in creating a video for MTV and VH-1.  Although, we always seemed to feel the pressure to deliver on every act.   

Because they could perform acoustically, Amy and Emily gave us the cost effective ability to transport them to key promotional opportunities, whether that was a radio programmers conference or a retail chain’s convention.  Although they didn’t necessarily love the promotional work deemed important by a major label, they were genuine in their likability, and generally good sports about doing the promotional roadwork.  Their manager, Russell Carter, although mild-mannered, always stood firmly when the glad-handing requests would go beyond their character.  Russell and John Doelp coordinated their efforts and left no stone unturned with the Sony field staff and every Epic department.   

All this led to a hit album, a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and nearly a Best New Artist Grammy.  However, Milli Vanilli somehow scored that one, and although later forfeited, I don’t believe the Grammy was ever given to another deserving nominee.  During this time, we also re-packaged their independent album and EP, and the indigo girls were proving to be a very profitable and rewarding endeavor for Epic Records.  

The success continued through 1990, with the release of the “Nomads, Indians, and Saints” album.  It went gold behind the success of their biggest radio track to that point with “Hammer and Nail”.  Amy and Emily continued to build their touring base.  Russell had worked with an extremely dedicated agent, Frank Riley, to alternate acoustic shows with touring a full band.  They worked creatively with the girls, doing shows with guests and friends joining them, performing for meaningful causes and charities, and other unique approaches that were endearing, reaffirming, and connective to the fans.  I remember one club tour where the first fan in line got to write the set list for the night! 

Through this success, one internal issue stood out to us.  The two great songs that had surfaced successfully at the Modern Rock radio format had not crossed significantly to pop radio.  These songs, as great as they were, did not come easily for our promotional people.  These were labeled “work records”, and as such, were not necessarily looked upon with positive anticipation from the promotion staff.  The other telling sign was that only one song each from the first two albums actually charted at Modern Rock.  It was almost like the programmers were saying “Okay, we gave you one track, now go away.”  MTV and VH-1, often considered to be programmed much like large radio stations, by people who actually came from radio, were also a bit non-plus to the “plain” image the girls presented.  We sometimes complained that our promotion department listened too much to the people to whom they promoted.  However, you should hear the complaints they had about us in the marketing department! 

In 1992, things continued to change.  The girls were now a little further away from actually being college students.  They were maturing as artists, but we were dealing with an unforgiving marketplace.  “Image” was an underlying concern at the label.  John Doelp had moved over to Epic’s A&R Department, and I felt it was imperative that I personally product manage the project.  They had earned the right to work with someone with experience and leverage in our marketing system and with someone they knew.   

The new album was called “Rites of Passage” and the lead track was a stunningly warm and smart song that Emily had written and sung, called “Galileo”.  I got an amazingly gifted and extremely successful commercial director named Mark Fenske to shoot the video.  He was not used to making low-priced music videos, and he was as stubborn creatively as any director I have ever worked with.  At the same time, I personally liked him very much and I so appreciated his genuine enthusiasm for the girls.  His concept was fresh in using printed lyrics as a graphic design, in a whimsical and painterly way, to emphasize the artistry and poetry of the song.   

Fortunately, we started the video production process a few months before the album came out, because I struggled mightily to get Mark to finish the video.  We were very near a final edit that needed a couple of tweaks to solve some creative issues.  I made a couple of simple problem-solving suggestions that weren’t really invasive, but to my amazement, Mark took offense to them and refused to finish the video.  We argued on the phone for days and I begged him to make these very tiny adjustments to finish, but with no luck.  I actually had to fly to LA, go to his office/studio, and complete the final edit with a member of his team.  Mark didn’t come in that day and I never saw him again.  In the meantime, we made these small edit adjustments in literally a couple of minutes.  His staff seemed extremely comfortable with the changes.  Ultimately, we had a GREAT video that was 99.9% the brilliance of this uniquely talented director. 

However, one of the issues that arose while I was wrestling with the video was a concerned promotion department.  They knew that any indigo girls’ song at radio was a struggle.  There was some fear that radio would fight us even harder this time, despite the wonderful quality of the song. So perhaps the enthusiasm was there, but they knew they faced a brutal uphill battle to get “Galileo” played.  Listening to the song today, few would imagine that this warm melody and brilliant lyric would face such trepidation.  

We wanted promotion to lead our campaign with “Galileo” at radio about 5 to 6 weeks in front of the in-store date for the album to set up a meaningful sales surge the first week.  This would give us momentum in these very early days of Soundscan, which had only started at the end of 1991. Even in those early days of actual scanned sales, first week sales were proving to be a key perception factor to sales, promotion, and marketing momentum in the immediate weeks after release. 

However, promotion remained extremely concerned about our chances at radio.  They reversed the scenario, and said they could not get meaningful traction at Modern Rock unless we could show real retail strength when the album hit stores on May 12, 1992.  So our 5 or 6 week lead at radio was not going to have much impact on sales.  Add to this that our promotion people had gotten the read from MTV and VH-1, that they were not prepared to lead on the project and wanted to see some significant airplay before they would add a video.  At this point, no one had a great deal of faith in how powerful the video could be.  And I was still wrestling with Mark to get it done.   

The good news was that we knew the indigo girls had a loyal fan base.  However, without radio, traditionally the primary marketing driver for most campaigns, how were we going to connect with this fan base? 

Obviously, we had some significant supporters among the music press.  Our press department could assure us that a number of important album reviews could be timed to help us with the first week of sales.  Lisa Markowitz was the publicist, and she had a long and consistently successful history of working the press for Amy and Emily.  She knew every writer in the country who could help.    The girls could also do a number of key interviews.  However, press coverage was never considered an end-all-be-all solution to actual sales.  Press worked best in conjunction with other marketing efforts.  A strong profile at retail, radio airplay, press, and touring combined was the best solution.  Touring was certainly a fundamental tool in this case, but it worked over the long haul and would only help us in a couple of markets in the first week’s Soundscan.   

What would happen today?  Clearly, the set-up possible on the Internet is the pervasive, timely, most targeted, and cost-effective tool possible.  Unfortunately, in the spring of 1992, the net was incubating at a stage unknown to the general public.  We were still a paper pushing, postage stamp licking world.  No cell phone catalyst.  No texting.  No email database.  No websites.   No mobile phone network.

…But we needed to network!  We needed to socially connect.  The indigo girls had an audience.   How could we get enough of that audience, in a concerted effort, to purchase the album the first week of release?  We couldn’t afford to buy radio spots across the country.  I believe we schedule a flight of spots on MTV or VH-1 or both.  However, their core fans of college students and the gay audience was not necessarily glued to those music channels.     

All we needed to do was to tell these fans the album was coming, the day it would be in the stores, and the title.   

I went to Yvonne Erikson, a long-time friend and associate, who was VP of Advertising for Sony Music.  Many of my contemporaries at the time often felt that we could never advertise enough to really sell through an album.  Advertising was just another compliment to a marketing mix of tools, but still lead by radio airplay. 

I had an idea and thankfully, Yvonne found a way to execute it.  I wanted to place hundreds, even thousands, of classified ads in the personal sections of college newspapers and gay lifestyle publications.  My copy read: 

Rites of Passage of Rites of Passage of Rites of Passage.  The indigo girls.  The new album in-store May 12, 1992.  Then, we listed a 1-800 number. 

The phone was a simple message from the girls about the album and the songs and the guest musicians who played on it.  The caller could actually leave a message. 

Yvonne and I spent somewhere between $5,000 and $6,000 on classified ads.  I spent a few thousand more for the 800 number and the in-bound costs.  We placed hundreds upon hundreds of ads in hundreds of college and alternative newspaper classifieds.   The ads started running about three weeks before the album street date. Yvonne and her staff worked through a placement service called C.A.S.S. that was in existence then.  However, the personal work they put into making this happen remains remarkable to me to this day.    

By end of May, we had received over 18,000 calls and knew that our classifieds had reached many thousand more students across the nation.  Remember, these calls probably came from dorm pay phones… college students didn’t have cell phones then.  The album sold over 35,000 the first week and debuted at #21 on the Billboard album charts, the highest album chart position to that point in their career.  My phone went crazy from inside and outside the company.  Everyone was asking how we had debuted so high with so little airplay.  I remember the independent radio promotion czar Jeff McCluskey coming to my office doorway the day the Soundscan numbers came out saying “How the hell did you guys do that?” 

The first week’s sales numbers stunned everyone.  This gave our promotion people the leverage to aggressively present the case for the artist at radio.  The great part is that “Galileo” really kicked in at Modern Rock radio and became Amy and Emily’s highest ever charting track at #10.  The great Mark Fenske video also joined our package of tools and the album went gold.

So we were flying without a Net! 

In those days prior to social networking and online connectivity, we knew we had to connect one-on-one with an audience that was there for the artist.  It was an unconscious realization of how it should happen.  The issue was that the technology simply didn’t exist.      

I remember suggesting in a marketing meeting that this particular approach might have simply been right for Amy and Emily and might not fit other artists, particularly those without a core audience who had more of a radio base.  We, of course, immediately tried it again on some rock band who I’ve now forgotten.  Like everything then, and now, we tend to fall into that intellectually lazy place where we think one size fits all.   Today, we have online successes… and we have artists that just don’t resonate.  The organic issues of music, artist, and audience remain the same.  

As I look at it today, the phenomenal potential to target niches, time a campaign, create multiple impressions, convey sound, pictures, present purchase options, and every other bevy of content that exists, it simply reminds me of the indigo girls’ album title.  Rites of Passage of Rites of Passage of Rites of Passage… 

…And if you looked through Galileo’s telescope, would the Internet revolve around the music or would the music revolve around the Internet?   

“How long will it take my soul to get it right?” 

Dan Beck 

P.S. – Amy and Emily still make great music.  Their website is





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Baseball & The Curveball of Inspiration

Dion (album cover)Sometimes the great things we get from our efforts are more abstract and very different from what we expect.  Sometimes what we think is inspiration is something else.  And sometimes we inspire things that we aren’t even aware of.  Back in the late ‘70’s, I had the opportunity to write songs with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and legend in the truest sense, Dion DiMucci.  However, something really fun and really great came out of it that had nothing to do with Dion or me.   

A lyric of mine called “Midtown American Main Street Gang” got to Dion’s manager back in 1976, and he had sent it on to Dion.  D apparently loved it and wanted to write with me.  However, it was a year later when I was invited to Dion’s show at the Bottom Line in New York, to meet him.   Even though this was a few years past his big hits like “Run Around Sue”, “The Wanderer”, and “Abraham, Martin, and John”, the frenzy in the small backstage was nearly impossible to negotiate at this welcome home show.   

If you ever met the man, you know that everyone who ever did meet him feels like his best friend.  Dion just makes you feel that way.  He was “The Boss” before Bruce and has a very similar relationship with his fans.  And if you are not fully familiar with him, along with being a major figure in Do Wop, Dion was a folkie, and a pop idol, a Contemporary Christian artist, and a blues aficionado.  He was the original street guy in a leather jacket.  Many of rock’s biggest acts consider him their inspiration.  Add to that the enormous weight of being the most prominent survivor of “The Day the Music Died,” January 23, 1959.  Dion was the only star who didn’t get a seat on the plane that took Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens.  If you research that event of 50 years ago, his name prominently graces the poster for the show that never happened that next day.Poster   

So here it was, I was being set up to write with this legend.  However, that night backstage was so crazy, I couldn’t get near him.  After waiting a year to get with him and after waiting around for an hour and a half, I went home a little empty.  We never even had a chance to say “Hello.” 

These are the times when you ask yourself why you put yourself through the highs and lows of trying to do something out of the ordinary.  I told my friends for a week beforehand about this meeting… and now I’ll tell them tomorrow that it didn’t happen.   

Another several months passed.  I came back to the office from lunch one day, and the receptionist said, “You’ve gotten like seven calls from this guy named Dion in the last hour!”  I knew instantly that he had put a melody to the lyric to “Midtown!” 

I called and Dion was excited about the song and played it over the phone to me.  He said, “Send me everything you got!”  He was excited about the melody he was able to put to the lyric and really felt we had something special.  I laughed and told him I wasn’t going to send everything I had or I’d be shipping him boxes of lyrics!  But I did tell him that I had a song title that I thought was perfect for him and I would try to finish writing the lyric and send it to him.  And that night I was inspired!  I wrote my butt off and re-wrote until I finished a lyric called “(I Used To Be A) Brooklyn Dodger.”  It was an allegory about growing up and leaving your teenaged life.  Dion loved it and both songs ended up on his critically-acclaimed “Return of the Wander” album that was produced by Terry Cashman & Tommy West. Dion and I wrote a few more songs after that as well.  

No the songs were never hits.  “Midtown” actually was a single and charted for a few weeks, but never got into the Top 100.  I think it did reach #1 in Birmingham, Alabama, of all unlikely places.  And “Brooklyn Dodger” has had this strange, curious existence over the years.  For one, Dion kept it in his show for many years… the only non-hit in a set filled with fan favorites.  And every few weeks for the past 30 years, someone mentions the song to me.  Carl ErskineI once played in a golf tournament in Anderson, Indiana, and I met Carl Erskine, a pitcher for the old Brooklyn Dodgers.  I sheepishly mentioned the song to him and he instantly reacted that he knew the song and loved it.  It’s an odd experience for a song that really never had much exposure.   

However, the strangest experience with the song came every time I happened to run into producer Terry Cashman.  Here was the guy who actually produced the record in 1978.  Terry loved baseball and was obsessed with the whole idea that I had written a song around a baseball theme.  Whenever I saw him back in those days, that’s all he talked about to me.  He would go on and on about it.  How cool it was that I had written a song lyric about baseball.  He just couldn’t get over it.  He said he wished he had written a song like that.  He just couldn’t get it out of his mind.  And it was flattering, but I was hoping he might want to check out another one of my lyrics! 

And then one day in 1981, Terry built a better mousetrap!  Maybe inspiration comes in Talkin'strange ways.  He wrote “Talkin’ Baseball,” a song that will be played in some ballpark somewhere a hundred years from now. It’s a joyous celebration of the game.

Word has it that Terry was inspired by a photo of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider, and wrote that song.  I am sure that is true.  However, I know we threw him an inside curveball back in the ‘70’s that he never forgot, and he took that pitch and he hit it out of the ballpark! 

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David Allan Coe & The New York Times

DAC (album cover)May 26, 1971, was the first day I ever spent in Nashville.  I finished my junior year of college in Pittsburgh, PA, and bought a one-way ticket on Eastern Airlines.  That first night in Music City, I found my way to the Red Dog Saloon.  The Red Dog was a hippy joint, for lack of a better description.  It was located on Broadway, across from J.J.’s Market, on the corner across the street from what now is the Noshville deli, near Vanderbilt University.  Boutique shops, with black lights and brightly colored psychedelic walls, sold T-shirts, beads, incense, and other acoutrements of the day.  They filled several small rooms off the hallway that led to the main room in the back of the building.  This back room was the bar.  Dirt floor.  Picnic tables for seats.  And a rather dangerous, rangy, scowling, tatted, country performer presided rather loudly over the make-shift club.  It was David Allan Coe.  Seeing him that first time didn’t really register with me on a musical level.  It was really this image of a biker/metal guy in a cowboy hat singing country songs.   

It was another 18 months, including my return to college for my senior year, before I had gotten my first full-time job in the music business as Southeastern Editor for the music business trade Record World magazine.  Then it was another 18 months before I was ensconced in launching the first publicity department for a major label at Columbia and Epic.  In those three years, David Allan Coe seemed to be a fringe artist; perpetuated by his image of having spent most of his life from the age of 9 in some penitentiary.  Supposedly, he had been on death row in Ohio, but the people I met in my first years in the business didn’t particularly take Coe seriously.  He was one of those odd-ball icons like Troy Hess, the seven-year old, whose father, Bennie Hess, promoted him as the “ world’s youngest country music star” with songs like “Please Don’t Go Topless, Mother”.  Every Friday and Saturday night, Troy would be signing autographs through the cracked window of his parents van parked on lower Broadway near Limbaugh’s restaurant.  I thought it was child abuse at its country finest.  Just one of the last bastions of hillbilly freak shows that still existed in Music City in the early ‘70’s.  

Coe put out a concept records on SSS International Records called “Requiem for a DAC (album cover)Harlequin.”  SSS was short for Shelby S. Singleton, the former Mercury Records promotion man who bought the Sun Records label and had a big hit on Jeanne C. Riley with “Harper Valley P.T.A.”.  Shelby was considered by some to be a bit of a P.T. Barnum and perhaps a typical place you might expect to find a David Allan Coe release.  I had actually hung out at the Singleton offices periodically over those three years, even recording demos there.  The “Requiem” album did not identify the songs on the album.  The title of Side one was “Side One”.  It was trying hard to be something unique.  Although David got some notice for the release and seemed to get some bookings, he still wasn’t in the mainstream of the country music business.  However, he was beginning to be taken more seriously on Music Row. 

About the time I joined CBS (Columbia and Epic in the spring of 1974, Ron Bledsoe, VP of Operation in Nashville, signed David to Columbia Records.  A first single, “If I Could Climb the Walls of This Bottle” was released and although a great country song, it barely charted.  Ron had been successful in getting Billy Sherrill interested enough in David to lend his hand and credibility in producing him.  That first single did register with the CBS Records sales force though.  They went crazy for him at one of the national sales conventions.  Getting those people into you was a major step for any new artist.  They carried the torch for artists they collectively believed in, and they believed in David Alan Coe.      

DAC (outlaw)While still recording at the old Columbia Studios on 16th Avenue (now Music Square West), David would kill time by stopping by my office and simply sit across from my desk while I worked.  This happened on numerous days for many hours at a stretch!  Given that I spent my entire day on the phone getting press and media coverage for all the other country artists on Columbia and Epic, it was kind of strange having this hulking, heavily tattooed ex-con just sit there for hours upon hours silently staring across the desk at me while I worked.  I guess he didn’t have a lot to do between recording sessions!  It could have been a bit intimidating… because I certainly wasn’t promoting him at the time.  He had no record out.  Maybe David was trying to learn how it was done.  I don’t know.  For an ex-con, he was always respectful and very nice to us.  I know some other people in the business who could be in jail for their manners. However, the fact was, David was not ready to be pitched to anyone in the press at that point.  

My assistant, Mary Ann McCready (who has since become an industry innovator and trailblazing legend in the Nashville) and I did work on getting David’s publicity tools together.  We did a photo shoot.  We got his bio together.  I probably wrote most of the artists’ bios on the roster then, although we did farm some of them out to freelance writers.  We also had a little newsletter called Nashville News Notes, which had the sub-head “No News… Is No News”.   We would write blurbs about our artists and send this out periodically to our press list.  Since there were no other label publicists at the time, these little anecdotes were all the content those papers received from Nashville, and often major newspapers would run all of our blurbs.  It was virtually like our press notes were syndicated!  I am sure we included David in these blurbs in anticipation of his first Columbia album.  However, I don’t believe we really got him any other press at the time.   

In the meantime, a long-time friend of mine and a songwriting mentor, Fred Burch, called me one day.  Fred had written a few country hits over the years, including a novelty song called “The Ballad of P.T. 109”, that became a quasi theme song for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.  Through this song, Fred had become friends with a young Kennedy speech writer named Patrick Anderson.  Patrick had since become a writer for the Washington Post and he had been asked by the New York Times to freelance a major feature on the Nashville music scene.  Fred asked me if I could help Patrick connect with some artists.  Of course, this was absolutely a great opportunity for us.  Patrick was coming down to Nashville for a week and we would be very happy to dominate his time!   DAC (outlaw)

As it turned out, Mary Ann and I both liked Patrick very much.  He was a real journalist with a really meaningful background.  This wasn’t just a stringer for some country music fanzine.  The great situation we had in Nashville was that so many of the artists lived there.  We didn’t have much of a local media community, but we had an army of artists.   

This was virtually the opposite of New York, the media capital of the world.  All the press were in NYC, and when the artist came to town, you tried to connect them with as many key journalists as possible.  In Nashville, we tried to get a meaningful journalist to come in, and then we set them up with as many of our acts as we could get.   

In service to Patrick, we put him with Tammy Wynette and George Jones, Lynn Anderson and Bob Luman, and every Columbia and Epic artist we could rouse.  However, to get the most for our artists, we really needed to help him get a full story.  So although MCA didn’t have a press department, we helped Patrick connect with Loretta Lynn and artists with other labels that would make his feature complete. 

However, since we were essentially Patrick’s escorts for the week, we were able to have him speak to every artist that we had available… including David Allan Coe, who had no album out for us yet.  Patrick had a great week in Nashville, but the story faded when he returned to his home in Virginia.  Then, something extraordinary happened.   

DAC A few months later, after we had nearly lost sight of the work we had done with Patrick, one Sunday morning the feature came out in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.  It was a huge story!  And it was a cover story.  And who was on the cover… a burly, heavily tattooed, unknown artist named David Allan Coe, whose first album was just coming out.   

The multi-paged feature was virtually filled with our entire roster; George and Tammy, Charlie Rich, Larry Gatlin, Sonny James, and on and on; save for some coverage on Loretta Lynn.  We had scored big! 

As a 24-year-old rookie publicist, I knew it was a big story, but I really didn’t fathom its impact.  As I think of it now, every major executive at CBS Records in New York read the Sunday Times.  In fact, so did the likes of CBS, Inc. founder and chief William S. Paley.  And that Sunday morning, they were all reading this feature about how Nashville was the new cool and hot musical place and virtually every act mentioned was on Columbia or Epic.  And here was David Allan Coe, unknown, but squarely on the cover of the most prestigious Sunday publication in the world.   

The story must have been the talk of the day that Monday around the water coolers at Black Rock.  Did you see that story!  David Allan Coe on the cover?!  How did that happen?  And suddenly, my name was all over the building.   

Within months, I was promoted to head national publicity for Epic Records in New York.  Mary Ann was promoted to take my place.  And within those same months, every major label in Nashville was in a desperate search for people to launch a publicity department.  Never had one newspaper story meant so much.  Of course, this was long before the Internet and the paths to big exposure were narrow.  The funny thing is, I never really related to the gravity of that one story on Coe’s career, Mary Ann’s career, or my career until many, many years later.  It certainly was a factor in the Nashville music industry stepping up its marketing commitment to its artists.     

DAC (album cover)Over the next year, David Allan Coe’s career exploded.  He had a writing hit with 16-year-old Tanya Tucker with a song called “Would You Lay With Me in a Field Of Stone” that was rolling up the charts when Patrick was writing the Times story.  His 1974 single, “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” a magnificent song written by Steve Goodwin and John Prine, was becoming a smash just as the article was coming out .  His album “Once Upon A Rhyme,” came out to a media flurry, and he was now validated as one of the pivotal new faces of country music. The album went platinum.  And although I’ve followed David’s musical success over the years, I don’t believe we ever connected again after I left Nashville those many years ago.   

When I was leaving Nashville for New York to head the rock and pop press department for Epic, the CBS Records staff in Nashville had a very nice low-key going away party for me.  And legendary producer, Billy Sherrill, the guy so instrumental in Coe’s early success and a man who blessed my hiring to CBS Records Nashville, wrote a poem and gave it to me that evening.  It read: 

“Their once was a turncoat named Beck

Who said f… Nashville, what the heck.

Until he started to grapple with the rotten Big Apple 

…now he’s a G..D… nervous wreck!” 

Billy was probably a visionary!  Although I came back to Nashville in 1978 and started aBilly... small management company, I returned to New York, where I spent the remainder of my music business career; most of it with Epic Records.  The comfort of media relations in Nashville, gave way to the pressures and chaos of the rock business.  Without that one story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, maybe it would have been all very different.  I love Nashville and the creative environment that exists there for writers and artists.  But that one story took me away.  

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Just for the record Mr. Beck, my mother & father were wonderful people and for you to make a negative comment of them,  while glorifying such a piece of trash as David Allan Coe shows just how asinine you are. That man has done nothing positive for country music,  or music in general. It seems that you both have one thing in common:  The ability to step on the back of a child to make your self look better. ( I’m referring  to Coe’s PBS special of 75’)

Well Coe’s an old dried up rag, and I’m not a child anymore. In fact at 6’ 3", 240 pounds, I seriously doubt if anyone would try and walk on my back now! There’s alot of things out there on me and most are just a bunch of crap, but I did record the “Please Don’t Go Topless Mother ” song and my dad was a promoter, that is all true, but my heritage would rival that of ANY artist on the charts today or the past. Somwhere between signing autographs for the drunks  I managed to perform on stage with Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, open for Dolly & Porter, and many others, and have my name known internationally. 

I guess being downtown did’nt hurt me too bad, ha! But it’s people like you who hav’nt got the foggiest notion of the music industry who want to try and seem like your some sort of informed critic. You have no credibility, & when, after all the dirt is washed off, you’re really nothing more then some “little" person who never made his splash in the world so you try to dazzle people with b.s.. 

I’m sure you did see me downtown back then, and you’re probably holding a grudge because I would’nt give you a quarter. But don’t feel bad, I don’t do that to this day. But if your ever down Texas way and would like to discuss it further, I’d be more then happy to oblige! But only when you’re ready to apologize for your tresspasses.   

Have a nice day!! – 

"little” Troy Hess

Dear Mr. Hess,

Thank you for your note and personal perspective on your childhood.  I am sorry if my own personal perspective was hurtful in any way. 

First, my article was never intended to glorify David Alan Coe, although I did chronicle some of the facts of his recording achievements as I witnessed them.  In fact, the story was to point out a unique situation where our lives crossed very briefly and that circumstance ultimately led to an entirely different path for my life, far, far away from Coe’s path. 

I  As harsh as your criticisms are of me, I must say that I read your note of your life’s successes very positively. 

However, please let me reflect on my memories one-to-one directly to you.  Those days on lower Broadway in Nashville were definitely strange.  There were a lot of unsavory characters in that part of town – drunks, petty thieves, etc., all mixed in with the country music fans and tourists who came there.  On a Friday night, I recall very, very few children there.  My remembrance of you of was a child signing autographs through the crack in the window of a car parked outside a rowdy bar.  In my opinion, you didn’t look happy.  You looked trapped and a prisoner of an effort to make you a star.  That’s an honest opinion… I may be wrong.

Your situation in those days was well known on Music Row.  Every opinion I ever heard from a fairly wide variety of people at the time, had similar thoughts and perspectives as my conclusion.  You must admit that it was extremely unusual and a situation that many would question.  Not many people had their kids sing about begging their mother not to go topless.

I am a strong believer in appreciating diversity in this world – whether that is diverse ways of living one’s life, their religion, their color, or heritage.  Your proud memories of your parents and your achievements in life are a testament for us always to be open and not judgmental.  Maybe I need to re-think my original belief that there might be some element of child abuse involved.  From your note it sounds like your parents were very loving and put you on a positive path in life.  However, having thoughts and concerns from the outside about how a child was treated is not a bad thing.  As you know from reading the papers, too often there are situations where people should have expressed their concerns. 

As an aside, I believe you should, and probably have, taken the extreme uniqueness of your life in stride.  When your parents released your records and promoted your career, they made you a celebrity for life.  Celebrities live in a glass house and whether or not it is deserving, you are always vulnerable to criticism and public opinion. 

My purpose in writing these articles is not to be an “informed critic.”  I am simply reflecting my observations (whatever their value) over nearly 40 years of hard work helping artist develop their careers.  Many of these artists had enormous success, and my contribution might be “little” as you say. 

I hope you will take my apology in the first line of this note to heart.  Not once did I make a personally derogatory comment about you personally.  I only commented on the situation and the thoughts that entered my mind then.  They are my thoughts.  My opinions.  Nothing more.  By your contact, you have probably changed some of them.  And for that I sincerely appreciate get your letter.  With your permission, I would like to add your letter as a response at the end of the David Alan Coe story along with this note of reply.  I think it would be informative to the small group readers that I have. 


Dan Beck   

Mr Beck,

Maybe I as well spoke too soon! Yes I did grow up as a celebrity & due in great part to my parents promotion of my career, I received more then my fair share of criticism. That being said, it never made it right. And the music industry..especially in country music of the  late 60’s & early 70’s were not very supportive of “child” performers. You can probably name all the ones you remember on maybe 2 or 3  fingers, including me! I remember a guy called “Little Louie Roberts: who was a few years older then me back then & Marty Robbins tried to help. Again, he faced an up-hill battle due to the music industries position on children. Even Conway could’nt help his own children. So it is a given that it was hard. 

As far as me, Troy Hess, I had a tough road to battle as well, because not only was the music industry in general not supportive, but my own peers were very negative whenever they’d see me in either the Nashville Banner or the Tennessean, or some magazine or t.v. show, or in one of the Christmas parades;  I received ridicule after ridicule from my own classmates. And even though Nashville is/was the country music capital, the kids in school there were any thing but fans of country music. I guess between The DJ Convention, Fan Fair, and all the tourist who "invaded” their town & were drawn to Nashville for the obvious; they( the local kids) felt the music industry was pushed down their throats and rebelled against it. And I certainly got caught up in that as well. 

In regards to downtown Broadway, it is very true that I did spend “some” time there, and was rewarded with the friendship of such people as “Tootsie” Bess of Tootsies Orchard Lounge, in which she thought so much of me , she had me pose with her for a magazine book she had made for her business. And less I forget the wonderful Buckleys; Louis & Gertrude who owned Buckley’s Record shop across the street from the old Ernest Tubbs record shop, who credited the huge sales from my dad’s Mercury Records release of 1948 “ Tonite & Every Night" with being ‘the difference between keeping the store opened back then or having to go back to picking cotton’. And also the wonderful Lawrence Brothers from the Lawrence Brothers Record store, just a couple of doors down from E.T’s shop. Those people were like surrogate parents and I dearly loved both the Lawrence Brothers & the Buckleys, who I must say kept me in an ample supply of any & all records/Albums that I wanted.And I can’t forget Mr. Don Day, the night manager at Linebaughs restaurant who was always giving me candy bars, and money for the jukebox. He was truly one of the sweetest people I ever met. Even David McCormick, the then manager and now owner of the Ernest Tubb record shops was a great person, despite what Country Music magazine quoted him as saying in their Aug 75 issue, which he has strongly denied ever saying. 

You see Mr. Beck  , when I met all these people it was in the early 70’s, when the Opry was still down town, and down town Broadway was alive with tourists/fans.You could go into Linebaughs on a Saturday nite and it was nothing to see Ernest Tubb with his manager sitting at a table, or Hank Snow, or Lester Flat. Or any of the Opry regulars that were not hanging out over at Tootsies between opry shows. So even though the the Opry moved in 74/75 , these folks remained and they were our friends. So yes..we would go see them, and  I don’t regret it one time. And if you saw me looking unhappy, as you may have, I can’t account for that. I was, to a great extent, an average child, and maybe I was tired, as it was just possible I had performed that day somewhere and was irritated by some one wanting an autograph whose words were slurred and smelt like a brewery. I can’t answer that for sure, but I can tell you the one thing I did hate about downtown was the drunks. But if not for them , I might not have ever met and befriended a very young John Anderson who used to play in a ‘ dive’ called  "The Wheel”. 

Now as far as “Please Don’t go Topless Mother” is concerned, Gary Paxton, a well known songwriter, frequented my moms place of employment which was Buddy Lee Attractions (one of, if not the premiere talent agency in Nashville at the time) and he had this friend named Ron Hilliard. One time when Ron & Gary were there , mom half-jokingly asked Gary to write a song for me. Ron said he would instead, and the next thing you know he had this song “Please Don’t …” and got it to mom. Mom was shocked and a little embarressed by the title and his nerve to even submit that kind of a song. But then Gary got involved and started telling her “oh it would be great for Troy, you outta let him do it”, and then came support from others saying yes..let him do it. So finally mom & dad caved and let me record it. Dad, a trailblazer when it comes to novelty songs like his “Wild Hog Hop”, I think at one point thought it might actually open many doors. But the fact is after the initial mail-outs to radio stations,we received them back or nasty notes from the station managers saying they would never play that, so the record was quickly pulled from pressing & circulation, never to be thought of again, until, that is … the un-authorized, boot-leg re-release by the european record label HYDRA records on it’s “God-less America” various artist release done back in 1999. 

So that’s that, and now as Paul Harvey would say if he was here..“Now you know the rest of the story!”  But I’d like to thank you for being ‘man-enough’ to apologize for your words, that shows just how big of a person  you really are..and how wrong I may have been for even raising a word! It’s just that since my dad is no longer living and my mother is re-tired and in her eighties, I have a strong passion to not only defend them, but to right some wrongs that have been done. And hopefully with this book I’m writing , that will be achieved. So , on my end, please forgive my harsh words and take them into context with what I have told you now. My parents were not perfect, and like all of us , had flaws, but I know that they were proud of me and if I had ever given them one reason to think that I was not happy in this crazy business, then they would have shut it all down, pronto! I was the most fortunate kid I knew of and would not have traded my childhood for ANY body I know of!  So …the offer still goes, if your ever down in Texas way, look me up, and I’ll be happy to talk with you! You’ll know me…I’m one of the last who still wear a white hat..smiles


Troy Hess 

Aerosmith: Die or Go to Jail (3/16/10)

band photoThrough the years, I was only involved with Aerosmith for a very short period over the course of late 1976 through the end of 1977, when I was VP for Leber-Krebs, Inc. management.  Primarily, my role with them was to organize the music publishing companies, which had taken a backseat due to the extraordinary success that David Krebs had orchestrated on the touring front.  David did ask me to get involved on some occasional business for the band.  One of those small projects was to coordinate a reception that CBS Records Canada wanted to host after the band’s concert in Montreal on December 15, 1976.  The Canadian record company had achieved tremendous sales success on the first four Aerosmith albums, Aerosmith, Get You’re Wings, Toys In The Attic, and Rocks, and they had a plan to present Steven, Joe, Joey, Tom and Brad with several gold and platinum plaques.    

Since Laura Kaufman handled virtually all aspects of the bands press relations in house, my job was very simple in making sure the CBS International brass and Canadian execs were happy with the results and that we have the major retail and radio people attending receive some brief face time with the band. 

 I took an uneventful commercial flight to Montreal that day in time to get to the show.  I wanted to see Rush perform, who were the opener on the bill.   As it turned out, that was the only Rush performance I’ve ever had the opportunity to see.  A great band! 

Dan-Beck-Elisa-Perry-JoeThe evening went well, and the Canadian company hosted a small, but very elegant party in the penthouse of a Montreal hotel.  I’ve posted a photo of me, Joe Perry, and his ex-wife Elisa, at the bar that night.  The band picked up a lot of gold and platinum hardware and seemed to enjoy the event.  Rather than stay in Montreal, the band was eager to get home to Boston.   

During that tour, the band had leased a corporate plane from Getty Manufacturing.  As I recall, it was a 404 Martin; a two engine prop plane that was commonly used as a 40-passenger commercial airliner for Eastern and TWA mostly in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.  It was an older plane, re-configured with captain’s chairs, tables, and a lounge type of set up.   

I had a round-trip commercial ticket; however David Krebs suggested that I fly back with him on the band’s plane.  The plan was to fly to Boston, drop off the band, wives/girls friends, and the couple of road crew who flew with them.  Then, we would fly home from Boston to LaGuardia.  The band’s agent, Shelly Shultz, was also making the flight with us. 

As we left the hotel for the Montreal airport in the wee hours of December 16, we realized that it was snowing pretty hard.  We had a couple of limos taking us all to what I believe was Butler Aviation, a small outpost for private flights on the far end of the Montreal airport.  We made the drive safely enough, but it was clear to everyone that this was a significant snowstorm, not something unusual for Montreal at that time of year.   

Everyone was still enjoying the glow of the party, the awards received, the alcohol consumed, and any other stimulant that might have been possessed by band and crew.    At that point in time, my only weakness was alcohol, and I’m sure, despite a working night, I probably had a comfortable buzz on. I specifically remember that everyone was in a good mood, but during that year plus, there always seemed to be an edge, a tension, around the band.  Joe usually seemed moody, Steven was either pleasant or extremely cranky and distant, but Tom, Brad, and Joey, all were generally pleasant to work with. live

Maybe it was me, but when I worked with Steven that year, I generally did a quick reminder of my name to him.  I just never felt comfortable that he particularly knew who I was or that maybe he was a little out of it, although a couple of times he said, “Dan, I know who you are, you don’t have to remind me.”  I know that may sound strange, given that I was VP of the management company, but there are a million people in superstar artists’ faces, and I’m sure they often would prefer not to remember any of us.   

My best moment with Steven was later that year when I handed him a check for $60,000 from BMI.  It was the first money he had ever seen from his songwriting, and he told me so.  I could tell it meant a lot to him.  To actually get a check for something you wrote is a pretty strong moment for any writer.  

RichardSanders-StevenTyler-DanBeckYears later, at a Nordoff-Robins charity dinner, my old friend Richard Sanders, now President of CBS International, brought Steven over to our table and the three of us took a picture (posted here).  Steven said he remembered me, but again, I just never assumed he did.  

Whenever I was around a major artist, I always felt some level of pressure because there was always something that had to get done, and almost always on some exaggerated deadline.  However, this night in Montreal in a snowstorm, we had done our work, and now there was nothing to do but get home.   

It was probably 2 or 2:30 AM, and we were all gathered in the small Butler Aviation waiting room.  There was some discussion between the band and the flight crew about whether or not we should fly in this snowstorm, which had continued to get worse as we waited.  The band really wanted to get home, and if there was some arm-twisting, I don’t remember, but after a 30 – 45 minute wait, it was determined that we were flying to Boston.  Not everyone was comfortable about flying, but everyone boarded the old twin prop.  

Once on the plane, everyone settled down quickly into silence when the interior lights were turned down.  I couldn’t sleep, and as I stared out the window, the lights on the wing cast just enough of a gray halo to indicate this was becoming a brutal, driving snowstorm.  The plane creaked and the wings actually slowly flapped up and down.  The plane felt like it was almost stalling into the gusting wind.  Then, it would surge forward and groan.  I’ve never been a concerned flier, but that night I prayed all the way to Boston in that dark cabin. 

The flight was probably an hour and a half or two, and actually I didn’t pray all the way there.  About half the time I kept thinking that this was the night I was going to die, as those wings swayed up and down.  I kept thinking who was flying this plane; maybe the band’s coke dealer!  I foresaw the headlines from the next day’s papers – “Aerosmith Plane Crashes!” – Band, Manager, Agent, and Flight Crew,( plus one) Lost.  I was the plus one.  I was the nameless person on this flight.  I was the plus one.  They might not even find my body.  They might not even look for it.  …I should be in a hotel room in Montreal, on a nice, safe commercial flight tomorrow. What was I doing on this deathtrap prop plane in a blizzard?  

posed shotHowever, as we all know now, the plane actually did make it to Boston.  The band lived… and I lived through probably the most harrowing flight I ever remember.  Given that I’ve probably flown a couple of million miles over the years, this was truly one of the absolute scariest.  That 90 minutes was one of the longest and loneliest I can remember.   

Once on the ground in Boston, and stopped on the tarmac outside the remote Butler Aviations office in some distant corner of Logan Airport, the groggy fliers started waking in the dim winter dawn.  The alcohol and other recreational supplements from a few hours earlier were wearing thin and there was a sense that everyone on the plane was exhausted and absolutely miserable.  Everyone was caught in that horrible state somewhere between still ripped, but the hangover is hitting.  That’s when the pilot stepped out from behind the cockpit door to gently advise us that Montreal to Boston was an international flight, and that they had contacted U.S. Customs to advise them that we had landed.  We now had to sit and wait for the Customs Agents to come out in this blizzard that was still piling on the snow. 

After a few minutes of waiting in silence, someone, who I believe was Steven, began demanding to know how long we had to wait.  The pilot again opened the cockpit door and told us that they had to get the Customs people out of bed.  Therefore, we had to wait on the tarmac until additional crew got to the airport to check us out.  They had not been anticipating our flight. 

Amidst the moans and cursing that cut through the dead morning air, my brain started slowly piecing together the situation that lay ahead.  We just got the Customs people out of bed.  The airport was basically shut down.  These federal agents were driving to the airport in a snow storm, and I’m sitting on a private plane with a band that had a significant notoriety as drug users.  I didn’t die in a plane crash, but this was starting to look like another problem.  I began thinking again about that hotel room in Montreal, and that I could be sleeping late and taking a commercial flight that afternoon directly to New York. 

Over the next half hour or hour, an occasional curse cut the air from the band.  Otherwise, we all just sat there in a painful, half-sleep state of resignation.  Finally, the Customs Agents arrived, and for a moment I forgot about any potential problems, this was progress, we were at least getting somewhere.  That was until, they stepped on the plane and I believe it was Steven, who screamed some extreme expletive about the Customs people getting their job done quickly and letting the band off the plane!  At that point, the Customs people announced, very matter-of-factly, but with emphasis, that they intended to take the plane completely apart.  They were now going to check everything.  They were not happy! live 2  

At that point, I was feeling restrained panic.  Who knew what contraband was on this plane?  Who knew what the Feds were going to find?  And for the next few hours, we sat on the plane, no heat, no food, no one talking beyond a mutter, awaiting some discovery that is going to lead to handcuffs, TV cameras, and a perp walk into a police station.   

It was late morning when the Customs Agents let the flight crew know that the band was cleared to de-plane.  I couldn’t believe they didn’t find anything… and they seemed pretty intent on finding something.  The band and entourage bolted off that plane to waiting cars with a pile of gold and platinum records.  The snowing had stopped and the flight crew had already re-fueled and done whatever maintenance that was required.  With just three passengers, David Krebs, Shelly Shultz, and me, we lifted off and flew to NYC.  

I was still alive!  I wasn’t looking at 5 to 10 in Federal prison for possession!  And we were landing at LaGuardia around midday.  I was a 26 year-old kid still high on the fumes of the music business.  So instead of going home, I took a cab to the office. 

(Join the conversation by emailing  I will summarize the input in a future Music Bizz Fizz blog.)

The Clash Meet Their Record Company (3/1/10)

Clash LogoMarch 1, marks the 30th anniversary of The Clash’s first show on US soil.  (Editor’s Note: Input from our readers dates this show earlier in Feb. 0f 1979)  As their US product manager at Epic Records, I had the phenomenal opportunity to be at that show in Berkley, California.  Although it has been well over 10,000 days and nights since that moment in my life, what I remember most about their performance was the absolute punk energy and angst that they brought to the stage with a rock professionalism that no punk band that I had seen to that point could even remotely muster.  I can only compare it to years later, the first time I saw Rage Against The Machine.  It was angry intensity, musically and lyrical.

There was a feeling in the venue that night in Berkley that everyone was witnessing history.   There was no build and no lull.  The show screamed in-your-face passion and a sense that the band was pissed off that they had to come to the US to deliver this musical message.  Joe Strummer was galvanizing as he cradled the mike close to his face as it seemed for the entire performance.  His anger and righteousness was even and piercing with that slight convulsive twitch that he used to the beat.  It was subversive and out of control… but he was so in control.Live Shot

The Clash had arrived in America.  Yes, here, where our youth somehow lived too well to allow punk music to happen beyond a niche.  Our rock had already reached a corporate deliver system where radio, retail, and distribution served it just right.

However, this first date of a 10-day introductory tour did not seem to present an act that came here to pledge for entry on the rock marketing bandwagon.  They were here as if it was a musical imperative that had to be made.  They didn’t play to make friends.  They played because they were The Clash.

The irony of my trip to San Francisco was that it was the first time I ever got to ride on the CBS corporate jet.  The record company staff was never really given those perks in those days.  The company plane was something the network people used.  And although the music business had really grown up into a marketing machine through the ‘70’s, the working people at the record labels were still somehow just aging kids working in a big business.  On the plane with me were Lisa Kramer, CBS Records PressInternational, Mel Phillips, who did radio promotion for International and somehow got permission to use the CBS jet, Bob Fieniegle, head of rock radio promotion at Epic, Bruce Harris from Epic A&R, and Epic’s iconic head of publicity, Susan Blond. We were definitely not the “suits” in the company… or at least we didn’t think we were!

After the show, we all dutifully went backstage as we did for every artist’s show we went to see.  It was the rule of the era to always go after the show to confirm to the act that you actually saw it and that the company was committed to their career.  We were pleasantly greeted by The Clash’s manager at the time, Caroline Coon.  And after brief niceties with Caroline, the four members of the band came out into a common area of the dressing room to meet us.  The band was immediately friendly and open to meeting us, and of course, we all gushed our legitimate enthusiasm after seeing their first performance in America.

After a few minutes of this warm introduction, Susan Blond, always the consummate professional with the right move at the right time, called for everyone to pull together for a quick backstage trade shot.  Joe, Mick, Paul, and Topper all comfortably moved into position with the handful of us label people.  Susan had the photograph completely in position to take the quick shot without it feeling intrusive at all.Posed

…And just as the photographer was about to click the first shot, in unison, the four members of The Clash walked out of frame, leaving us dumb record company people standing there like fools!  It was one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever felt in this business.  Instantly, and as if they had walked us into our own trap, The Clash had made a statement to the record company.

Tour Poster“We aren’t like any other band you have ever imagined.”  This was the U.S. beginning of “The Only Band That Matters.”

This perfect response to us, on top of the show I had just seen total nailed me.  I was in!  I loved this band!  I think we all did, and there wasn’t a person among us who was offended by this in-your-place audacity.  Today, I think we all may know of some executive egos who simply couldn’t handle a band doing that to them.

With the photo op vanquished, The Clash immediately resumed their graciousness.  After five or ten minutes of further small talk, the band courteously said their farewells and we headed to the airport for the overnight flight home… on the corporate jet.  Yep, I guess we were the suits!

I have a number of other great memories about The Clash that I want to write about later, including their next manager Bernie Rhodes, and band sidekick Cosmo Vinyl.  However, for now, that one show, that first show at Berkley, exactly 30 years ago today, stands as a seminal moment, the ultimate snapshot in my rearview mirror.  But there is no picture… it’s just an indelible image in my mind!

(Join the conversation by emailing I will summarize the input in a future Music Bizz Fizz blog.)