A Conversation With Herb Gart - IX
An Ending of Sorts...
By: David Wilson - Sep 26, 2012
If the following wrap-up leaves you with the sense that it is unfinished be aware that we too feel the same. It would be nice if there was a precise finale to this extended conversation, but the truth is it is not over and may not be while we both remain on this plain of existence. Still, for now, we have come to a place where we may pause and for a bit pay more attention to other demands on our time. We have made an effort here to attempt a coherent wrap-up and if it seems a little messy, well, life tends to be that way…
David Wilson On the whole, you have a great win-loss record, but I know there were times you were tearing out your hair. Tell me about some of the times when things just fell apart through no fault of your own.
Herb Gart I represented a wonderful singer, Judy Mayhan. I made a tape in my office and called Ahmed Ertegun, the President of Atlantic Records. I told him I was sending over a tape of a girl who is so good that you can fast forward the tape to any spot and be immediately captivated by her. He took the challenge and called me back to say he wanted to sign her. However, Judy disappeared. I later learned that she went to California with Peter Tork, then a Monkee and a former client. It didn’t occur to either of them to tell me. A year later, Ahmed Ertegun was at a party at Peter Tork’s house and heard Judy sing. Not knowing it was the same girl, he signed her and produced a record with her. I found out about it when the record came out!
Tim Hardin, a great singer and writer (A Reason To Believe,) (If I Were A Carpenter,) was a junky and one day when I booked him on the same show as The Youngbloods, he stole Banana’s guitar. He was high so often that he forgot he stole it and the next time I booked him with The Youngbloods he appeared on stage with Banana’s guitar! I got a record deal for him with Columbia but after hitting them up for money one too many times they dropped him and we made a deal with Verve-Forecast Records. But his first album, This is Tim Hardin was released on Atlantic and had been recorded at a radio station in Boston. He had such a drug problem that I couldn’t afford to work with him, as great an Artist as he was.
In 1969 I found the Buckeye Politicians playing at Small’s Paradise in Harlem. Coincidentally, Small’s was owned at that time by Wilt Chamberlain, a classmate of mine at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia. We graduated together and remained friendly for awhile. Anyway, The Buckeye Politicians were big favorites at Small’s. Their fans included Mohammed Ali, Lionel Ritchie, Dionne Warwick and James Brown, among others. I signed them and got them a summer gig at a club near Cannes in France. I flew A&R men in from London to see them and EMI signed them. (Getting an A&R man to fly to the Riviera is very easy). We went to London to pick a Producer and make the album. We picked a well-known engineer, who had engineered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, but who had not produced anybody, but we liked him; so Alan Parsons produced the album at Abbey Road in the same studio The Beatles recorded in. We recorded there for almost six months. I had the band play the most important club in London where famous musicians hung out. The reaction was amazing. Most of the top musicians hung out at the bar and talked over the sound of the groups playing in the main room - but not for The Buckeye Politicians! They emptied out of the bar and stood and watched the Buckeyes every note.
When it became time to mix, there were problems, so I had the tapes flown to New York where Jerry Wexler, co-President of Atlantic Records, was going to advise me. The tapes never arrived! Pan Am had lost all our masters and EMI had not made backup copies! Six months and Alan Parsons’ work down the drain! A terrible disappointment. We nonetheless got our spirits up again and recorded an album with Jeff Barry (The Monkees and dozens more major hits). We recorded in L.A. at the Beach Boys studio and had Ken Caillat (Fleetwood Mac) engineer it with the help of John Francis Peters. After a lot of work and time we had the album released by Utopia Records, distributed by RCA. Bad luck struck again! The very week of the release RCA brought Utopia into court to end their contract - so we received zero promotion! This was the last straw. The Buckeye Politicians had developed a following in England that included Deep Purple, Freddie Mercury, John Entwhistle and many other musicians. But the group gave up and moved back to Columbus, Ohio and were not heard from again until about 2 years ago when we began to put together a new album called Hope For The Common Man, which includes 10 new songs and several from the 1970 record. The CD is coming out this winter. Will they succeed at age 60? They are so good it could happen.
When Bob Dylan was recording his Nashville Skyline album, his limo stopped at a red light and he heard a street singer that so impressed him that he took her into the limo and brought her to the studio. He told his Producer, Bob Johnston, that he wanted to record her with him. That was Roxy Dawn, an extraordinary singer and writer who played accordion as if it were a pipe organ! (Some artists are just plain off in a world of their own. This is good but it leads to some strange situations.) I made a good deal for her with Chrysalis Records with the possibility of Dylan producing. However, she disappeared - not for a few weeks, but almost a year! What she did was admirable: she went on the American Indian “Longest Walk” across the United States to bring attention to Indian problems. When she resurfaced I said “Wonderful, Roxy. Imagine walking across America and not passing one phone booth!”
DW Ahh! Finally an example of the Herb Gart sarcasm that I used to hear so much about.
HG I am known to have a sardonic and sarcastic sense of humor. One Xmas I sent out cards that were a deep red on which I hand-wrote in silver ink HERBERT S. GART IS PROUD TO ANNOUNCE THE BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST! Most people laughed but a few got upset.
At another time, there was a comic book called Herbie the Fat Fury, done by a cartoonist who obviously knew me and my office. His sidekick was a girl who wore the same glasses and looked the same as Lucy Brown, my secretary. For Xmas I sent everyone a subscription to Herbie the Fat Fury. It got one major A&R man in trouble at Mercury Records when Quincy Jones was the head of A&R. He was talking to the dude who was trying to convince him to sign an act. He noticed that Quincy was not paying attention but was looking at the desk where this dude had a 5 month pile of Herbie the Fat Fury comics stacked. He told me later that he lost a lot of credibility because of that.
DW When did you decide to get out of the city?
HG In 1982 I closed my office in NYC and moved it to my home in New Hope, PA, ostensibly for the summer. I didn’t intend to not find new space in NY in the Fall, but I discovered something. When my clients didn’t have a place to hang out, they spent more of their time creating or practicing. When they sat in my office, I couldn’t do work for any other client until they left. Not having that distraction was great for me to do my work for my clients more effectively. So I never moved back to NYC.
DW How much longer did you stay active in the business?
HG I stayed active until 2009 and I still work with a couple of artists especially Jerry Corbitt, your old client. I also offer consulting services to artists and labels.
DW What takes up your time and interest these days?
HG Mostly my blog, herbgart’s incite site which you reach by going to therainbow.com. It is full of random thoughts and other stuff ranging from the serious to the ridiculous. The content changes every day or so. I also enjoy listening to new artists and new stuff from older artists. One of my hobbies is raising tropical fish. Where I live now in Marietta, Georgia I can’t raise raccoons and I miss them very much.
DW Now, let me ask you, for the benefit of those who may hope now or at some point in the future, to guide musicians in their quest for success, what is a basic set of rules to go by?
HG What are my rules of the road?
It’s darkest before dawn - again!
Don’t assume anything including that you didn’t assume anything..
It takes the time it takes.
Shut up and sing!
If you want to be a manager or producer, it’s easy - sign an act. If you want to be a successful manager or producer it’s even easier - sign a star!
You have your entire life to write your first album and only six months to write your second album. If there is something you want to say in your music, try to write it; if there is a song that says it better that you didn’t write - sing that song. If your lyrics have any meaning to you, you want the audience to understand - so diction is important. (Mick Jagger has perfect diction). All the great songs ever written, known and unknown, are available to you to sing, so don’t get hung up on the idea that all the songs on your album need to be your own. If you are such a great writer that you have so many great songs, then go for it. But remember, even Bob Dylan and The Beatles have recorded other people’s songs.
You are not auditioning for the record company − they are auditioning for you.
If the song is under four minutes long, it won’t make it - in other words, don’t plan your song to fit a specific time or number of verses; as The Byrds once said to Dylan “You write ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, we’ll edit it for our purposes.” Let the song take the time it needs to express your idea. There are a lot of songs that break the mold of time with great success, one of them being ‘American Pie’. Two other hits from my company are Janis Ian’s ‘At Seventeen’ and The Youngbloods ‘Get Together’, both of which are longer than four minutes.
On stage, don’t hide behind your instrument or the song; you must put yourself out there in the most vulnerable way possible. Let it all hang out - really! You don’t need to open with an up-tempo song. You don’t need to worry about the preceding act; if they are good they build audience energy; if they are not good, you’re on your own.When you are on stage with a spotlight on you, you own the time. Take your time, no need to rush. The audience is with you and are your captives.Perform as well for 10 people as for thousands. Andy Breckman got the job with David Letterman from an audience of 9 people.
Loud is good, but so is soft. Up-tempo songs are fine but almost all Artists who survive the moment are famous more for a ballad than anything else. Think of your favorite Artists; ‘Yesterday’, ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Blowing In The Wind’. "There are tremendous shades of gray between loud and soft and fast and slow. Don’t just ‘turn up’ or ‘turn down." Eye contact with your audience isn’t absolutely necessary - but it’s a good idea. If you are not making eye contact, it’s fine if your intensity or the intensity of the song allows for it, but if it’s because you are afraid or nervous, it’s not a good thing. The audience senses it. Create your set or program to best show off each song and you. Pace it so that there are ups and downs, louds and softs, and save one of your best for last, AND save something special for your first encore.
Don’t plan too many songs in the same key and tempo to follow each other; it can begin to sound the same.
Do your thing - don’t imitate somebody else for commercial reasons. Influences that are obvious are fine as long as you are not just copying them. When you are an unknown, a new Producer with talent is a better bet than famous Producers who have a lot of projects, therefore not necessarily providing the attention a new Artist needs and deserves. When you are more successful, a well-known producer will give you the attention you need.
These rules of the road only work if you are a great talent, though everybody can gain by understanding them.
DW Herb, I want to thank you for taking the time and effort you have here to share your thoughts and memories. I am only sorry that I did not have more contact with you back in those glorious days…
HG As we get older we all talk about the “Good Old Days” The 60s in Greenwich Village was REALLY the “Good Old Days”. I am sorry our paths only crossed. I was an admirer of Boston Broadside and would have enjoyed working with you.
DW To our readers – Many thanks to those of you who have followed this extensive and rambling conversation. I am sure that you will not be surprised to hear that for the sake of continuity and coherency, not to mention, in a few cases, common decency, much of our original dialogue has been left out. If you feel you have not been sufficiently tested already, brace yourself. We, Herb and I, are exploring additional ideas which would allow him to share some of the many, often weird, often hilarious stories about personalities and life in the very strange world of entertainment culture.
I am going to end allowing Herb the last word and gladly facilitate his wish to share with you the works of some artists he feels never really got the recognition they deserved
HG I believe an Artist is someone who has found a way to express his/her ideas in such a way that the audience gets the idea the Artist intends. To do this takes some degree of genius. It is very difficult to do. He knows who he is well enough to know what material works for him. He doesn't make many mistakes in editing himself. He might need some help - after all, Marlon Brando needed a Director - but he is firm in understanding what he doesn't want to do.. Bob Dylan used to sit on the steps above the Gaslight Cafe in the Village and fix his curly hair with hairspray. He understood his art and his persona.
Over the years I have had the privilege of working with great Artists, some of whom are well-known and others intensely well-known to a smaller audience. I would like to share with you some of the great music I have been able to hear. Some of the Artists you may know, but most you will hear for the first time. They all have CDs available and have a strong following of their own. This should be an adventure in good music discovery. Let me know what you like. If an Artist appeals to you, check them out on YouTube and Google.
Roxy Dawn When Bob Dylan was recording his Nashville Skyline album, his limo stopped at a red light and he heard a street singer that so impressed him that he took her into the limo and brought her to the studio to record!
The Buckeye Politicians Their fans included Freddy Mercury and Billy May, John Entwhistle, James Brown. and Mohammed Ali.
Ashley Cleveland an Artist who sings from the inside out. Her body vibrates with the music. She has won 3 Grammies for gospel music, though that is a small part of her repertoire.
Scott Fagan He is from and now lives in the Virgin Islands. I once wrote that he sings with sand in his shoes.
Mike Angelo - The World May Not Like Me (Fuck Everybody)
Bukka White Wrote Fixin’ To Die and other blues classics
Alix Dobkin An important member of the LGBT movement and one of Bob Dylan’s favorite female singers.
Jerry Corbitt The Youngbloods, Corbitt -Charlie Daniels Band
Ellen McIllwaine Jimi Hendrix asked her to play guitar and sing in his band before he went to England.
Pat Sky The album “Songs That Made America Famous” was full of stuff that would offend ANYBODY - no matter what your level of sophistication, sooner or later you’ll come across a song that pisses you off. “Child Molesting Blues”
Andy Breckman, who later worked as a comedy writer for David Letterman and Saturday Night Live and created, wrote and produced the Monk TV series.
Here, Andy sings his Railroad Bill
To hear Herb's voice, here is an internet radio interview from a year ago...
A Conversation With Herb Gart – Part I
A Conversation With Herb Gart – Part II
A Conversation With Herb Gart – Part III
A Conversation With Herb Gart - Part IV
A Conversation With Herb Gart - Part V
A Conversation With Herb Gart - Part VI
A Conversation With Herb Gart - Part VII
A Conversation With Herb Gart - Part VIII
A Conversation With Herb Gart - Part IX