Number 9 / February 1984
THE GREAT PAYOLA FOLLIES OF ‘84....Everyone from Rolling Stone to Newsweek calls us for tips on the stories they were or are planning on radio station/record company bribery: the dreaded “payola.” We’ll tell you what we tell them, in hopes of avoiding another botch of the subject like the one that the Los Angeles Times ran in late October.
Most reporters (including those at the Times) seem to be focusing on “independent promotion men” and “promotion consultants” as the “real” culprits. The idea seems to be that these promo men, working singly or in teams, are an evil conspiracy operating to rip labels off for huge sums, rob radio programmers of their credibility, and, incidentally, bilk consumers into thinking flops are hits.
It’s interesting that no one is trying to prove that payola exists any longer. Even such a respected radio figure as Rick Sklar, former programmer of WABC and a V.P. of the ABC Radio Network, writes in his forthcoming book, Rocking America (St. Martin’s Press): “Some of these independent promoters function mostly as money conduits. Certain cities are controlled by the independents. They get the ball rolling and break a new release by simply sharing their fee (in cash or cocaine) with a few key program directors whose ‘adds’ are reported in the trade press. Of particular significance are radio stations in certain medium—sized markets who start new records off and whose playlists are published each week in industry trade publications.” Sklar doesn’t treat this situation as a scandal——he regards it as a messy, embarrassing canker on the face of the broadcasting business.
Sklar names no names, and neither can we, given the libel laws, but there are plenty of clues in the passage we quoted. But even without specific citations of who’s lining whose pockets, it’s not all that difficult to be clear on what the process is. To put it succinctly, what many suspect is happening is that record companies, or managers, are paying fees in the neighborhood of $100,000 to promo men or groups of them. The fees are then fanned out, to subordinates and programmers on the take, though no one seems to know much about how much changes hands and how much sticks to the promoter’s palm.
So why do reporters (led by the Times) want to make the middle men——the promo men——the bad guys? One of the biggest reasons is that the major labels would like to find a way to lower the huge fees they’re paying. And they’re in a bind, because even if the majors don’t want payola, they need it. If airtime can be cheaply purchased, anyone——including small labels with better ideas——will be able to get radio exposure, which could knock the often sluggish and slothful majors off their chokehold on the top rungs of the charts. As long as airplay re-mains pricey, though, the majors will continue to dominate American music. In other words, one of the principal reasons the record industry doesn’t blow the whistle on payola is because it isn’t to the label’s advantage to do so.
That’s especially ironic, because the concept of payola (which may well be as old as the commercial music business in the U.S., extending back to the pre-dawn of recording) became “criminal” only in the mid—fifties when the established music industry, including the big record labels such as CBS and RCA needed a scapegoat in its attempt to repel rock & roll and the regional and ethnic forces associated with it. In the end, the system was only forced underground——and in such cases of bribery the institution with the most cash prospers best.
Not that the payola situation isn’t easily solved. Record execs can refute our logic, go to the FCC, and lay their information on the table. If the FCC won’t initiate the investigation, the industry should then publicly demand one. If the FCC is willing to listen, it need then only announce not that violators will go to jail but that the broadcasting license of any station found accepting payola will be revoked.
This cleanup will take place right after Santa finishes his milk and cookies.
In RRC #6 we ran a story on ColorSounds, an Austin—based outfit that adds subtitles to rock, soul, and country videos so that schools can use them as reading aides. As a direct result of that piece, several publications (including USA Today) ran features on ColorSounds, as did I the syndicated television show “News Scope.” RRC subscriber Corey Bearak, counsel to New York City Councilman Sheldon Leffler, has persuaded Gotham school chief Anthony Alvarado to consider using the videos throughout the local system. Michael Bell, head of ColorSounds, told RRC that while some record companies refuse to supply videos or underwrite production costs, he has received enthusiastic support from Glen Brunman of Epic, Miller London of Motown, Joe Galanti of RCA Nashville, Ronda Espy of Chrysalis, Karolyn Ali of Solar, Harold Childs of Polygram, Clay Baxter of EMI, Mike Valone of RCA, Perry Cooper of Atlantic, and Liz Heller of MCA.
There is more at stake here than just whether or not kids can watch videos in school. Aiding ColorSounds is a practical way to both support the music we love and to commute the sentence of illiteracy that government educational policy has passed upon so many children. It is also a good way to stick it to cretins like Professor Sydney Hodkinson of the Eastman School of Music who was recently heard to say that “To play, ad nauseum, as many do, only country and western hits or rock charts foisted on us continually by publishers trying to stay afloat, to do all this because it is ‘of interest’ to our students is to invite surefire aesthetic disaster....Can’t we keep safe some of the creative gray cells of students from such trivial banality?”
By next fall, the majority of American students will be able to watch ColorSounds during school hours on PBS. We urge our readers who work at record companies not yet helping out to find out what the hangup is and everyone else to contact the local PTA, school principal, or school board.
CORPORATE SPONSOR OF THE YEAR....Jimmy Guterman writes: In Mystery Trajn, Greil Marcus discusses the “official” Elvis products that the Colonel sanctioned after the King’s demise. “Most notable of the official products was ‘Always Elvis,’ a wine advertised as ‘The wine Elvis would have drunk if he drank wine.” That ain’t nuthin’. Seems there’s a new brand of dog food out, Love Me Tender Chunks. One imagines what the advertising slogan will be: “The dog food Elvis would have eaten if he had been a dog.” [Jimmy Guterman is a writer living in New Jersey who frequently sneaks across the border into Pennsylvania.]
NEWSLETTERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!...J. J. Syrja, rock critic and drummer with the fine Michigan bar band Possession, described the purpose of his band’s monthly newsletter to RRC: “The newsletters most bands put out aren’t any different than those advertising frat parties or hamburgers. We care about rock & roll and want to give it something back.” Looking over the past few issues, we have to feel Possession is retiring its debt. Each one is opinionated (“RIP-OFF! RCA Wants Your $9.98”), funny, and dripping with love for the music. Our favorite feature is the calendar, which mentions band gigs but also focuses on rock history: Sept. 21, “King James of England sees Geddy Lee in his crystal ball, gives away Canada, 1621”; Oct. 11 “Daryl Hall and Eleanor Roosevelt are born. It’s doubtful she inspired ‘Maneater”; Dec. 25, “How fitting: the Penguins’ ‘Earth Angel’ enters the charts (1954) on the birthday of Jesus.”
The Bob Dylan review in RRC #7 inspired some of the strongest reaction we have received on anything we have done. Here are three articulate responses, and our reply.
“While I agree with you on the song ‘Neighborhood Bully’ in its right—wing bent and closed—eye defense of Israel, I feel the other songs cover a leftist political territory. Maybe Dylan’s self—righteous defense of Israel’s policies is caused by his recent rediscovery of his Jewish roots. This may be why he is unwilling to look at the whole picture this time. I am not defending this song; I am just trying to understand it.
“When I first heard ‘Union Sundown,’ I also couldn’t believe that Dylan had written an anti-union song. But after repeated listenings I feel that it is a sarcastic indictment of capitalism. Its criticisms of unions pertain to the union leadership that has allowed the ‘anti—solidarity’ to take place. The line, ‘While the unions have big businessmen and they’re going down like a dinosaur’ could have been inspired by right—wing Teamster President Jackie Presser. Also, the lines, ‘Well lots of people complain that there is no work, I say why you say that for / When nothing you’ve got is U.S. made, they don’t make nothing here no more I You know capitalism is above the law, it says it don’t count unless it sells / When it costs too much to build it at home, you just build it cheaper someplace else’ are sung so sarcastically that to me he is pointing a finger at big business and saying the worker (here and abroad) is the victim.
“‘License to Kill’ is clearly an anti—war (anti--nuclear weapon) song. ‘Who’s going to take away his [man’s] license to kill?’ Even ‘Sweetheart Like You’ contains the line, ‘They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings / Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king.’ Also underneath its romantic subject is a putdown of typical business practices.
“All in all, I think it’s a fine album and with the exception of ‘Neighborhood Bully,’ does not signify a turn to the right in Dylan’s music but a hope for the left. Give it a few more hearings.”——Frank Di Cristofano, Chicago, IL
“[I] think the remarks about the new Dylan LP and his ‘right wing diabolism’ a strange combination of A.J. Weberman and inverse McCarthyism. First of all, I think it’s silly to hold lyrics up to a magnifying glass, especially Dylan’s. The cultural impact of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ wasn’t any overt political message but an affirmation of life stripped free of cliche’s and robot—like patterns——a theme movingly restated in ‘Sweetheart Like You.’ As far as ‘Neighborhood Bully’ goes, I hope the RRC postion isn’t that anyone who loves Israel is ‘right wing,’ ‘cause that eliminates a lot of us who agree with you on just about everything else. Even within Israel, many who decry the excesses of Begin and Sharon still can relate to an American rock anthem by a Jewish rock star. I’m not a fan of ‘Union Sundown’ because of its tedious literalism, but its antagonism is no more ‘workers’ than it is multi—national corporations who have no allegiance but to profit. Jerry Falwell it ain’t. And what about the eloquent antinuclear ‘License to Kill?’ To me, any music that is thought—provoking and life—affirmative and reminds people of their earlier ideals has value; it’s certainly the effect Infidels has had on me and my friends, none of whom are Republicans or moderates and who share the values implicit in RRC."—Danny Goldberg, Gold Mountain Records, Hollywood, CA.
“D.M. must have a different version of ‘Union Sundown’ than I do. Sounds to me like condemnation of corporate flight without forgetting its close companion—--third world exploitation.
“I haven’t seen the L.A. Times interview, but the extrapolated quote doesn’t sound convincing, either. I’d say the multi—nationals definitely are out ‘to buy America or steal America and sell it back.’ In joining with similar ilk among other peoples, they subvert not only our economy but the rest of the world’s, too. Don’t think twice, D.M., it’s all right.”----Clayton Daughenbaugh. Charleston, IL.
Dave Marsh replies: As I said originally, I came to my conclusions about Bob Dylan only reluctantly——that is, precisely after thinking twice (and more). Infidels is ambiguous, in places encouraging, but his L.A. Times interview left little doubt about where Dylan stands. It’s typical of a certain kind of right—wing rhetoric to use an essentially accurate description of reality of corporate flight and working-class exploitation—to arrive at jingoistic conclusions. I’d suggest anyone who thinks we’ve misinterpreted ‘~‘Union Sundown” read the full L.A. Times interview and judge for themselves. As for “Neighborhood Bully,” Israel isn’t the issue——what Bob Dylan says about Israel is the point. What he says in that song is that all of that nation’s recent actions are justified, which is at minimum callous and at worst plain stupid. None of this requires a microscopic reading of his lyrics anyhow; you’d need to look at “Neighborhood Bully” through the wrong end of a telescope to miss its point. While my interpretation may be suspect, it comes closer to agreeing with the artist’s perspective than any of the above, which I hope absolves me of any further charges of McCarthyism or (worse, almost) Webermanship.
Linda Ronstadt has even more reason to sing that she’s so glad to be living in the U.S.A. For while Johannesburg Rose may remain welcome at Radio City Music Hall in New York and at the Greek Theatre in L.A., she’s about to join the Greater London Council’s list of the distinctly uninvited, along with all other performers who have violated the international ban on performing in South Africa. The blacklist would prevent Ronstadt and similar supporters of the racist regime in S.A., from appearing at any of the GLC operated venues in the city (notably Royal Festival Hall). Local promoters have already attacked the proposed rule——it’s just this kind of activity by the radical Council which has led the Thatcher government to attempt to abolish the council by act of Parliament. Since the GLC also authorizes other concerts, by virtue of its control over safety regulations and the like, it may be some time before Linda darkens Britain’s doorstep again.
THE ENVELOPE. PLEASE....While most readers polls pull only a 1% to 5% response, nearly 20% of RRC readers sent in ballots for our first systematic sampling of rock & roll thought. The winners....
Artist of the Year: 1. Michael Jackson (“Almost single-handedly responsible for the death of AOR and for breaking the color line on MTV--reaffirmed rock & roll’s potential to unify rather than divide”) 2. U2 3. Talking Heads
Album of the Year: 1. Thriller/Michael Jackson 2. War/U2 3. More Fun in the New World/X
12” Single: 1. “White Lines”/Grandmaster Flash and Melly Mel 2. “Billie Jean”/Michael Jackson 3. “Looking for the Perfect Beat”/DJ Afrika Bambaata and the Soulsonic Force
Producer: 1. Steve Lillywhite 2. (tie) Quincy Jones and Mitch Easter
New Artist: 1. Big Country 2. REM 3. Culture Club
Hero: 1. Bruce Springsteen (“If he wins maybe he’ll feel guilty enough to let go of a new album”) 2. Michael Jackson 3. U2
Villain: 1. MTV (“Not just for its obviously segregated playlist....but for insisting that music by itself is not enough”) 2. Programmers/Consultants 3. Ronald Reagan
Music Story of the Year: (“A pretty lame question. How about replacing it with something like ‘Favorite Error in the new Rolling Stone Record Guide?”) 1. MTV 2. Michael Jackson
3 (tie) Muddy Waters’s death and the Clash breakup
Songwriter: 1. Sting 2. T-Bone Burnett 3. Bob Dylan
Video: 1. “Beat It” 2. Anti—video (“Videos have nothing to do with the music, drain money that could be used elsewhere [new artist development], and turn rock & roll into a mind—numbing spectacle of trivia”) 3. “Billie Jean”
Our favorite vote was for Hero of Rock & Roll: “Everybody who taped an album that reached the Top 20.”
THIS MONTH’S HOME TAPING PROSPECTS...Walking on Sunshine, Katrina and the Waves—-the Pretenders meet the Searchers with just a hint of techno-pop. A sometimes stunning debut (Attic, 624 King St. West, Toronto, Canada M5V 1M7)....“Let’s Stay Together,” Tina Turner——Pushed upward by shimmering rhythm guitar, Tina soars high enough to touch the hem of Al Green’s garment....“If I’d Been The One,” .38 Special-—This once hot Southern boogie band has become a shadow of its former self in pursuit of pop success, but the singles are still great....“Back on My Mind,” Johnny Rodriguez—--This country gem finally brings some of Johnny’s killer live sound to disc, Texas at its best....“Share The Night,” World Premiere——There is no safe level of exposure to this fallout from the disco era that might even be able to teach Christie Brinkley to dance (Easystreet 12”, 141 E. 63 St., New York, NY 10021....Some of the Wildest Music Ever Played, Men & Volts——The title is an exaggeration, but this (sort of) mainstream Captain Beefheart record has its moments, highlighted by Phil Kaplan’s guitar work (Eat Records, 400 Essex St., Salem, MA 01970)....“Unison,” Junior (Casablanca 12”)—--As usual, the brilliant singer/composer refers to sex, love, and politics all at once in a dance hit that condenses the past decade of black pop and funk... .“Rise Up,” Parachute Club (RCA 12”)——A synth-pop high point, wherein a gospel-ish chorus chases a beautiful lead vocal through a vague call to arms....“Middle of the Road,” the Pretenders.…Rhino Records gets its Latino Rock subsidiary, Zyanya, underway with three fine discs: The History of Latino Rock, Vol. 1 (The Eastside Sound) features not only Ritchie Valens but the original “Hippy Hippy Shake” (Chan Romero) and the Blendells’ classic “La La La La”; Best of Thee Midnighters, sort of an East L.A. version of early Stones; Los Angelinos: The Eastside Renaissance, a sampler of current Latino rock, from the classic barrio soul of Thee Royal Gents to the TexMex hardcore of the Plugz. The highlight is “C/S,” by Con Safos, an awesome Fela—like musical rendering of the history of Mexicans in Los Angeles (Rhino, 1201 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 9O4O4)....”What is Race?” Race——Using a lighthearted musical backdrop takes you through all the dictionary definitions of “race” only to conclude that the only race is the human one. Utterly convincing (Oceanfront 12”, 5205 Ocean Front Walk, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292....Eagle Chanter, Mr. Indian (Eugene Beyale)------On his second album, Beyale moves decisively away from traditional sounds to hard rock as a vehicle for his stories of Indian oppression and spirituality (Eagle Chanter Music, 10 W. 15 St. #12L, New York, NY 10011)... .“Bang Your Head (Metal Health), Quiet Riot—-The hit singles of these California metallurgists not only bring welcome variety to Top 40 but also prove there’s more to the heavy metal resurgence than macho marketing.
Since the invasion of Grenada, we have received a number of photos of an Elvis Presley commemorative stamp issued on Aug. 15, 1978 in that country, the first anniversary of Elvis’s death. This stamp was issued by the Gairy government, deposed a few months later by the socialist revolution that the U.S. invasion was designed to overturn. But this stamp doesn’t place Gairy—— at best a wacko, at worst a butcher of his own people——on the same level as Harold Washington. Consider him more in league with Carlos Lehder, the Colombian facist Lennon fan.
It’s interesting to note why so many poor nations issue commemorative stamps. The reason isn’t because Elvis is especially revered in Grenada but because there are enough stamp collectors in the world to make a substantial difference in the revenues of such countries through their sale abroad. If it seems idiotic that a country such as Grenada, whose people are desperately impoverished, has no better way to raise money, you’re beginning to get the picture of the real consequences of being an economic colony of -the U-S. and the British--Coinmonwealth.
But it’s also interesting that it took a foreign nation to honor Elvis Presley. Thousands of signatures have been submitted in petitions to the U.S. Postal Service since Presley’s death, but there is absolutely no sign that Presley——who may have been a Republican but who was also a part of the undesirable element, however much against his wishes——will ever be honored in his native land.
How many music business types does it take to change a light bulb? Twenty. One to change the bulb, one to hold the ladder and eighteen to get on the guest list. (Courtesy of David Lee Roth, as quoted in Billboard.
Fiona McQuarrie writes: Canadian Content (Cancon) regulations for radio were introduced in the early 70s by the Canadian Radio—Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)——roughly equivalent to the FCC in the U.S. Cancon came at a time when Canadian culture entered an especially acute phase of its identity crisis, trying to define exactly what it was to be Canadian, something apart from American influence and images. There was a real burst of pride and activity in the Canadian music industry around this time, which in no small way led to the Cancon regulations. It works like this: A certain percentage of the music played by every radio station in Canada has to be Canadian. “Canadian” is defined by four criteria——music, lyrics, artist, and producer——at least half of which must be Canadian for a record to qualify. The percentages vary according to the type of station.-- It’s relatively low for a classical station, since there isn’t much Canadian classical music, but it’s set at 30% for AM and FM rock stations.
At first the regulations were successful in getting more Canadian music on the airwaves, but now that some Canadian bands are international stars, problems are arising. The rules now often work to the detriment of new Canadian bands. Why should a station take a chance on an untested group when they can fulfill their Cancon requirement by playing a proven artist like Loverboy? And now that Canadian musicians are becoming known internationally, their influence is felt in other ways that impact on Cancon. Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” counted as Canadian (written by native Eddie Schwartz), as did Nicollette Larson’s rendering of Neil Young’s “Lotta Love,” but whether either of those songs advanced the cause of Canadian music is debatable.
RRC readers interested in delving further into the Canadian scene should check out a new book by Martin Melhuish entitled Heart of Gold: Thirty Years of Canadian Pop Music (CBC Enterprises, Box 500, Station A, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5W 1E6). [Fionna McQuarrie is a freelance writer based in Victoria, British Columbia].
“I read with interest your crusade to have the MTV programmers add black music. It appears you are probably fighting a losing battle. Radio has become pretty homogenized from radio researching itself——-take a look at KROQ in Los Angeles. Just a few years ago they started out with no rules, just records and good ideas. And they took off....But when success hit, so did a few rules. Got to keep those numbers, you know! So my question to you is, ‘What do you recommend to the rock programmers of America?’ Remember that Arbitron is the Bible and that unfortunately, we live by the numbers. It appears that free—form radio just doesn’t get the numbers....Thanks for such an interesting and thought--provoking publication.”---Kinnon Thomas, General Manager, KTOQ—FM. Sulphur, Louisiana
Reply: To date we have concentrated on analyzing and criticizing radio. We’ll continue to do so but it’s also time for RRC to become a forum for discussing solutions to the problem of rigidly formatted radio programming. To do this, we need to hear from radio on how it can play a more effective role as a link between audience, performer, and industry in pursuit of opening up the clogged creative channels of modern broadcasting. In turn, we need to continue to hear the audience’s complaints and what they’re willing to do to help (e.g., write letters, circulate petitions, boycott advertisers). We propose the following seven--point program not as a manifesto but merely to start the discussion.
1. Rebel against research. Call—out and focus group research has become a self—perpetuating fraud that consultants use to justify their exclusionary practices only to discard the results when they can no longer deny that nobody is listening. Additionally, Arbitron must continually be challenged to prove that their methods have any connection to the realities of listener preference.
2. Speak out. Use every industry gathering and trade journal as a forum to attack narrow—casters and discuss how to once again make radio an exciting force in our lives.
3. Spread the word——I. Give the widest publicity possible to every example proving that formats do not produce the biggest audience, such as the Electrifying Mojo at WJLB in Detroit.
4. Promote the three R’s (Rock, Roll and Read). In general, our schools do nothing to develop appreciation for technical skill in popular culture. Combined with a decade or more of rigidly constrained radio and rock publications, a generation has grown up with almost no idea the musical gold mine they sit on as Americans. The industry needs to support efforts such as ColorSounds which take pop music into the classroom. Parents need to fight against the narrow focus of music education in their PTA, teachers in their unions and professional organizations. Among other things, this will help create a market for good radio programming.
5. Don’t pay the ferryman ‘til he gets you to the other side. Our schools are funded and administered through politicians. Both current and potential office—holders, so eager to have bands raise money for them, must be pressured to take steps to ensure that our culture is properly represented in the schools, on the air, and in concert.
6. Rock criticism, heal thyself. Those who write or talk about pop music for a living need to begin to discuss ways to increase our collective clout. Think about the idea of a national organization of critics.
7. Spread the word——Il. Tell your friends and colleagues about RRC, the only publication trying to bring together the fan, the musician, and the industry professional to hasten the day wher we can all fully enjoy our magnificent cultural heritage in peace and prosperity.
Obviously, this will be a tough nut to crack. But pioneers like Alan Freed and Nat D. Williams did it, and if we can fill their shoes, we will truly be able to dance to the music. All of it.
“RRC is one of the few consistently good publications——of any kind——available today and the only one on the music scene. Rolling Stone has been carried by Hunter Thompson for at least 10 years and its music “news” is as relevant and credible as MTV’s. And I let my subscription to The Nation expire in the mid—l970s... .“——William Dixon,. Commissioner of Banking, State of Wisconsin
“If you listen to all the records released by Olivia, you’ll find numerous examples of non—’tuneless, didactic, folk style records’ (e.g., Linda Tillery and Mary Watkins). As an infrequent patron of Olivia concerts, it is patently untrue that they are “for women only.” I do give you credit for pointing out the insipid nature of much of what passes for ‘women’s music’ and also for criticizing the hermetic behavior of much of the gay feminist cultural activists, but I think you are misjudging Olivia Records when you paint in such broad strokes. “P.S. Cris Williamson’s anti—tech mentality is just about as absurd as you make it seem.” ——Al Evers, Palo Alto Jazz Records
Reply: While there may be more variety in Olivia’s output than we are aware of, the point is to expose Olivia as a fraud when they claim their separatism (they do stage some “for—women—only” concerts) represents the interests of all women.
Hey, boy, what’s it gonna be—— Freedom for the sexes, full equality.
Hey, boy, what do you say—— Equal work gets equal pay.
Pride is keeping us apart,
Love is all that counts to the heart.
--"This Is a Foxy World,” Tom Tom Club
BROADCAST CONFIDENTIAL.....Cary Baker writes: WXOL—AM (1450) is a station that quietly signed on about three years ago with a moniker they've actually maintained and established: “Blues and a whole lot more.” Happily, the “whole lot more” part consists of gospel, vintage soul, neighborhood—oriented public affairs, and a hefty news commitment to Chicago’s black community. Although there is a decided bias toward B.B. and Albert King, Z.Z. Hill, and Lou Rawls, it’s possible to hear old Chess classics, “bottom ten” soul hits from the 6Os and 7Os, and new releases on Alligator, Rooster, and Delmark. Despite the fact that WXOL’s very weak signal barely reaches the North Side and has to share the 1450 frequency with WCEV—AM (which comes on at 1 PM each day and irregularly on weekends), its influence is being felt. Gannett’s WGCI and Sonderling’s WBMX have integrated occasional blues tunes from Z.Z. Hill or Lonnie Brooks into their concentrations of Miguel Brown and Zapp. The feeling is that blues in general has overcome its stigma as Uncle Tom music, that it’s alive and vibrant, and that older (and perhaps younger) segments of the black audience want it around. Why else would three clubs--—B.L.U.E.S. B.L.U.E.S. at the Earl, and the Kingston Mines——teem with racially mixed packed houses night after night? [Cary Baker is a freelance writer based in Chicago]
Jay Walljasper writes: Without a last—minute miracle, Theresa’s Lounge——the Chicago club that nurtured such blues aces as Buddy Guy and Junior Wells——will soon shut its doors. Theresa Needham, who’s hosted blues at her tiny bar since the mid—50s, lost her liquor license last November when her landlord refused to renew her lease. He claimed the club, set in the basement of a rundown South Side apartment building, kept him from getting a bank loan for rehab work. On the heels of the media blitz that accompanied Muddy Waters’s death last spring, Theresa has earned great publicity by fighting her landlord in court. Yet the hand—wringing of columnists has been of little help--—Theresa needs either enough money to buy the building or the application of enough political pressure to get around the local liquor laws. In the face of apathy by the city’s powerful arts organizations, many Chicago musicians and activists have kept the club open by staging non-profit events that qualify for one--night liquor licenses. The prosperous black middle class, which plays an increasingly important role in Chicago’s public life, tends to spurn blues as slave music, preferring the more “sophisticated” sound of jazz. At the same time, however, blues is undergoing a minor renaissance among blacks of all classes while hanging on to its small devoted following among working—class whites and college kids.
As a last resort, Theresa has secured an alternative (although distant) site, but a new location might fail to recreate the corner tavern flavor of the original. While people came to Theresa’s from around the world, they also dropped in from just up the block. As a neighborhood joint, Theresa’s never became one of the famed clubs during the heyday of Chicago blues in the l950s. It was a place where a then obscure harp player like Junior Wells could and did begin his ascent. Through it all, it has been Theresa herself——a gracious woman with a big heart for down--on---their-luck musicians and a firm hand for troublesome patrons——who has kept the club a flourishing and fun place, then and now. As Smitty Smith, leader of the current house band, the Night Riders, puts it, “When you walk into Theresa’s, you’re home.” [Jay Walljasper is Cultural Correspondent for In These Times.]
IRON CITY BANKROCKERS....According to Billboard, U.S. Steel is a prime candidate to shell out the $150 million needed to buy Chappell Music from Polygram. This is hardly surprising, as the past decade has seen the major steel producers move capital out of steel into everything from real estate to airplane manufacture. While entry into the music field might be profitable for U.S. Steel, diversification has brought untold misery to displaced steelworkers. In response, Steelworkers Local 1397 in Pittsburgh is leading a campaign to force Mellon Bank, the institution most responsible for financing the flight of steel jobs, to reinvest its billions locally. Since last fall, members of several local unions have disrupted business at Mellon branches, often resulting in beatings and arrests. In November, safe deposit boxes were rented at eighteen branches and dead fish were placed in them on a Friday. On Monday those offices had to be closed due to the smell. And behind the game—playing, the battle over steel policy continues to escalate within the union. Local 1397 President Ron Weisen has entered the March 29 election for international union president against two pro—company candidates. Weisen also opposes the proposed acquisition of Chappell, although it isn’t because he doesn’t like the music. His local has not only sponsored benefits by Molly Hatchet and the Iron City Houserockers, but it also boasts a fine rock singer in Grievanceman Mike Stout (currently putting together a demo tape of original songs). This, not a shotgun marriage between Chappell and U.S. Steel, is the type of music/steel merger we need.
BASS HIT....We hear good things about an upcoming PBS “Enterprise” show on Ned Steinberger’s David and Goliath struggle to develop and market his revolutionary pegless bass. Produced by Thatcher Drew and former WPLJ talk show host Caryl Ratner, the tentative air date is February 26, but check your local listings.
WYOMING UPDATE....“My roommate, Ben Eicher, informs me that you have a state whose citizens have been holding out from subscribing to RRC. He also told me that he told you of my situation trying to get a subscription for my brother long before the first issue was released. (However, funds became short.) I would like to take this opportunity to buy a subscription for someone in the the holdout state of Wyoming——my brother, Cody Frye. Even though Wyoming may be the last state to subscribe to your newsletter, it was, however, the first state to allow the right to vote for women.”—--Casey B. Frye, Lincoln, NE
“You’ve already got a Wyoming resident as a subscriber. Keep sending—--it’s probably the best since Zodiac became rip ‘n’ read.”——Merry Saltzman, Los Angeles, CA
To back up her claim, Saltzman sent us the Wyoming title to a 1970 Mercury Cougar convertible, a document we found sufficiently convincing to award both her and Casey Frye additional years on their subscriptions. Now——the world! —--Eds.
THANKS TO.…Jimmy Guterman, Robert Christgau, Wayne King, Erica Ballinger, Jesse Ballinger, Steve Leeds, and Kenny Laguna.
THE STAFF: Editor: Dave Marsh: Associate Editors: Lee Ballinger, Sandra Choron, Debbie Geller