In a galaxy far far away back in the 1970's and 1980's, Ray D'Ariano and Leon Tsilis met at a party thrown by Leon Russell in Memphis. They were both young record promotion men who would go on to become music biz executives. During that time they worked with and contributed to the success of The Who, Cher, Kiss, Tanya Tucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Golden Earring, Olivia Newton John, The Village People, Loretta Lynn, The Fixx, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Oak Ridge Boys, Wishbone Ash, Neil Sedaka, Merle Haggard, Chubby Checker, Elton John and many more. For the first time in over 30 years of friendship they are telling the tales and spilling their guts.
Volume 1: Don't Let Your Meatloaf
Volume 2: You Better You Bet
Volume 1: Don't Let Your Meatloaf
Ray: Thanks for that newsletter you sent.
Leon: That's from Dave Marsh's web site, Rock Rap Confidential. (www.rockrap.com)
R: Did you see the article in there about the night Elvis, James Brown, and Ronnie Van Zandt were all sitting around in a motel room just hangin' out.
L: That's from the book "An Oral History of Lynyrd Skynyrd" by Lee Ballinger
R: Ok, and they used it because this edition is a tribute to James.
L: Lee Ballinger is the guy who interviewed me for the book.
R: You're all over that book, but the thought of those three hanging together is amazing. Did Ronnie ever tell you that he met James Brown and Elvis?
L: Ronnie never mentioned it to me, but then again, why should he? I sure wish I was a fly on the wall during that session.
R: They say that on the night before Nixon resigned he was in the oval office with Henry Kissinger.
L: Yeah, and what, they were listening to Skynyrd?
R: (laughs) It was an air guitar "Freebird" kind of thing. Maybe not, but maybe they were listening to Skynyrd.
L: (laughs) probably not.
R: Probably the Dead.
L: I think Nixon was a Dylan man. I don't know who Henry was into.
R: Abba! I read somewhere he was crazy about Agnetha.
L: Who wasn't? (www.abbasite.com)
R: (laughs) Good point. Anyway, a few years ago I saw an Off-Broadway play that was a fictitious account of that meeting. It the set was the Oval office and they had two guy's playing Nixon and Kissinger&
L: Hitting on a bong and playing air guitar.
R: (laughs).. and it was supposed to be this conversation they had the night before Nixon resigned; fiction based on a true event. (laughs) Kinda like us talking about our music biz adventures.
L: Are you suggesting that these tales aren't the truth?
R: Truth filtered between our individual points of view and 30 some years.
L: (laughs) Ain't that the truth?
R: Yeah, it is, but anyway, I was thinking that the night Ronnie, Elvis, and James got together might make a cool play. It would require a lot of research.
L: Do it.
R: I think I should wait until James is buried.
L: It's over two months since the man died. What is up with that?
R: What a disgrace. It's all about money.
L: When is it not about money?
R: Speaking of Skynyrd and Elvis, last night I watched the "Vicious Cycle Tour" DVD.
L: That's old.
R: Yeah, I think they recorded it in 2003, it probably came out in 2004, but I just got a hold of one.
L: Pretty great performance, eh?
L: They are still a great band. Last time I saw them was outside of Nashville back in 2000. I was hanging out with Billy, Leon, and Gary.
R: Cool, were they friendly to you?
L: Oh yeah, in fact Johnnie Van Zandt was real friendly because he knew that I tried to get his band signed to MCA. It was really great seeing the guys again.
R: Ever since the plane crash I haven't gone to see them. I didn't even listen to the new records. The whole thing was too sad, you know?
L: We went through a lot with the original band.
R: I was there on the movie lot the day they shot the "Street Survivors" cover. In fact, everyone was throwing names around for the LP, but mine was chosen. It was no big deal because like I said, there were dozens of ideas, but to me it's an honor.
L: We got their records played. We were on the road with them. There are a hundred stories.
R: What about the night the boys held you out the window in a New York City hotel?
L: Ah, you mean the Plaza incident. It was more like they were trying to push me out the window. Too much Champagne and too many pain killers set them off. It did happen!
R: Well, like I said I never went to see them with any of the new lineups, but for the last decade, every March I've gone to The Beacon Theater for The Allman Brothers Band. One night while I was there it hit me that Skynyrd did the same thing the Allman's did. It's not the original band, but the tradition lives on.
L: That's the whole thing.
R: Right, so then I went out and got caught up on Skynyrd CD's and DVD's and stuff. They are great!
L: Of course, it's not the band we worked with back in the 70's, but it has evolved into this solid group that's on the road today. You still have Billy and Gary kicking ass every night.
R: Road warriors.
L: And Street Survivors.
Ray & Ronnie
R: There was this great moment in the "Vicious Cycle" concert where Johnnie does a duet with Ronnie up on the screen. I think it's "Traveling Man."
L: Welcome back! That is a good concert. I think I'll take another look at it, but make sure you write that play about Elvis and&
R: I didn't say I was going to write it. I just would have liked to have been there.
L: Who knows where it happened? You and I might have been sitting at the bar with Billy and Leon that night.
R: (laughs) You're right. I didn't think of that. On the DVD Johnnie is doing some announcements between songs and he messes up a little, and then he says something like , "It's ok folks, even Elvis messed up on stage sometimes."
L: (laughs) The Elvis influence and connection was always there. When is the last time you saw the band?
R: God, a long time ago, might have been Oakland, at the baseball stadium, 4th of July weekend 1977, sold out, a hundred thousand people. The last time I saw the survivors I was with you in New Orleans.
L: Rossington-Collins debut at the Superdome during Mardi Gras.
R: Remember we met Willie Nelson that night.
L: He was on a golf cart backstage. Those were great times. Hey thanks for that article on Meatloaf you sent me.
R: Yeah, it was in the papers. Seems like way back then Warner Brothers passed on the "Bat Out Of Hell" album.
L: I knew that. I ran into Lenny Waronker when the album was really exploding and he told me he passed on it. Before it came out I was at the RMR Convention in Atlanta and I had breakfast with Pete Gideon. He gave me a cassette and was really pumped and told me it was going to be huge. I was thinking, yeah, ok. Pete was a dedicated promotion man, and I thought it was just the latest thing he was working on.
R: I think that story in the papers now is because there are rumors about "Bat Out Of Hell" becoming a Broadway musical.
L: That makes sense.
R: Yeah there's a big hit musical called "Jersey Boys" about the 4 Seasons. You can't get a ticket to it. Broadway tried Dylan, The Beach Boys, and Lennon, but they bombed. ABBA is a hit.
L: Who plays Agnetha?
R: (laughs) I don't know.
Editors Note: The members of Abba are not portrayed in the musical. The play is an original story in which the Abba Hits are used.
The Broadway cast:
|Sophie Sheridan - CAREY ANDERSON
|Ali - VERONICA J KUEHN
|Lisa - SAMANTHA EGGERS
|Tanya - JUDY McLANE
|Rosie - GINA FERRALL
|Donna Sheridan - CAROLEE CARMELLO
|Sky - ANDY KELSO
|Pepper - BEN GETTINGER
|Eddie - RAYMOND J. LEE
|Harry Bright - MICHAEL MASTRO
|Bill Austin - PEARCE BUNTING
|Sam Carmichael - DAVID MCDONALD
|Father Alexandrios - BRYAN SCOTT JOHNSON
Back to the conversation:
L: "Bat Out Of Hell" makes sense. It already is a rock opera. Meatloaf's been doing this Broadway musical on the road for the last 30 years.
R: I can see Warner Brothers not understanding it back then, a big overweight guy in a ruffled tuxedo shirt and all, but as a Broadway show, great as long as they get that guy to star in it.
L: You need Meatloaf in the show.
R: He comes from a theatrical background anyway.
L: Nobody else could pull it off.
R: Believe me they'll find some young 20 year old unknown, maybe an American Idol person, you know?
L: They can come on board in a year or two. Meat has to be the star of the show when it opens.
R: Yeah, and then if it's a hit, Tony Danza will take the part during the fifth year of it's run.
L: (laughs) Yeah, or the guy from Knight Rider.
R: I'd go see it with Meatloaf.
L: Have you see "Jersey Boys?"
R: No, I don't want to see it.
L: Why not? You'd go see Meatloaf.
R: Two different things. I saw The Who live, you know, I heard "Tommy" live, but I never went to see "Tommy" on Broadway. I don't need to see the Broadway version of the 4 Seasons. The real group played at my high school.
L: (laughs) A hundred years ago.
R: Only 40&I saw the "Jersey Boys" cast on TV doing all this choreography during a song. Hey, the 4 Seasons didn't dance like that. That's the Broadway version. The Temptations danced. The 4 Seasons just stood around.
R: Anyway, Warner's passed on Meatloaf. Did you ever pass on someone who became successful?
L: No, but I was involved once in a meeting where they played the debut Cyndi Lauper album. The A&R Director, Joe Wizard, pulled me aside after the presentation was over and asked my opinion and I told him that I liked it and heard a few hit singles. He said, he didn't and MCA passed on it.
R: (laughs) I knew you had a lot of clout.
L: At times I felt like they listened to my opinion and then went in the other direction.
R: They were afraid of you. They were worried you were better at their gig than they were, but you know what? In my opinion if Lauper's or Meatloaf's albums came out on MCA there's a good chance they wouldn't have been hits due to lack of promotion. In the early 80's we had a bunch of stuff that upper management didn't get. There was a great Chubby Checker album that the powers that be refused to push. There was a single by Cliff Richard, "Miss You Nights" that should have been a top ten hit. Rob Stoner, who was Bob Dylan's musical director made a great rockabilly album.
Leon, Chubby & Dick
L: Looking back on it now, MCA really did have some good acts. It's just that they more or less became secret projects. What I mean is, the label did not want to spend any money to break or promote its new acts or signings. Groups like the B.E. Taylor Band who had an amazing record "Never Hold Back" or Donnie Iris, Point Blank, The Grass Roots all fell into the bottomless pit of despair once signed to MCA. We had one band on the label named Fair Warning who wrote and recorded "She Don't Know Me." Great song, but MCA in those days couldn't break a plate much less a new artist. I took the song and re-recorded it with the new Grass Roots. Hell, they even performed it on American Bandstand the week of release. We gave the record to the MCA Promotion department where it ended up as another Stiff. In other words the record never garnered any airplay. In my heart of hearts I knew that son was a hit. A year later a new artist on Polydor Records by the name of Bon Jovi recorded it, using the same arrangement, and has a top ten hit.
R: That's how it was back then, without the corporate push you went nowhere. Today, you don't need a record company. I was talking with Richie Havens and he said make your own CD and put it on the internet for the whole world to hear.
L: Internet and technology changed everything. When the digital age arrived back in 83 with the advent of the CD, the record companies saw this as a way to get everyone to re-buy their record collections on CD. And for a couple of years business was booming to the labels as people were doing just that, throwing out their old scratched up vinyl records and replaced them with the latest and greatest in CD technology. The labels in essence were selling their master recordings to the general public. Then came along the computer revolution and CD ripping software, CD burners, MP3 files, the internet and file sharing web sites. Whew! In other words, the greed of the major labels in trying to turn a profit by jacking up the prices of a CD and reselling their catalog has come full circle and is now biting them in the ass, as the consumer no longer needs to pay for the music. All they need is a computer, fast internet connection and some good Peer to Peer software to ascertain all the free music they could ever imagine. The music industry is on its last legs.
R: It's the 2000's and the old music biz is over. In the 70's and 80's we tried to get great music exposed to the public. Now they spend their time suing the public.
L: Yep, that's the only recourse that they have, but in the end all they are doing is alienating the music buyer and beating a dead horse one more time. By the way did you pass on anything that became a hit?
R: They sent me to Central Park once to see the unsigned B-52's. The crowd loved them and they put on an exciting show, but I thought MCA, you know, the people in charge at that time, no way were they going to understand "Rock Lobster," so I suggested we pass.
L: Hey, like you said, they might not have made it on MCA.
R: Combination of music and promotion that's what you needed in the 70's. I remember you were high on The FIXX. I mean they were a great group, good as Tears For Fears and the groups that were happening at that time.
L: The FIXX, great band! I remember when the "Shuttered Room" album first crossed my desk. The band was already signed to MCA in the UK and had been in release for about 8 months over there. It had enjoyed some moderate success, but our bright international department in the US did not deem it to be a credible release for the United States. I went to Bob Siner and more or less begged him to let me release the album in the US. I will agree it was a little to Euro at the time, but after contacting the label in the UK, I was able to substitute some tracks with 'B' sides of their singles which had more appeal to an American audience. Not only did they send me the singles I requested, but they also sent me a video of the band performing "Stand or Fall." Holy crap, what a great video! At that time MCA did not have one video on MTV, due to the fact that the brass at MCA did not believe in spending huge amounts of money on videos that would only be seen on cable television. Boy were these rocket scientists wrong.
Armed with the new album and video I flew to New York to attend the CMJ Convention. MCA had a hospitality suite where DJ's were boozed up and hyped on all the new releases that the label was promoting. The standout was the "Stand or Fall" video. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before. It wasn't some cheesy production like most of the music videos of the time, but a full blown production. One of the attendees, and I wish I could remember her name, was a rep from MTV. She told me that I should hand deliver it to their offices the next day and she guaranteed me that it would garner some serious airtime. I did and the rest is history.
By the way, at the time I was putting this whole project together, which the international department called "Leon's Folly," I was informed that the band was going to be dropped by MCA in the UK due to poor sales. Well, the success of the video on MTV and the airplay that was garnered on the new wave radio stations after the release of the album in the states more or less forced the label to pick up their option. Good thing they did as their next album was "Reach The Beach" and contained the monster hit "Saved by Zero." The only thing that pisses me off to this day is that no one from the band's management or group ever called, wrote or telegrammed a thank you to me.
R: No, if it failed it would have been your fault, but when a record is a hit it's all their doing. Just show biz bullshit. Anyway, every record company passed on acts that made it. Everybody passed on The Beatles.
L: How'd you like to be the guy who passed on The Beatles?
R: There were a bunch of them. I don't feel so bad about The B-52's.
L: Don't sweat it; they probably did better where they ended up.