Rejection in the music business is as common as dirt. You can cry or laugh, but if you let it get to you, it’s as quick as quicksand to bury you.
Despite my advice to the contrary, the band I was managing from Mexico moved to the Bay Area. We were living communally. Eventually I found them good paying work in a Holiday Inn in Palm Springs playing a mix of top-40 pop and their own compositions.
Then they fired me. They had three strikes against me. I didn’t have connections in the business. I didn’t cook enough vegetables. I used too much toilet paper.
They also fired my boyfriend/guitarist who founded the band. They said my 45-year old boyfriend was just that—too old.
The real reason was a slick-talking talent agent named Randy Fred (his real name!) lured the rest of the band to Los Angeles with promises of fame and fortune.
My boyfriend felt whipped by the rejection and became determined to learn how to play rock-n-roll guitar. I went looking for teachers. While at a laundromat in Mill Valley, I found a business card: “Jan Tangen, lessons in rock and blues guitar.” I called him up and was invited to come hear him and his partner Dave Friedman, rehearse some music. I listened entranced to the acoustic guitar medleys they had composed. At the end of the evening, I asked them where they were performing. “Nowhere.” “Well how would you like me to manage you?” I began getting them gigs.
Within a month of my new management career, singer/songwriter Pamela Polland arrived on my doorstep, her dog Canina in her arms and her upright piano on the back of a pick-up truck. Dick Gabrio, a blonde swashbuckler guitar player I met in Mexico, drove her there. The first song I heard Pamela sing was played on the piano on top of the pickup. They moved the piano and themselves into my house.
She was wearing a velvet skirt and a lacey top that let her full breasts swing and heave. She carried a large velvet paisley purse that seemed to contain everything important to her. One pouch carried a maroon velvet jacket and white satin camisole top; another a pair of ornate silver teaspoons for tapping out tunes, a dying folk art. A plastic bag carried the spices for an elaborate three-course vegetarian curry dinner, which she cooked for all of us a few days after she moved in. There was a blue pottery cop that was a gift from her brother, an address book and makeup.
Pamela was escaping from Los Angeles. She had recorded an album titled “Gentle Soul” for Epic Records that featured her singing harmonies with folkie Rick Stanley accompanied by Ry Cooder on guitar, Paul Horn on flute and Van Dyke Parks on harpsichord. The producer was Terry Melcher (The Byrds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, etc.)
Although Pamela and Rick Stanley were big ‘draws’ at Los Angeles’ Troubadour, their album went nowhere.
Pamela swore she would never sign a major label contract again. She and her dog Canina took up the living space that my old band had left when they went to same rock ‘n roll dream in Los Angeles that Pamela was fleeing from.
Gentle Soul was recently re-released as a CD. Pamela tells me the original vinyl is worth hundreds of dollars. http://www.saradainc.com/RickStanleyPressKit/thegentlesoulreviews.html
Not weeks afterwards, Pamela fell in love with Jan Tangen. My duo now became a trio. Pamela moved in with Jan and Dick disappeared. At every gig, Dave and Jan would play a few instrumentals, Pamela would sing a few songs and then the three would perform a few numbers together. Not ideal, but it worked because they were immensely talented.
As for my old band—Los Angeles wasn’t great for them either. They broke up within three months of arriving. Years later, the music industry spit Randy Fred out of his job as a talent agent. He ended up as a salesman for Purina Dog Chow. Call it karma.
Second Rejection: “Lady, Your Trio was Shit”
The Lion’s Share was a small, influential club in San Anselmo, California (just up from San Rafael) where such Bay Area musical greats as Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and Van Morrison often performed. Nobody minded the bare tables and floors, the wrought iron chairs, a bar that was not fifteen feet from the stage, which the owner refused to stop operating when the bands played, so that the ringing of the cash register became an integral part of the music. The owner at that time was a fleshy older man, not a cigar smoker, but he wore t-shirts that smelled and showed his beer belly. It was a cold room to play in, except that it was one of the few clubs North of San Francisco in Marin County that hired the hip acts and paid them and that had a sound system and piano.
Two nights after New Year’s Eve, Jan, Dave and Pamela got their first booking there. Most other Bay Area bands were burned out from playing the Thanksgiving to New Years circuits and clubs were struggling to fill their stages.
David Rubinson, record producer of Taj Mahal, Herbie Hancock and Elvin Bishop, agreed to show up. And so did Phil Elwood, the music critic for the San Francisco Examiner. It was the first time important people agreed to come to one of my trio’s gigs. I could barely contain my excitement. What a way to start the New Year. Maybe Rubinson would sign them to Fillmore Records. Maybe he’d make them famous. Maybe I would become important and know the somebodies. Maybe they’d get a great review. The fantasies were spinning pinwheels inside my head.
As I did my best to charm Rubinson, a handsome, lanky man, Dave Friedman emerged from back stage, his face a chalky paste. “May I see you backstage, Miss Sward?” (That was my name before I married Walter Rapaport.) The look if despair etched into the politeness of his words, the casual control he was trying to convey, meant that something terrible had happened.
Jan was turning in circles, swinging his guitar and threatening to break it. “I’m never going to play with that bitch again,” he yelled. It was the first time I had seen Jan so humiliatingly frustrated, so near to tears, so angry and out of control.
Pamela was sobbing in the car in the back parking lot, almost as out of control as Jan, with a “how could he” hysteria. It didn’t occur to her that she might have said something to set it all off. Jan was to blame.
They had a lover’s quarrel at the wrong time, a common occurrence in the music biz when the pressure was on.
I didn’t care who as to blame. All I could think of was ‘Oh, shit, how in the hell am I going to get them on stage in five minutes.’ No time to sort out who said what. “Holy cow,” I said, to Pamela, ignoring her tears, “David Rubinson is sitting out in the audience right now and if you aren’t the fuck on stage on five minutes, I’m going to tell him to leave.” Not accusing her; simply dwelling on the consequences of her tears. And then I walked away and told Jan the same thing, except I agreed with him “She can be a bitch; it would serve her right to flow the audition. All of this interspersed with a lot of swear words. Just as Jan started to calm down, in walked Pamela, holding back tears, the look of a tragic heroine in her bearing, regal, controlled, disciplined and contrite. Totally and wholly contrite. It was so unexpected that she caught us off guard. We forgave her instantly, even before she asked for it quite humbly.
It was a lackadaisical performance. The audience talked all the way through it. Rubinson walked out in the middle of it. “Call me tomorrow before 11,” he said.
The next morning three phone conversations changed the course of my life.
Pamela called me early. “I’m willing to sign a contract for you to be my manager,” she announced.
“Gee, Pamela, how come?”
“The most important thing a manager can do is keep a band together. It’s what my old manager couldn’t do. Every time I’d get a good band together, something would break down. Sometimes it would be my bad temper sometimes something else. I’d have to start over. Last night you kept us together. That meant a lot to me.”
If that was the most important thing an artist manager did, it was news to me, but I only said thank you and drew up contracts.
A friend called who told me to go out and get a newspaper. Phil Elwood had given my band a sterling review. I hadn’t noticed when he had slipped in.
Then I phoned David Rubinson. “Thank you for coming to see Pamela and Jan and Dave. What did you think of them?”
Without so much as a hello, Rubinson said, “Lady, your trio was shit, but I liked your style. I’d like to talk to you about managing two acoustic bands that are signed to Fillmore Records.” That floored me. I went to see him the next day.
The Third Rejection: “No Women, No Way.”
I went to see Rubinson at Fillmore Records. His office was on the first floor of an unprepossessing building across from Fillmore West. Millard Agency took up the second floor and Fillmore Management, the third. He talked to me about managing Lamb, a jazz/folk duo, and a singer/songwriter named Victoria. “They’re not getting any management because everyone’s time is taken up by Santana, Elvin Bishop, Cold Blood, Beautiful Day and Taj Mahal. They need someone to manage just them.”
David sent me upstairs to see Bill Graham. I passed by Carlos Santana and Elvin Bishop and other members of their bands joking together in easy camaraderie. What a fun place to work, I thought to myself. I passed Bill’s secretary. But before I could see Bill, I had to pass by Keeva Krystal, his gatekeeper, a beefy guy that reminded me of actors that played Mafioso characters. Keeva didn’t let me get any closer to Bill than an abrupt dismissal: “No women, no way. All they want to do is hook up with a rock star and have babies.” I know that my mouth fell open, but I had no rejoinder, and I knew that even if I did, that was the end of the interview. It was one of the few times in my entire career in the music business that sexism in a male-dominated industry got in my way.
I went back downstairs and thanked David for his time.
It wasn’t the end of the story. My curiosity had been whetted. Rejections make me stubborn.
I went to see the groups David wanted me to manage. Victoria was a willowy beauty with one of those high, querulous voices I have never loved and a kind of bitchiness that was as dismissive in its way as Keeva’s. She couldn’t begin to match Pamela’s songwriting and stage charisma.
A week later, I went to see Lamb perform at a club North of Marin called the Inn of the Beginning. Barbara’s voice wove in an out of Bob’s classic/jazz guitar riffs like an ornate tapestry, full of magic and surprise. Their music still haunts me.
I set my sights on finding a way to become Lamb’s manager and work for Bill Graham and Fillmore Management.