Walter Rapaport: Music, Audio and the Poetic

Guest post by Walter Rapaport, my husband of 42 years, continuing my posts about the old music business days of the seventies.

16299464_1138517922940485_6882611382397967430_n

Portrait of Walter at age 74 at home in Hines Oregon.  Photo by Laurie O’Connor.

“I’ve done some wrong things,

While livin’ my life

Made some wrong moves

You could criticize …”

(Barbara Mauritz, Lamb, A Sign of Change)

Sign of change was one of Lamb's finest album, a work of magical originality..

A Sign of Change, a work of magical originality, was Lamb’s first album, produced by David Rubinson for Fillmore Records.

For me, it’s about the emotional sum of words plus music.

Musicals were the start. Classical got to me with or without words. Great NYC DJ’s. Folk music drew me into the club scene in New York. Jazz came along and changed all the relationships in my mind. Then rock ‘n roll codified longings I did not voice until then:  Stones. Beatles, and acid pulled me westward!

I was 25 and a hi-fi nut.  Worked with Ampex tape recorders in language labs. By then I was a complete stoner, and the straight job was too restricting.  Enter Lamb! in San Francisco. My good friend Bob Swanson was a principal in that group and sent me tapes.  Needed a sound guy.  Called me on the night Nixon was elected and said they had a regular gig and would pay me a share. The Ribeltad Vorden bar paid the band $35 a week. Color me gone.

“When hardly a trace of love could I find.

Was a blind hearted woman.

Almost lost my mind.”

(Barbara Mauritz, Lamb, A Sign of Change)

Bill Douglas on bass, Bob Swanson on git., Barbara Mauritz sings, pianos. and gits. Walt finds a calling. And what a life.  No money, but poetry. I entered the universe of poetry and music. Live gig, rehearsal and eventually recording. Producer David Rubinson picked Lamb up for Fillmore Records and got Bill Graham, the godfather of rock ‘n roll, on board at Flllmore Managment. And Walter was still lost in the poetic.

images-3

Singer Barbara Mauritz and guitarist of Lamb. Back cover of their second album, Cross Between. Co-producers: David Rubinson and Walter Rapaport.  Photo by Peter Olwyler.

“And I know, yes I know, praying for the light.

Down on my knees, alone in the night

Cryin’ Oh. look down here on me,

That I may see the way, yeah!”

(Barbara Mauritz, Lamb, A Sign of Change)

Lamb’s first album, A Sign of Change was pure jazz, with a dose of mysticism and another of gospel. I co-produced their second album, Cross Between. The gospel of studio recording was handed to me by the great engineer Fred Catero. 45 years later my mind distills the lessons, and when I am fortunate enough to record, I TRY TO FOLLOW THEM.

  • Be Positive!
  • Listen to each instrument and amp to find the sweet spot—put the mic. there!
  • Listen to the control room chatter and filter for meaning and direction.
  • Evaluate input for useful ideas.
  • When the talk gets to serious band business:  disappear—if not recording.
  • Be positive and, when required, be funny.

    fred catero

    Recording engineer Fred Catero.

“And it’s in gettin’ down to earth

That we can recognize our worth

We were all put here together

For the worse or for the better

And I believe, and I say I believe

Until my dyin’ day

I just wanna say…yeah

We’re gonna have a party!”

(Barbara Mauritz, Lamb, A Sign of Change)

DownloadedFile-2

Barbara Mauritz. Photo by Peter Olwyler.

Just before Lamb’s fourth album, the new producer fired me. Business reality caught up with me. The music went downhill from there. Ego? Not me!

Getting bumped off the poetic caused a hard landing. A lawyer’s letter informed me that I owed a share of partnership losses. I was depressed and out of money. My lawyer said I was responsible for my share. Oy vey!  Revelation: Wait, I ain’t got shit!  Call Bill Graham in the a.m. to laugh and suggest that I had about $2 and he was welcome to it, to which he replied, “It took you way too long to get it.” Thanks for the lesson, Bill!

DownloadedFile-1

Joined a band called Bittersweet as sound guy, road manager. It did not “go.” Eventually got a job as a sound man at a nightclub called the “Orphanage.”  Good music by and large. A good time of life.  Reconnect with my love Diane, now 42 years married and counting. Have child, what a gas, often being parent at work, often with baby Max.

Became adept at multiple to 2-track mixes (house, stage, sound truck, and for Van Morrison a video feed). Founded White Noise Sound with Barret Bassick.  Did live sound and live broadcast, direct to 2-channel to air.  And this totally shaped my idea of how one recorded and produced sessions. Get the performance!  Go to it if necessary.  Walt and his A77 Revox got a surprising amount of work. NPR producer Tim Owens (“Jazz Alive”) kept us working. Found out I was not a good studio engineer.

Tim was promoted to Washington D.C.  Barret and I had a falling out.  I went to work as production mgr. at FRAP (Flat Response Audio Pickup), the most rewarding job I ever had.  I contracted for a year. Company looked like it might go…

Diane was done with the Bay Area. Took my van, my dog and my son to Jerome AZ. Suddenly I needed a complete life change. Returned to work after winter vacation, and found that FRAP product on the shipping table was still there, and knew that I didn’t want to go through the lack of cash that was sure to follow. Joined family in Jerome AZ and decided that house wiring is just a variation on balanced electronics wiring (it is!) and called myself a house wirer. Did whatever recording-live sound work that I could. Katie Lee and Major Lingo stand out. Still with the old A77!  Perhaps the most fulfilling tracks came from Katie in the form of a folk opera called Billy, Maude and Mr. D.

m_b_mrd

Katie Lee’s folk opera. Available at http://www.katydoodit.com

She performed the first act flawlessly (23 min) and beautifully. Second act required one edit!  This was recorded using a Shure 58 mic for vocal, Shure 53 mic for guitar, both through transformers directly into A77 pre-amps.  (The CD is available thru Katydid Books and Music— http://katydoodit.com)

KT Western Garb

Photo of Katie Lee by M.L. Lincoln. (Katydodit.com)

Friends like Katie taught us to enjoy hiking, camping and rafting. This  “getting down to earth“ stuff became a solid track of its own, and the poetry continued.

Walter and Richard

Walter Rapaport and Richard Martin on the Colorado River in the eighties. For both, music and the life of the poetic guided their passions. Photo by Diane Rapaport

The Recording Artist as an Indentured Servant

Soon after I became part of Fillmore Management, Lamb and Victoria were recording new albums. I had never been in a recording studio nor knew what a recording session was like.

My first session was at the Wally Heider Studio, one of the San Francisco greats, located in the old Tenderloin District. Santana, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Steve Miller, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Herbie Hancock were some of the bands that recorded their albums there.

One of the great San Francisco bay Area recording studios.

One of the great San Francisco bay Area recording studios.

Building Plaque for this historic recording Bay Area recording studio.

Building Plaque for this historic recording Bay Area recording studio.

The receptionist pointed me into two dark rooms separated by a huge piece of plate glass. Bob Swanson and Barbara Mauritz of Lamb were recording songs for “Cross Between,” their second album.

I walked into a dimly lit room and introduced myself to Fred Catero, one of the greatest recording engineers of all time. He was seated the controls of a very complicated console with levers, knobs, lights and instrument panels. He explained to me that I was looking at a mixing board, each lever accessing and controlling volume at one of the microphones in the other room. As Barbara had not yet arrived, he had time to explain what some of the other equipment in the room was all about.

One of the mixing boards at Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco.

One of the mixing boards at Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco.

In the second room, behind the glass, Bob Swanson was tuning his guitar and Walter Rapaport was setting up microphones and joking with Bob. Walter was the sound and road manager for Lamb; in the studio he acted as a production helper. The album called him “a shepherd’ which was an accurate title for someone who know what Lamb’s music should sound like and worked with an engineer to get it.

When Barbara Mauritz arrived 45 minutes time was spent setting her up with microphones and testing recording levels at the mixing board.

Then Bob and Barbara tried out a song. For whatever reason, there were a lot of false starts and stops during the song and there were a lot of breaks. Fred would talk to them and instruct them when to start. Fred explained that he could piece together the best parts of a song without their having to play and sing it perfectly all the way through.

During this time, I’m counting minutes. Wally Heider was charging $250 an hour, about $4.00 a minute. During that four-hour session, almost two hours were time spent on lateness, false stops and starts, jokes, breaks. Maybe two songs got recorded. Fred was the soul of patience. One of his jobs was to help musicians relax, so he gave them a lot of leeway.
David Rubinson, Executive Producer for the album, popped in for a few minutes.

FredCatero, upper left, and David Rubinson, producer, Fillmore Records

FredCatero, upper left, and David Rubinson, producer, Fillmore Records

As today, money spent recording an album is a loan from a record company to be paid back (recouped) out of the money earned in sales (royalties). Lamb would spend an excess of $250,000 recording “Cross Between” and it would take sales of more than 150,000 records to recoup the expense. Until then, their living would depend on earnings from gigs and advances (about $15,000 per album, also an advance against future royalties).

At the rate of time spent on that very first session, I well understood why many bands became indentured servants to the record companies during their entire musical careers. Unless they sold millions of records, recording expenses kept compounding, album after album. The farther behind a band got, the harder to sell enough records to recoup expenses. Lamb perhaps sold 150,000 copies of their first three recordings and racked up more than $750,000 in expenses!

BarbaraMauritz and Bob Swanson of Lamb. Photo by Peter Olwyer.

BarbaraMauritz and Bob Swanson of Lamb. Photo by Peter Olwyer.

The ‘loan’ made it very difficult for bands to change record labels, even when their albums did not sell nearly enough to ‘recoup’ expenses, much less make any money for the bands. And if they did sell millions, I discovered, record companies often ‘cheated’ on what they reported was due. Whole companies were set up to ‘audit’ the royalties owed for 10% or more of whatever they recovered. What does this tell you? That there had to be enough money owed the bands for those companies to make a profit.

As an example of a lifetime of indentured servitude, Pamela Polland’s album “Gentle Soul” was re-released on Sundazed Music in the last few years. I asked her if they were paying her. She wrote, “The reason I can’t get any money is because A) I still owe Sony a couple hundred grand for the cost of all three of my albums: “Gentle Soul,” and my two solo albums, the second of which was never released. And B) when a company like Sundazed does a re-issue, they pay Sony, not me. Sigh.”)

Bob Swanson was to find essentially the same explanation when he tried to get Sony to pay for re-releases of Lamb’s albums.

Holding Down Expenses
One of my jobs as a manager was to try and hold down expenses for recording. A lot of money could and did get eaten up in experimentation, mediocre sessions, tuning, and ideas for adding flutes or violas, or even whole orchestras. Bands would come up with ideas for new tunes or new arrangements and the clock would keep right on ticking. Part of the reason for this was that many bands heard what they were playing for the first time over very very good speakers. Once they did, they knew what had to be changed, or done better or differently. Drummers sometimes needed metronomes because they didn’t keep accurate beats. Guitars frequently went out of tune, and so on. Unfortunately, $250 an hour was a harsh price to pay for learning to listen.

Not only was my job to hold down expenses, but to argue with record companies about expenses that were charged my artists that I considered unfair. For example, When Pamela Polland recorded her first album for Columbia Records, Clive Davis ‘assigned’ a young, very untried producer to work with her. The producer spent in excess of $35,000 ‘mixing’ the album because he couldn’t quite make up his mind about how prominent Pamela’s vocals should be and whether there should be more echo, on her voice; whether the drums should be louder and on and on. He was indecisive at every turn and to compensate tried everything. I know because I attended those sessions. Even though I hadn’t had a lot of experience, I knew that the producer was spending Pamela’s recording budget on ‘learning.’ She, not the record company, was on the hook. And that pissed me off.

When I went to New York, I made an appointment to see Clive Davis, then head of Columbia, the record company that signed Pamela. I was in high dudgeon and demanded that $25,000 be taken off her recording budget and explained why. Clive finally agreed. He later told me I was the only manager that walked in and asked him to do this.

After that, my motto became, “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Brian Rohan: The People’s Lawyer
Soon after joining Fillmore Management, I met Brian Rohan, the third member of the Fillmore triumvirate (with Bill Graham and David Rubinson), a handsome, burly Irishman that I nicknamed the Marlon Brandon of the record industry. He got the prettiest women to fall madly in love with him and then treated them in the cavalier fashion of a scoundrel and a rogue.

Rohan got his start in San Francisco by defending pot and LSD dealers and saved them from the clutches of jail. For this he became known as a ‘people’s lawyer. Ken Kesey was one of his clients and so was Neil Cassady, Jack Kerouac’s sidekick, who was a close friend of mine when I lived in San Miguel de Allende and started managing a band there.

Rohan negotiated all recording and publishing contracts negotiated on behalf of Fillmore Management, Fillmore Records and Pamela Polland. He was the lawyer for the Grateful Dead. He negotiated the most complete and remarkable contracts recording artists signed at that time. His negotiating tactic was procrastination. He would drive record company executives crazy with a stall until they gave in to his demands. Drove the bands crazy with waiting as well.

One day Rohan asked me if wanted to go with him to the Grateful Dead house in Larkspur (a Marin County town, just north of San Francisco). I was introduced to a bunch of guys lolling around the couches with their girlfriends, the smell of pot prominent. Before too many minutes went by, Brian launched into a half hour diatribe about how much money they were racking up in studio time. “You’re never going to make any money. . .” They just rolled their eyes. It was legion in San Francisco that the Dead always spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on recording and sound equipment when they gigged. They had a huge draw at their gigs, but it wasn’t until the eighties that they actually had a hit song with “Touch of Grey.” It was the band’s only commercial hit. The song is known for its refrain
“I will get by / I will survive.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l38YXrGJxx0 Bill Graham Memorial Concert 1991.

The Grateful Dead recorded American Beauty at Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco, CA.

The Grateful Dead recorded American Beauty at Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco, CA.

What is more unbelievable is that the first Dead concert I went to was after I quit Fillmore Management in 1974. I was way too busy to go to concerts for other than the bands that I managed. And when I did have a free evening, I’d just as soon spend it at home with my two children.

Promotion
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of my job was to persuade record companies to put promotional dollars into recordings of the bands that I was managing and persuade promotion people to get their records played on the radio. Promotion almost solely meant getting radio stations to play music of newly released albums.

By taking record company executives to ‘lunch,’ I learned that few had never even listened to the music.

Then I learned what the actual system was for assigning ‘priorities’ for airplay within the record companies.During any three-month period, a record company might release up to ten albums in any one genre, primarily rock, country and middle-of-the road. Three might be records of known stars—the major promotional dollars would be spent on them. Three releases might be from artists that were beginning to have promising followings and promo dollars were targeted for cities that they were popular in. Money for the albums of say four unknowns was divvied up according to the push of managers, whether there was even a possibility of a ‘hit’ single on their albums, and any number of other factors. Who got what portion of promotional dollars was pre-decided in a meeting of the record company president and his promotional and marketing staff.

One day, the promo guy at Warner Brothers called to tell me that one of Lamb’s singles was going to be put on radio rotation all over the country and to listen in the next day to the promotional conversation as he instructed the regional guys. But when I listened in, I heard him tell his regional guys to push Malo, a spinoff of Santana, that David Rubinson was also the producer for. When I called, quite pissed off, he blandly told me that David Rubinson had called in one of his favors.

Once again, I was fighting internecine warfare within Fillmore Records. Even harder to stomach was that some of the members of Malo were too incapacitated by heroin to go on the road and support that album, despite the airplay they received.

Payola
And then there was payola. Pay for play. Payola was cash spent under the table to bribe DJ’s or major station conglomerates to play certain tunes. Very illegal, but i those days standard operating procedure between record companies and radio stations. Payola was extremely difficult to prove because the cash couldn’t be traced. And it wasn’t just direct pay for play.

There was what I used to call party payola: the free tickets, the back stage passes, the invitations to parties on record executive yachts, the free booze and drugs at conventions. It was an entrenched system that was impossible to buck, but something that was always there, taken for granted, like the air you breathed. And all around was a conspiracy of silence.

In 1973, Clive Davis was accused of embezzling $93,000 for his son’s bar mitzvah and fired. Other arrests were made and underlying it all was a huge investigation of payola. Nothing was ever proved and for awhile, payola became even more hidden.

The only person I knew that did jail time was an unassuming fifty-year old man, with a big paunch whose job it was to provide drugs and women (or men) for the pleasure of bands and executives at annual conventions. It was all part of party payola.

When an organization called Women in Music asked me to give a talk about how women could rise above being secretaries and public relations employees, I ended the lecture by saying: “If you do rise above those jobs, the biggest challenge you will face is dealing with people in positions above yours, most of them men, some brilliant, some incompetent, some stupid, many stuck in their own egos, some who consider themselves gifts to women and some corrupt—sometimes in one package. The most heartbreaking combination is brilliance mixed with corruption. These people controlled the money and the business attention that I and the artists that I managed received. Learning to maneuver without losing your sanity or your own sense of ethics will be your primary challenge.”

For sure it was mine; and when I couldn’t deal with it anymore with any sense of dignity or ethics, I quit Fillmore Management and the entertainment industry that went with it. The more I knew, the more I understood about how it all worked, the more squeezed I felt inside. And what I couldn’t deal with, above the corruption I was privy to, was that the bands were the fall guys, a lot of talent that became pawns of corruption and indentured servants to companies that did not serve them.