Today’s Post is an excerpt from Chapter Three of “Dom’s, an Odyssey” in which Charlie McKenzie hears a demo tape made by a local band that has spent years trying to get a record deal.
I was introduced to Charlie at the first of Dom’s Rock and Roll Parties, a 200-strong, cocktails-only, late-night charitable event organized by Don Law, the nationally-famous venue impresario, and headlined by Three Dog Night. Charlie was very tall and very big, funny and always relaxed, brilliant, knowledgeable, creative and underemployed at a record label.
His easy charisma was fueled by a natural kindness and respect for people around him. Charlie always managed to break away from his many friends to find time to speak with me. He not only asked me about myself but asked about my family as well, remembering details that made me know he listened with interest. He often spoke of his daughter whom he loved very much. Uncomfortable in his fatherhood, he regretted that he didn’t spend nearly enough time with her. Charlie and I got closer every time we were together. I soon became his personal manager and attorney.
Charlie’s passion was new rock and roll bands, sharing every aspiring manager’s dream to find an unknown group and manage them to stardom. He familiarized himself with as many emerging bands as he could by either seeing them perform or listening to their demo tapes, using his famously “good ears” to predict whether a band would make it. Invariably the ones he liked always seemed to be well-represented and managed by established professionals and when they made it, it pissed him off no end. He was always on the scene, but always too late; that is, until Tom Scholz. Oh! What a feeling!
For his part, Tom Scholz had been working at Polaroid Corporation but spending all of his non-Polaroid time writing, producing, performing, and recording music. Using his prodigious electronic skills he created an extraordinary recording studio at his home by buying high-quality albeit used components. One of his most profitable inventions: the Rockman headphone guitar amplifier.
When Scholz first heard singer Brad Delp, a local knock-about like himself, he knew he was hearing one of the great voices in rock music history, the last element Tom needed for his sound. He convinced Brad to sing with his new band and they recorded wonderful music in Tom’s home-grown studio.
Tom sent out demo tapes to a great number of record companies, each of which rejected them. Among them was Epic Records, whose president, Lenny Petze, rejected the tapes with gratuitously harsh words. Tom felt as though he was beating his head against a wall and was close to ending his quest for a record deal.
But before he had a chance to quit, one of his demo tapes came to Charlie’s attention and struck him with its originality and power. He determined that Tom’s brilliant production would be his vehicle to professional fulfillment and he called Paul Ahern, a friend who was working as an independent record promoter in LA, to enlist him as his partner in the quest.
Charlie was at Dom’s restaurant when Pau’s west coast return call came in.
“Paul, you got to listen to this! This guy’s a genius!” Charlie was slobbering with excitement. His mouth was wet with spit. Paul asked if Charlie could send him the tapes But Charlie wanted to share his excitement immediately and insisted that Paul hear the tapes right now, over the telephone!
“Dom, would you mind putting this on?”
It was 11.00pm in Boston and, while the bar was still active, no one was eating in the Small Room, so I was happy to accommodate him. Charlie loaded the tape into the deck and held the phone to one of the speakers. This may have been the first public exposure to the group’s great smash of 1976, “More Than a Feeling.” Paul got excited and the management team was formed.
Paul and Charlie went to see Tom Sholtz to propose a management contract. Tom liked Charlie’s enthusiasm and Paul’s confidence and, basing his decision on their faith in his music and obvious acquaintance with key people in the industry, accepted Charlie and Paul as his co-managers. Marty Silfen, a poor tennis doubles partner, a teacher of Entertainment Law at NYU Law School and a prominent New York City entertainment lawyer numbering the red-hot Debbie Harry among his clients, drafted the agreement and flew into Boston for the signing. All the players came to Dom’s and the papers were executed with a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism all around.
Of course everyone stayed for a night of feasting and fun. As I watched the excitement and the interplay I mused at how many such enterprises were being launched across the country on this very day. Little did any of us know that as the world turns, this was one of the very few of a limitless number of such alliances whose real-time result would greatly exceed expectations.
Ahern had a close relationship with Lenny Petze and called on him. Despite having recently rejected the tape, Lenny was impressed by the enthusiasm shown by Charlie and Paul and agreed to sign the group, working out the contract details with Charlie’s friend, Brian Rohan, a prominent San Francisco rock attorney considered by many to be the country’s most dynamic record contract negotiator. Brian delivered a six-year, six-album deal for the group and Tom, Paul and Charlie were elated.
But although blown away by the deal, Tom would never forgive Petze for his past gratuitous insult. He kept Petze’s original rejection letter, framing it to hang beside the gold records he accumulated. Years later, he was to battle Epic in court and win an epic decision permitting him to break the six-album contract after delivering only two.
When the album was finished, the record company and the managers coordinated their efforts to get the album airtime, focusing on the big market regions of the country, LA and New York City. But an Epic promoter in Cleveland blindsided them all by successfully shepherding “More than a Feeling” onto the radio there, bringing the song into the “Top Ten” radio play and record sales in the Cleveland market. Soon the rest of the country followed and the album, called eponymously, “Boston,” became a smash hit, setting new sales records for a group’s debut effort. The band was nominated as best new band for 1976!