This is Part Two of an interview Legs did with record industry veteran Steve Harris for Please Kill Me. Read how the MC5 fucked up their promising career, how Iggy was always misunderstood, and how Danny Fields lost his job… and more…
STEVE: I have the best MC5 story. You might have heard it but this is the best. I’m having lunch with Jac Holzman and he gets a call from our distributor in Detroit. They are throwing all of the Elektra records and Nonesuch records out of the store. They’ll never take another one again. What happened? There was an underground newspaper in Detroit that was pretty important at the time. Now, there was store in Detroit called Hudson’s. And they wouldn’t sell the MC5 record because it said “motherfucker.” So what the MC5
did was they took out a full page ad and said if they don’t sell their records that they would kick out their doors and windows. And they put the Elektra logo there. Well, the distributor was crazed. It was like Tower Records saying you can’t carry any more records, right?
LEGS: So what did you do? Did you have to call the MC5 and say you can’t…
STEVE: I mean, I was hysterical because I thought it was creative, the funniest thing I had ever heard, but Jac was very serious because that represented a lot of money.
LEGS: Right, it’s a chain store right?
STEVE: Yeah, and also, it represented other acts and they were saying “Hey, why am I not getting played?” This wasn’t fair. So I think that was the beginning of the end for the MC5 and the company. And I think the way that it was solved was, we are very sorry we had nothing to do with it and so we gave the head buyer or the owner of the store original artwork from Nonesuch records to pacify him, he was a classical freak. And that’s the way that was solved.
LEGS: But, the MC5 weren’t selling, right?
STEVE: They were selling. They had some sort of little bit of this, a little bit of that, but you know, when you were used to people like Love at the beginning… and The Doors at the beginning… you know, you really had a base and you figure well we had this great Detroit base but even in Detroit—even though it got a lot of play, it didn’t really break out. And I thought that Wayne Kramer really had a chance at being a focal point and for a second he did and obviously still has some sort of… and they certainly got enough press in the papers, in the rag magazines, and everybody thought it was a hip group and everybody knew who they were and still do but… it didn’t equal sales. Meanwhile, on the other front, Iggy and The Stooges at that time! I went to see Iggy.
STEVE: Some place out in Flushing. And Iggy looked at the audience, picked his nose, somebody threw a beer can, he threw it back, sang a couple of lines, somebody threw a bottle, the bottle broke and he rolled around in it and cut himself all over the place. Someone at the office was reading a review of the show aloud to us and they described it pretty much as I just described it to you and then somebody said, “Who would want to see that?” And everybody in the office who was there listening to that review said, “Me.” So that kind of word of mouth got around.
LEGS: Were you shocked? I mean was Iggy the most dangerous thing you’ve ever seen on stage?
STEVE: Iggy? It was just like “Hahahahaha, that’s good old Iggy,” you know? He wasn’t threatening at all. Incites riots or stuff like that, nothing.
LEGS: But, as far as watching him, did he seem insane?
STEVE: I thought that when I was watching him then I thought it was an act.
LEGS: And did Morrison come off as more dangerous or intelligent or did you think that Morrison…
STEVE: Yeah, Morrison was more intelligent and much more literate.
LEGS: So you thought Iggy was just kind of immature?
STEVE: Fun, fun, yeah, good old Iggy, he’s gonna cut himself to ribbons again. The problem being part of a record company and I was his biggest booster—I mean there was Danny kicking it to me—but I was a tremendous booster of Iggy’s everywhere. And I tried to use all of my influence and at that time I had considerable influence because I had at my disposal Judy Collins and the Doors, you know, acts like that.
LEGS: So you had some cache?
STEVE: Yeah, yeah. So I used whoever I could and I got it played and I got it noticed and things like that.
LEGS: Was it difficult? Was everybody resistant to this stuff?
STEVE: The resistance was, you’d sit around the table with the promotion people; these were the people that I thought of as being in what would be called the trenches–the people from Denver, from Philadelphia, wherever. They listened to Iggy and said, “Oh, this isn’t the Doors, this isn’t Love, this isn’t Judy Collins, this isn’t Tom Paxton, what the hell is this? This is a bunch of noise!” And I’m saying, “But its going somewhere. It’s salable! You don’t understand—what he’s doing is rock & roll!” And rock & roll is tap your feet and snap your fingers and have a good time and as much as you try to convey that to some people, that kind of a record was an embarrassment to walk in and say you’ve got to play this. Now, I don’t know if they do that now when you go to radio stations, but then, you took a guy out to lunch, and if you’re friendly with the guy he would play the record. Well, so you know the record got played in New York, the record got played here, the record got played there…
LEGS: What was the first recording in…
STEVE: ‘70 or ‘71. Yeah, it was the Stooges that had “I Want To Be Your Dog.”
LEGS: Right, and “1969” and “No Fun”?
STEVE: Yeah, yeah, right, right. And I remember having conversations with Iggy, how much he adored Jim [Morrison]. I mean, he was a real fan of the Doors. Iggy’s father was a professional golfer, you knew that.
STEVE: In fact I was with him—I was flying somewhere—his real name of course is Jim Osterberg—and he bumped into another professional golfer and he walked up to him—and you know how Iggy used to look—and introduced himself as “Iggy” and the guy is looking at him…
LEGS: Did he have the blond hair?
STEVE: Yeah, that was the beginning of the new outfits. I went through the black mohair suits, you know, like the early groups from the Sixties, and I went through the leather and then the denim that the folkies wore, now I was going through the Iggy thing with the dog collar and ripped everything, you know…
LEGS: It wasn’t called punk yet but did you see the potential?
STEVE: The Doors were not a hard rock push band, they were a nice and easy thing, very literate. And when you say the Stooges, the loudness, the attitude… music is not what we’re really dealing with… it was the attitude.
LEGS: And did you love the attitude?
STEVE: I did. I really, really did and I’ll tell you something else: the women that I brought out to see the Stooges were very into it. The people that I would bring would not be rock & roll experts so to them this was rock & roll; this was it. This was how it looks.
LEGS: Did you get along with Iggy? Did you think he was great?
STEVE: I thought that he was really good. I thought that he wouldn’t compromise what he had to do. When I left Elektra, I became Vice President at CBS and Clive [Davis] said to me, “You know, I should really sign Iggy” and I said, “Well, you will have to be prepared to market this guy because he’s not the usual thing. You’re not signing Barry Manilow.” And then Clive–about two months before he left CBS– and we were both leaving the office at the same time and he offered me a ride home. So we’re sitting in his limo, talking about Iggy. I said, “The important thing is that the company understands that this is attitude over music, and it could sell if it was marketed properly.” A year after it was recorded, Raw Power finally came out in May of ’73. CBS was even much more out of my grasp then because CBS is just so vast. Then I came up with an idea that I thought was really good. I called up a guy named Sam Hood who booked Max’s and I said, “Let’s put on Iggy for a week at midnight,” and he said “That’s great, we’ll do it.” So Iggy starts doing his week at Max’s and the company sees him, he was still a joke to them, but he starts getting this incredible amount of press because he’s rolling around in broken glass. By the third night he’s rolled around in so much glass I think he was really injured. Really hurt. So after the show I said to Iggy, “I’ll drop you off ‘cause I have an appointment uptown.” So we took a cab and when we got to 72nd Street and Park Avenue, Iggy says, “Why don’t you come up and have a drink?” So I said “Okay,” and we get out, Iggy was wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that’s now all bloody, and when we walked into the apartment building there’s a doorman who looked at Iggy and said, “Who should I say is calling?” and Iggy wanted to play to the hilt because he would usually say Jim Osterberg, but he said, “Iggy.” It was like something you would see in a movie. So we went up to the apartment and this voluptuous woman in a negligee opened the door. She was incredible looking. Anyway the next day Iggy comes over to my place and he’s really cut up. He didn’t know how badly he was hurt. He needed stitches. and he couldn’t go home.
LEGS: Did you take him to hospital? Did he go and get stitches?
STEVE: He went and got stitches and I called Sam and said we were just gonna have to skip a night or two. I’ll tell you something interesting, David Bowie was sought after because he was about to sign with RCA Records, when someone at Elektra saw him and said, “Why don’t you go and see Elektra? It’s a really good company.” So he did, and the question people usually asked when they visited Elektra was always, “Tell me about Jim Morrison.” This time it was “Tell me about Iggy.”
LEGS: Could you tell me why you left Elektra?
STEVE: I just thought that… I had managed Carly Simon through all of her success and I worked with Judy Collins and I worked… you know, it wasn’t the kind of company that people would come to. It never had an act that was with another label and then came to Elektra. It was formulated the way we wanted it done.
LEGS: Right. So you developed a lot of acts?
STEVE: Yes. I had the title of Vice President, Artist Development. Now, it’s a title; it’s kind of artist relations along the way. This would be like a guy going to the minor leagues developing players. It was really that kind of a thing where I had the authority to go into the art department and say, “I saw the act and if you do the cover like this people are gonna expect to find God inside” and they’d sell, you know, like bread. You know, like let’s put these four cute faces on the cover instead of some kind of…
LEGS: So you really developed. I mean, you sat down with the artists and you talked about their careers and you hung out with them?
STEVE: Yes. And I advanced them money for tours and I could book and I had the wherewithal to get them on Cavett or Carson or what have you. And I understood how to do that. You know, like when I first started working with Carly [Simon] we went out to do the Troubadour and the record came out in February. Well, who do you have coming in? Until he got to the middle of April I didn’t want to work there, until he said Cat Stevens, then I came back East and it was Kris Kristofferson. So it was that kind of thinking and that kind of advancing the right kind of monies to the right kind of… advertising in the right kind of places and I really hit it off very well with Jac, I liked him and we’re still very friendly on the phone and things like that.
LEGS: So why did you leave?
STEVE: I don’t know. I shouldn’t have because I really enjoyed working there. But there was a time that probably I was just so spent working around the clock that I thought a whole bunch of new faces, that would be interesting. And then I got sold, you know. They chased me like you chase an artist, you know.
LEGS: And you liked that?
STEVE: Yeah, and after I left, Jac left about six months later. And I thought Jac was beginning to get involved with different projects other than music. He was getting involved with quadraphonic sound at the time and different technical stuff.
LEGS: So what year did you leave?
STEVE: I left in ’74. Yeah, and I was there since ‘64/’65.
LEGS: Can you tell me about Danny getting fired?
STEVE: Yeah. Danny comes up to me and says, “I’m going to California” and for some reason he wanted to tell Jac something that was going on that shouldn’t have been. And I said, “Danny…” Danny was upsetting some people. Danny was really talented with what he did but he just wasn’t fit to work and show up in an office at ten o’clock and leave at five or six or seven or whatever it might be. And somehow that annoyed certain people. The other thing is, he has my ear and he has Jac Holzman’s ear. And so if the person that’s head of this department and that department does something, Danny doesn’t understand how to deal with that quite right because—I think Danny would be thinking, “Why is everybody wasting time? I’ll just tell Jac and cut out the middle…”
LEGS: Right, why go through channels? Why not just go to the head guy and get it over with because I gotta go out tonight…
STEVE: Yeah, I think it was something like that. And so, he went out to California and when he came back somebody called me up and said, “I’m gonna fire Danny,” or “You fire him,” or something like that. I don’t remember how it went down but it was something like… Danny went to Atlantic after that.
LEGS: So you stayed friends?
STEVE: Oh, yeah, in fact our birthday is the same day. If I don’t say he’s younger than I am, he’ll kill me.
LEGS: Can you tell me about the resistance to Iggy? Because you were the main supporter of him. I mean, was it hard all the time?
STEVE: It was always hard. People didn’t understand the act. I mean, the people that had the wherewithal to do something, like the radio/ TV kind of media. You’re not supposed to take it seriously; it’s rock & roll.. .remember I always said it’s rock & roll.
LEGS: But the whole country, the music and love and peace it was like a movement and a revolution and for this guy to come out and sing “I Want To Be Your Dog” is not… correct?
S: No, but if Jim Morrison sang “I Want To Be Your Dog” it would have been correct. I’m trying to think of other acts… if Stevie Wonder came out and did the same thing it would have been terrific. It was really the loudness and the attitude. It was the attitude of saying, “If you don’t like the weight of the decibel level go fuck yourself and never come back.” That’s not what we were interested in. They really wanted the thirteen, fourteen-year-old kids I think. And the thirteen-year-old kids got it but, you know you’ve got to be able to hear it to buy it.
LEGS: Were you around when the Stooges got dropped from Elektra?
LEGS: Did you have to tell them? Do you remember any conversations?
STEVE: No, I think that they may have been represented by a lawyer or something like that.
LEGS: Were you aware of Iggy’s drug problems?
STEVE: I knew that he was taking drugs.
LEGS: But everybody was taking drugs, right?
STEVE: That’s right. You see, at that time, it’s interesting with Morrison and Iggy–you didn’t see twelve step programs being advertised on television–it was just, “Jim drinks a lot.” Now they would say, “He’s got a problem, go to a rehab.”
LEGS: Wasn’t it also considered kind of rude to discuss anybody else’s drug habits?
STEVE: No, not when you were working with a record company, you were putting up money, because that money could go down the toilet…
END OF PART TWO
TO BE CONTINUED…
COPYRIGHT LEGS MCNEIL AND GILLIAN MCCAIN