A Conversation With ... Arnold Gosewich
When Paul Hoffert of Lighthouse informed me he had secured a recording deal with Capitol Records for me, I nearly went through the roof. I was signed to H.P. & Bell management and Hoffert and company saw something in a batch of tunes I’d been crafting and through A&R man Paul White secured a spot for me on the legendary label.
I’m thinking – this is the same Capitol records birthed by Johnny Mercer in 1942 and home to such revered artists as Judy Garland, Paul Whiteman, Nat Cole, Nancy Wilson and my favourite jazz unit, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. What about the Beatles and Beach Boys? That was a bit too much to absorb.
Only weeks after signing I begin to meet my Canadian counterparts – my new family members – Scoot Erwin, White himself, Shirley Eikhard, Terry Wilkins and Flying Circus, Chris Kearney, Bob McBride - yet off in the distance was company president Arnold Gosewich, already a conversation when business matters were discussed. Hoffert spoke often of Arnold with great reverence - the rest of us, too far down the food change to really understand what was happening above.
Kearney and I did participate in the Gosewich-driven Maple Music Junket and benefited from the marketing expertise and field team Capitol positioned behind us. My first side, “Goodbye Superdad,” got serious attention and I’m forever indebted to those who worked this unsettled Indiana “Hoosier.”
Decades have passed and FYI Music News has brought me and Arnold numerous spots of tea and engaging conversations. The business thing is something most artists never get of which I have mostly walked the side roads and find it fascinating piecing together in these conversations the foundation of Canada’s contemporary music industry. Enjoy the chat..
Bill King: You grew up in Ottawa?
Arnold Gosewich: Yes.
B.K: You must have been a handful.
A.G: Actually, I was an ordinary kid – an ordinary student. I didn’t want to further my education at all until I saw an opportunity to get out of town with some friends of mine and go to college in upper New York State; a place called Potsdam, N.Y. where for four years I grew up. Learning to live on your own is the best thing a young person can do.
B.K: No family – you have to design your day.
A.G: You become unspoiled. You make your own bed, you get rid of your own garbage, you buy your own food – you’re not relying on your mother. You rely on nobody for allowance money, you learn to work.
B.K: Were you a spoiled kid?
A.G: Not in the traditional sense, you have to remember I’m Jewish. Jewish mothers always try to spoil their kids.
B.K: What was early family life like?
A.G: I had two other brothers, one older – one younger and we lived in a modest part of Ottawa growing up in an area called “Lowertown.” That’s where the French kids and Jewish kids always fought each other in a public square?
B.K: Were you a pugilist?
A.G: I was protected by a guy half my size who could speak French and later on became mayor of Ottawa. None of us had to fight with the French guys; it was more pushing and shoving.
B.K: What was dad all about?
A.G: He was a hard working man and he was a manufacturer of baseball caps, men’s fur hats, ladies hats and stuff like that. He worked very hard.
B.K: You graduated college from. …
A.G: Clarkson University with a degree in business administration then came back to Ottawa with nothing to do. Even tried to get a job with a large advertising agency in Montreal – they offered me a job at $100 a week. I thought about that and figured I was worth more than a hundred dollars and didn’t accept the job. I’m probably sorry I didn’t take it in some way. Then by circumstance opened a record store with a friend of mine; Harvey Glatt, called the Treble Clef.
We opened up one store in Ottawa and became competitors with one other retailer in the city who saw the light and realized we were going to be significant competition and tried to buy us out and have us join his company. Harvey wasn’t able to do that – he was limited in what he could do because of his father and for me it was what I thought was an opportunity. After a year I became a junior partner with this man. In those years there were no record stores; music was bought in variety stores. He was what was called a, “rack jobber.” He would have ten, fifteen, twenty feet of space in a variety store like Metropolitan and Zeller stores and we’d put in whatever - LP records, 78 records and 45 rpms; whatever people wanted to buy. This is the ‘60s.
B.K: What was the connection between you and music? Did you have a passion for it?
A.G: I was a Dave Brubeck fan. My first purchase from the Columbia Record Club was a Dave Brubeck album. When I was at Clarkson I had my first experience being a show producer. There was an annual event called the Ice Carnival and I booked Dave Brubeck to do the dance show as part of the carnival because I loved jazz at the time. Beyond that, during those years I can’t say I was a passionate record man. I loved the music but loved the chance to make money more.
B.K: What about the store?
A.G: Over the ten years we were partners we did expand before we sold the business to Capitol Records. We expanded into the Maritimes in terms of “rack jobbing.” We opened up record stores in Montreal and Quebec City and tried to open in Toronto, but didn’t. We became lessees of record departments in the very, very first stores that came into existence in Canada called Tower stores, well before Costco, Walmart and that stuff. We ran about fourteen of those record departments.
B.K: Were they profitable?
A.G: Pretty good. Inventory was always a problem. The recording scene, when you still had 78 rpm records to inventory, 45 rpms, LP’s – cassette tapes, 8 track tapes all at the same time – if you were a retailer it was a nightmare to carry all this inventory and have to pay for it. It was a challenge until they all moved out and we were left with CDs. It was a challenging era of time to make a profit, but you could.
B.K: Now you buy the space..
A.G: That’s like the book industry now, you can buy what’s called “placement space,” in an Indigo bookstore, let’s say where you get all of those books on a table as you walk into a store – those are bought and paid for by whoever the book publisher is.
B.K: Heather’s Pick – is that solely her choice?
A.G: I think it is. She may have some people in her own company share their own opinions.
B.K: The one-time impact of Oprah’s Book Club..
A.G: That was a great marketing tool. We never had that equivalent in the music industry, that’s for sure.
Back at the time we sold the business to Capitol Records – that was 1969 and moved with my family here and took on an executive position before I became president. You go back to that period of time, the retailing strength laid with Sam the Record Man who developed a franchising operation, you had the huge A & A Records store on Yonge Street that was actually owned by CBS for many, many years and you had other rack jobbers who opened up retail operations. I don’t think any exist today.
A.G: Music World.
A friend of mine who I hired to be head of finance when I was at Capitol Records and later CBS whose name is Malcolm Perlman – he’s the one who opened up the Sunrise Store on Yonge Street – or took over and expanded over the years with his brother.
B.K: This is when the industry was on an upswing..
A.G: Yes. The make-up of the industry from when I became president of Capitol Records was very much a distribution function. All the major labels at the time were distributors of music invested in and recorded by either American or British performers whether singers or bands. There was very little investment going on in rock music at the time. Any that was invested was more in folk and country music and it was done either independently by independent producers or in a very modest way by companies like RCA at the time. When I joined Capitol our investment in Canadian talent was pretty slim - that all changed starting roughly in the seventies.
B.K: The art of negotiation – where did that come from?
A.G: I just think it’s in my DNA.
B.K: You like the deal.
A.G: I do like the deal! I do today as a literary agent and consultant. I love the deal.
B.K: Your strategy?
A.G: Listen! Listen to the other person first and try to identify what they are really looking for. Not everyone is looking to make money. A lot of people are looking for an outlet for their creative work, whatever it is – whether a piece a music or a manuscript to a book. You have to listen hard first, be willing to compromise even though you want to try and get 100% of what you are looking for. In reality, a good deal is a good deal when everyone is happy with it.
BK: Graham Shaw, an artist you signed to Capitol Records, told me a good story. You saw him in Winnipeg and you said “sign the guy and let’s get the hell out of Winnipeg.”
A.G: I don’t remember the story but it’s a good one.
B.K: Does that sound like something you’d do?
A.G: Again, when I ran both CBS and Capitol I never pretended I had the ears to pick the winners. That was for the people who worked in A&R and for the people in the promotion department. What they had to say was more important to me than what I thought of the music. I can’t say every recording contract I negotiated I was passionate about the person’s music or their voice. I depended on Paul White at Capitol and the other guys at CBS.
B.K: Anne Murray – did you sit down with her?
A.G: Yes, I remember her walking in my office for the first time. She was uncomfortable. She’d laugh if she was reading this. She relied on her producer Brian Ahern to do the talking. At that stage in her career she did have a recording contract with another company – ARC records. They somehow got out of that contract so they could sign on with Capitol. Anne already had a number of years honing her skills, performing on stage and on air and on record before coming in the door at Capitol.
B.K: One of the early Capitol successes was the band Edward Bear - “You, Me and Mexico” with Danny Marks.
A.G: One of the few hits.
B.K: Was it submitted to the company?
A.G: It was brought to the company through Paul White – that was his job in A&R. Edward Bear was an easy one in my opinion as I said, I didn’t chose the hits. It was a very timely, uplifting great song and proved to be right in terms of making the deal.
B.K: What do you think when you hear the single?
A.G: I smile. I remember seeing it on the Billboard chart for the first time in the top 100 and climbing the charts. It brings back a very good feeling.
B.K: The big labels were resistant to rock for a good period. Where did you stand?
A.G: We were in Canada and contrary to what we are made to believe today – the Canadian presidents of foreign owned record companies had a fair bit of autonomy if they wanted to use the autonomy. If they were lucky to have support from their American or British parent - all the better. I was a kid literally, I was in my early thirties when I became president of Capitol Records. What the hell did I know? I didn’t even know how a record was made at the time. I had to go into a plant and watch a record being made – vinyl and all of that stuff. I had to educate myself. What did I know about radio and its impact on the music people heard? My experience was working at a college radio station for a couple years and doing the all night show at CFRA in Ottawa.
I believed we could build up the role and acceptance of those who performed out of Canada. Paul certainly didn’t resist out of A&R and certain things needed to take place and one was the Juno Awards. At the time we didn’t have a public recognition of Canadian talent. We had an industry recognition that was called the RPM Awards. They were great awards but they were industry awards. The public didn’t know about it at all other than the odd piece of media coverage.
A group of us began to negotiate with the founders of RPM to allow the Juno Awards to go public via a television show. It was tough. Walt Grealis the founder of RPM at the time, cherished and held on to what he had tried to build up. It took time and help from people like Sam Sniderman of Sam the Record Man who acted as sort of a middle man, to bring the warring parties together.
I can recall at the time Jack Richardson, the producer of the Guess Who, arranged to have a meeting at 2 p.m. in the morning between myself and some of my colleagues and Walt at Jack’s studio to try and bring the thing to a conclusion. Sam stepped in and tried to mediate the disagreements and we finally came to terms. That agreement allowed us to go to the CBC and present and negotiate a contract for all of $5,000, and for that CBC got the rights to air the Juno Awards.
B.K: Was it just letting go?
A.G: I think so. I don’t think it had anything to do with money. There were some considerations in that - the public would always be aware of Walt’s tremendous contributions to establishing the base if you will of what became the Juno Awards.
B.K: What happened then?
A.G: There was a fellow named Ritchie Yorke, at the time a rock correspondent originally from Australia living in Canada. He came to me in the early seventies with an idea and that was to promote Canadian talent by bringing foreign record producers to Canada and bring media to Canada from countries like England and Scandinavian countries where English music was played more so than others.
B.K: The Maple Music Junket..
A.G: Yes, and he came to me with the idea and asked me to organize and get it going. In an average day of running a record company I didn’t know what a monumental task this was to take on. We did it and it helped lift public awareness of Canadian music. First of all, it was all expenses paid. I convinced Air Canada to give us a plane at no charge. They all assembled in Paris and London to get on the plane and we brought them to Montreal initially and put them up in one of the local hotels. We arranged a series of concerts at the Place des Arts in Montreal and in a place in the north of Quebec where French Canadian performers could play before the public and for the people who came in from these countries. Then we took them by train to Toronto and housed them for three days and had concerts at Massey Hall mainly.
It wasn’t easy. A lot of these acts had managers who had to be convinced. The artists wouldn’t be paid at all. They’d perform for free but this was a very good promotional opportunity for them. Some managers really fought over that. Eventually they gave in – they were smart enough to know.
The culture at Capitol Records was – you were given the authority to do what you thought was right and as long as you produced a profit you were fine. The people in Los Angeles pretty well left me alone.
B.K: CBS Records – much different?
A.G: Yes. It was more structured. The responsibility of people working out of the New York office, whether in finance or A&R or at that time technology that was beginning to develop was one where they felt the Canadian operation wasn’t a stand alone. They had to be involved – I prefer to use the word interfere and it consumed a lot of my time. I had to play policeman for my company and tell them to stay away from here until there is trouble – leave us alone. Some people out of the CBS office didn’t like me for that in New York. My attitude was, I’ll give one example - It has nothing to do with a Canadian recording artists; it has to do with a band called Meatloaf.
When Meatloaf’s first album Bat Out Of Hell was presented I heard it for the first time at a CBS conference in New Orleans along with Paul White and others. We loved it, thought it was a great album; loved the band that performed on stage. We came back to Toronto enthused to turn it into a giant hit in Canada. At that time not one rock album had ever sold a million copies in Canada other than Grease, a soundtrack. Rock ? None had sold that much.
We said we we’re going to sell a million copies and developed a promotional plan that worked on the concept; we will continue to spend money promoting it as long as we see the sales continue to go up. Whether we pour $100,000 or $200,000 we will continue to pour the money in as long as we see the sales go up. So we sold a million copies on Epic Records and the Americans never did.
We had a big party and invited all of the American executives to come in so they could see the reaction and the media covered it. Meatloaf himself was brought in on a white stallion horse into the banquet hall of the hotel and put on a special chair as if he was the king of the show and it got great, great reaction.
B.K: How in the world did you go from music to book publishing?
A.G: It’s very simple. I often tell people who know me very well I’m a person who has existed on circumstances. All my life circumstances have dictated what I’ve done. I was attending a cultural industries conference in Banff, Alberta sometime in the early ‘80s. It was attended by people from all the cultures; books, music, television, technology and I was in the student lounge with a bunch of people around a table drinking beer one night and the man sitting beside me was a man by the name Ron Besse who was the owner and president of a company called Gage Educational Publishing who happened to have purchased a company called Macmillan of Canada about a year or two earlier. About two weeks after we returned from that event he called me and invited me to dinner at his club. I said great. He asked if he could bring his finance director around for dinner too and I said, “Ron this doesn’t sound like a social event.” He says, - “no, its business.”
He offered me the job to become president of Macmillan of Canada and said he was losing money, about a million dollars a year, I think is what he said. I said, “Ron, I know nothing about books, I hardly ever read books.” He said that’s exactly the kind of person who can turn the company around. It was at that moment in my life that I had gone as far as I could go in the recording industry. People wanted me to move to either Los Angeles or New York and stay in the record business. My wife and I discussed that – our kids were young and really didn’t want to move out of Canada, out of Toronto. It seemed like a great opportunity – something fresh and I was still young and able to go through that learning curve not knowing how difficult it was going to be and decided to take the job. I stayed eight or nine years then stayed in the industry.