This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Adam Block, president, Legacy Recordings.
The traditional “truth” about major label music executives is that they just aren’t music fans.
Not so with Adam Block, president of Legacy Recordings since 2012, when he was elevated from executive VP, and GM of the fabled imprint.
While cognizant of the numbers game of selling music in today’s digital and physical worlds, and knowledgeable of all of the marketing nuances involved in being successful in marketing back and deep catalog, Block may be the biggest music fan in the entire music industry universe.
He certainly holds one of the most rewarding jobs in the music industry.
Block oversees Sony’s massive catalog, helps curate worldwide catalog releases, and coordinates A&R and content development for Sony Music’s catalog division.
Block has spent two decades at Legacy Recordings, signing on as dir. of marketing in 1992, then rising through the ranks to senior dir. of marketing in 1995; VP of marketing in 1998; senior VP /general manager in 2004; and finally to executive VP, and GM in 2010, before being promoted to his current position.
Previously, Block worked at EMI Music as staff writer/photographer (1988-1990); as product manager (1990-1992); and as dir., catalog marketing (1992-1994). He also had a one year stint in public relations at Dragonette Inc. in the late ‘80s.
Founded in 1990 by CBS Records, Legacy's original mission was to preserve and reissue recordings from the extensive catalogs of Columbia Records (including ARC, Brunswick, OKeh and Vocalion), Epic Records (including Philadelphia International Records), and associated CBS labels.
Following the creation of Sony BMG Music Entertainment in 2005, Legacy assumed responsibility for the archives of the BMG family of labels, including RCA Records, Arista, J Records, Jive, Profile, Silvertone, Sony BMG Nashville and Windham Hill, as well as imprints including American, Bang!, CTI, Mainstream, Monument, Ode, and others.
Block’s mandate involves preserving, and issuing the catalogs of some of the leading blues, country R&B, rock and jazz artists of the recording era. This includes Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Simon & Garfunkel AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Santana, Journey, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett, and Willie Nelson among others.
If you like Tony Bennett, try working your way through Legacy’s “Tony Bennett: The Complete Collection,” a 76-disc set crammed with every album the crooner has recorded since 1952.
Whereas Paul Simon fans may rejoice with “The Complete Albums Collection,” Leonard Cohen fans can bunker down with his career set, "The Complete Columbia Albums Collection.”
There are similar in-depth collection sets of Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson, Herbie Hancock, and Taj Mahal in Legacy’s catalog.
To celebrate Record Store day on November 29th, Legacy is releasing collectibles 12-inch releases by Cheap Trick, Miles Davis, Nas, Harry Nilsson, Paul Simon and Roy Orbison; and 7-inch singles by Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone and Uncle Tupelo; as well as a vinyl replica CDs by the Clash.
Things are going well?
There’s plenty to complain about (in the recording industry), but not on this end. I feel so fortunate to have been able to do what I do for as long as I have done it; and even during this time. While I am finding it challenging, it’s also fascinating.
Catalog divisions within major record labels were “cash cows” in the late 1980s and early 1990s as music fans replaced their vinyl recordings with CDs. Has the reissue business changed with the growth of digital distribution coupled with both maturing boomers as well as younger people interested in the catalogs of their favorite artists?
Absolutely it has. The one thing that remains a constant is that--as we should be--we continue to generate an enormous amount of profit for catalog for the industry. Certainly Legacy does for Sony Music.
Has special marketing remained a big part of your business as well?
The A&R team at Legacy manages all of that. Yes, it’s still a very significant business. Very significant.
Lou Reed passed away a few weeks ago (Oct. 27, 2013). Legacy Recordings has been working on reissuing his RCA and Arista catalog. Does his passing heat things up for you?
For us, the reality of any artist passing includes the fact that there will be more interest in an artist’s work.
Of course, we saw that happen with Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson.
And with Whitney Houston. With virtually any artist. It’s part of our responsibility to try to have all our artists’ catalogs in the best possible shape so they can be enjoyed as thoroughly as possible. When this type of event occurs, the best position to be in is the one where you don’t have to do anything because it’s already been done. But whatever gets done, we are always trying to do it as respectfully, and honestly as possible.
And I hate to say it but quickly too.
How far along is Legacy with Lou Reed’s full catalog being reissued?
Lou finished remastering his entire RCA and Arista catalog a month ago. He wanted it to come out ahead of his birthday next year (March 2nd). We will honor that request. That’s his whole catalog that we have.
The Jimi Hendrix acquisition in 2010 was an important signing for Legacy was it not?
Absolutely. Look, over the last couple of years, the signing of AC/DC and (attaining) the AC/DC catalog; the signing of the Jimi Hendrix stuff; the signing of the Paul Simon stuff…each one of them, for their own reasons and in their own way, were incredibly important to us. So the answer is yes, it was incredibly important.
[In 2010, Seattle-based Experience Hendrix, the Hendrix family-owned company founded by Al Hendrix, Jimi’s father--and now headed by Jimi’s stepsister Janie Hendrix as its president/CEO--struck an 8 year worldwide licensing deal with Sony Music Entertainment.
Universal Music Group had previously held the master licenses for the bulk of the Hendrix catalog since 1997.
After the deal was signed Sony launched an extensive reissue program that includes deluxe CD/DVD versions of “Are You Experienced?,” “Axis: Bold As Love,” “Electric Ladyland” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; the Dagger Records officially-sanctioned “bootleg” line; and previously unreleased archival recordings and filmed concerts.
The first issue under the deal was “Valleys of Neptune,” an album of 12 previously unreleased studio recordings primarily from 1969.
This was followed by CD/DVD versions of the albums “Are You Experienced?,” “Axis: Bold As Love,” “Electric Ladyland,” and “First Rays of the New Rising Sun.” Each features documentaries with interviews with former Experience members Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, and Billy Cox; former producer/co-manager Chas Chandler; and engineer Eddie Kramer.
This past 12 months, honoring what would have been Hendrix’s 70th, there has been the release of an upgraded reissue of the “Purple Box,” and a single disc of previously unreleased material, “People, Hell & Angels. Just released Nov. 5, 2013 are CD and vinyl versions of the Experience’s May, 1968 Miami Pop Festival performance, and a two hour Blu-Ray, DVD documentary, “American Masters: Jimi Hendrix-Hear My Train A Comin’.”]
The bidding for the Jimi Hendrix catalog was quite competitive between Sony and Universal.
It was. I have tremendous respect for the guys over at Universal. I think that they do a great job. I think that with each one of these opportunities when they arise that there is a set of circumstances that come with it that ultimately is going to give somebody an advantage. I think (with the Jimi Hendrix catalog) that we offered the prospect of a new home, a new energy, a new approach, and a new team.
We recently acquired Dean Martin’s Reprise Records catalog. I think that it is a similar situation where it can be a really healthy thing to start fresh. I think that in these instances that we are providing the artist with the ability to address the catalog through a new set of eyes. Our approach here tends to be a little different than others and, certainly in these cases, it appealed to them.
Legacy Recordings also signed Willie Nelson last year.
Oh, yeah. Yeahhhhhh!
It’s like Willie coming home. To Columbia and to RCA, where he also recorded.
The Willie deal is like that, and the other would be Earth Wind & Fire being signed. In fact, the Earth Wind & Fire guys described it is exactly as that. It was a coming home for them.
Let’s talk about Willie for a second. Willie represents an opportunity that we have been really actively pursuing which is (having) an active, current artist who is forward moving in his career, with an appetite to continue and make new music; and a determination to move his career forward on the road constantly. But then there’s this remarkable body of work and we should complement that and vice versa.
[ On Sept. 24, 2013 Legacy Recordings released the newest Willie Nelson album, To All The Girls...” featuring Willie in duets with Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, Roseanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris It is the third new Willie Nelson album since his historic deal with Legacy Recordings.
“Heroes,” his first for Legacy, was released May 2012, debuted at #18 on the Billboard 200 album chart (Willie's highest number on the chart since “Always On My Mind” hit #2 in 1982), and spent 5 consecutive weeks at #1 on the Americana Radio Chart.
“Let's Face The Music And Dance,” Willie's second Legacy album, was released on April 16, 2013. It peaked at #16 on the Billboard Top Country Music Album chart, and #49 on the Billboard 200 chart.]
In signing artists and releasing new recordings, you sound like the head of a full-service record company.
No fan is buying nothing but reissued music. Or virtually nobody is. They are music fans of different styles of music and we have gotten quite expert at communicating to those fans. So, why should we not be offering a brand new Earth Wind & Fire record to an audience that we are communication about Michael Jackson or Luther Vandross.
I’m really proud of the fact that Legacy Recordings, Sony Music’s catalog division, had three Top 10 debuts this year in Jimi Hendrix, Earth Wind & Fire, and Willie Nelson. I am really proud of the fact that we had four of the highest charting records in an artists’ career over the past 20, 30 or 40 years in Preservation Hall Jazz Band (“That’s It!”) which is a brand new record; in Willie’s records—three of which are brand new records; and in the Earth Wind & Fire record (“Now, Then & Forever”) which is a brand new record. We’ve always approached projects--whether a new recording project or a reissue project--as if we were marketing a new recording project.
Will AC/DC be recording for Legacy?
The AC/DC deal is different in that they record for Columbia Records proper. So they put out their new records on Columbia,. Their catalog comes out through Legacy.
How did the Phil Spector Philles catalog series come together? The quality is quite incredible.
I have to give Rob Santos (VP, A&R Sony Legacy) enormous credit for how that came together. It came together through a relationship that we have with the publisher (EMI Music Publishing). Rob spent a lot of time working and communicating with Phil himself. Finally, Phil, I guess, trusted him enough to say, “Here are the masters. You should do this the right way.” Obviously, that is such a tragic, awful story (the death of Lana Clarkson). Everybody is entitled to their opinion about what did or didn’t happen. For us, we just focus on the music, concentrate on the music. It is just so indisputably remarkable. It deserved to be treated this way. We are very proud to be able to do that.
[The Philles Records recordings are being reissued through Legacy under an agreement between Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music Publishing. These include recordings by the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love, and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans.
Philles Records was home to one of the most readily identifiable and influential studio sounds in the history of recorded music. The label was launched in 1961 by Phil Spector and Lester Sill.
By the time the label closed down in 1967, 18 Philles Records had charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. These included: "Uptown" (#13), "He's A Rebel," (#1), "Da Doo Ron Ron" (#3), and "Then He Kissed Me" (#6) by the Crystals; "Be My Baby" (#2), and "Baby I Love You" (#24) by the Ronettes; and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (#1), “Just Once in My Life” (#9), “Unchained Melody” (#4), “Ebb Tide” (#5), and (“You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” (#1) by the Righteous Brothers.
Convicted of second degree murder and found guilty of using a firearm in the commission of a crime, Phil Spector is currently serving his sentence at the California State Prison: California Health Care Facility in Stockton, California.]
What is the audience of catalog box sets of Tony Bennett, Leonard Cohen Paul Simon, Harry Nilsson, and so on? Who buys box sets?
There are a couple of consumers who are purchasing that kind of product. The first is the über fan. The second is the collector of certain (musical) stuff. Not necessarily that artist, but that idea. The third is the gift giver. It’s great and popular gift to give to somebody who you know is a fan. Look I would never suggest that the numbers that we are selling here are overwhelmingly large but they can be very healthy and there is also the decision to create these things also ties to our determination to make sure that we are digitizing and preserving all of these artists’ bodies of work.
Many of these artists are getting older, and they or their estates, if they have passed on, may be concerned about what the artist’s legacy will be. Is being offered a box set an enticement for them to be involved?
I don’t know if it’s an enticement. Appealing? It’s got to be appealing. This is really important. I think that fundamentally that Legacy exists for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is to insure that we are preserving and perpetuating this important cultural work. If we are not doing this stuff; if we are not digitizing--and a lot of this stuff is on tape that disintegrating--If we are not celebrating it; if we are not telling the stories that really are part of the fabric of popular culture—and that is what all of this represents is these stories—then I don’t think that we are doing our job right. (If we aren’t doing it) we are certainly not doing it fully. If we aren’t doing it then this work will just continue to slip into obscurity and eventually disappear. That’s certainly not what we want to see happening.
There are so many different types of reissues available.
Well, in this day the strategy is really quite simple. The audiences exist across such a wide spectrum that the idea is to make sure that we are offering our artists’ music to them wherever they are. If that means that you are a streaming consumer, you’ve got to be there for streaming. If you are a 99 cent individual track, and “I have heard that song on a commercial, and I like it” consumer, it’s going to be there for 99 cents. If you stop at a truck stop, it’s there in the budget category. It’s there in the midline category. It’s there at full price.
I think that the beauty of being a music fan today is that you can find music wherever you are at whatever level you feel like engaging. The great challenging goal is to make sure that we are presenting artists’ music that way.
Sony Legacy’s Essential series is like a greatest hits series. Is that a mid-line series?
Yes it is, but that is a two disc or two disc equivalent series.
At what stage do you figure out that it’s time to compile an artist’s most memorable tracks? Some artists may not want that. They want the original albums to be kept available.
Well, the retrospective conversation has changed dramatically in the digital era. It has changed because suddenly every fan has the opportunity or the mind to create whatever kind of compilation of whatever artist that they are interested in instantly.
So for an artist today to say, “I’m not interested in offering my music that way,” in some respects, is willfully ignoring that’s the way their fans--or certainly a segment of their fans--are consuming their music (today). Obviously, you look for the music to tell you what to do. An artist who has a multi-year, multi album career and who’s body of work is no longer available in one album is an artist who would be a candidate at least for consideration (for a compilation)
With the demise of the national bricks and mortar music retail network, the availability individual albums has largely disappeared.
That is a critical point in that once upon a time there was an abundance of retailers carrying multiple skews across most artists’ catalogs. You could walk into Tower Records and find in (the bins) an artist’s three, four, five, seven, fifteen albums. Today you are lucky if you find one album. One greatest hits. We can lament the state of physical retail or we can just acknowledge what it is and try to find ways to make it work for what it is.
The reality in the physical retail space right now is that they (retailers) want a single disc greatest hits. They want a double disc greatest hits. And, depending on the artist, they will carry one or two seminal albums and really not a whole lot more than that. If you are not participating in the hits or “best of” compilation strategy, you are leaving out a segment of the music buying population that you might otherwise be capturing.
Attraction to an album itself has changed. Decades ago, a music fan purchased Carole King’s “Tapestry” to hear the complete album. Today, people might only want three of four songs from that album. Perhaps, they heard one of the tracks in a film or on radio. So the attitude toward her music has changed.
Absolutely. Well, the audience has changed. I will always be a glass is half full kind of a guy. To me, there are some real positives that are occurring in our business today in the way that music is being consumed. Not the least of which is because of the widespread availability of it (music). Young people it seems are willing to listen to listen to so much broader assortment of music, including the music of previous generations. Certainly, for some of us growing up in the boomer age, we probably weren’t listening to our parents’ music. Whether we were or not, we certainly were not going to acknowledge that we did (to friends).
Looking at my own teenage kids, and their friends who consume music, they are as open to listen to the Clash or to Run–D.M.C. or the Beastie Boys or the Rolling Stones--bands that are not of their generation--as much as they are interested in listening to Justin Timberlake or Miley Cyrus or Arcade Fire or whoever the defining bands of their generation are.
Traditionally, the music that consumers listened to was defined by radio. The internet has led to genres and even race being less defined. In the past, many Top 40 radio stations, and even MTV early on wouldn’t play urban music. Today a music fan is exposed to all genres of music via the internet.
Absolutely. It’s all there at their fingertips today. They hear something in a commercial or they hear something on a television sync or a movie. Or love them or hate them, they hear something on one of the (television) reality performance shows, “The Voice” or Idol. Suddenly you have a kid (performer) who is performing “"Hallelujah,” and they are doing the Jeff Buckley version. But then someone makes the point that it’s a Leonard Cohen song. I walk into my kid’s room, and he’s on YouTube finding the Leonard Cohen version, and 15 other versions of that song. You talk about behavior and how it’s changing the way music fans consume music, this is one of the extraordinary and really exciting aspects of being a music fan today.
How much of your catalog sales are physical against digital?
It certainly varies from title to title. But generally speaking, at this point over the entire catalog, it can be 65:35, digital to physical. But that’s hard to look at because the catalog is defined as any recording 18 months or older. When we put out a new Miles Davis project, in new vinyl, like the Miles Davis “Bootleg” project for instance, that’s going to be 90% physical through the first week of its life. For the first month of its life.
The configuration changes over time periods?
It definitely changes in time periods. You have the consumer who is rushing out to buy something upon its release; where we have managed to communicate an interest to that person through our press and our marketing and all of our campaigning---depending on the artist—that tends to be the more engaged, the most passionate consumer and, more often than not, they are going to want that tactile experience. As the life of that project extends, the discovery of it tends to be occurring in a different way among a different audience, among a more casual audience.
And they are finding out about the release in different ways as well.
Finding it in a different way and, maybe, not as eager to say, “You know what. I will go in here for $10 and buy this. Or buy it for $20 or $40.” They will say, “I will try a couple of tracks here. Maybe, I don’t need the physical thing but I want this Miles Davis in my collection.” That’s where I think is where you get the more casual digital fan.
Are consumers now downloading an album more than purchasing just a few tracks?
It’s really project by project. If you are talking about largely a hit-driven pop artist, it’s still going to be more of an individual track proposition. When you are talking about an artist who’s got an album that is celebrated, and recognized as important in of itself, then it is easier to communicate that message and persuade a consumer or fan to buy an entire album.
Sony Masterworks also reissues back catalog.
Traditionally, Masterworks has been Sony Music’s classical label. Chuck Mitchell (senior VP for Sony Masterworks U.S) is doing a really nice job there of expanding the definition of what Masterwork is based on the skill set of his team in the same way that Legacy realizes that we are very good at communicating with to niche audiences and many fans in those audiences. I’ve just got to know Chuck a bit. He seems like an incredibly bright musical person.
In years past, both Columbia and RCA released deep blues and jazz catalog reissues Other than releases of Robert Johnson and Miles Davis, there seems to be less emphasis on the blues and jazz cultural histories of RCA and Columbia at Legacy. Is that because of changes in the marketplace?
Sadly, the market dictates some of the decision making that happens. It has to. Having said that, there are always going to be occasions where we celebrate certain celebrated artists because we feel like it’s our obligation to.
It’s not about the P & L (annual report and other quarterly reports a publicly-traded company publishes). It can’t be about the P & L. It is what Legacy stand for. It’s why we are here. But that’s a very easy thing to say but when you are saddled with the responsibility of delivering numbers for a publicly-traded company, there is a lot of pressure that we are obviously trying to balance. The constant conversation is how do we continue to find that intersection where art and commerce can comfortably co-exist? How can we justify doing some of these finer point projects and still deliver what we are charged with to deliver? There’s a constant tug and push.
With some releases accountants will ask why are you doing this or that but sometimes a surprise come. The biggest of which was the enormous success of Robert Johnson’s double-disc box. I’d like to see similar Bessie Smith and producer John Hammond Sr. retrospectives.
You are certainly not alone. One of the things that we try very hard to do is to find the opportunities that exist that we can use as springboards to do those kinds of projects. For instance, is there a Nina Simone documentary or a Nina Simone feature that we know that there is.
[To the surprise of Columbia Record executives and the recording industry itself, “The Complete Recordings,” a double-disc box set released by Sony/Columbia Legacy on August 28, 1990, containing almost everything Robert Johnson ever recorded, with all 29 recordings (and 12 alternate takes) sold over half a million copies and won a Grammy Award for “Best Historical Album” that year. In 2006, Johnson was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.]
So you try to tie a release to something separate.
Try to tie it to something separate. That’s the reality in today’s media marketplace where there is just such an abundance of noise.
[The production company Radical Media has begun development on a documentary about the life of Nina Simone, partnering with the Simone estate and the singer’s daughter Simone. There is also an unaffiliated bio feature with Zoe Saldana playing the singer soon to be released.]
How do you break through the media and internet clutter with news of current Legacy releases?
You can’t do it by yourself. You need to have these other driving factors. A film, a book, a commercial. A strategic partner that maybe has nothing to do with music but really wants to be connected with what you are doing because there’s a good fit stylistically. Those are the kinds of things that really are so important today that 20 years ago when we were putting out a Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday or Louis Armstrong stuff we really didn’t need that because we were just not competing with so much.
As well, back then there were also FM stations and public radio to expose those types of projects. And there were specialty shows at many stations centered on blues and jazz programming..
Talking about taking advantage of events, indie music retailers will celebrate Black Friday with "Back to Black Friday" Record Store Day on Nov. 29, 2013. This is like Christmas Day for you guys at Legacy Recordings. A day to strut your stuff with some great vinyl releases.
You know what’s interesting in the same way that there is this audience for über collections on one end of the spectrum, and that there is that audience that is not going to consume anything more than music at one track at a time, there’s a vinyl audience that continues to grow. This is a modest business to be clear but it’s a very active vocal fan base and there is a channel to reach them through. And, yes, Record Store Day is a savored day for us here at Legacy. No question about it. Yeah, two days a year now. We are very happy to participate.
The number of labels Legacy now has access to has grown greatly.
Yes. That started with the merger of Sony and BMG.
[In 2008 Sony Corp. agreed purchased Bertelsmann Music Group’s 50% stake in Sony BMG Music Entertainment for $1.2 billion to get full control. The music company was renamed Sony Music Entertainment Inc. and is a unit of Sony Corporation of America. Sony BMG Music Entertainment had been a 50/50 joint venture between Sony Music Entertainment, and Bertelsmann Music Group completed in 2004.]
Many of the labels you have access to are former independent labels. What are the states of their archives or are they part of Sony’s archives?
They are if we maintain the rights to them then yes they are part of our overall archive. The reality is that the archiving process on the Sony side of the Song/BMG was really being actively curated and looked after way ahead of the BMG side. We have worked very hard in the post merger period to make sure that we were doing the same through job of archiving and catalog those assets as we had been doing on the Sony side. At this point, I am happy to say that our cataloging and archiving is incredibly sophisticated and incredibly throughout.
How about music released by some of the former independent labels? Are those masters in your archives?
Not always. Depending on what the deal was. The PIR (Philadelphia International Records) deal, for instance, is one in which (Kenny) Gamble and (Leon) Huff would just submit finished album masters. That’s what was delivered and that’s what we have. But over time, and depending on relationships and opportunities, if it makes sense, we try to bring in as much of that stuff to keep and protect. It’s not just costly to keep for but there’s also a science to it to make sure that it’s preserved properly. That’s a big part of a department’s responsibility here.
Has Sony/Columbia kept all their master recordings intact over the years?
I wish that I could say yes. They kept an enormous amount of it, yes. But there are stories that haunt guys like me of unfortunate decisions due to, “We need some shelf space here. We have all of these new tapes coming in here. What should we do with these tapes? Just throw them out.” It happened with tapes or lacquer discs or metal parts at an earlier stage when there wasn’t the understood value of the future that exists now.
Is everything kept in a central location?
Yes. We use a company called Iron Mountain, which is a big firm.
Even when master recordings have been lost, there have been reissues that sound good.
There have been such advances made on the technological side in sonic preservation. Obviously, you always want your original master wherever you can find it, but the advances that have been made in terms of recreating sound and cleaning up later generations masters has allowed us to preserve an enormous amount of material that might otherwise have been going
Did it help that Columbia had a technology division, CBS Laboratories, an advantage in understanding sound. I have never thought of that before. Of course, CBS operated its own recording studios for years.
I have never thought of that either. That’s a really good question.
[CBS Laboratories was established in 1936 in New York City to conduct technological research for CBS and outside clients. CBS Laboratories’ head research scientist Peter Goldmark led Columbia's team to develop a phonograph record that would hold at least 20 minutes per side. The LP was introduced in 1948.]
Columbia Records also had a vast photo archive that you now have access to.
We have a ton of photographs. That’s a whole other side of our archive. We had staff photographers, basically from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, capturing virtually any artist you name. We have a spectacular photo archive.
Will you be utilizing those photo archives more as the internet evolves?
To the degree that we can influence the developing marketplace, what is interesting and challenging is that internet audio only is not necessarily the most appealing proposition in how people are discovering or interacting with music. With the photography and the video that we have and are now starting to catalog and archive the way we have looked after our audio assets, we are trying to find more ways to utilize that stuff to bring all of this music to life in ways that a contemporary audience wants to experience it.
[Legacy Recordings and LIFE have partnered to release a series of illustrated biographies, and music CDs. The books feature rare and photos from the archives of Sony Music Entertainment. The series launched Aug. 13, 2013 with “LIFE Unseen: Johnny Cash – An Illustrated Biography,” which coincided with the release of a new music collection “LIFE Unheard: Johnny Cash” that features rare tracks from throughout Cash’s career, including two previously unreleased tracks: “Ben Dewberry’s Final Run,” originally made famous by Jimmie Rodgers, and “Movin’ Up,” recorded for Cash’s 1981 made-for-TV movie, “The Pride of Jesse Hallam.”]
What’s been your biggest find?
Over 25 years, there’s been an outstanding amount of discovery. The most recent is—which you stop to think about it is most extraordinary—we found a long lost or forgotten Johnny Cash record. The masters were out at the (Cash) cabin. John Carter Cash was organizing his dad’s personal stuff, and he found these tapes. Here was this Billy Sherrill produced virtually finished recording that was recorded near the end of his Columbia tenure. It emerges as sort of this bridge between his Columbia stuff and what we would hear ten year years later on American. Fascinating. Just an incredible discovery. It’s coming in March.
Any other great discovery stories?
There’s a great story of when we were organizing the Columbia when we first moved it into iron Mountain. This goes back to close to 20 years ago. Sending our musicologist into Iron Mountain to organize. A guy literally moved a shelf of tapes to reveal an entire room that we didn’t know existed that had been filled with our own tapes in which there was some Janis Joplin stuff that we didn’t know we had. The story of discovery happens a lot more frequently than you might think.
Legacy has a Michael Bloomfield project in the works, “From His Head To His Heart To His Hands” that will be released early next year.
Working with Al Kooper?
With Al, absolutely. There’s an enormous amount (of music) there. The Michael Bloomfield set is a really good example of an important motivating factor behind the decisions we make to put things out. It’s a story that really hasn’t been told and it’s a story that is incredible.
There’s only the 2000 oral book “If You Love These Blues” and a few releases here and there by Bloomfield. Not much since his untimely death in 1981.
Virtually nothing. Virtually an untold (story). And I think that when we talk about what we do and how we do it, ultimately I think we view ourselves as storytellers. I think that this is a great example of a great story that most people don’t know that we hope that we will be able to communicate in a way that opens up this guy and his incredible material to a much munch broader audience.
How did the Bloomfield project develop?
There is a constant swirling dialogue that occurs not just within the walls of Legacy but really among our extended Legacy family. That includes producers and artists and fans, frankly. We get a lot of feedback from fans through our Facebook and our website. We’re constantly kicking ideas around and talking about different artists. Looking for a reason to celebrate those who have not yet been celebrated. Al Kooper has long been Mike Bloomfield’s biggest champion, and we have a long standing relationship with Al, of course. This was something that we had been talking about for several years. Actually, more than several years. I think that we just felt like, “If not now, when?” Sometimes, it’s that simple.
How old are you?
I’m 49. I grew up in Parks Slope in Brooklyn. For me growing up, it was music and sports and journalism.
Your musical tastes are all over the map.
All over the place. My folks were gigantic music fans. There was music playing in our home all of the time. There was all kinds of music. Nothing has been more helpful to me in terms of the way I am able to approach what I do than having that foundation. From my folks, the message was really simple. They were sort of borderline hippies coming out of the ‘60s living in a really really liberal neighborhood. (With music) it was like, “You don’t have to like it but you have to respect it.”
You began working in the music industry in the late ‘70s while still a teenager.
I started as an intern at Atlantic Records for several summers in the late ‘70s. Working in the press department for Patti Conte, and Perry Cooper. Everybody reported to Perry. I was a doe-eyed 16 year old. I got quite an eyeful there for a couple of summers. It was phenomenal. To have been there for a couple of summers and really been taken under the watchful eye of some really decent people, to be given a chance.
You went on to attain a BA in English from Vassar.
At Vassar College For Girls. Vassar went co-ed in ’69. There were a lot more women there than men went I went there. I wanted to be a writer.
You also worked at EMI Music.
I did. Patti Conti hired me. She said, “Come be my assistant, and I will create this staff writer position.” So I thought that I would have the opportunity to realize my dream about writing about music. I did that for a year and quickly grew a little bored.
You didn’t like writing bios?
It got a little tiresome. It was hard for me to do justice to these artists that I just wasn’t in love with. EMI, at the time, was an overachieving label. Our biggest artists were Richard Marx, Queensrÿche, Bobby McFerrin, and George Thorogood and the Destroyers. I’m not disparaging any of them. I just wasn’t enjoying myself.
I was invited to move into the marketing department early on.
Not long after that, and no long after the Robert Johnson phenomenon, I was getting a little itchy again, and I looked at our catalog, and I had a conversation with my boss, and I said, “We have this nice little catalog at EMI that we aren’t doing anything with. Why don’t you give me a shot and see if I can generate some of it? To my great good fortune, he said, “Let’s do this.” The first thing that we did was the Fats Domino box set. That was the first catalog release that I ever did.
[Released in 1991, the 4-CD box set “Fats Domino—The Legendary Imperial Recordings” contained 100 recordings, and an 88-page book featuring extensive liner notes, complete track annotations, and historical photos.]
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
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