Rock life had its hits and misses for Lenox innkeeper
LENOX -- Tom Werman now runs a popular inn with his wife Suki, but in an earlier incarnation, he was a successful rock producer in New York and Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s.
On Sunday, as part of the Lenox Library's Distinguished Lecture Series, he spoke of the fun and frustration of that job before an overflow crowd of more than 70 people at the library.
A self-taught guitarist, Werman was a rock aficionado who was a huge Beatles fan in the 1960s. After graduating from college, he worked in advertising for a few years, then became a record producer for Epic Records at age 26 in the early 1970s.
His job was to listen to demo tapes. If Werman heard anything possibly worth producing, he had the authority to fly anywhere in the U.S. to hear the band.
"One of 100 demo tapes were worth investigating," he said. "Of that one-in-a-hundred, one in a hundred of those was worth producing and of that number, one in a hundred made it big. It was very stressful being a record producer."
He pointed out that one producer passed on The Who.
"And they included the rejection note in one of their albums," Werman said. "It was a way of getting back, I guess."
Werman did not exclude himself as a producer who missed some big acts.
He spoke of the signing of a band called Wicked Lester. Unfortunately, the band broke up before Epic could release a record. He and his boss were invited to a rehearsal of a new band with several of the members of Wicked Lester.
"So we went to the rehearsal, and the band members were in spandex, which was relatively rare at the time, wearing a lot of makeup," said Werman. "When we left, my boss said to me, ‘What the Ef was that?' And we missed out on signing Kiss."
Another band wanted to be paid $75,000 for its first two records, "an unheard of sum at the time," said Werman. "So we didn't sign Rush."
Wermer did sign Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick and Molly Hatchet, acts that have sold more than 100 million records combined.
The latter part of Sunday's lecture involved Werman explaining exactly what he did as a producer, which was essentially taking the raw material of an act and molding it into a marketable album. Generally, in the 1980s, he had a budget of about $250,000, chose the studio, rehearsed the band, arranged the songs and chose the order of the songs on the albums.
His strategy, he said, was to put the best and second-best songs on Side One of a record, and the third-best song on the first cut of Side Two.
Another of Werman's duties was to augment the songs in the studio "with whatever it took: Musical instruments, hand claps, harmonies, synthesizers" and other elements.
In a question-and-answer period after the lecture, Werman admitted that many of the individuals in the bands he produced were unprofessional.
"They were shooting heroin, which was not conducive to doing their job," he said, dryly.
Werman recalled a session when he was working with a guitarist for a 32-second solo.
"It took us eight hours," he said, noting that the guitarist kept sneaking off to the bathroom, "to do whatever."
"You learned to cope and you learned to improvise," he said of those musicians. "And you learned to appreciate the artists who were professional."
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