or The Anatomy Of Getting Somewhere In Show Biz
or Where Were You In '82?
While not yet a household name, Kathy Fisher and her band have been making ripples on the pond of the music industry over the last few years, including getting about a million downloads on MP3.com of their songs, having their songs featured in several television commercials, appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and getting signed to Interscope Records.
In order to appreciate the time line of this act we have to go way, way back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and a band fronted by Jeffrey Spry called Felony.
Felony, despite a small change of membership, was largely focused on singer-songwriter Jeffrey Spry, whom I knew, and his brother Joe Spry, who I never really met or knew at all.
Joe and his wife owned a hair salon in the San Fernando Valley known as Curly Joe’s. His wife handled the salon end and others members of the family were heavily involved in the mail order distribution of hair and skin products to other salons. These were their primary methods of making a living.
Joe and his brother Jeffrey also had musical ambitions and put together a band which eventually evolved into Felony, with Joe on lead guitar, Jeffrey on vocals, Danny Sands on keyboards.
They cultivated relationships in the Los Angeles music scene and eventually tied up with the original manger of Foreigner, the premier “corporate rock” act of the 1980’s with hits such as “Cold As Ice” and “Double Vision” - both of which my top 40 bands used to play.
Through their connects with management and eventually with premier alternative rock station KROQ in Los Angeles, they managed to get on film in the movie “Graduation Day” performing their song called “The Gangsters of Rock.”
They continued their cultivation efforts and eventually came into contact with Donny Rubin, who had worked with the Lovin’ Spoonful (mega hit "So Happy Together") in the 1960’s. Rubin brought in Artie Cornfeld, who had work with M-G-M records artists the Cowsills (the hit TV series "The Partridge Family" was eventually based on the Cowsills) and they, along with Felony, developed a package that included the song “The Fanatic.”
Jeffrey and his wife Lucy would go over the tracks after the recording session and agreed “they had a hit” on their hands.
KROQ began playing it and Donny Rubin began selling the act and placed them with a new company started by pro football's Ben and Tony Scotti. The Scotti Brothers had a distribution deal with CBS Records, which is the premier distribution company. They also eventually teamed up with Syd Vinnedge and produced television, including Kasey Kasem's Top 10 Countdown (I also did sub-contracting work on that show).
The song “The Fanatic” was placed into the theatrical feature film “Valley Girl” and when the album and single were released Felony performed on the fabled Dick Clark American Bandstand. The song placed somewhat high on the Billboard charts and got played to death by KROQ and a lot of other stations around the world.
Enter Ron Wasserman, a client at Curly Joe’s. Ron was getting his hair done by Joe’s wife and told her that he played keyboards. Jeffrey’s wife, Lucy, had a band making the rounds in Los Angeles and was looking for a keyboard player so they could somewhat duplicate the sound of Felony to a degree. Ron took the job.
Lucrecia “Lucy” Russo came from a show business family. Her father, known today under the name Russo Louis, was a ventro-comedian who appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Hollywood Place and opened for Liberace on a world tour and had his own show on KTTV in Los Angeles. Her Uncle John Russo was an actor who appeared twice on the original “Star Trek” in some of the most famous episodes, including the “Horta” episode about the creatures that burrowed through rock. Another he appeared as a Commodore who was to test a new computer controlled “Enterprise” in combat. He was also in the TV pilot for “Long Street” with James Franciscus and had a long history in feature films and television. Lucy’s mother and grandmother were both dancers with long stage histories in New York City, plus tours of the entire United States.
Lucy, because of her general look, had been told by many people she reminded them of the cartoon character “Betty Boop” and as a result she started collecting Betty Boop memorabilia. When she decided to try her hand at music she took on the persona and called the act Betty Boop and the Beat.
The original players included Steve Tannebaum on bass and Darrin Sweeney on guitar. Darrin left the band and was replaced by Ron Kenan. Shortly after this Ron Wasserman joined the band and changed his name to Ron Waters. Steve Tannebaum left the band and was replaced by Nicky Sharp, then Charlie Garcia was added to the roster on drums.
Charlie and I went back to an effort with Alan Mayer and Rodney Fong called the Elizabeth Clift Band.
Alan, Rodney and I had started a studio and music enterprise in the San Fernando Valley. Alan was working on a film project with childhood friend, Steve Neimand (who later became an attorney and co-authored the source material for a TV pilot starring Dezi Arnaz, Jr., called “Whacked Out” for Filmways/NBC TV in collaboration with Jim Gurdine and his wife Kat Lynore). One day a group of them came by to see the rushes from the film effort with my equipment and included in this group was Jim Gurdine who was working with the filmmakers as an assistant, he brought his wife Kat and her friend Liz. Jim mentioned to me that Liz was a singer, so I pulled out keyboards, guitars and microphones and recorded a demo of one of her songs, which she took to her management company.
Elizabeth Clift had a major background. She was cousin to Academy Award winning actor Montgomery Clift. She was a SAG and Equity actor who had done the Seattle Civic Center run of “Bye, Bye Birdie” as the female lead and appeared on the cover of the Seattle Times Sunday Magazine. She had been under contract to a major movie studio to be in a TV series. Her band toured the country with bookings by the prestigious Associated Booking Company (ABC). Liz had accumulated all these credits by the end of her teenage years, which was quite impressive for anyone with show business aspirations!
Liz wanted to get into a showcase being put on at Sportsman Lodge, a major hotel in the San Fernando Valley, that was being sponsored by Love Records in association with her management people. Alan, Rod and I backed her on that showcase and she later put a band together with us. I told her we needed drums and one night she brought in Charlie Garcia.
Charlie has recently left the band Made In USA which was with the same management company that handled Liz.
Charlie came over with Liz and did drums tracks for the songs we had recorded with ‘Liz’ in our studio. He then became part of our band and we ended up playing the Continental Hyatt House on the same weekend when Queen was in town and staying there for a Los Angeles show. Liz’s father, who had previously been a DJ on radio, had put the gig together for us.
We eventually moved to a new location that Alan had purchased and Charlie took over our old rental location and began putting his own act together with Jeff Sherman (who now is co-owner of Platinum Audio Rents and does sound for major acts at the fabled “McCabe’s Guitar” in Santa Monica) and later with Mike Phillips (who went on to tour overseas with a rock band in which he sang lead vocals and played guitar).
After all the bands crumbled, Charlie answered an ad for Lucy’s band and started playing with them at shows including Doug Weston’s The Troubadour and Madame Wong’s.
When Lucy and the band went into the studio, Charlie brought me in as a consultant and I ended up working with the band for years doing press, promotion, photography, live sound, including shows at the Los Angeles Coliseum and Devonshire Downs.
Betty Boop and the Beat became a major Los Angeles Act trading weekend dates with Billy Vera and the Beaters or Jack Mack and the Heart Attack (both of those bands went on to minor successes on TV and radio several years later).
Ron Kenan, guitarist for the band, at this time, was working for Taft Entertainment (partners with Keith Barrish in TV projects, owners of the Hanna-Barbera Animation Studios, among other entertainment holdings) in Los Angeles working in contract negotiation and licensing. Lucy worked as assistant to the head of marketing for an agency (Story and Kelly Smith) doing work with the Los Angeles Times and Orange Country Register newspapers. I was working with Em Gee Film putting materials into colleges, TV shows, features films and music videos. Ron Wasserman was doing service work with audio recording equipment.
The band was working out of a studio owned by ATCO (Atlantic) Records #1 international hit singer-songwriter R.B. Greaves ("Take A Letter Maria"), who helped out developing the band, talked with us, came to our shows, fix the band up with other musicians and give me a hard time for only getting a few paragraphs of press on the band.
An associate of Ron Kenan got him in contact with a manager by the name of Emmanuel Repussard who had just finished doing work with a band signed to Polygram Records and also worked with Los Angeles billboard ICON Angelyne, which was ironic because Charlie Garcia had also worked as a drummer in Angelyne's band (and my old associate Jim Gurdine and his wife Kat were close personal friends with her, as well)!
Angelyne (pictured at right) has been on TV and in movies, plus she had an early MTV video I used to see all the time about rating guys from 1 to 10.
“Manny” as we came to call him, had worked with the Robert Stigwood Organization in New York during the Bee Gees era and was involved in the Bee Gees contract negotiations with RSO and Polygram. His Polygram connection came from this era.
Originally from France where Manny had been a drummer in a band that made a record, he was now re-located in America and was doing independent management of musical acts. Fresh from a world tour with an act he had managed and signed to a "deal" -- Charlie also knew that act -- with an album out and 1 million in sales.
Manny got us connected with Tibor Biritz, a Hungarian music and sports promoter who was putting on an international soccer event in Los Angeles. Manny and Tibor were long time friends and played soccer each weekend. Tibor asked Manny if he could get Angelyne for half-time. Manny say no way, but he did offer up Lucy’s band, Betty Boop. Manny also brought in a Vice President from Polygram Records in Germany to see the band at fabled Filthy McNasty's in the San Fernando Valley.
We did the show, playing before 50,000+ people at the Los Angeles Coliseum, with Lucy dancing with soccer superstar Pele, who was a guest Tibor brought into for the event.
The following week Ron Kenan was at an event where Pele was and presented him with pictures from our show.
We also did a major stage show in fronts of tens of thousands at Devonshire Downs for the Bud-Light/Chrysler 4th of July Event, which included the band’s picture in Valley Magazine (an award winning, glossy, color cover magazine).
The band also did recording sessions at Hit City West with producer Peter Kelsey, who had previously worked with Jean Luc Ponty. (Peter would also go on to produce a band, Shiva Burlesque, under a Warner Records first right of refusal - which Warner refused - who worked out their material in a studio where I was a principle).
The “Boop” as we had come to call it (out of fear that King Features Syndicate, which owned the Betty Boop character, might sue us for commercializing on the name) eventually broke apart. Ron Kenan moved from Taft to a new, smaller operation run by Hiam Saban in the Cahuenga Pass.
Saban produced music for TV cartoon shows and live TV specials, including Barbie and the Rockers and a special for Priscilla Presley - for which Ron gave me a call asking if I had any songs to provide a demo for - none were used).
Saban grew very large and soon occupied floors in the Glendale-Burbank area. Ron Kenan brought in Ron Wasserman to do production music and the two of them worked on such shows as the “Power Rangers” creating the “Go, Go, Power Rangers” theme song. Both Ron Kenan and Ron Wasserman got major ASCAP credits for their songwriting as a result of their television work.
Ron Wasserman was now working as an independent producer looking for artists and talent as well as doing TV music. For a while Ron Wasserman also worked with A&M recording artist E.G. Daily.
Enter Kathy Fisher, a singer and songwriter (pictured with Ron at left).
Ron Wasserman began a long association with her. When I last talked with Ron he was heavily into computers, having owned a Commodore in the 1980’s and interfacing it with this Roland keyboards (Ron was among the first people to "layer" keyboards and keyboard "patches" using MIDI In/Out/Thru in studio work back in 1984 at Clover, Rusk and Hit City West). Now, of course, he's using Macs, Pro Tools and state of the art keyboards, often working out material in a "home studio" filled with toys that would make most of us drool with envy!
Ron Wasserman and Kathy Fisher eventually placed a song with a TV advertising agency and hoped it would take their careers off.
Now, remember Ron was already a producer of TV music for Power Rangers and other Saban shows.
Saban was a “big deal” in the entertainment industry, having moved from small locations in the Cahuenga Pass to many floors in Glendale, to owning a plaza in Westwood. Saban, now a billionaire, recently bought a German Television operation. Ron Wasserman had extensive “producer” credits on Saban TV shows.
Ron and Kathy bought into the MP3.com page. This is a paid venue in which MP3 advertises you for a whole week in exchange for a fee. A common practice. Radio stations play bands in exchange for an advertising fee (a paid program, just like they do on TV for infomercials), tip sheets like College Media Journal does this with the old “Adventure Picks” in which a band or record company buys two full page ads and pays a total fee for like $4,000 to get distribution with the issue.
It paid off. Fisher went from getting a few hundred downloads here and there to accumulating over 1 million total downloads at MP3.com.
Ron and her had, like Jeffrey and Joe Spry before them in Felony, to cultivate industry contacts who eventually persuaded Interscope Records to take them on (their debut album for Interscope is pictured at left). After all, they had a million downloads, a TV commercial airing nationally and Ron had lots of TV credits with Saban.
This netted them a slot on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and as of this writing they have a
new song (called "Oblivious") that is starting to make waves, along with being on the sound track of the new Toyota commercial with the rotating wheel.
It took Ron Wasserman from about 1982 until the turn of this century to get on Interscope Records with an act. At this point, as I said when I started, Kathy Fisher and her band are still not a household name, but the two of them keep working and working and working at it, just like the Energizer Bunny.
This, is what the music business is all about at bottom line. Despite the fact of paying dues, you have to pay them over and over and over again!
Ron and I got to work around the likes of R.B. Greaves who had a major hit in the 1960’s with “Take A Latter Maria” and Kevin O’Neal of the Busboys, who had songs in the feature films “Ghostbusters” and “48 Hours.” Kevin O'Neal (pictured at left with Lucy from the Boop days, when the band opened for him at The Music Machine) was now trying to get his own act, The Navigators, off the ground starting basically from scratch, despite his past successes with his brother Brian in the Busboys.
Ron did TV work on his own through Saban. Ron and Kathy Fisher worked hard on their own and eventually got their work into TV commercials. They got on the Tonight show. They got signed to Interscope Records, the same label that hosts No Doubt.
Back in 1971 I was doing some work for Harry Middlebrooks who had a two time hit with the song “Spooky” which he co-wrote and he was still looking for his “big break” despite the fact he had been on the Lawrence Welk show and did Las Vegas with Glenn Campbell.
This is the reality of show business and one day Fisher might become half as big or as big as Britney Spears, then again she might never get past this "high point" in her career. The entertainment business is a very strange form of gambling and you win or lose based upon a throw of the dice!
Her new song "
Oblivious" is, by the way, a very good, well produced pop-rock song with a great hook and stands a good chance of getting somewhere if they are lucky, skillful, well connected and financed. If she and Ron keep it up, and they probably will, eventually etching their names in the stone of show business history, which is what all of us want to see happen (except we want it to happen to us, not them)!
But this is a story of how the business actually works, good, bad and indifferent.
I went on to producer a song for Lucy with her new band, a heavy metal entry which got KNAC (pictured above in a promo picture with DJ Diane Khan) and other world wide radio airplay, making the ASCAP "current performance list" back in 1990. I got Lucrecia into color magazines, Mix, Billboard and other publications. We made some ASCAP royalties and sold a pressing. It bought me my first computer, back in an era when computers were quite expensive. We ran a studio that hosted Concrete Blonde (IRS), The Three O’clock (Paisley Park/WB), Lions and Ghosts (EMI-America) and we had the likes of Stephen Powers, Manager of A&R for Capitol Records up to see Lucy's new band and he immediately recognized the old Betty Boop logos the moment he came into the studio.
Ron Kenan still works at Saban as a staffer and executive. Lucy is in New Mexico and often performs at the local casino. I’m in New York originally doing work with Clarissa J Rawkis and now working with her songwriting partner and other acts I got through my work with Rawkis. Charlie Garcia started a music marketing magazine and organization called PAIN and is the second largest magazine distributor in Los Angeles, which he used as a venue to help promote Ron Wasserman and Kathy Fisher in their efforts to make waves in a very fickled industry that is hard to conquer. Alan Mayer started a home and remote studio after doing work with iMusicast in Northern California. Elizabeth Clift got her MFA in Theater, was teaching at California State University, writing plays and books, plus she still sings. Jim Gurdine is directing and editing cable TV shows seen on Showtime. R.B. Greaves closed his studio and went back out on the road. Jeffrey Spry of Felony died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the late 1990s. His brother Joe started a new band and keeps the Felony legacy alive with re-releases and re-mixes. Danny Sands plays Las Vegas. Harry Middlebrooks is playing the high ticket restaurant circuit in the San Fernando Valley.
While this story is more about the education and evolution of Ron Wasserman, as well as a plug for all the acts mentioned herein, it is primarily a lineage from my limited point of view as to how Kathy Fisher got to Interscope Records and the Tonight Show. While I never personally worked with her or Ron on their project, I was involved in a part of their essential history and heritage. Plus, as I said, Fisher is making ripples on the pond of show biz right here and now doing something that could lead them to a big splash (while the rest of us, as we say in show biz vernacular, are "between projects"), hence they are the focal point of this piece.
The moral of this saga, to those of you with musical or show biz aspirations, is:
Pick your barber carefully! For if Ron Wasserman had let someone other than Curly Joe's Salon cut his locks who knows where he or Kathy Fisher would be today!
Earl R. Dingman has been published in Mix, Music Connection, Income Opportunities, Moving Image, Technical Photography, Valley Magazine, Complete Woman and other major print publications, plus has produced records with commercial radio airplay, TV commercials, music videos and documentary films. He is also a staff editor here at Issues doing the Entertainment and Technology sections.
Our 2005 Music Special continues with these offerings...
2005 Music Special |
Making It In Today Music Scene
Pop Rock: Kathy Fisher |
Punk Rock: G-Spot |
Hard Rock: Three Card Monte
Products: SE Electronics Studio Microphones |
Field Report: SE 5600 Microphone
Review: Mountain and Rick Derringer Live |
Music On The Net
Music Resources Updated |
Digital Promo Pictures
Why Few Women Producers? |
Picking A Studio |
Drum Pedals |
Hammer Head Freeware |
Drum Books |
Music Of The Tropics |
Profile: Blind Lemon |
Music Reviews |
Poem: Music Of The Mind
Our Music Special Issues Continues With These Other Offerings from 2003:
Our Regular Music Reviews:
Featuring: Omar Sosa - Keith Jarrett - Melissa Gibson - G-Spot - Chronophonic
Articles and Information from the 2003 Music Special:
Grass Roots Music | US Copyright Extension | The Promo Pack | The ECD | The Music Video
The Birth of the Recording Industry | California Arts & Music Expo | Peformance Rights Organizations
Ecelectic and Underground CD Reviews:
Jon Denzene/The Torrent | Distilled | Hook The Captain | Jesse Morgan
Tesknota | Living Space | JM Cruiz
Indiana Area Local Club Bands:
Sonus | The Mumble | Northern Kind | Archies Address
Articles and Information from the 2002 Music Special:
Learning Music |
Promo Pictures |
Record Companies | Copyrights |
Recording Software |
Sound Cards |
Guitar and Bass
Multi-Track Recorders |
Live Sound Gear |
Recording Engineer |
Bands in Texas
Teen Band: Y@nK |
Gigs and Clubs |
Music Theory |