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MUSIC BIZ HONOREE GOTTEHRER TELLS ALL

Richard Gottehrer will receive Music Biz’s Outstanding Achievement Award at Conference’s Awards & Hall of Fame Dinner on Tuesday. The day before, he intends to speak about his entire career, starting with writing “My Boyfriend’s Back” and winding his way through producing Blondie and The Go-Go’s to co-founding Sire Records and The Orchard.

He might also make a plug to get Link Wray into any Hall of Fame that will have the brilliant guitarist.

Gottehrer’s credits are wide and varied—he produced “Hang on Sloopy”; wrote songs recorded by David Bowie, The J. Geils Band and Jerry Lee Lewis; founded Sire with Seymour Stein; paired Wray with Robert Gordon; and, with Scott Cohen, created The Orchard in 1997.

Gottehrer’s keynote address will be given during the Independent Artist & Songwriter Forum on Monday. We asked him for a few anecdotes and he kindly obliged. Here are some highlights of our conversation.

Rockin’ in the ‘60s: “We made a record of ‘I Want Candy’ and put it out under a group name, The Strangeloves. So the record gets some airplay and we got a call from a radio station and they said if you guys come down to Virginia Beach we can make this #1. We say, ‘Yeah.’ So we drive down there and as we pulled up, [the station manager] says, ‘No, you don't understand. You’ve got to get out to the airport and get on a plane because everybody thinks you're Australian.’ And kids were there holding signs like  ‘Virginia Beach Welcomes Australia's Strangeloves.’ So when we did the album we had to shoot a cover that was a little overblown —zebra skin vests, African war clothes— because America didn't know anything about Australia. It seemed OK to me. We didn’t mean to fool anybody.”

The birth of Sire: “An important moment in the development of Sire—before the Ramones, Talking Heads, The Pretenders— was right when the switch was being made to FM from AM. We had made a few singles, but we needed an album. We started taking trips to the U.K. and went to the export divisions of the various major record companies. They had great content that didn't sell, so their American affiliates were unwilling to release those albums. We licensed that material, bands like Climax Blues Band. And we found ourselves in Amsterdam and heard Focus, and eventually ‘Hocus Pocus’ became our first hit.

“Sire is actually S for Seymour, I is the second letter of Richard, R is the first letter of Richard and E is the second letter of Seymour. Go figure.”

Life as a producer: “In 1976, I got back into producing and started hanging around CBGB and Max's Kansas City. We already had the Ramones, I produced Richard Hell and the VoidoidsBlank Generation. One day, I asked [CBGB owner] Hilly Kristal about doing a composite album, and he introduced me to Debbie [Harry]. They weren’t headliners so I said, 'Let's have a rehearsal and listen to what you got.’ She was killer. At the rehearsal, I was grinning from ear to ear—every song was fantastic. It was soulfully great. I did a deal with them and went through a small label, Private Stock. After the second album, Chrysalis came into the picture and purchased the contract. A&M called me to work on a Joan Armatrading record [Me Myslef I]. It was the furthest thing from what I would have thought [I’d be called for]. But she loved those Blondie records.

The smart thing they did after starting The Orchard: “We began signing up anyone that wanted to be distributed through these Internet stores and we grew the business from there.  We asked them to give us the right to distribute digitally, in addition to the CDs. We anticipated that there would be a digital component to all this. And because we did that, we anticipated a good five, six years before iTunes came along. By that time, we had well over 150k titles to offer digitally. We anticipated that technology was not going to stay where it was.”

Why the success of BTS is an example of what drove the vision of The Orchard: “The Orchard would offer music anywhere in any language and it’s always available. Now, French kids are learning phonetic Korean because of the catchy songs. It's amazing. Music is something that can cross barriers and bring good feelings between people. It could be Chinese, Russian, Afghani—music is a real common denominator to me, and the digital revolution has made it possible for people to get an even richer understanding of different cultures.”

The great Go-Go’s boo-boo:The Go-Go’s came to me, but at first I wasn’t necessarily interested in an all girl-band. I went to see them at NYU and thought,  ‘Oh my God, these songs are great.’ We went into the studio and made what I thought was an amazing record [Beauty and the Beat]. They were pretty much a punk band when it started, but then I got a call telling me I ruined them—they’re a pop band now. I think the girls didn't talk to me for six months. They thought I betrayed their true sound, but we became great friends after the record went to #1, they had big tours and were on the cover of Rolling Stone twice.

“For the second record, we went up into the hills of Malibu. There was one song that was actually great, and I had them do it over and over and over again [until we got a great take]. I said, 'Wow, that was amazing'; I turn around to get the tape and there’s a guy who's completely stoned and says he forgot to press record. Then he says, ‘Man, don't worry about it. It's on the magic tape.’ I say ‘What are you talking about?’ The ‘magic tape’ is a crappy cassette machine that over-compressed everything but [the take] was amazing. I walked on the beach for almost the whole night listening to it on a boombox and the next day decided it was finished.

“They send it back to New York to be mastered—off the cassette. They said, ‘Can you mix in stereo?’ Well… Hey, the beauty of mono is not everything has to be perfect the way it does with stereo.”

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