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THROWBACK THURSDAY: MORE MUSIC BIZ HISTORY

Presenting a sample from The History of the Music Biz: The Mike Sigman Interviews, our recently published compendium of profiles on some of the giants who built the modern music biz. Tommy Mottola, seen here with Hall and Oates and Carly Simon, takes us back to the early days...

Tommy began, as always, with his love of music, a love that became an obsession the first time he heard Elvis Presley sing “Don’t Be Cruel” on his older sister’s AM radio.

“Coming into the business first as a musician, not a law­yer or a finance guy, was a blessing. I came at the whole thing from a completely different place than most of the big­ger executives. We all had our love and appreciation for the music, of course, but mine was because I was a musician. I started with the piano, then learned the trumpet, and because I won a music scholarship in third grade, I had to play that for five years. I hated it! In eighth grade, I took up guitar. I also learned the upright bass and the drums, but guitar became my main instrument. Being in bands and playing music, that was all I ever wanted to do.”

Tommy honed his musical chops with The Exotics, one of the top R&B bands in the area. At 18, with the help of legend­ary promotion man Pete Bennett, he signed a contract with Epic Records as a singer. The singles he released, under the name T.D. Valentine, weren’t bad, but they weren’t great.

“I actually thought I was good enough to have a hit,” Tommy recalls. “Little did I know I wasn’t. I was a five out of 10 at best. But I had the dreams and the desires. I was in the studio constantly. 

“After going through all the ups and downs of being an artist, a lightning bolt hit me, and I said, ‘Why don’t you do this as a business?’ I was marrying a girl whose father frowned on the fact that I was trying to make it as a singer [Lisa Clark, daughter of ABC-Paramount Records honcho Sam Clark], and I said, ‘OK, I’ll take my passion and live vicariously through my artists.’

Tommy got a gig at music publisher MRC Music, where his duties included singing backup on the Steam classic, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” A year after he started at MRC, Philips bought the company and let everyone go.

Norman Weiser, who ran Chappell Music, called Tommy and offered him a job at $225 a week, $100 more than he was making at MRC.

“I was jumping for joy. I ate it up, I worked night and day. I was a sponge, a student. I stayed there for six years and learned what songwriting is all about, how critical it is to everything. A great copyright is the script in the movie; it’s the raw material.”

Tommy began to spend serious time with two young Chappell writers named Daryl Hall and John Oates, who not only penned amazing songs but were also terrific performers. At a time when singer/songwriters like James Taylor, Carole King and Carly Simon were overtaking rock groups in chart perfor­mance, Hall and Oates were, in a sense, both...

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