A Maserati, a Devo Suit and Plenty of Dom Perignon

Quintessential industry veteran Mike Bone, who spent a chunk of the 1980s at Elektra during the prosperous and colorful reign of Bob Krasnow, shares his memories of the beloved exec, who had a lasting impact on everyone fortunate enough to work and play with him. Kras knew how to live, and live well, as Bone’s recollection vividly confirms.  

It was a cold winter Sunday in Hoboken, N.J. I was on the top of a ladder stripping paint off a pocket door in the brownstone building in which I was living. The phone rang. My then-girlfriend Dee Rae answers the phone and calls out to me from the kitchen, “It’s for you. He says he’s Bruce Lundvall.”

Bruce was the classy guy who had run CBS Records but had left to form his own Elektra/Musician, a jazz subsidiary of the parent company. Elektra had just gotten a new Chairman by the name of Bob Krasnow, a legendary A&R person, raconteur and all-round crazy man in the wacky business in which I was involved—the record business.

When I picked up the phone, I said, “Who is this?” Bruce spoke and I immediately recognized his distinctive voice, having heard him speak at various conventions. Bruce went into his pitch for the “new Elektra,” headed by Krasnow. Bruce wanted to know if I would be interested in coming to Elektra to head up the entire promotion department. This career move would be a BIG step up for me. I was the head of the rock promotion department at Arista, Clive Davis’ label, working for a great guy, Richard Palmese. I was happy and well-compensated at Arista, but the chance to run an ENTIRE promotion department—rock, pop and R&B—was very appealing. Bruce wanted to know when I was going to be “on the Coast” to meet with Krasnow. As luck would have it, I was scheduled to go to L.A. that night, and I was free for breakfast the next morning.

I went to Lundvall’s hotel room early the next morning to have breakfast with him and Krasnow. Bob was late, very late. It was raining in L.A., therefore to be expected. When Krasnow arrived, Bruce and I had finished breakfast. He walked into the room and wanted to know when I was going to start. No conversation. No interview. No job offer. “When are you going to start?” He was ready to rock immediately.

I took the job and moved into the temporary Elektra offices in the Rolex Building off Madison Ave in New York. The offices were small and cramped; we were sitting on top of one another. Bob had his office painted red—BRIGHT RED—and on one wall was a framed yellow Devo suit. There was no mistaking this office for anything other than a place where something creative happened. As luck would have it, he gave me the Devo suit. It hangs in my niece’s house today, just as yellow as ever.

The first few months with Bob were rough. I am a rock guy, and Bob wanted to be in the dance and R&B world. A&R person Michael Alago signed Metallica to the label. Out of the blue, Bob decided he did not want to be in the Metallica business. Bob said Metallica was just noise, and he called my friends Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch (Metallica’s managers) into his red office on a Friday afternoon and told them he was not going to proceed with the deal. Cliff walked out of Bob’s office and into my office and said, “You have to get out of here—that guy is crazy.” Bob went home for the weekend. When he returned to work Monday morning, he came into my office and said, “I have made a tremendous mistake. Please call Cliff and Peter and ask them to come over for a meeting with me.” Cliff and Peter arrived at the Elektra office a few hours later, and when the meeting was over, Metallica was Elektra’s #1 priority. Bob proclaimed heavy-metal music “the new street opera.” I have no idea what had happened to Bob over the weekend, but clearly he saw the light. Elektra went on to have Mötley Crüe, Dokken, Metal Church and Faster Pussycat in the “street opera” world. Metallica became one of the most valuable catalogs in the Elektra stable.

Always first-class in everything he touched—music, food, wine, art, cars—Bob did it RIGHT, and more often than not, it went
on his expense account.

Bob supported me as I found my footing in the promotion department. We had a great team, with Dave Urso, Brad Hunt, Greg Peck, et al. I reported to the head of marketing, Lou Maglia. When Lou left the label, Bob came into my office and asked who he should look at to replace Lou. I asked him to give me a few hours to come up with some names. After lunch, I went into his office and asked to be considered for the head of marketing job. “That’s the answer I was hoping for” was Bob’s reply. It was a done deal. I was made head of marketing THAT DAY. I subsequently rose to the level of EVP of Elektra Records.

Bob had a car and a driver. Most chairmen had cars and drivers. Most had black Lincoln Town Cars. True to form, Bob had a gold Maserati Quattroporte with an Italian driver named Angelo. This car was a work of art on four wheels that would run 140 MPH. Sadly it was driven around Manhattan most of the time and never got out of second gear.

Tuesday was report-card day for promotion departments back then. Tuesday was the day your records were added to radio station’s playlists, or not. Tuesday afternoon was a VERY stressful day in the promotion department. Your records lived and died on what happened on Tuesday. More than once, Bob would come into my office on Tuesday and announce, “Let’s go.” I would try to explain the precarious position we were in with some record, and he would refuse to hear it. “Call Urso and Hunt. Let them take care of it. We have to go to Philadelphia [or somewhere] to hear a band I just got a call on.” Down the elevator and into the Maserati we would go, off to Philadelphia, to hear some band (after we went to a famous place for Philly cheese steaks). The ride home was often late at night. I would arrive home in the wee small hours, sleep a little and be at the office by 9:30 the next morning.

Once Bob, Tom Zutaut, Allen Grubman, Bob Flax and I flew on a private plane to Toronto to hear an album by Canadian metal band Triumph. Triumph was an established band and out of contract. The weather over Toronto was bad, so we landed in Buffalo to wait for the Toronto weather to clear up. Zutaut suggested that we get some Buffalo wings from the Anchor Bar. This is before Buffalo wings were the ubiquitous menu item they are today. We called in an order for three buckets of wings—mild, medium and hot. The wings were delivered to the private aviation terminal at the Buffalo airport and attacked by five hungry men. Krasnow and Grubman proclaimed the wings to be disgusting, not in keeping with their normal gourmet fare, but they kept eating those wings. We finally got to Toronto, late, very late. Triumph had hired a premiere chef to cook a meal in the studio. By the time we arrived, the salad was wilted, the pasta was a solid mass and besides, we were all stuffed with Buffalo wings. We passed on the meal and went into the studio to listen to the Triumph album. When we left the studio and got into the limo to go back to the plane waiting for us at the Toronto airport, Grubman asked Bob, “What do you think?” Bob responded immediately “Piece of shit,” to which Grubman replied, “Good. We can talk about pu**y for the rest of the trip.”

One Sunday morning, I was lying in bed drinking coffee and reading The New York Times when Bob called. He invited me to come over to “help me cook.” He was having some friends over for dinner, and I was invited. I got to his townhouse on 19th St. and he gave me my duties: Skin these tomatoes, de-seed them, chop them and cook them with some garlic. I knew my way around the kitchen, so I went to work. He was making pasta and cooking chicken. We were drinking champagne—always Dom Perignon at Bob’s house. He took me down into his wine cellar, and we picked out the wines for the evening: Brunello de Montecino, Chianti Classico Reserva, etc. Bob explained the complexity of each wine to me. We were back in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. Bob asked me to get the door. When I opened it, the entire band The Cure was standing there. In they come, down the hallway with the Andy Warhol “Double Elvis” painting hanging at the end and into the dining room/living room, so large you could land a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter in it. There was a Helen Frankenthaler painting on one wall that I’d always admired. (Another time I was there, I got the door and it was Henry Kissinger!) You never knew who was going to turn up at Bob’s door.

Bob spent money like no one I have ever seen. It has been told to me that at one time his expense account was the largest in the entire Time Warner family. Always first-class in everything he touched—music, food, wine, art, cars—Bob did it RIGHT, and more often than not, it went on his expense account. He once dropped a label deal with a person because the man had gotten a million-dollar check and celebrated by buying a Volkswagen. Bob said he did not want to be associated with someone that low-class. $1,000 shoes were Bob’s norm. He once walked into my office to show me his new black leather jacket. It looked nice, but then he turned around so I could see the red eagle on the back of the jacket. I think he paid $3,000 for that jacket, and this was in the 1980’s when $3,000 was a lot of money.

Bob had a way with artists. He spoke to them and put them at ease. I always felt sorry for Gary Casson, the head of business affairs, and Aaron Levy, the CFO. Bob would commit to something crazy to an artist, and Gary would have to find a way to either get out of it or make it recoupable. Aaron, the greatest financial person to ever touch a calculator, would have to justify Bob’s outlandish spending to corporate. Fortunately, we all worked for a man named Steve Ross. Mr. Ross understood the creative nature of the record business. He didn’t mind Bob’s spending, just as long as Bob was putting the numbers on the board—and he did that. Anita Baker, Shirley Murdock, Midnight Starr, The Whispers, 10,000 Maniacs, The Cure, Bjork, The Georgia Satellites, Tracy Chapman, Linda Ronstadt’s Nelson Riddle trilogy, Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Dokken, Jackson Browne—the list goes on and on. Bob had hits. Bob MADE stars. Bob made a LOT OF MONEY for Mr. Ross and the Time Warner stockholders, and for that, Bob got to live the life of a sultan.

“I am a river to my people” is one of my favorite lines from the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Bob was so generous to his senior staff, it was almost embarrassing. I say almost because I always cashed those bonus checks! The checks were always for more than I was expecting. Many a home was bought with a down payment from Bob’s bonus checks. College tuition paid, boats bought, tennis courts installed, vacations taken—Bob took care of his staff.

Bob changed cosmic addresses Sunday night. I don’t think there will ever be anyone like him in the music business today (whatever that is!). I have never worked for anyone who was as much fun as Bob Krasnow.
                                                                                A weathered portrait of the author in repose

TAGS: Mike Bone
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