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REMEMBERING KRAZ: TOMMY LIPUMA

I don’t know where to start. It’s been two weeks since Bob passed, and if I wrote down half the experiences I’ve lived through with Kraz it would take at least half a novel.

Kraz is a nickname for Robert A. Krasnow. He used his full name when he became Chairman of Elektra Records. I think he felt it was more fitting to the position. But most people called him Bob, and his close friends called him Kraz.

I first met Kraz in 1963. I was a promotion man for Liberty Records, and he performed the same services for a small record company called Del-Fi, whose biggest claim to fame was Richie Valens.

The other act that was very successful for Del-Fi was Johnny Crawford, who played the son in The Rifleman TV series. That’s how Bob and I first met. I was visiting Bobby Dale, who aside from being my friend and music guru, was the nine-to-midnight jock at the number one station in L.A., KFWB, and was also a powerful source in getting records on the playlist.

I was in the DJ booth with Bobby and happened to look up through the glass into the room where the sound engineer was stationed. Standing there was this guy with a big promotion man’s smile on his face, and I asked Bobby, “Who’s that guy smiling at us?” He told me he was the promotion man for Del-Fi Records, and was trying to get to him to play this record by Johnny Crawford called “Cindy’s Birthday.” Bobby, whose ears were famous for spotting a hit record, didn’t warm up to Kraz or the record at first.

When Bobby got off the air we had to walk through the engineer’s room to leave and Bob caught him and gave him his spiel on the record, and before we left he introduced me to Bob.

I don’t think we were making three hundred dollars a week between the two of us, but music and humor was our bond.

We would eat at a place on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks called The Chili Place, where we would get a big bowl of chili which was spectacular, and we’d get out of there for under ten bucks for us both.

From there we’d usually go to my place, which was close by on Moorpark, and listen to music. Everything from Bobby Bland, Ray Charles and James Brown, to some of the hits of that time, like Garnet Mims' “Cry Baby” and the Impressions’ “Gypsy Woman,” and we also came upon Otis Redding, who really put a dent in our heads.

Whether you were Bob’s friend, business associate, his wife or family member, you could always be sure at one point or another you were going to experience a wild ride. 

 By the mid-sixties, when the music business and the Beatles exploded, Bob and I had already gotten a little “help from our friends,” and also started spending time up in San Francisco with our friends Tom Donahue and Bobby Dale, who had moved up there to KDWB. After all, PSA Airlines had just started flights from L.A. to the Bay area, and a round trip ticket was $24.

 We also discovered the wonders of Lysergic acid, and how it enhanced the Jimi Hendrix Experience, along with any other experience you happened to be having.

 On that note, whether you were Bob’s friend, business associate, his wife or family member, you could always be sure at one point or another you were going to experience a wild ride. He was truly one of a kind.

I got my first A&R gig with Jerry and Herb at A&M Records in late ’65, while Bob did a stint with Kama Sutra around the same time that Artie Ripp opened an office in L.A. near Sunset and La Brea, across from the A&M lot. By 1968, Bob was talking to me about starting a boutique label. Its name would be Blue Thumb, which Captain Beefheart, one of Blue Thumb’s first signings, had come up with. [Beefheart, aka Don Van Vliet, is pictured at left with a sketch he drew of Kraz.] But his first release was a compilation that he had licensed from Paramount Pictures. It was a series of routines taken from the movies W.C. Fields had made for Paramount.

 That was it, W.C. and Captain Beefheart, and it was around that time that he had gotten financial backing from an eight-track cassette company called GRT, and he asked a mutual friend of ours, Don Graham, and me to join him as partners at the label.

 To put things into perspective, Don Graham was a powerhouse of a promotion man, starting  in his hometown of San Francisco, where I first met him hocking a Joanie Summers record to a DJ. He told the guy he was on his way to the hospital to get a hernia operation, and couldn’t leave until he got that fucking record on the playlist.

He broke the We Five’s “You were on My Mind” record out of SF for A&M, and eventually became the Director of Promotion for the label, and was swinging.

 By then I had a few hits under my belt, and had learned what it felt like to get a royalty statement every six months. Don and I were working for Jerry and Herb—two of the greatest guys on earth—so we asked Bob, why would we want to leave this dream gig?  

Kraz, in his own inimitable way, looks me straight in the eye and says, “Do you want to be making Sandpipers and Claudine Longet records the rest of your life?” He asked Don something of a similar nature. Then he asked us both, “Don’t you want to own part of something you’ve worked for?” which rang some bells, because we joined him as partners, and went on the wildest ride you could imagine.

 One of the first things Bob did was take a trip to England. There he discovered T. Rex and Mandrax (a heavy-duty downer, known as Quaaludes in the U.S.), and I went to San Francisco and recorded Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. Don held the fort, and started working these records.I remember vividly on one of Bob’s returns from England. I was working in the studio, and our friend Bobby Dale, who had moved back to L.A., stopped by to say hello. A while later, Kraz came by with Steve Took, the other half of T. Rex, who was also Bob’s Mandrax connection. I could tell they were beyond repair, and at one point Bob leaned against the wall and slid right down until his ass hit the floor, at which point Bobby came up to me and, pointing in Bob’s direction, whispered in my ear, “That’s your partner.” 

Among the many attributes Kraz had, from recognizing talent to knowing how to market it, was he knew how to close a deal. He was relentless. If he wanted something, possibly only a lead shield could stop him.

He was relentless. If he wanted something, possibly only a lead shield could stop him.

All told, we acquired quite an interesting artist roster including Captain Beefheart, Ike and Tina Turner, Dave Mason, T. Rex, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, Leon Russell, the Pointer Sisters, Ben Sidran, Clifton Chenier, Sun Ra, Joao Donato, and we made a deal with our friends Stewart Levine and Hugh Masakela to release the Crusaders and Hugh’s records under a Chisa/Blue Thumb logo. We also put out the first Leon Russell record, which we released with a Shelter/Blue Thumb logo. 

During the five years I spent at Blue Thumb, I can’t say I can remember a boring moment, other than maybe waiting for the coke dealer to show up. It was filled with great times, and not-so- great times, but all and all I cherish every moment I’m able to remember of it. 

Both Bob and I went on to Warner Records. He, as an acquirer of talent, signed many hit acts to the label, including giving the label its first taste of R&B success with Chaka Khan and George Clinton.

Bob and I had our first big success at Warner, with him signing and me producing George Benson’s Breezin’ album. He spent five or six years signing talent for the company, and at that point went on to his greatest achievements—he became the  Chairman & CEO of Elektra Records and turned that label into something it hadn’t experienced since the Geffen days with Elektra/Asylum, signing  a string of great artists; Teddy Pendergrass, Anita Baker, The Cars, Tracy Chapman, Simply Red, 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Cole, and Metallica. He was also a founding member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of which he was very proud.

When the WEA debacle happened in 1994, Bob, along with Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker, resigned his position as Chairman, and other than a short stint at Universal, basically retired.

I think he sensed that the corporate takeover of the music industry helped to bring on, to quote Don McLean, “the day the music died.” It no longer was fun, nor the business he knew and loved. 

With the exception of meeting and marrying a lovely woman named Nada fifteen years ago, the last ten years of Bob’s life were filled with health issues caused by diabetes, and, as Lord Buckley referred to it, “Pushing that SOS button too hard.” It finally caught up with him. 

When Nada died after a short bout with cancer a few years ago, I think he lost the will to live.

Quite frankly, I still haven’t come to grips with his passing and the hole it’s left.

He was larger than life, and that life is gone. I’ll miss him.  

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