• Hangin’ with Duff

    Duff McKagan at SXSW

    Duff McKagan at SXSW

    Last week, at SXSW in Austin, I had the opportunity to hang with my youngest brother Duff McKagan for the good part of two days.  Usually we get together at family gatherings or in the safe confines of one of our homes.  But this was SXSW, a showcase of musical talent from across the world.  This is the center of Duff’s universe.  It continues to amaze me the celebrity my brother still has.  Everywhere he goes, people gawk, point, ask for autographs and pictures or just yell out, “Hey Duff.”  He always responds with a smile.  He’s simply a nice, sociable guy who appreciates his role. Coming from a family of eight, it comes with the territory… except for the celeb part… that’s all his!  The toll this takes on his time however is significant.  His entire day is planned around where he goes, how he gets there and the time it will take, factoring in the hundreds of mini-stops along the way.

    But the remarkable thing is the genuine excitement and thrill shown by his fans just because of a simple smile or a “hi.”  Duff is like George of the Beatles.  Not the main figure like Axle or Slash or Paul or John, but beloved and recognized by all.

    It’s been a long time since G N’ R last hit the stage, but the mystique lives on.  Duff has covered a lot of ground since then, including sobriety, marriage, two girls, business school, Velvet Revolver, columnist for Playboy, Seattle Weekly and ESPN.com, his own band “Loaded”, an upcoming autobiography, a new financial business venture, plus TV appearances with his wife Susan on E channel’s “Married to Rock.”  He’s as fit as a fiddle: an avid kick-boxer, cyclist and gym rat, and he loves his big new toy – thanks to his friends at Harley Davidson.

    At the end of the day, Duff lives his life pretty much like the rest of us: picking up kids from school, then laundry at the cleaners, going to the movies with the family, or wondering if the Mariners pitching staff is going to get the job done this year.  He lives in LA most of the year and in Seattle during the summer months, both in neighborhoods with great neighbors and friends.  Most of the McKagan family lives in Seattle, except for me (Charlotte area) and our second youngest brother Matt (a middle school music teacher in the San Fernando Valley), so his ties to Seattle continue to be an important part of his life.

    But at SXSW, as with everywhere Duff ventures into the public eye, his life seems to dramatically change… sort of.  In the middle of about 50 admiring fans, as he’s signing autographs and shaking hands he turns to me and says, “Whadya think about the new first baseman for the Mariners?”

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

    Muzak Company Communications

  • Aliases Abound

    AMP Recording Session

    AMP Recording Session

    Our research of Muzak recording sessions through the ‘30s and ‘40s found many of the musicians and bands using aliases.  One of Muzak’s most frequent recording artists was Louis Katzman, who recorded for Muzak as:  Atlantic Dance Orchestra, The Biltmore Club Orchestra, The Castillians, Jazz-O-Harmonists, Louis Katzman Colonial Orchestra, and Whittall’s Anglo-Persians.  Muzak’s executive producer and recording artist Ben Selvin recorded under nearly 25 different orchestra names himself.

    Here are a few more aliases we found in our archives thanks to Jan Turner, Roberta Keener and our research team…

    Artist Alias
    Bernard Levitow Orchestra Bernard Lewison
    Bert Shefter – pianist Bert Shay
    Carson Robison And His Buckaroos Bud Buckingham and His Buckaroos
    Enric Madriguera Dance Orchestra Emilio Moreno
    Fabien Sevitzky and Concert String Orchestra Associated String Orchestra
    Frank Luther Quintets Bud Billings
    George Shackley Moonbeams Ensemble George Shelley
    Green Brothers Novelty Orchestra Gordon Brothers
    Green Brothers Trio Chapel Chimer
    Jack Parker – vocalist John Powell
    Jack Shilkret And His Orchestra Jack Shaw
    Mary Hopple – vocalist Margaret Hembee
    Morton Gould – pianist Morton Glenn
    Muriel Wilson – vocalist Mary Wheeler
    National Fascist Militia Band Pan American Brass Band
    Norman Cordon Nat Cromwell
    Orpheus Male Chorus Associated Male Glee Club
    The Modern Symphonic Choir The Manhattan Choristers
    Tom Griselle Orchestra Thomas Greenow
    Veronica Wiggins – vocalist Virginia Wayne
    Walter Preston – vocalist/director Wallace Paine
    Willard Robinson’s Deep River Orchestra William Randolph and his Bayou Orchestra

    Most of these musicians had contracts with record labels.  In order to make a little more money during the Great Depression years, they found themselves recording for other entities and using various aliases to disguise their real identity.  Other times the labels wanted to give the impression that there were new bands on the market, so they’d give the old ones a new name.  Sponsors and venues would pay bands to change their names to feature their product or location.  And sometimes it was simply because of the name’s appeal (or lack of it).  The “National Fascist Militia Band,” on tour in The States during the summer of 1934, was Mussolini’s own national band from Italy.  I’d have to say giving that band the alias “Pan American Brass Band” was a good move on the part of Muzak, wouldn’t you?

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • Making a Difference with Music

    SXSW PanelWhile at SXSW last week I attended several presentations and panel discussions covering important issues within the music industry.  Legendary musician Bob Geldof’s vision of music’s potential impact on our world was extremely captivating.  My brother Duff McKagan, founding member of Guns n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver, tackled the topic of finance and the role it plays in the life of musicians.  Expert panelists engaged in topics covering publishing, distribution, performance, licensing, marketing and publicity.  All were highly informative.

    It was a gathering I attended late Friday afternoon that rocked my world.  A last minute schedule change left me an hour of open time.  I noticed a panel entitled “Empowering Communities Through Music” and thought this would be an interesting filler of time before engaging on a full agenda that evening.  Turns out that the panelists were rap artists and managers, a genre I admittedly know little about.  Immortal Technique was the celeb in the group, a street-wise Harlem MC who takes no prisoners.  He’s a very articulate speaker who delivers a social message.

    The panelist who most caught my attention is a native from Austin named Christopher “Gidon” Ockletree.  Gidon is co-founder of the hip-hop group Public Offenders, who has released three albums addressing conditions of injustice.  He is a humble, soft-spoken MC with a war-chest of stories about struggles in life and the world of rap.  Gidon grew up on the impoverished eastside of Austin, where the only constants were violence and drugs.  There were no eastside community centers, and organized sports and music were sparse.  Because families couldn’t afford instruments for their kids, rap was the musical language of his streets: the vehicle to vent anger and desperation. As Gidon grew older (he’s still a young man) he realized that rap music could be used to teach these kids.  In 2007, he co-founded a nonprofit organization entitled The Cipher-Austin’s Hip Hop Project.  The Cipher is on a mission to unite youth through music and activism.  Gidon’s team of volunteers began to teach these kids how to write, compose and share creative ideas, as they challenged the reasons for anger, violence and hatred.  They share positive approaches to rap, introducing the kids to a whole new world outside of east Austin.  Gidon spoke with passion, dedication and hope.  This was not a sales pitch.  It was real.  The guy didn’t even have a business card.

    As a representative of Muzak, I spent a very productive three days at the music industry’s most relevant annual event.  As a member of our Heart & Soul Foundation, SXSW spoke to me through Christopher “Gidon” Ockletree, at an entirely different level.  It was an honor to have been in the presence of someone who has dedicated himself to such a creative and effective way to use music to help underprivileged kids in his community.  He epitomizes the vision of Heart & Soul.

    Submitted by Bruce McKagan

  • SXSW Proves It Isn’t About the Money!

    Wealthy West at SXSW

    Wealthy West at SXSW

    So imagine yourself among tens of thousands of aspiring musicians, artists, industry experts, and enthusiasts as they gathered in Austin last week at the 25th anniversary of SXSW (South by Southwest).  My last count was over 3,000 music showcases, 100 presentations and panels, and more business meetings than this exhausted participant could even imagine.  Musicians were found playing in every corner of the city, traveling from across the world for the opportunity, the dream, to be heard.

    But why?  It has become a foregone conclusion that today’s musician, at almost every level, should not expect riches from this crazy business.  Big paychecks from tour dates and CD sales are long gone.  The term starving musician now applies to even the elite.  Members of legendary rock star Duff McKagan’s band Loaded, a headline act at SXSW, struggle to make rent each month in their shared apartments.  Loaded bassist Jeff Rouse quipped, “This is my dream job and I love it.  Duff is a great guy and treats his bandmates like gold, but the gigs just don’t pay much, and CD sales barely cover costs.”  Duff himself comments, “The business model has changed.  Back in my G N’ R days, the tours were a loss leader for CD sales.  Now, bands need to make the best they can from tour proceeds, after paying the agents, managers, roadies, staging and all the travel expenses.  I’m doing fine because of past endeavors, but I wish we could get more for the guys.”

    A local fan of Loaded stated after last Friday night’s gig, “Man I’d love to quit my job, join a band, live the life of a musician and make the kind of money these guys rack up!”  Turns out this fan was a top exec at a prominent Austin firm.  I advised that maybe he should keep his day job.

    At Muzak I am surrounded by employees with a passion for music.  Producers, editors, programmers, songwriters, performers and the list goes on.  Some of them have spent a career in the industry and others are working their way up the ladder.  We are of the fortunate few in the music business who are actually making a living doing exactly what we love.  For most musicians at SXSW, it’s clearly not about the money… because in most cases there is very, very little to be made.  It’s all about the love and passion for their craft and the belief that perhaps one day their music will make a difference.  It’s a lifelong quest to articulate reality, dreams, anger, desperation, love and hope, creating a body of work that will resonate with someone else.  That’s why SXSW remains one of the most relevant music festivals today.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • Jimmy Dorsey Finds His Note at Muzak

    Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra Stage Report

    Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra Stage Report

    The hundreds of bands and orchestras that graced Muzak’s studio through the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s were attracted to this Manhattan facility for three reasons.  First, because the sessions were produced by Ben Selvin, the industry’s top producer.  Second, it was a good pay check, and that came in very handy during The Depression and war years.  And third, because these musicians were given the freedom to do their thing!

    A couple of musical buddies of Ben Selvin were brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.  Both brothers, whether in the same band or with their own orchestras, found themselves in the Muzak studio recording their favorite tunes dozens of times throughout the ‘30s.  One such session was held on September 23, 1935, with Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra.  It was obvious that the band was in good form that day because of the spontaneity and fun captured in several of these recordings.  Most of the 15 tracks they laid down that autumn afternoon were in one take, which tells you the band was not only tight, but extremely loose at the same time.

    When current day producer Joe Carter, who is knee deep in digitizing these Muzak archives, first heard this 1935 session he immediately emailed me an mp3 so I could hear for myself.  He knew we had something very special… and he was right!  The song is titled “I’ve Got a Note” by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra.  What a great tune, full of great musicians havin’ a heap of fun.  Hear for yourself and enjoy!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • Duran Duran and David Lynch

    Duran Duran

    Duran Duran

    I know these two names really don’t go together but on March 23rd, they will collaborate like The Stones and Maysles Brothers or The Band and Scorsese before that.  The upcoming March 22nd release of Duran Duran’s latest, “All You Need Is Now” is produced by Mark Ronson.  They are scheduled to perform at the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles the very next day.  This will be for the American Express Unstaged Performance Series, which kicks off its 2nd year and will also be available to stream live via YouTube in partnership with VEVO.

    Duran Duran is making a sort of comeback to their roots with their latest release, which features the use of analog synths and dance grooves.  These elements made them famous in the early ‘80s with hits like “Girls on Film” and “Rio.”  They are also headlining the Time Out North America showcase at Stubbs in Austin, TX for this year’s SXSW (South by Southwest) on March 16th.

    http://www.youtube.com/DuranDuranVEVO

    Contributed by Alex Espinosa

  • Ben Selvin’s Recordings

    Ben Selvin conducts in the AMP Studios

    Ben Selvin conducts in the AMP Studios

    You probably already know that Ben Selvin was the early day Muzak VP of Programming.  You also know that Ben was the most respected and prolific producer in the music industry from the teens through the 1950s.  As Ben would schedule sessions with various artists at Muzak’s AMP studios in Manhattan, he’d occasionally book his own bands to lay down some tunes for the Muzak library.  On second thought, I’m not sure that the recording of over 400 tracks can be considered “occasional.”

    Ben became the darling of the music industry following his 1919 recording of “Dardanella” with his Novelty Band, which was the first record to ever sell over 5 million albums (it would have gone multi-platinum if the RIAA had been awarding certifications back then).  Ben was commissioned by several of the top record labels to produce just about every musical genre known at the time.  Because of Ben’s extensive background with string arrangements, it’s only natural that when he came to Muzak in 1934 the majority of his recordings where orchestral.  However, because of his appreciation for and experience with all types of musical genres, and the fact that Muzak’s early library depended on a wide variety of music, we’ve found loads of cuts by Ben Selvin that touch on big band, gospel, swing, novelty, hillbilly and even barbershop.

    I’d like to share two Muzak recordings by Selvin.  These, along with our entire archive library, have never been released to the public, and haven’t been heard in over 60 years… so consider this a special treat.

    The first recording, a Selvin arrangement of Disney’s “Someday My Prince Will Come”, showcases Ben’s orchestral upbringings, with harps, piano, light horns and an ocean of violins.  The second features vocals by the Norsemen with piano accompaniment by Charles Harold.  It’s called “The Handicap”.  When listening to these two 1940s recordings, it’s hard to believe that both songs were orchestrated, arranged and produced by the same guy: Muzak’s own Ben Selvin.  Enjoy!

    Submitted by Bruce McKagan

  • The Golden Age of Radio…Thanks to Muzak

    Associated Program Services Album

    Associated Program Services Album

    As you’ve read and heard in several of my latest blogs, Muzak’s early days were all about recording the industry’s best.  These recordings were perfect for building their main product offering, which was music for business.  However, once radio stations heard about this, they wanted in on the action.  You see, back in the ‘30s and ‘40s radio would not and could not legally broadcast recordings sold to the public. If they wanted to feature music, they would book musicians into their studios and broadcast them live, which was an expensive and restrictive proposition.  Muzak’s electronic transcription recordings where produced exclusively for broadcast, making them a great option and a hot commodity for radio stations across the country in those early days of radio.

    By the late ‘30s Muzak’s “Associated Programming Services” (APS) began to develop their own “library services” (e.g., programming) for syndication and broadcast networks.    Each week stations would receive one or two new 16” discs with 4 to 6 recordings per side for their library.  Associated subscribers accumulated a library of thousands of tracks in different genres such as big band, jazz, opera, hillbilly, musicals, Negro gospel, classical, popular vocals, and lots of novelty recordings.  Because of the popularity of these recordings, Muzak came to be known as the “hit makers”.

    Associated also provided their radio customers with what were known as production aids.  These were recordings in the form of jingles, bumpers, station breaks and IDs, announcements, musical interludes and introductions.  Subscribers could literally produce their own radio shows by programming production aids along with musical tracks and local DJ voice-overs. This proved to be a highly profitable investment in a world hungry for novelty and fresh content over broadcast radio.

    Muzak continued to supply content to radio stations across America all through the Golden Age of Radio (‘30s, ‘40s and early ‘50s – before TV caught on), after which time we boxed these masters up and hid them in storage for over 60 years.  No wonder the Grammy Museum, Library of Congress and Smithsonian are so excited about helping us uncover these American pop culture treasures.  As a matter of fact, I think that’s Bob from the Grammys calling right now.  Excuse me for a second…

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • Phil Collins Confirms His Retirement from Music Biz

    Phil Collins

    Phil Collins

    For anyone who was a fan of Progressive Rock and loves early Genesis when Peter Gabriel was actually the singer, you always remembered the funny bloke behind the drum kit who sang back up to Gabriel’s lead.  In 1975, when Phil Collins took over the lead singing duties after Peter Gabriel decided to go solo, the band sort of went in a different direction than the theatrics of Gabriel.  Phil Collins took Genesis to the next level with their music and live performances, which are now considered classics by those who saw them perform.  After noteworthy stints with Genesis as well as his solo efforts that produced his masterpiece “Face Value”, he confirmed today that he has decided to call it quits.  After seven Grammys and 13 hit singles as well as an Oscar from scoring the Disney animated film Tarzan he says, “I’m much happier just to write myself out of the script entirely.”

    Collins, who now resides in Switzerland, has had problems with his back for a while and after the excess of Rock n Roll has some hearing loss as well as nerve damage in his fingers making him unable to hold onto a drumstick.  In a letter to his fans though, he says, “I am stopping so I can be a full time father to my two young sons on a daily basis.”

    Being a fan of Prog Rock, especially Genesis’ “Abacab” release, I will have fond memories of him as the rock god that he was, and even that one time where he actually was a paid actor.  C’mon, you remember when he played Phil Mayhew, the British conman in the ‘80s camp show Miami Vice.  Here’s to a happy retirement Phil.

    Read Phil Collins’ letter on his site.

    Contributed by Alex Espinosa

  • Muzak’s First Big Dream

    Depression RadioIt’s always been amazing to me that a company like Muzak would open up shop for the first time during the depths of the Great Depression.  Was Muzak’s inventor, Gen. George Squier, a visionary or just a wild dreamer?   By 1934, the year Muzak was founded, the Great Depression had forced the GNP to drop by 30%, 13 million jobs were lost and unemployment had risen to almost 38%.  This sure didn’t seem like a good time to start a business; especially one that produced a non-essential product like music…. right?

    What’s important to understand is that during these hard times music delivered not only escape from the realities of the depression, but hope.  Musicals, storytellers, spirituals, big band, hillbilly music, opera and novelty songs were the medicine of the day.  Even though the common American was going without many of their basic necessities, radio and phonograph sales were dramatically on the rise.

    So I guess George was a visionary after all!  He figured out an innovative way to distribute music to thousands of consumers and businesses by the mid ‘30s.  Ben Selvin, Muzak’s first VP of Programming, was the guy who produced recordings that captured the heart and desires of the American people during the depression.  Recordings by the likes of the Dorsey Brothers, the original Riders of the Purple Sage, the Deep River Boys, the Green Brothers, Fats Waller, Jan Pearce and thousands of incredible artists who performed in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  This was the music that entertained and gave hope to a nation in the depths of the Great Depression.  The rest is history and Muzak was in the middle of it all.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan