Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Maitland Moves On
Every Tuesday and Thursday, former Warner Bros. Records executive and industry insider Stan Cornyn ruminates on the past, present, and future of the music business.
Steve Ross, whose company Kinney Services had in 1969 bought every bit of Atlantic and Atco, and of Reprise, and Warner Bros. Records, now had to deal with “who’s in charge” of his “record group.” But Atlantic and Warner were 3000 miles apart, and anything but a group. The New York half (Atlantic + Atco) stood its own ground; the Burbank half (Warner + Reprise) sought the business advantages that a partnership could bring.
Another difference: Atlantic Records’ top three execs (Ahmet, Nesuhi, and Wexler) now owned stock in Ross’ Kinney Corporation. Warner/Reprise executives, however, had no stock, no ownership.
Also (this is big): Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun’s deal with Kinney also had given him, in writing, “autonomy.” That meant Ahmet did not “report” to anybody. Nor could he be forced to “partner” with Warner.
Atlantic was legally not to be messed with.
And now, in the late 1960s years, Atlantic had burned up the charts with rock super-bands from places quite unlike Atlantic’s R&B heritage of Harlem and Memphis. There now arose on Atlantic and Atco Records: Crosby Stills and Nash, Cream, Bee Gees, Buffalo Springfield... Acts selling tons, while old R&B faded away. Just the way Ahmet wanted it, almost. But not quite.
Ahmet Ertegun resisted any “being equal” partners with those Burbank labels, Warner and Reprise. “Partners” would feel like Atlantic got a truce, not the victory his deal with Steve Ross had been.
In one “let’s talk” meeting between Burbank and New York, Ahmet had heard Warner/Reprise’s head, Mike Maitland, recommend all kinds of “together” options: “we” could have co-distributors in major cities; ditto for foreign co-international; for co-op manufacturing.
But Ahmet liked to do whatever he wanted in those and other business parts. After that “together we could” meeting, he worried that Mike Maitland might hope to seize power. So Ahmet went about convincing Steve Ross that the true power within WB/Reprise was not Mike but two others: Mo Ostin and Joe Smith. All this despite an earlier “plan” that Mike had laid out in the first get-together meeting of the labels, which included combining international licensees in many countries.
“Sounds ok,” and nodding had followed.
When Phil Rose, WB/R’s International manager, headed down to Australia to set up a new, both-companies, joint sales company there, on arrival he learned that, only one week before, Atlantic had renewed its own, “just Atlantic” deal with its current licensee. Renewed for four more years.
Phil felt the slap in the face, particularly in Mike Maitland’s face.
Hearing Phil from Australia, Maitland called Ahmet Ertegun direct. “But didn’t we agree that…”
“No, we did not.” Ahmet then quoted his sale-to-Kinney receipt, which emphasized the word “Automony” in bold face. Atlantic made it clear to Maitland: no deal.
Or, as Jerry Wexler later made clear, “Atlantic had a category in our minds for figureheads like Maitland. We called them ‘Presentable Gentiles’.”
The Press Release
Following Maitland’s call, Ahmet Ertegun quickly met with Steve Ross, and quickly Kinney (the uber-company over all Warner and others Ross owned) issued a press release. It announced that Ahmet Ertegun had been promoted to Executive Vice President-Music Group within all of Warner Bros. Inc. He would report to WB’s top management, Steve Ross and the studio’s Ted Ashley, and would serve as the ”liaison among the record, music publishing, TV and picture divisions of Warner Bros., Inc.”
(Maitland also reported to Ashley, but this press release made Ahmet’s new title sounded mightier by far.)
In January, 1970, Atlantic held its biggest sales meeting ever. In Palm Springs. Introducing 55 new albums, many from “label deals” with San Francisco Records (Bill Graham and David Rubinson), RSO/Polydor (Robert Stigwood), Sun Flower Records (Dave Kapralik and Sly Stone), Capricorn Records (Phil Walden and Frank Fenter). Atlantic’s sales presentation now came off as show biz, unlike any presentations from younger Atlantic.
Palm Springs was big time Atlantic; Sonny Bono personally worked the room.
During Palm Springs week, Ahmet Ertegun and Ted Ashley worked together to make sure that the two “signing” heads of WB-R would stick to WB-R. In his new role, Ahmet called up Mo Ostin in Burbank (about two hours north). Mo’s contract still had two years to run, but Ahmet said he wanted to talk with Mo about an even newer contract. Mo resisted. He worried about signing away his future too soon.
Anyway, meetings with Ertegun-Ashley in the next few days were scheduled with Mo and, separately, with Joe Smith. “Bring your lawyers.” But neither Mo nor Joe felt like signing anything. They, too, had experienced their own signing spree: Black Sabbath, Doug Kershaw, Jethro Tull, Gordon Lightfoot, Van Morrison, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Ry Cooder, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Small Faces with Rod Stewart...
The Big Question
In those off-campus meetings, the stakes rose higher than Beverly’s Hills.
Finally, direct to Mo Ostin, Ertegun and Ashley popped the big “new deal” question: Would you sign if we made you President of Warner Records?
Mo refused. He wanted no part in deposing Mike Maitland.
After the meeting, Mo and his attorney, Werner Wolfen, talked and anguished. Mo’s opinion: Maitland does not deserve this. Werner’s legal reply: “Don’t be a schmuck.”
Mo talked it over with his wife, Evelyn. All night long. Both of them hated the tragic blow to Maitland that they’d be part of if Mo said “Yes.” But they also felt how good being Head Guy would feel to them and their lives, too. A long night.
The next day, Mo told Ashley and Ertegun that, yes, he would take the job. “See my lawyer,” he said.
Immediately, Joe Smith got called to an “urgent meeting” with Ashley and Ertegun in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Joe walked over the hotel’s exceptional lawn, into the bungalow, there to hear that Joe would now run the Warner Bros. Records label while Mo ran Reprise. Autonomously.
“How’s this going to work?” Smith asked. “What’s Maitland going to be?”
Ashley danced back, “Don’t worry about Maitland.”
Joe, stunned to silence, set up a meeting for the next day, Saturday, with his lawyer. From Joe, the answer came back, another “OK.”
The Big Answer
On Sunday, January 5, 1970, Ted Ashley called Mike Maitland up at Mike’s weekend house on Ventura beach. On the phone, Maitland listened, heard, and, with dignity, accepted. He told Ashley he thought they were wrong. But he felt no way to fight it.
Ashley then phoned Mo Ostin to tell him, “It’s done. Maitland’s aware.”
Mo hated the next step. He had to call Mike. He did, telling Mike how terrible he felt. “This was nothing I had any part in.” Answering Mo, Maitland reacted superbly, and told Mo, “I know it wasn’t your fault. I know you had nothing to do with it.”
The next day was Monday, and most of Burbank’s staff was flying out in four groups to hold sixteen sales presentations to Warmer distributorships from L.A. to N.Y. Like Boston Tuesday, then Manhattan Thursday. “Nobody knew” about the weekend just past.
Still, the word seeped out.
Back in Burbank, out from WBR’s irresponsible Creative Services staff came its own weekly newsletter to the trade, called Circular. This week’s article took it upon itself to describe the change in Warner management, and how it had happened:
Guerilla bands swept through the corridors of the Warner/ Reprise Burbank headquarters, raping accountants and knifing and shooting officials of the dying regime, their roughshod feet slipping slightly on the unfamiliar texture of linoleum...
The coup had succeeded.
What Mike Left Behind
Mike Maitland knew that the politics behind all this did not emanate from his team in Burbank. He could feel good about what he’d help put together in all his years there since Jim Conkling had retired. It had been ten whole years he’d been up top at Warner Records. Ten!
He recovered. Three months later, Mike could be found just three miles to the west, heading up MCA Records. He did what Mike did: he consolidated Decca with Kapp Records, then added Uni (Universal) Records into MCA Records, all their catalogues united in 1973 into one at MCA.
But this first weekend, while Warner’s staff was out showing the latest to its distributors, looking back, Mike packed up his office stuff, and quietly believed that “his” WBR had new acts and albums that had made his last year at Warners (1969) a hottie:
Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa
Peter, Paul & Mary: Peter, Paul and Mommy
Laugh in ‘69
Those three and dozens more (from Frank Sinatra’s My Way to Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat) left behind by Mike Maitland, for his Warner label to grow on.
- Stay Tuned