Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Miami All Nighter

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Miami All Nighter

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.

It’s 1985 now. Warner Bros. Records has fought off those “well-connected,” “indy” promotion companies who seen to have had dozens of DJs in their pockets. So by now, indy promoters’ payola was no longer a “give away.” Now, promotion on radio was, once again, “ours” to handle.

Mo Ostin had promoted Russ Thyret up to Senior VP of Warners, a step up for Warner’s Chief Promoter. Thyret casually commented that his new job would stay pretty much what it had been, with “just less time for fishin’.” The next day, Media Vision, run by Network pro power Dennis Lavinthal, installed a wading pool in Warner’s lobby, with two large live fish.

As in most years, before Labor Day, many in the Warner Record Group flew to Miami, first class. They’d been doing this trip for almost a decade now. Miami meant mingling with their stars.

And others. All-nighters, especially.

Escaping the Lobby

First: They’d all deplane at MIA, step outdoors, and experience instant humidity, like standing in the last half of an automatic car wash. In three minutes flat, as wet air engulfed them, the promo staffers became too slippery to hug, too wet to grip. Wondering which insane Financial Controller, which worshiper of de Sade, had chosen “Miami in August,” they grabbed their suitcases and hopped into cabs.

Cabs to the Diplomat Hotel were driven by sleep-deprived Cuban exiles who drove harrowing routes, as if they knew life was cheap.

The Diplomat Hotel’s lobby was Miami Vice and it was Ricky Ricardo. On its lobby tables posed sculptures of black cats, big ones, left there, like yard-sale rejects from Haiti. Paisley carpets and drapes, as if chosen by some blind Iranian decorator, clashed. Anything white had turned yellow with stain, long, long before.

Waiting in the lobby for their baggage, sales and promo people high-fived one another moistly. Then conventioneers would head upstairs, hoping for a room away from the elevators, preferably on a middle floor to avoid the noise of lobby revels below and the all-nighters in suites above.

In each room, air conditioners hummed but produced no wind, simply re-breathing 1950s air.

Morning Meetings

One purpose of a Warner Music Group convention was to inspire the troops over the fall’s upcoming albums. To that end, label and distribution people sat in a huge auditorium, where for three days and 190 new albums, video depictions of each new “product” assaulted their gradually dimming sense organs.

WBR’s Sales Honcho, Lou Dennis, knew how to keep the audience awake; he turned the thermostat in the auditorium down to 60, and made sure it stayed there.

Then on stage exploded the explosions. Major acts showed up, on stage, “live” to grab their audience by the ears. In ’85, one such was Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who, who had a new album out, without the rest of his The Who: his new album was called Under a Raging Moon. For this audience, Daltrey on stage blasted his single: “After the Fire.” The audience forgot the temperature. It caught fire.

Daltry opened the show.

Before the first hour was over, what came from the stage all sounded one way: Loud! OK! Next album!

Done for that morning, Daltrey slid off stage, and moved back up to his suite to change.

Back on the auditorium stage, speakers now showed up and spoke.

* WCI Chairman Steve Ross flew in to kiss WEA head Henry Droz near the ear.

* Milton Berle appeared to thank the crowd on behalf of his nephew Marshall, who managed Ratt. Berle did shtick: spilling wine on the fly of his tan Brioni suit, followed by 15 minutes of farce. The oldies in the audience loved Berle. The kids squirmed. And shivered.

* The company’s tech-creative guy demo’d how an audio signal coming off this new “CD-ROM disc” could be used turn on a margarita blender. On stage. Watch. Play the CD. Gu-zshu-ooo, the blender started, creating massive audience applause. High tech comes to Miami!

At breaks, the multi-thousand audience moved rapidly from sixty degrees indoors to ninety-eight degrees. Thawing out at poolside was favored. Forget the Atlantic Ocean, though; out there was seaweed and jellyfish. Poolside, women wore lipstick.

At one end of the pool rose a cavern of man-made rocks enclosing a gods-made bar. Under thatch, WEA hearties drank tropical pink and sky blue cocktails, fast as they could. Following enough of these, and to piss off hotel security, promotion men and women scrambled up the rocks, to the top of the waterfall.

As if some silent movie, one good-looking couple came out of the hotel, stopped poolside, stripped off everything, continued walking naked out into the ocean for a swim, returned across the beach, put their clothes on, and walked away, with no comment.

Over in the corner, Roger Daltrey, now dressed in nothing but a black speedo, physique aglow, the girls agog, their red lips open, he signed his name on anything put before him.

Poulos, Sicurezza, and a Bone

Rock stars hung and talked as equals to promo people like Dallas’ Paul Poulos, whom Elektra’s Mike Bone affectionately termed “a madman.” To get records played, Poulos had recently sent pig heads, real ones, out to stations with notes reading, “Don’t be a pighead. Add the record.” He’d done it for “I Still Believe” by the Call and for “Object of My Desire” by Star Point – two records, two pig heads, two adds.

Pouslos heard his boss Mike’s frustration over WDVE, Pittsburg, not going for the Call single. Poulos figured, “Why not?” Though it wasn’t his territory, Poulos sent a pig’s head and a note via five-day UPS to WDVE’s program director, Greg Gillespie. This time, Poulos’ note read, “Play the Call, or be slaughtered!!” After five-day UPS, the box turned more than a little smelly when Gillespie’s secretary opened it. The sight of a rotting pig’s head made her throw up over much of the station’s lobby.

Poulos was praised by Bone because promotion men were part of the record-business chain, out there to get attention to get records played.

Dinner Time!

During the day, WEA’s convention lived inside the Dip’s main ballroom. But when the sun set, unnoticed, and product videos ended, the delegates threw off their leashes, heading up to their rooms. When Atlantic promotion man Lou Sicurezza came back to his room, his key would not work. Security drilled a hole through the lock. Door opens. Everything in Lou’s room was upside down, super-glued to the ceiling. With a guy last-named Sicurezza, the jokers should not have screwed around.Lou was not a forgive-and-forget type.

Dinner: Industrial-strength servings of Miami Mystery Meat were the norm, so the hotel’s dinner got ducked. Duckers ran into town on some VIP’s expense account. At dinner, over Joe’s Stone Crabs, people asked Sicurezza what he thought of their prank. Lou dumped on it: “Nah. Cute, but done before.”

Cabbing back to the Dip, when Lou got out, forty pounds of cheesecake dropped from the hotel portico, trapping him like Mafia cement shoes. Lou was asked, “Well, Lou, that original enough for you?” Lou muttered omertå.

Getting Attention After Dark in a Big Hotel

After dinner came live shows by Iggy Pop, Aerosmith, Natalie Cole. Upstairs, Elektra artist Mick Hucknall of Simply Red trashed his own suite, then explained to WEA, “It’s okay, I can do this, because I’m a star and stars do these thing.”

Midnight, after the show, began WEA's Animal House of Style. Mingling parties challenged the resources of room service, ending when the clock read Blurrrrr.

Past midnight: Two wings to the Dip: the newer wing and the moldier wing. In the newer wing, it was all-night poker in sales chief George Rossi’s suite. In the mildew wing was Blood Alley, where an elitist clique hung together, pushing away inhibition with credit cards, wearing black T-shirts with dripping red letters, executives acting like depraved teenagers, exotically excited, wiping their bloody noses on white curtains.

One inebriate ran the hallways in nothing but a towel, carrying a blow-up shark pool toy, initiating the greeting “Fins up!” He pounded on girls’ doors, offering them his shark. Others settled him down.

Phones rang at two in the morning. Lou Sicurezza again, yelling, “Get over to my suite for a meeting, and bring your phone book.” Everyone tossed phone books into the whirling blades of the air duct seven floors down, the pages flying up into the sky. A few thousand in damages, but not out of one’s own pocket.

Your phone rang at three. It was the waitress from the topless doughnut shop calling and promising “sexual favors” when you got there; at the door, she was naked and took you into the bedroom, where a promotion meeting began.

Your phone rang again at four, and it was to the suite again, where they’d invented a new one: tossing melons off the balcony, trying to bull’s eye a pool lamp down below, and it was the great guys, like Mick Jones from Foreigner, guitar guys from Winger, promo guys. Security comes to stop you again.

Back to your room at five, only there’s some guy from Elektra passed out on your bed, having thrown up in the tableside drawer, ugh, get another room quick! Try to sleep.

At six, down the hall, they ran a smoke machine, the kind rock bands have. The alarm bell went off, half-dressed people came out of half-neat rooms, evacuating. Security came charging once more.

At seven, roaming the lobby, Russ Thyret approached friends, trying to buy some sleep … from anybody. Nobody had any to sell. “Did you ever try to score some … sleep?” he moaned. “In this joint, it’s a valuable commodity! If I’d tried to buy some yesterday, I could have bought whatever I wanted. But today it’s not available. I’ll pay top dollar for one stinkin’ hour of quality sleep! Anybody interested in selling me some?”

Then, after seventy-two hours in Miami, promotion and sales people headed back home. Those who had been doing the Dip for many a year thought of conventions there the way real people thought of Thanksgiving at home, that good. For them, it was a time when, maybe they didn’t realize it, life would get no better.

Those from Blood Alley flew back home wearing sun glasses.

Roger Daltrey flew back to his Sussex manor, not needing another of anything, nor of any body, thank you very much, chaps.

Warner had learned to love radio promotion in the late ‘80s, pig heads and all.

-- Stay Tuned.