Friday, February 07, 2014

Glory Days in Publishing

For four years of my life I labored in the California vineyards of Guitar Player Magazine and its associated kin, Contemporary Keyboard and Frets (under the umbrella of GPI Publications).  Now a book is bring put together by former staffers, writers and musicians called Guitar Player Magazine: The Glory Years, 1967-1989, to be published by Hal Leonard Publishing Corp.:

This is my contribution:

Before I arrived, 3rd issue, 1967
When I left my job in January of 1975 as west coast A&R and publicity director in Hollywood for Atlantic Records, I thought I was leaving the music business forever.  My girlfriend and I packed our things in a U-haul truck and migrated from Venice Beach to northern California to live a carefree lifestyle.  We moved into a house under the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains that we shared with a couple of UC Santa Cruz students. My plan was to write poetry while collecting unemployment.  But a year and a half later I was knocking on Jim Crockett's door at his sumptuous suite of offices over a carpet store in Saratoga to ask him for a job.

My girlfriend -- not that one but the next one -- was pregnant.  Unemployment had run out, and I was working part-time for a weekly Santa Cruz newspaper setting type and laying out pages for the printer.  The free paper had an insert covering local culture and occasionally I contributed reviews and stories, just as I had for the Los Angeles Free Press during my five years in the music business.  After a year on unemployment and poor-paying part-time work, the need for a larger income had become insistent.

Jim Crockett
It was quickly apparent I was not a good fit for GPI, the magazine publishing company Crockett had developed almost from scratch, starting with Guitar Player and growing into Contemporary Keyboard (later Frets and others).  They were magazines for musicians written by musicians. I thought of myself more as a writer than a musician, and my guitar skills were extremely limited.

Jim and I had talked occasionally on the phone when I was a Hollywood PR man and tried to talk him in writing about my recording artists. But we'd never met.  At my appointment I saw he was a trim fellow with a goatee who moved and talked slowly, but with deliberation.  GPI did not need another writer.  What it needed was someone to take over preparing the issues for the printer who could paste up galleys of type, ads and photographs according to Jim's design.  It was only part-time work to start with a less than modest salary, but I was given the glorious title on the magazine mastheads of Art Director.

Those early days in Saratoga with the GP and CK staff were nearly 40 years ago so I no longer remember much of the details.  It was informal and fun. Of course we didn't wear ties, it being California Casual every day.  There was lots of play and socializing during the sunny days, which meant that getting the magazines out on time frequently required evening hours.  Since I had a wife and baby at home and had to commute long distances over the hill from Santa Cruz to the office, I protested at staff meetings about the unpaid overtime.  This was not a popular view, with Jim or the employees, most of whom were single, lived not far away, and enjoyed the excitement of the deadline crunch.  I was seen as the guy that kept banker's hours.

The move to Cupertino was highly anticipated.  We posed for photos on the land where construction was to take place.  The completed offices with a large warehouse were impressive, the inside windowless offices less so.  Jim ruled his domain from a tastefully decorated corner suite.  My art studio was very well appointed, although I continued to cut galleys with an X-Acto knife, once accidentally slicing my hand and bleeding all over the layout pages.

Our neighbor, as many here will mention, was a start-up computer company called Apple. Gradually they would grow to take over all the nearby buildings and eventually practically the whole town, their skyscrapers plastered with the Apple logo.  I remember when they went public and I contemplated buying stock; a road not taken. What I remember is the donut store at the end of the block and the Japanese restaurant in front of our building.  Some of us would go running around the campus or swim at De Anza College not far away.  There was room in the warehouse for back issues, supplies and the regular jam sessions with notable musicians joining in and Jim banging the drums.  I even played the sax and clarinet a couple of times. Workers from Apple would come over to listen and some of them even joined in.

The number of employees increased with the move but we still felt like a family.  There were picnics together in local parks, parties at people's homes, the annual Christmas shindig, and even the weddings of a couple of staffers.  My wife and baby would join in but the distance always set us a bit apart from the social scene.  Some of the employees shared recreational drugs, at work and also after hours, and I must confess to being one of them.  But of course that was long ago. And I will mention no names other than my own.

My wife and I also became friends with Jim's wife, Rebecca. When they divorced, she would come to visit us in Santa Cruz.  Looking through our photograph albums one day she picked up photo one and said, "Who is this handsome man?"  A couple of days later I introduced her over the phone to my friend Jerry Hopkins who lived in Hawaii.  And a week after that she went to visit him.  Their marriage lasted ten years.  Now Jerry lives in Bangkok and is married to a Thai woman with a farm upcountry.  He's my oldest and closest friend these days.

As Art Director, Jim occasionally gave me freedom to design layouts, but they were never as good as his.  The editors would provide photos to illustrate their stories.  I remember I used one of the Grateful Dead that came, I was told, from their manager's office.  When the issue was published, I got an angry call from photographer Jim Marshall who had been a friend when I worked for record companies and hired him for jobs.  Jim used to come to my office to examine my music book collection to see who was using his photos without permission.  Then he would call his lawyer to sue.  He was notoriously volatile, and was upset over the Dead photo that he claimed was his.  He said he would kill me because I stole his art.  For a while I was genuinely concerned because I knew he owned a gun and was famous for threatening those who did him wrong.  We had done drugs together at Willie Nelson's 4th of July picnic in Texas and it was rumored that cocaine was his downfall.  As I remember it, we eventually paid him something for the photo.  It was cheaper than a funeral for me.

Gradually I became more involved in magazine publishing and the business side of the enterprise rather than the editorial or art content.  After leaving the music business in LA, I stopped keeping up with new innovations (were there any?) and could contribute little to office conversations about so-and-so's playing ability (for we were a magazine for musicians and not for simply fans).

With Jim and others on the business side of the staff, I attended magazine conferences and read the publishing trade press.  The idea of modeling circulation and production excited me and  I convinced Jim to sign up for Kobak Business Machines (KBM), an east coast company that provided this service via phone line and printer.  I moved up to position of circulation director and was involved in choosing a new printer in Long Prairie, Minnesota.   This required trips for a printing consultant to a tiny town in upstate Minnesota where everyone worked for the same company; in snowy winter it was lots of fun. Taking estimates on circulation and ad sales from the ad directors, subscription rolls and newsstands, I would input figures into the program to predict our P&L for each issue.  I found it fascinating, and occasionally accurate.

After four years with GPI, events conspired to my leaving.  Our landlady in Santa Cruz broke up with her husband and needed to live in our house.  My wife's sister in Connecticut had gotten romantically involved with a drug dealer and we wanted to separate them.  But most importantly, I now had visions of using my GPI experience to climb the ladder of success in New York publishing.  So I resigned in the summer of 1980.  At my going-away party, Jim gave me a beautiful hand-made leather shoulder bag.  (I'm sad to report that while drunk one night in Manhattan I left it behind in a taxi.)

My family I moved east where I worked in circulation at Billboard Publishing and as general manager of Theatre Crafts Magazine.  At TC, I got Radio Shack computers for staff writers and learned how to convert their files to type for the printer.  Magazines were begin to figure out the possibilities of computers and I was a bit of an innovator on a minor scale. Jim and his wife Bobby (who had grown up in Connecticut) came back to visit. Two years of commuting by train to the city finally got to me.  And after our son was born at Yale Hospital, we packed up a U-haul and moved back to California.  Instead of returning to GPI (another road not taken), I got a job in the Alumni Association office at UC Santa Cruz.  A year later I returned to complete my Bachelor's degree, and continued study for 18 years until I received a Ph.D. in history.  Now I teach English to Buddhist monks in Thailand, and keep in touch with my old friends from GPI on Facebook where it seems they all have pages.  What a long strange trip it's been!

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