13. go now

kiss NY goodbye 2

Union Trouble

A few weeks after recording and mixing the album, one of the musicians called. Steve Berg, the guitarist, was  a fastidious man where money was concerned, as any professional musician should be. He told me that none of the paperwork for the sessions I had recorded with him and our three other friends had reached the union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians.

As usual I was just a few steps behind, but somewhere a in a remote corner of my brain I was beginning to get a feeling that I knew where those forms had ended up. 

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Other stuff intruded on whatever thoughts I might have been chewing on regarding loyalties and ethics and other deep matters. Various Paul Leka projects erupted, sputtered and died. Since the Steam record was now approaching 6 million sold, he and the "Na Na" team could pretty much do anything we wanted. Paul bought the console it had been recorded with and moved it to Connecticut. He also bought a new Jaguar.

I got to meet and work with country rocker Phil Everly; Lesley Gore, the pop queen of teenage longing; Steve Cropper, the great Memphis guitarist and producer; Janis Ian, the New York poet and singer-songwriter of "Society's Child"; the amazing percussionist Ruth Underwood, who later joined Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. And at the time, lots of pop records were embellished with orchestra parts, meaning real horns and strings and woodwinds, not synthesized or digital approximations. It usually took a while, like years, to earn the right to make recordings with ten or twenty or more expensive union players. With Paul Leka's backing, I began to be trusted with these major investments at a relatively young age.

And right around 3 months after their not getting paid and me watching their paperwork being shredded, the two Steves and Huey and Bruce got their day in court—  although it wasn't exactly court. It was just a union hearing, but the room where it happened, in the headquarters of Local 802, sure looked  like a courtroom to me.

In those days unions, especially certain unions like the AFM, were strong. If the union decided a record label wasn't treating their people according to the rules, the label could lose their right to record union members (meaning  just about every professional musician in America). This was a big deal. Now Mercury Records would face justice —and some real disruption of their business model— as they also faced the real possibility of having to figure out how to sell music without musicians. 

Of course that problem was solved a few decades later with the advent of Hip Hop.

——To Be Continued——

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