Podcast Transcript

Speaker 1:          Takin a Walk.

Speaker 2:          I embraced and internalized music in a very detailed way, involuntary from a very young age. From 1954 to Elvis’s dispersed records, I just found that I could reproduce every detail of every song that I liked after I heard it a few times, and really that helped a lot.

Speaker 1:          Welcome to the Takin a Walk podcast. The podcast where we showcase the inside stories of the people behind the music. Buzz Knight is your host, and today he talks with the mastermind producer behind many of the hit sounds of rock music from the ’70s and ’80s Tom Werman was the producer of Acts like Motley Crue, Cheap Trick, Twisted Sister, Poison, and much more. He’s the author of a new book, Turn It Up, Making Hit Records in the Glory Days of Rock Music. Join Buzz Knight with Tom Werman on Takin a Walk.

Speaker 3:          So Tom, thanks for being on a virtual edition of Takin a Walk. I appreciate it. What prepared you to deal with creatives who border on the lunatic fringe of society?

Speaker 2:          Well, the lunacy is, it turned out to be mostly outside the studio. When these guys get into the studio sometimes, it’s a little intimidating, but it’s a serious workplace for them, most of the time. Some are treated more lightly than others. They don’t know the meaning of the phrase, “I’m in training.” People like Vince Neil don’t say, “Girls, it’s midnight and I’m singing tomorrow, so I think I have to go to bed.” They just don’t do that. But generally, we managed to crank out some pretty good records, even with the nutty guys, Motley Crue specifically. I didn’t have a big problem with them.

Speaker 3:          So we had Jack Douglas on the podcast and he told me how he got into the career of producing, just being around a studio his entire life. How did you get into this business?

Speaker 2:          Well, the business, I got very lucky. I made a very bad choice of a profession or job when I left business school. I’m the only guy who got an MBA who doesn’t know how to read a balance sheet or barely balance a checkbook. I went into advertising, I hated it. After a year, I wrote to Clive Davis. I had a job. It was a good job. I had a degree. I was a musician and I loved rock and roll. That was enough to get me over there to have some interviews. I finally got to Clive and he hired me on the spot and he told me that I should be assistant to the director of A&R at Epic Records. I didn’t even know what A&R was, but I did know what a producer was. When I finally was able to sign whom I wanted to, I went into the studio quite a bit to protect my investment, and I made so many suggestions, I actually horned in, that they gave me co-producer credit, and there I was. After that my first solo production was In Color by Cheap Trick, and I was off.

                             I did 12 Gold or Platinum records for Epic before I left, and they were all by artists that I signed. So it was great.

Speaker 3:          So the world of A&R is really needing to have a tremendous ear, obviously.

Speaker 2:          Right.

Speaker 3:          How were you trained on having a great ear?

Speaker 2:          It just happened. I embraced and internalized music in a very detailed way, involuntary, from a very young age. From 1954, Elvis’ first records, and I just found that I could reproduce every detail of every song that I liked after I heard it a few times. Really that helped a lot in later years producing and helping musicians to get their performances down pretty quickly without having to repeat the performance many, many times and maybe get bored with it. It’s memory, it’s auditory memory. I don’t know if I can do it right now, but I used to make a little money in late nights at bars by telling people that if they read me the serial number off a dollar bill, I’d read it to them backwards right away.

                             I made a lot of money that way. If I look at it, I’d look at it and I see it like everybody else. If I hear it, I can brand it on my brain. I can see it in my thought. Just the way I was born. I did not have any professional training. In fact, I can’t read or write music. I did teach myself how to play the guitar and I did all the percussion on all my records and that’s it.

Speaker 3:          Who were some of the producers you emulated as you were coming up the ranks?

Speaker 2:          Mainly the first one was Lynn Johns, when I found out what a producer did. I discovered that I used to listen a lot to the first Eagles album and Who’s Next. I saw that he had done both of them. One was electric, bombastic, a little careless maybe, just do it. Although it was led by Pete Townsend, who was quite meticulous. The other one, the Eagles was mainly acoustic and perfect. I mean, the two albums were at the opposite ends of the musical spectrum. I thought, “Well, this guy’s good, I want to do what he does.” And Jack Douglas who made Rocks by Aerosmith, one of the greatest American rock and roll albums. And of course Mutt Lang and Keith Olsen. Well, there was George Martin. It seemed to me that this was the greatest job in the world, sitting in a studio, listening to music that you like and trying to make it better. It was just fantastic.

Speaker 3:          So was there a brotherhood of producers that served as a therapeutic way to share trials and tribulations?

Speaker 2:          Yeah, like a support group? No. Not that I was aware of. We knew about each other, I think, maybe 10 or 15 producers that I was aware of. I appreciated all the different things that they did, and they did do different things and they approached recording in individual ways. But no, I didn’t spend very much time at all with other producers, and we weren’t in competition, but we weren’t in a support group.

Speaker 3:          Would that have helped?

Speaker 2:          Yeah. Well, yeah, with everything, but the studio. “I’m having trouble with my family, with my wife,” and I don’t know, “I’m taking too many drugs and whatever.” But they certainly wouldn’t have … Nobody would’ve benefited from I think hearing how others made records.

Speaker 3:          So was writing the book therapeutic for you?

Speaker 2:          Well, I needed really, honestly and frankly, to get all this stuff down before I forgot it. I’m approaching 80 and I’m having memory issues, mostly short-term. But most of what I remembered is in the book. There are moments that you remember. Then there are other things that people ask me about and I say, “Oh, I forgot about that.” But I loved writing the book. I didn’t write it like a pro. I only wrote for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, and sometimes I wouldn’t write for a month. I’d remember something or I’d hear a song that triggered a memory and I would go to my desk and write it down.

                             When I had enough of those memories written down, I would slot them into the text chronologically and eventually it formed the shape of a book. The easiest part of the whole process was actually getting an agent and getting a publisher. I thought it was going to take months and months, and it only took a few days. So I love the book. People seem to love the book. They call it an easy read. Many honestly say that they couldn’t put it down. They’ll start it and then they’ll finish it the next day. That’s music to my ears.

Speaker 3:          Have you heard from any of the subject matter of the book?

Speaker 2:          Only Ted. Only Ted Nugent. I want to stress that I had a long professional relationship with Ted and there were no politics involved. He and I are far apart in our political perspectives, but I enjoyed working with him a lot, to the horror of my friends. We still talk, we still communicate, he still sends me his classic style material. He’s even a little farther out than he was back then. I’m sorry, what was the original question you asked?

Speaker 3:          Well, you heard from Ted, I said had you heard from any of this subject matter?

Speaker 2:          Yeah, I didn’t actually … I mean, I sent Ted a book. I did not send anyone else a book, or a couple of people who were not very famous. Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill, who are Boy Meets Girl, and who wrote songs for Whitney Houston. I did one very, a major departure for me, an album with them, was more middle of the road. So I sent them books and I sent Ted a book and that was it. Ted wrote back right away, “Loved it.”

Speaker 3:          Are you able to have healthy discourse with Ted still?

Speaker 2:          Yes, about music.

Speaker 3:          No. About politics?

Speaker 2:          No, not really. I watch him online and I see his … He’s got a very fast mouth and a very fast brain, and he does make sense, he’s got his talking points together. But I disagree with almost everything he says. He says it in a way that is really tough for me to accept. But I spent time with him, he did open up different perspectives on different things like hunting and the way he feels about killing animals and using all of the animal for different things. He once asked me, I said, “I could never kill an animal.” He said, “You eat cheeseburgers, right?” He said, “You just have somebody else kill them for you, and in an inhumane way.” He talks sense about certain things that I felt differently about. So I can talk with him, he’s not as extreme when he talks to me. He knows I’m a registered Democrat, so there you go.

Speaker 1:          We’ll be right back with more the Takin a Walk podcast.

                             Welcome back to the Takin a Walk podcast.

Speaker 3:          Do you think what Nikki Sixx has written about post you working with him, do you feel that he’s being authentic?

Speaker 2:          No. Some of the stuff is authentic. The Heroine, how are you supposed to believe a guy who wrote a book while he was a junkie? There’s one part in the Heroin Diaries and then there’s other stuff in The Dirt that’s just fiction. I like Nikki, he is very talented. I just think that a lot of musicians are very reluctant to share credit for their success with anyone else, especially Dee Snider. You know there was one part of one book, either the Heroin Diaries or The Dirt, when he stated that I was so distracted from the work that he had to produce all of Vince’s vocals, complete fiction.

                             I mean total. I don’t understand why they do this, but that’s what they do. I mean, it was done by Dee Snider, it was done by him, it was done by George Lynch. Especially George Lynch. Then others are really fine. The interesting thing about artists and bands is that the ones I enjoy most and the ones that have the most integrity for me are the ones that didn’t make it. I think there’s some requirement, if you want a successful band you have to prioritize success over everything else, including honesty and friendship. It’s tough. There’s a lot of historical revision. I always said that they love you when the records are selling millions of copies and 20 years later you sucked. You just weren’t paying attention, you didn’t get their sound right. Part of it has to do with the fact that recording technology has improved so much, so some of the older records, 40 years earlier from now, 40 years ago, they may have sounded a little thin next to what we’re doing today, so they complain.

Speaker 3:          Wasn’t there some accusation that you were on the phone all the time during sessions?

Speaker 2:          Yeah, sure, and I never was. I would never do that. I mean, you’re supposed to be in charge. They give you a couple of $100,000 back then and say, “Go make us a hit.” You’d be a complete fool not to be 100% involved in just about every decision that had to be made. I mean, who would talk on the phone? I mean, if I talked on the phone all the music would have to stop. It just doesn’t make any sense at all. You go into the studio, they would take the messages at the front desk because you wouldn’t want to be disturbed and they would hand deliver the messages to your control room. Maybe if there was something really important when we took a break, which we did, I’d make a phone call. But I never got on the phone while we were recording, that’s absurd. It’s just like Dee Snider once said in an interview that I read online when I came in, I said to him, “I’m only in this for the money.” I mean, what reasonably intelligent person would say that to a band that hired him?

                             It’s just ridiculous. Then he said, “And he was getting an eight point royalty, eight points!” No one in the history of recorded music ever got eight points. The top for all good producers was 4%. So that’s what you live with. Right now I’m far enough away from it so I don’t care anymore. But I was pretty pissed when Dee Snider started trash talking me the minute he walked out of the studio, where he had been all friendly and back-slapping. So yeah, yes, that is correct. There is a lot of historical revision and I kind of don’t know why, but I have to assume that it’s because they don’t want to share the credit. This guy, they’re not doing that well and then this guy with a lot of gold and platinum records comes along a very successful guy and they have a big hit like Twisted Sister did, and they’re afraid that people will say, “Oh yeah, well, they’ve been around for a long time, but then Werman came, and of course he made a hit record with them.” And that’s what happens and they get pissed.

Speaker 3:          Who was the easiest to work with and who was the most difficult?

Speaker 2:          The most difficult was probably Dokken, George and Don would not even work in the same studio at the same time. George would be in the afternoon, Don would come in at night to sing. Then George pitched a fit and I walked. That’s the only album I did not finish. I did not mix. I had basically finished the recording and then I left. I just didn’t enjoy the process, even though the album went platinum eventually. The easiest, there were a number of people who were a pleasure to work with, were wonderful people, and all of them were the ones that did not make it. The ones that most people haven’t heard of. Like The Producers, like Mother’s Finest, like Striper. George and Shannon, Boy Meets Girl. Just tremendous. And Cheap Trick was pretty good too.

Speaker 3:          So is there a session that you wish came together that never came together, and is there a session you wish never came together?

Speaker 2:          Yeah, well, the Dokken one is probably the one that I didn’t need. For ones that I wanted to come together? Well, when you say come together, do you mean was it more pleasant than it actually was? Or are you talking about acts that I never got to work with that I may have wanted to?

Speaker 3:          Yes, correct.

Speaker 2:          Well, most of those acts didn’t really need a producer because they were that good. The ones that come to mind, The Who. Could I have done any better than Pete Townsend? I don’t think so. The Eagles, they could have produced themselves, and they basically did. They had Simzic who started out as an engineer. Tom Petty would’ve been a really good one for me. But with them too, they could have produced their own records. Most of the bands, except for maybe Tom Petty, didn’t need anybody, didn’t need a producer. Usually you’d see the producer’s role as helping a band with potential actually realize that potential and become a hit. It was just all about taking a band that was close and putting them over the top for me.

Speaker 3:          They’re doing a redo, I’m sure you’ve heard of Spinal Tap.

Speaker 2:          Yeah, a new Spinal Tap. Right.

Speaker 3:          Would you consider being a creative advisor from your vast experience?

Speaker 2:          Sure. I was interviewed by Spinal Tap. Over at Universal they assembled a group of us, three or four producers and musicians. Among them was Steve Lukather, who I think wound up doing a lot on that album. But it was a great treat to sit with Michael McKeon and Harry Shearer. I was very honored to be even considered for that. I would love to do that. Sure. That would’ve been a great one. I actually passed on doing the second Blues Brothers record because I was just too scared of the difficulty of dealing with those people and mainly John and having to put a band together. I was skittish about putting bands together. I didn’t know many session people. I hadn’t worked with session pros, so I really preferred to work with self-contained acts. I was much more comfortable in that situation.

Speaker 3:          Had you worked with many session players rather than full bands?

Speaker 2:          I really didn’t do very much of that at all. I wanted to never have to substitute any player with a ringer, with a real pro. Over the 52 albums that I did I hired two guitarists to do one song each out of the 500 or so songs that I recorded. Lukather did a nice slow song on a Cheap Trick record, and Jay Graydon did, I Want You to Want Me, the studio version. I hired a cellist for Alf Wiedersehen by Cheap Trick. I think at one point I did hire Paulinho da Costa, who was a percussionist, to play the congas because I couldn’t do that.

                             So there were four or five professional musicians session guys that I did use. But everybody else … I never substituted anyone for an entire album. I know there were people who did that. They would say, “You can just go home for a while and we’re going to use this drummer instead, or this guitar player.” I didn’t do that. Everyone thinks that the Poison guys didn’t do all the work on their album, they did. There’s been this recent silly rumor that I’ve been asked about a lot that Nikki Sixx didn’t play bass on those records, and I was there for every note he did. I don’t know how these rumors start. But to answer your question, I did very little hiring of session guys.

Speaker 3:          In closing, Tom, when you see so many bands still out touring and robustly touring, especially the last few years, do you think some of them really should just stop?

Speaker 2:          Yes, I do. I have this theory that rock stars really don’t know how to downsize and adjust their lifestyle. So I think a lot of them actually would like to have some more money to maintain their wonderful lifestyle, and they do that. People seem to really enjoy, I mean, Cheap Trick is still on the road. Look at REO, 50 years, REO Speedwagon. But there are some who should probably hang it up. It’s very hard for these … I would think if I was an artist who was big 40 years ago and I could sell meet and greet tickets for $1,500 each, I’d be pretty tempted to go on tour as well. Some of them, like the Motley Crue situation was pretty interesting when they called a press conference and signed a contract that said, “We are definitely breaking up and we will never play together again.”

                             And I guess it was about two years and they had this second reunion tour, the second final go round. Molly Hatchet is still on the road, but there are no members left. There are no original members left, they’re all dead. Which is really sad. But they do good business. They’re out there banging away. Cheap Trick is out there with Rick Nielsen’s son on drums. Everyone has at least one replacement. Some are very good. Daughtey was great at Tanglewood and he had Billy Idol doing some vocals. Yeah, I think it’s nice to give people in my generation an opportunity to go rock out to their favorite bands. My daughter just paid $500 to see Madonna. Madonna’s I guess she’s 60 now or something like that. Anyway, she said it was fabulous. So that was nice. There are some who can do it, some others who can’t.

Speaker 3:          All right, now one last, last question.

Speaker 2:          Yes sir.

Speaker 3:          Any rock star debauchery stories that you’ve never told that you want to tell here?

Speaker 2:          No, honestly none. As I said before, most of their lewd, lascivious or criminal behavior was outside the studio and I did not hang with my artists outside the studio. There was one that I did briefly mention in the book with Gene and Paul, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, when I was at the session with Wicked Lester, which was their band before Kiss. I had signed Wicked Lester to Epic. We were in the studio at Electric Lady on Eighth Street down in the village. They disappeared for a bit and I went looking for them. Then the other studio, there were two studios at least in two rooms at Electric Lady, and I went into this dark room and I heard noises coming from the drum booth.

                             There was a drum booth glassed in. I went over there and I looked in and I saw two figures writhing on the floor with a third who was female. There was something going on in there. I did not linger. But that was probably the most rock star thing that happened. I didn’t see anything else. I was offered favors by some people I worked with who almost offered their girlfriends or friends who were girls to do things for me and I refused. It was pretty amazing. But no, the book is really light on sex and heavy on drugs and rock and roll.

Speaker 3:          Tom, thank you for sharing the stories and your music and the book. Congratulations. Appreciate you being on Takin a Walk.

Speaker 2:          This was fun. Great questions. Thank you very much for having me.

Speaker 1:          Thanks for listening to this episode of The Takin a Walk podcast. Share this and other episodes with your friends and follow us so you never miss an episode. Taking a Walk is available on the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your podcasts.

 

About The Author

Buzz Knight

Buzz Knight is an established media executive with a long history of content creation and multi-platform distribution.

After a successful career as a Radio Executive, he formed Buzz Knight Media which focuses on strategic guidance and the development of new original content.