This is a story about mixed motives. Back about 1980, the offices of the company where I worked were on Lazaneo Drive in Cupertino. (We shared the building, if memory serves, with a small start-up called Apple Computer.) The company, GPI Publications, published Guitar Player, Keyboard, and Frets magazines. I believe Bass Player didn’t come along until a few years later.
At the time, GPI was a small, independent company. Because we were publishing music magazines, it’s not surprising that many of the employees were musicians. The CEO, Jim Crockett, had been a pretty decent jazz drummer at one time. Though I worked for Keyboard, I played bass guitar. Keyboard’s ad director, Jerry Martin, played a mean rock and roll saxophone. And so on.
Once a month or so, we’d have a jam session. The big roll-up door of the warehouse would be opened at the end of the work day, chairs would be set out in the parking lot, somebody would go buy a keg of beer, somebody else would fire up the barbie, and we’d play some music. It’s not true that famous musicians dropped by on a regular basis, but once in a while somebody whose name you might recognize would show up. Tom Coster Sr., who had produced platinum albums for Santana, lived up the road in Los Altos and wrote a column for Keyboard. Tom actually did drop by a couple of times, just to play. George Winston (before his first Windham Hill album became a smash hit) showed up once and banged out some blues on Keyboard’s CP-70.
As befits a CEO, Crockett was always looking for ways to let people know that Guitar Player and Keyboard were magazines written by musicians, for musicians. It occurred to him that this point could be driven home by getting the word out about our jam sessions. “See, these folks don’t just write about guitar — they’re guitar players themselves!” So why not record a jam session and send out copies of it on cassette? (Cassette tape — ugh. But in 1980 it made sense. The CD was still a couple of years in the future.)
As a promotional idea, this was not bad at all. If it had stayed focused on its original mission, we might have had a decent cassette to hand out at the NAMM show. But sad to say, things rapidly got more complicated.
A jam session is a casual affair. Some of the employees who showed up with their guitars were, shall we say, not extremely accomplished. They’d plug in and play a tune or two, and what the heck — it was a jam. But Crockett felt it would be insulting to exclude these marginal players from the cassette roster. His innate sense of fairness decreed that everybody would have to be on the cassette, even those whose skills were sorely lacking.
The owner of the company, Bud Eastman, played pedal steel guitar. And of course we couldn’t exclude Bud from the tape, because he was footing the bill. But Bud seldom actually showed up in Cupertino. In this case, he went into a studio near his home in Oregon and recorded a pedal steel solo. The idea was, the GPI crew would take this track into a studio in the South Bay and lay it on top of or alongside something recorded at the jam. I wasn’t involved in the studio mixing session, so I’m not clear how exactly they planned to do it.
Two motives were at work here, each laudable in itself, but on a collision course: promote the magazines by letting people hear the jams, and include everybody in the tape. During the mixing session, yet a third motive cropped up: Don’t spend a lot of money. They went into a studio somewhere (one of the guys, whose name escapes me, had some experience in sound reinforcement, so he was in charge of the session) and tried to make it sound as if Bud was actually at the jam. But when the master tape emerged from the studio, the applause that followed Bud’s solo was obviously pasted on after the fact. The artifice was embarrassing. They could undoubtedly have fixed it, but that would have meant spending more money on studio time.
So off to the production house the master went, and in short order we had cartons of cassettes entitled “A Damn Good Time.” Maybe the ad department or the P.R. department (Gretchen Horton) actually sent some out. I wouldn’t know. I do know that stacks of the cassettes sat around the office, unloved, until they were finally tossed into the dumpster some years later.
For me, this was a valuable lesson: If you’re going to do a project, be it in music or anything else, decide what your goal is, and don’t lose sight of it. Above all, don’t confuse yourself by trying to do three things at once, especially when one of them is “avoid spending money.”