The Israeli Elvis: How I got my Start in the Music Business

on Apr 11 in Essays & Reviews by

In 1978, as I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Boston, I got a call from a teacher at Berklee School of Music. He was very excited about this musical act he was working with who had financial backing, and was looking for a manager who could make him a star.

I myself was a musician, less than a year from graduating with a degree in business. It’d been a year or so since the band I was in — all buddies — had decided to quit playing out, and I was managing a couple of singer-songwriters, hoping to hook onto something big, or at least, more economically rewarding than working four or five nights a week in bars with names like Great Scott and Bunratty’s.

A few days later, I met the guy. He was an Israeli in his mid-twenties, fair-skinned, freckles, and thinning red hair. That day, he was wearing blue jeans, and a tight T-shirt. I had the impression, he’d been a good-looking guy when he was younger, but he had bit of a paunch and he was washed out looking. He was cocky, arrogant and suspicious.

This was a time before psychotropic meds, when people who tended toward paranoia or schizophrenia would imagine themselves as born-again Elvis Presleys. This guy didn’t have much hair, but he had the red leather pants, the stare, the snarl, even the puffiness Elvis had near the end.

The Israeli Elvis took the name G. G. Turner and for some reason, came to Boston, rather than New York or L.A. looking for fame and fortune. For reasons I never learned, he found his way to Berklee School of Music, where he connected with Bob Rose, the only faculty member who taught rock and roll. Rose was a snarky fellow with imposing girth and strong opinions who loved the Beatles and saw himself as an incarnation of George Martin, their producer. I remember Bob Rose telling me emphatically that local rocksters, the Cars, would never get anywhere with their understated, single note rock guitar lines.

Rose convinced G.G. Turner to record a forty-five of two atrocious original songs. They commissioned an art firm to design and print an elaborate four-color sleeve with embossed gold lettering. When it was almost ready for worldwide release, G.G. Turner demanded to know what was next, which is where I came in.

So many things about G.G. Turner were ridiculous. The Elvis thing was so over and besides, Turner wasn’t good-looking, talented or charismatic. Big rock acts in whose image Turner saw himself — guys like Peter Framptom — were also over. Groups were happening: Fleetwood Mac, Boston, the Cars. Berklee School of Music was a jazz school. When I got the call from Rose, I couldn’t imagine how a guy working at a school that revered Gary Burton and prepared students to play the Village Gate was going to take an Israeli rocker to the moon.

Nonetheless, when G.G. Turner asked me if I could make him a star, I said, absolutely.

The reason I felt no shame for taking his money, to be as direct as possible is: The two of them, musical director and artist — were assholes. They treated everyone, including their band, the graphic artist, volunteer roadies and me, as if they were superstars and we were sycophants, privileged to be carrying their bags and listening to them talk. My early meetings with them were incredibly unpleasant and bizarre and I felt stupid and ashamed for putting up with it.

It was a tough gig, but I hung in there. Spending a lot of money making a single without distribution or any means to get airplay, was a really stupid thing to do, yet they’d already done it. When I told them as gently as possible that I thought he could use stronger material, they told me to go fuck myself.

The only thing left was to try to get him a record deal, which I explained would require my going to New York and L.A. and delivering his single to A&R men. So in the spring of that year, I made several round trips on the Israeli Elvis’s dime to promote G.G. Turner, the Redhead.

When nobody either bought or listened to the single, I suggested we do a showcase for record company executives in New York City, and once again, G.G. Turner wrote a check. We rented a rehearsal hall with a huge stack of Marshall amps, we hired musicians, we even offered limousines for any record company executive who agreed to attend.

Of course, he bombed. He was a caricature of a rock and roller, an atrocious singer who couldn’t keep time. He screamed his lyrics and everyone who attended (many, including my friends and parents), were uncertain whether he was a spoof or not.

In the end, I was the only person who made out. When the showcase was over, one of the A&R men I’d begged to attend put his arm around me and said, “He sucked, but you seem like a decent guy. Why don’t you get a job in the business.” It was the encouragement I needed. I resigned as G. G. Turner’s Tom Parker. Six months later, I got hired by Clive Davis to do A&R for Arista Records.

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