Perfect Sound Forever

Danny Fields

Photo: 2002 by Tina Clarke

interview by Tim Broun
(June 2009)

Welcome to the world of Danny Fields. For those who may not know, Danny has had one of the most incredible & interesting careers in music & media spanning the last 40 or so years. The basics: early on, during the sixties, he spent time with Andy Warhol & the Factory crowd. From there he became the "house hippie" at Elektra Records, working with the Doors & Love amongst others, and was also responsible for the label signing the MC5 and the Stooges in one day! During the seventies, he was the editor at Sixteen magazine. And in 1975, he became the first manager of the Ramones. And those facts are only the basics.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Danny knows how smart, articulate, and cultured he is. This interview, done during the summer of 2007, only touches on the breadth of his experience & stories. We can only hope that he sees fit to write a book someday. I sat down with him with one agenda on my mind, and ended up leaving his place with an entirely different interview than I had in mind several hours later. I hope you enjoy it.

DF: ... If I want to hear something I want to sit at the computer and press a button and hear it. I don't want to take something off of those shelves. Those shelves were all full, and these other selves were full of albums. I just sold them except for the precious digital remastering of the Notorious Byrd Brothers or something. One of the great albums of all time where the record company finally realized, "Hey, we've been reading a few things and this is on everyone's 10 best lists. Maybe we better do a digital remastering & get the tapes out." Those I'll keep, but the rest they had to go. And with the movies... where they're in the wrong case and where's the first act of Lohengrin or where's the finale of King of Kings. You know the things I love - they're a nuisance too. All physical media are nuisances.

Next it will be an Atom - but what are you going to put that in? One atom that has 9 hundred thousand pages on it, and when you get home now you're going to have to give this a code number, and you're going to have to put what's on it and enter it in to the data base. Here let me show you these. These boxes are collapsing. Each have 12 cassettes in them and it's like 2000 interviews. They are all on a data base, thank God! These are interviews I've done, or done with me, or in the era when we were all taping each other on the phone. But mainly interviews with musicians.

PSF: It's interesting that you are talking about all of this. I started buying records around the age of 12, in 1978 or so, and I love music... I've been into music for 30 years now, buying records, and a lot of what you're talking about has been going through my head. I think it's part of the process of getting older. I look at people who may be the same age as me, who are still into that rock and roll "thing" and they still carry this torch for this so called 'rock and roll lifestyle.'

DF: The David Lee Roth world? The Van Halen world?

PSF: Even the like Ramones world, the CBGB's world. It's kind of in the past you know? I think about if you really love music, at least speaking for myself, it's about getting into jazz over time or crooners for example, and discovering. There's so much out there beyond this.

DF: So much.

PSF: I've spent so much time and dedicated so much of my life to this small particular segment.

DF: But not only that. When you look at the pie chart of your life you see that music itself is shrinking. There's video and the speed of communications and instant movies and all that so the part of your life, that you could or did as an early fan.

I mean I remember a Saturday, a summer Saturday, when the new Rolling Stones single was going to debut world wide, or in New York anyhow. On one station. And they had you hyped up for weeks! It was like the next thing that was like it was Thriller or something. But here was the new Rolling Stones single, and I just, you know, got stoned and I stood around. And I just stared at whatever the sound came out of then. And it was "Paint It Black," and I was thrilled and my day was made. That's what people talked about, and it became a part of your life. It didn't take long you know? And you realized how genius they were compared to those silly Beatles. I can't imagine doing that now, and I can't imagine an artist coming along who would command that big a portion of my heart's ability to love. I mean it's not infinite. Nor is my mind.

I mean, how many things can I love? Music is certainly one of them - will always be. I was brought up in a musical home. My father was a band leader when he married my mother, and he still played violin, and then he took up guitar late in life. My mother could sing Carmen while doing the dishes in the original language. Then I was folky. Then when I went to Harvard Square... I won't call it the Harvard Law School which was a farce, or Harvard College which I didn't go to... I got into the music of the '30's. The old crooners, Deitrich.

PSF: You were into that then?

DF: Oh yeah. Deitrich and Libby Holman... all those great ladies.

PSF: My father worked with Deitrich. He was a stage manager on Broadway and she did a show that I guess was musically directed by Burt Bacharach.

DF: Always Burt. "My accompanist, Burt Bacharach." She always said it on every record.

PSF: Bacharach would refer to Deitrich as his "girl singer" which is kinda funny when you consider he was talking about Marlene Deitrich - I love that music.

DF: Does he have any stories about her backstage?

PSF: Not that I recall. He does have a hand-written note from her that is instructions to the stage manager - very cold and divaesque. "You vill do this!" Very German.

DF: But not a monster? You never got monster? Like some of the sopranos.

PSF: She did give him a pair of cufflinks as a thank you gift, which I actually have now.

DF: Really? That's neat. We used to sit around in parlours off Harvard Square, or in the houses, and listen to obscure Broadway shows like Golden Apple which I bet you've never heard. Extremely beautiful... things like that. And the crooners of the '30's, and, whats his name? The greatest singer of all time who sang "Linda," which was written for Linda McCartney, "When I Go To Sleep" by Buddy Clark. Do you know who he was? The best male singer of that era. There's just something melting and beautiful about him. And then you turn on the automatic new wave station, and you get someone that makes Diamanda Galas sound like Patti Page. You get a shrieking monster, and then you go back to Buddy Clarke and you know what, you also say, "Those were songs." I'm extremely old but Gershwin on Broadway was even before my time, and Rogers and Hart was certainly before my time. And those were the songs. I mean I could walk around all day singing "Getting To Know You."

But you realize why they are so great. They are hard wired into you... it just fixes in there. I think melody is number one, and then rhythm. What's important if you're a singer but a melody? That's like what's it made out of? I mean that's the miracle. You can write words, anyone can play an instrument, anyone can learn to do this, but a melody - there aren't any words. There haven't been any melodies on Broadway since Hair. That was in the late 60's, and that was even an aberration because before that there had been nothing since Gypsy in 1959. That was the great era of Broadway - the '40's and '50's. And the songs that came out of that...I bet you know somewhere in your mind "I Won't Dance," that Fred Astaire stuff. You know those songs, and there's not that much of rock and roll besides the Rolling Stones and the Beatles where it's the songs. Well, when you hear "Freebird" you go [sings]. Or you hear U2 doing one of their things... you know I predicted them too. I said 'this is going to be the biggest band in the world' after seeing them once.

PSF: Lynyrd Skynyrd?

DF: Lynyrd Skynyrd I love because I love them. Here's another one. When I was at Atlantic Records...

PSF: Did Al Kooper turn you on to them at the time?

DF: No. Al Kooper is a dear friend, but he didn't, and he's bitter about his... I won't go into that... but he did invent them, but he didn't need to turn me on to them. Somehow the universe turned me on to them and then I found out that Al was working with them and all that stuff. So I was a minor a minor minor. I'd been fired from Elektra and Jon Landau called Jerry Wexler and got me a job there. Jon was very good friend of mine, and Jerry became a very good friend, and it was like, you know, "we have an obligation." So they called me in and said, "We did a deal with this guy Phil Walden in Georgia, and he's got a studio and he's bringing us some bands"... blah blah blah and "oh and he's having a party for Jimmy Carter because he wants all the cool people to meet him, so come to that tomorrow night but tonight go and see this band called the Allman Brothers." And it was like, "They're white, they play guitar. They're Southern but go see them."

It was a small club with maybe 40 people. I thought, "Wow, this is not my kind of music that I'm famous for, but what they are doing they are fucking doing! That guitar... woah!" I came back the next morning and no one even asked me if I went and saw the new band. I had to volunteer to stick my head in the offices and say, "By the way, I went to see Phil Walden's band. You know, that Capricorn label deal you just did? And they are fantastic. They're going to be really huge." And people went "thanks for going," and not "thanks for your opinion," not "what did you like about them?"

PSF: Sounds like the music business.

DF: Then came Live at the Filmore East that you listened to, and cleaned your pot in the cover of at the same time. That was symbolic album of the '70's. The first album was a bomb - the one with them naked in the pool. Then they did Live at the Filmore East, and they became one of the biggest bands in the world overnight. I loved them as a band. They were a great band.

It's hard for me to imagine now. Going or being dragged to see "my brother's in a band and they are playing in Essex Street," or one of those streets with names where my grandparents came from. I can't imagine the thrill of discovery. You know that "Wow, this is great!" "That's what a great guitar means, ah..."

Besides the Grateful Dead... I was a Dead Head. I didn't go around the country with turbans and tattoos, but I went every night when they did midnight at the Filmore East. Midnight until 6 A.M., on acid for a week. And I played Live Dead over and over. "Dark Star" was my personal national anthem. I haven't heard it now in maybe 20 years.

Music is a great power in my life. Like Vangelis.

PSF: Chariots of Fire.

DF: Best movie of the year. Anyhow, it became my sex music, and I couldn't have sex without it. This is it... this is the moment, and then it became fashion music. Do you remember? It became runway music. That became the soundtrack for all the shows. I didn't go to the shows except for one or two, but when you see them played back on the fashion news or something you'll always hear Chariots of Fire in the background. Whole parts of the universe fell in love with that at once - it really swept the world that theme and that wasn't rock and roll, that was a movie score.

I went to see Alexander three days in a row because of the Vangelis score and I couldn't wait to buy the score, and I couldn't wait to buy the DVD, and I could listen to it, and watch it.

The first part of it anyhow until he gets old and he's terrible but it's a great movie. It got me excited more than a band for a week. I don't know if it was the mythology, the buzz, I can't quite put my finger on it. It was wonderful and much of it was the Vangelis music. He's more important to me musically than modernistic experimental bomp squeek parp blap composers who were amusing like John Cage. I go to bed listening to the Beethoven string quartets - they never get less, they always get more. Have you heard them?

PSF: Classical is still kind of an unknown realm to me.

DF: Well, I could break you into it with the hundred greatest melodies - like that ad on TV, but when you meet Mahler for the first time which, even in my musically sophisticated family, if you said "Mahler," it was over their heads - a little heavy. They were into Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Tchaikovsky. So the first thing I did when I went away to school with my stereo was to get a Mahler.

PSF: This is when you were...

DF: When I was 15 at college, and I said 'this is fucking great, this is great symphonic music this.' And the guy in the record store said, "Molly? Mowler? Malley?" University of Pennsylvania record store. I had to spell out the word Mahler and within years Mahler is now the best selling classical composer in the world. So I was right. This is fabulous, this is for the universe, and you're in the universe, and there's a reason why things become number one in cultural consciousness. There's a reason that this TV show or this symphony from 100 years ago, a painting... I think he's absolutely in the celestial level. Then I became a folkie. Then I got to New York and it was the Velvet Underground.

PSF: When you discovered say, the Velvet Underground, and were starting to work at Elektra was there any conflict in your mind... did you look at is as "just" rock and roll? Did those bands hit you the same way?

DF: I never thought that in my life. To me "just" rock and roll was "Blue Suede Shoes" and wonderful songs. What's the Elvis that repeats and repeats... "Suspicious Minds." I loved that. Then I was into country when I did my country magazine. When I was a child, my cousin Roberta used to love country music, and she used to bring over Patsy Cline records and Hank Williams. I thought to myself "You know, it ain't bad but it's just not grabbing me in the lower regions."

Then there was Your Hit Parade and great singers... Rosemary Clooney, Jo Stafford. I got to interview Patty Page a few years ago. She's selling maple syrup now. I went up to a motel - this is Patty Page. "Doggie In The Window," I must have been like 7 years old! "Old Cape Cod," you know these songs? Those kind of things. They were either sort of country American or Italian American, a lot of the songs that became hits in the '50's and that was my music then.

I liked rock and roll because my parents hated it, so I was I was predisposed to give it a chance, but I couldn't sit and listen to "Blue Suede Shoes" over and over and over.

Then I was a folkie anyhow and then the Beatles came. I pretended to get excited about them because of the hair. Because my father was so furious about my long hair. So I liked them for that. I became close friends with Brian Epstein. I loved the Stones.

PSF: This is prior to being at Elektra?

DF: This is early '60's. Then of course was Warhol. When you're a Warhol-circle hanger on, you hear lots of opera, which I always liked. When you're at Warhols for most of the day, you were listening to Maria Callas or the the Velvet Underground rehearse. So now there's your spectrum that goes on from when I leave my office at lunch at 12 and come back at 4. Then go the Factory at 6 to see who had sent limosines that day to take us all somewhere.

I was a Velvet Underground groupie... for them, I wrote paychecks for them to get on planes. Then I got a job at a magazine...

PSF: Was that 16?

DF: No, this is Datebook. I'll show you the famous issue that must be worth a $10,000 by now.

PSF: Since we are talking about new modern technology, and growing older and musical taste changing... I hope I can come up with this question in an articulate fashion...

DF: I'll come up with an articulate answer, you don't have to worry.

PSF: When you were young, and the radio station would hype the new Stones single or the Beatles, I'm sure you and your friends all basically listened to the same station...

DF: My friends weren't all the kids. We were New York avant garde downtown people. Not the most bizarre certainly, and many with day jobs where we wore ties. We were just free swinging. We drank and we smoked and we were cool. Each one of us came from some place where he or she was the coolest guy in some suburb of Conneticut or something, so I can't and I never could speak for the hoi palloi, the "people." I don't. I can see, I can read their reactions pretty quickly, and I can sometimes predict what their reactions might be... although I'm just overwhelmed now by trashiness and the availability of the American Idol world and Justin Timberlake (shudders)... you're talking about the monumentality of the event?

PSF: And the method of the delivery. It was pop radio at that point, and that was the main way people heard new music. Do you think there was more of a feeling of community, or a unity of the youth culture at that point? Today, everybody has their headphones in their ears or they're on their own computers- they're not listening to a radio station together.

DF: But depending on how much they like what they are hearing, they will pay money to go see them live in Hoboken or Brooklyn or some place new on the Lower East Side.

They will! And that's what matters. I mean, (Bob) Lefsetz with whom, I don't care about his skiing trips and I hope you read him to see why he hates the record companies, is absolutely right in talking about that. They are too distracted to have a community of 'we have discovered'...

This is how I found out about the Doors before anyone I knew had. When the coolest, I wouldn't say groupie, I would say friend of Jimmy's (Morrison), a New Yorker... a group of extremely smart, semi-black girls who were friends of Jimmy's, they were the all coolest girls in New York. They came screaming one night into Max's, Pat Hartley did who was in that Jimi Hendix volcano movie (Rainbow Bridge), saying there is the cutest new singer in town tonight at Ondines. The people, they're dying for him. So we all pile into a taxi, and go to Ondines, and there is Jim Morrison. and I said, "Oh, I was supposed to go see this band anyhow."

PSF: You were working for Elektra at the time?

DF: No, I was freelance. It all takes a little back story. There was a girl I knew in Los Angeles who was working at the Whiskey. I was working with an all girl group in New York called The UFO's, and they moved to Los Angeles. I called the Whiskey to ask this person to be nice to them... we did that for each other you know? "My band Buffalo Springfield is coming to New York. Will you make sure some people see them?" and things like that.

So I saw Morrison, and I said "He'll do" and "He's got the presence," and they did "Light My Fire" as I was walking out and I just went into hypnosis over that song. The next Morning, I called Elektra Records and I said, "Hi!" (This is how we did things in those days.) "Allow me to introduce myself. I have been retained by Ronnie Harron in Los Angeles as the New York press representative of the Doors."

"Oh! A press representative. We never had a press representative at Elektra. Oh my god, this is so exciting. We never met a press agent, come on up."

So I went up there - this is an often told story - and I met Jack Holzman, the owner the founder, and Steve Harris, his chief of promotion. "So nice to meet you. What can we can arrange for you? What do you need from them?"

I said to interview each of them so I could do a little bio.

"They're rehearsing this afternoon. You'll go to rehearsal. So what did you think about them?" Because their first album had just been released. This must have been autumn of '66. The Doors with that picture with the receding images on the front cover.

I said, "It's pretty good, you got a great song - there's something about a fire that really stuck in my mind. I was singing it this morning in the shower."

"Oh, "Light My Fire." Oh well, that's too bad because it's too long to go on the radio, so we just released "Break On Through." This would be early '67 by now.

And I said, "Well it's too bad because that song, I mean, I know a number one when I hear one, I just do. A lot of people say that and a lot of people are wrong, and so am I, but I am right a lot of the time too."

Anyhow, I said, "You should release it. It's nice to meet you and thank you for setting this up... blah blah blah... and we'll be talking to you." This is before I worked for them.

They called me up some months later, and they had just sent Paul Rothchild into the studio with this 7 minute "Light My Fire" which included this incredibly boring and pretentious organ solo by Ray. "Guess what? Paul just went into the studio, and took out Ray's organ solo, and we have the hit-length single, and you can barely hear the splice."

Well honey, I can certainly hear that splice, but still it was OK. These were old times, and no one cared because that song was just released, and it was flying up the fucking charts. They said "Will you come and work for us?"

"I will." The day I started working for them, it was number three. The director of promotions Steve Harris said, "Wait til you see what happens next week." The next week it was number one, and it became one of the biggest songs of all time! So big, and it, plus his lunacy and his image, created much of the longevity and much of the success on every level - radio, because they had a number hit on the radio, and live, and getting arrested, and pulling out his penis, and all these things he did. It was a spectacular combination and they went to number one. That was number one on radio, and it was a weirdo song from a weirdo band, and it was a breakthrough of the sixties because there hadn't been that many weirdo bands. I don't think Jefferson Airplane had their hit yet. Mamas and Papas? Yes, they did. They had "Monday Monday."

OK, can I go back a little? What started happening in that era... We were the first generation of upper middle class children of college graduates to go into rock and roll, and I think that's the unspoken secret of what the '60's was about.

See Part II of the Danny Fields interview

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