Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Rock and Roll Sandbox at Studio 54

Noë the G cuts a parquet with dance diva Patricia P. at the fabled Studio 54.
source: www.chuckpulin.com
Photo copyright © Chuck Pulin

By Noë Gold

On the storied path of my journey through music journalism and other forms of storytelling, I made my bones in the trenches with the copy editors of daily newspapers and the fascinating subset of the music business known as "The Trades," Brill Building shorthand for the trade papers that reported on the ins and outs (who was in, who was out and what position they straddled on "the charts") of the pop music industry.

In the movie biz, our counterparts were the venerable Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, both of which I worked for later on. In the swag-heavy, heady days of '70s post-Beatle music-biz excess, there were three trades: Record World, Cash Box and Billboard, only one of which soldiers on in these leaner times today.

This story is about a time when the music business was fat, when vinyl was king and digital downloads were science fiction. Van Morrison so poetically described the scene as "… de record company paid out for de wine," and that is no exaggeration. Record sales were huge, and they were fueled by promotion. Sly Stone's wedding, Stevie Wonder's birthday party. These shindigs were held in tony spots like the Rainbow Room and the Starlight Roof, usually paid for by a record label. Those were the days! Clive Davis, before he became known as the American Idol paterfamilias – way before – famously (he would say allegedly) spent $60K of Columbia Records' money on his son's bar mitzvah in a party just like those.

As a member of the press corps, I got to go to these parties, sitting at the same tables as Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, tasting the hors d'ouevres and quaffing the liqueur in an endless series of promo parties.

It was a business but as a publication that covered that business, I can think of no funner place to work than in the ragtag offices of Record World, in an office building on Broadway at 52nd Street, a stones throw from the Carnegie Deli. Sure, we performed the workaday rites of the ink-stained wretches of the press, heading out on the PATH train every Friday to the New Jersey site of our printers' for "copy day," under the stewardship of Managing Editor Michael Sigman and his #2 Howard Levitt. But sitting around the rim of the copy desk fixing typos and writing witty captions and headlines with the jokes and inside-the-industry digs flying about … it was a gas, gas, gas.

Monday-through-Thursday was equally fascinating. The fabric of our journalism was to report on the hitmakers. New artist signings happened every week, and record releases were ballyhooed incessantly. Of course, the advertising in our glossy weekly reflected this, but the editorial pages were peppered with photo ops of recording artists flanked by the execs who signed them. Often, these photo ops took place right there in our office conference room.

It was not unusual for an Elton John, a George Harrison or Neil Young to drop by for a meet-and-greet, chaperoned by the local under-assistant promo man. As an assistant editor, I was often pressed into service to pose with these illustrious visitors. My favorite was Jesse Colin Young, who was both gracious and humble, performing his chores with journeyman aplomb. 

Also in the mix to break up the monotony was a constant parade of promo guys, pushing their records and plying their influence to make them move up the charts in any way they knew how. Their main focus was the editors who handled the charts. I never fathomed how or what they actually did, but they went about it with an air of importance. The nudge-nudge, wink wink attitude they gave off was redolent of the stories of record-pushers and radio deejays in an earlier, payola age.

My beat was AOR (album oriented rock), not the highest priority at that time for the promo guys in those disco days, but they paid their respects as they made their way through the office. We were the first stop on the gravy train, my fellow assistant editor Sophia Midas and I, simply because our office was closest to the door. From where I was sitting, it was fun to watch. You see, Sophia was a gorgeous gal. Professional, smart and talented, but hard to ignore the fact that she was a knockout. So these self-assured, hard-pushing promo guys would walk in and start to go into their pitch and then they'd spy Sophia sitting there and go all to jelly. We both had a laugh after these brief encounters.

Even as the AOR guy at a music trade in the late '70s, I could not be unaffected by disco. Disco was everywhere in those days. My crossover came in the form of Ray Caviano, the disco-king head of the Warner/RFC label. The March 3, 1979 issue of Record World's Contents page Powerhouse Picks highlighted: Blondie (Chrysalis) "Heart of Glass": "A slew of heavies added the record this week to go with upward chart moves at the primary and secondary level and breakout sales. It's Top Five in New York."

Featured on that contents page was my story on page 24, headlined "Caviano Set for Second Phase of WB's 'Disco Push,'" in which the mini-mogul laid out his battle plan to procure disco play for non-disco artists such as Nicolette Larsen and The Doobie Brothers, who were nonetheless making music you could dance to.

My own story comes full-circle here in the above photo by the late, great music-biz photographer Chuck Pulin, who took not only many of those aforementioned publicity photos but just about every important stageside musical happening in New York. I first met Chuck when I assigned his photographs at Crawdaddy, and I continued to work and play with him throughout my New York salad days. 

The photo shows me dancing with my pal Patty Dryden at – what else – a promo party for Deep Purple in 1977 at Studio 54, but what I love about it besides the obvious, is the way Chuck's flash captured the minute details at the edge of the camera and the egalitarian nature of Studio in those days.

Doesn't seem like it's been five years since he passed, but here is his obit:

Chuck Pulin: an appreciationApril 22, 2010 12:11 PM · By Jim Bessman
One of the New York music scene's unsung heroes, Chuck Pulin, died in his sleep earlier this week, cause unknown.
Mainly a music business trade photographer, he wasn't a celebrity, known for having cover spreads in Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone. He was simply a solid, dependable professional, hired to shoot hundreds if not thousands of concerts and music business functions and events.
He was 69, and outlived probably 99.99 percent of the artists and executives he photographed. He was a reassuring fixture in an ever-changing New York music world.
"He was at everything," says Allan Pepper, co-owner of legendary showcase club The Bottom Line, which closed in 2004. "He was older than he looked, but had a youthful presence about him and was such a gentle soul."
One thing Chuck wasn't was paparazzi.
"He was the kind of guy who did things because he thought they were the right things to do--as opposed to looking for a payoff," continues Pepper. .... go here for the full story:

This one's for you, Chuck, chronicler of the roaring seventies.