Rising from underground ranks, a record exec

ALTERNATIVE HEAD: Bob Pfeifer’s rise from college philosophy teacher and musician in an underground band to the head of a record company is the stuff of TV movies. Pfeifer was recently named to head Hollywood Records, Disney’s fledgling label that has yet to establish a significant presence in the industry.

With ex-A&R man Gary Gersh the president/CEO of Capitol and music journalist/manager Danny Goldberg president at Atlantic, Pfeifer represents a younger generation of label heads who believe in creating artist-friendly companies where great bands take precedence over hit singles.

Pfeifer brings personal experience into the mix: In the early ’80s, he headed underground band Human Switchboard. He had just started on a solo career in 1987 when Epic Records A&R head Don Grierson offered him an A&R job.

“I came to a point where I didn’t want to be Jonathan Richman playing the Bottom Line forever,” he recalled. “I wanted to continue being creative for a living. Doing A&R was the way.”

At Epic, he resuscitated Alice Cooper’s career and signed Joe Satriani, Screaming Trees and Eve’s Plum. Although none but Cooper is a household name, they’ve all done quite well in building a strong foundation.

That led to Pfeifer being made an A&R VP at Hollywood Records last August.

Unfortunately, there was trouble at the top. President Peter Philbin left and Disney heads Michael Eisner and Frank Wells conducted a lengthy search for a successor. Big names like Warner Bros. legend Mo Ostin were bandied about, but they eventually turned to Pfeifer.

“When I came here, I had no intention of being the head of this company, but circumstances change, ” Pfeifer explained. “When Michael Eisner asked me, I couldn’t say no.”

Pfeifer is basically starting with a clean slate. Fresh off the No. 1 single success of the Bryan Adams/Sting/Rod Stewart collaboration “All for Love,” for the film “The Three Musketeers,” he’s looking for new talent.

When evaluating prospective candidates, “it comes down to two questions,” he said. “Does it get me off? And can I figure out a way for the label to make it happen? I still use the goosebump theory — if I see an act or hear a record and it excites me, that’s it.”

L.A. SEEN: Hip-hop folk singer Beck, whose Geffen release “Mellow Gold” is about to hit the streets, recently visited New York to tape MTV’s “120 Minutes” in a segment where he jams with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. Meanwhile, he’s back in Los Angeles putting together and rehearsing with a new band, getting ready to hit the road in March. And “Mellow Gold” co-producers and longtime Beck collaborators Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf of Bongload Records (they originally put out Beck’s college-radio hit single, “Loser”) are back in the studio, working on new projects.

Currently, the pair is mixing Wool at Devonshire Studios in North Hollywood, and they’re also working on new records by Interscope artist the Toadies, and Bongload band Fu Manchu …

Closer to that is Los Angeles-based songwriter Kristian Hoffman, whose first solo release, “I Don’t Love My Guru Anymore” has just come out on the indie label Eggbert. An illustrator as well, Hoffman drew up the famous New York Dolls logo of a girl looking through her own legs, as well as inked images for everyone from Tigerbeat magazine to new-wave rocker Lydia Lunch.

Hoffman has co-written songs with everyone from the Go-Go’s to the Cramps to Ann Magnuson. He played a set recently at Los Feliz coffeehouse the Onyx Sequel, to a packed, hip audience that included songwriter Dave Alvin, and members of Congo-Norvell.

SONGS SUNG ‘BLUE’: Bucking the trend of pop singers getting into acting, Gerard Depardieu had temporarily left the film set for the recording studio. He lends his vocal talents to those of Norwegian singer Anneli Drecker on “I’ll Strangle You,” which will be the first single from the album “Sahara Blue.”

“Directed” by Hector Zazou, “Sahara Blue” combines the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud with ambient/chamber music creations by Velvet Underground bassist John Cale, Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also scored the films ‘The Last Emperor” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”), Bill Laswell (record producer of Mick Jagger, Herbie Hancock, Public Image and Yoko Ono) and House music pioneer Tim (Bomb the Bass) Simenon.

In the au courant style of world music, all the poems are sung and spoken in English, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and Japanese.

RADIO REPORT: New songs to watch for on the Network Forty’s plays-per-week chart, which ranks songs on the frequency of airplay:

  • “So Much in Love,” All-4-One: Young, L.A.-based male vocal quartet’s smooth rendition of the Tymes’ old hit rose from No. 13 to the eighth most-played and is now the third most-requested song in the country.

  • “Canaloop (Flip Fantasia),” Us3: Rapping over samples of classic Blue Note Jazz artist riffs is hitting on all cylinders and formats.

  • “Streets of Philadelphia,” Bruce Springsteen: Somber tune from the “Philadelphia” soundtrack is shaping up to be the Boss’ biggest single in years, adding 24 stations to the 144 playing it.

  • “Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows: The hottest rising record in radio, it debuted on the most-played chart at No. 28, just broke into the most-requested Top 10 and 36 stations just added it last week.
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