Déjà vu

Golden-age exex still fighting same battles

Jac Holzman cringes when he calls his office voicemail to check his messages and hears the company’s outgoing recording.

When the voice says “formerly Discovery Records” as part of the overall message, it clearly tells the caller that Holzman’s latest vision for a record label has come to an end.

Holzman is part of a growing fraternity of ’60s- and ’70s-era record chiefs, such as Joe Smith, Bob Krasnow and Mo Ostin, who despite reputations for being just as visionary as the artists on their labels, either have been sidelined or are navigating distinctly different musical waters.

Holzman, who founded Elektra Records in 1968, led the revived Discovery from 1991 until 1993, when it was acquired by Warner Music Group.

But unlike the groundbreaking Elektra, which was acquired by Warner Bros. 23 years after it opened and kept its marquee-value name, Discovery’s identity was lost when it recently was merged into Sire Records.

The merger, orchestrated by Warner Music Group co-chairmen Bob Daly and Terry Semel, was a blow to Holzman, whose hand-picked successor, Syd Birenbaum, was beginning to get results.

“It was a lot more fun during the Elektra (days) than it is now,” said Holzman, who is credited with discovering Judy Collins and Joan Baez. “We emphasized the music then. Today’s music business emphasizes the business. The business today is also far more demonic. Back then we were all trying to stay afloat, not (like today where everyone is) trying to push the other guy under.”

Holzman, who had been a consultant to the label, is writing an eagerly anticipated book about his life in the music business trenches with Gavin Dawes. The tome is expected to be released next year.

Much like Holzman, Joe Smith has become a music industry chieftain emeritus.

The former Capitol Records-EMI prexy-CEO spends his days playing golf, advising young execs and sitting on the board of directors of several companies including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“I was never able to enjoy a round of golf until I left Capitol,” says Smith, who left the label in 1993 capping an impressive 30-year industry run that included being prexy of Warner/Reprise and chairman of Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch.

“Guys like me and Jac, Mo and Ahmet Ertegun, we kind of invented this business as we went along and did it without a lot of corporate supervision.” (Ostin currently is co-captain of DreamWorks Records and Ertegun is co-chairman of the Atlantic Records Group).

Smith, who penned the widely read history of the business “Off the Record” in 1988, recently became a consultant to the Wherehouse, the beleaguered retail chain in the midst of a recovery.

It’s been two years since Peter Asher traded in his manager hat for record label veep stripes with Sony Music.

A former teen idol and prolific producer in the 1960s and ’70s, Asher moved to Sony after 19 years of guiding the careers of Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and Randy Newman. Asher — who also produced several of Taylor’s discs and all of Ronstadt’s — looks upon the shift as a new frontier to conquer.

Irving Azoff played a seminal role in the ’70s as a manager and label chief. As prexy of Full Moon Records and later as founder of Front Line Management, which repped top artists including Dan Fogelberg, the Eagles and Jimmy Buffett, Azoff was at ground zero of the go-go music business of the ’70s. He remains a combatant in the label wars today as chief of Revolution.

Revolution succeeded Giant Records, the latter marking Azoff’s return to independence after ankling the chairmanship of MCA Music Entertainment Group in 1996 after a 6-1/2-year run.

“When Full Moon existed, it was about great songs and distinctive performances,” Azoff says. “Today it is more about moments as opposed to careers. Many (labels) today don’t seem to be building many careers.”

At Giant, Azoff scored big in 1993 with “Common Thread,” a compilation tribute disc of country crooners performing Eagles nuggets; his turn as label owner has been unremarkable.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Big Head Todd remain among the label’s standout artists, but many industry execs are wondering how long Revolution’s doors — and the doors of many of the fledgling labels like it — will stay open in this era of corporate downsizing.

Lou Adler, a highly successful record producer who is perhaps best known for making the Monterey Pop Festival a reality, had a short-lived return to the record business in 1995 with the launch of Ode 2 Kids, a children’s label that was met with much fanfare but yielded little else.

The label traded on the famous Ode Records moniker, which Adler used to bring the world Carole King in the late ’60s.

Adler since has returned to consulting, overseeing his music biz-related investments such as the Roxy on Sunset and attending Laker games.

Ted Templemann has been one of the architects of the Warner Bros. sound for more than 27 years and continues to lead the record company’s A&R charge.

After a stint as a recording artist, Templemann joined Ostin and second-in-command Lenny Waronker in 1972 and went on to sign some of the biggest and the best artists of the past three decades, including the Doobie Brothers and Van Halen. He also worked the recording studio boards for many of them.

He recently began to phase out working in the studio; he’d prefer to spend more time in his busy schedule overseeing the label’s upcoming crop of releases, which includes the eagerly awaited Fleetwood Mac disc and Bette Midler’s next release.

Templemann’s work is known for its emphasis on the song. Now, as an exec veep of Warner Bros. Records, he is noticing a return to more melodic offerings after several years of alternative artists.

“In alternative music there really wasn’t much of a musical thing to hang onto in it, and a band’s success was sometimes based more on a buzz than its material,” he says. “Now the success of the R&B and dance genres have helped up-and-coming artists recognize the importance of the melody. And that’s (good news) for the industry.”

Though the execs may gripe about the conglomerization of the record business or the changes in music, none of them would consider entering a different field.

“There’s a lot of crap to deal with, and it may never be what it was, but it’s still fun,” Azoff says. “Where else can you do what we do and get paid for it?”

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