Holzman’s story is basic and straightforward — several worlds removed from the contempo music industry of corporate purchases, vanity labels and over-hyped independents.
Conversationally in chronological order and mostly in Holzman’s voice, he and author Gavan Daws document his creation of the Elektra label in 1951 and the behind-the-scenes activities that led to Elektra’s emergence as one of the most significant independent labels.
Tome closes in 1973 with the release of Atomic Rooster’s fourth album, the last disc released under Holzman’s tenure and before the imprint was 100% in Warners’ corporate hands.
His intentions behind writing the book are never overt: We’re privy to his personal journal (marriage, divorce, fatherhood) as well as financial dealings, encounters with artists and management and (to borrow a phrase from his most famous act, the Doors) all the weird scenes inside the goldmine. But, unlike a number of recent much- ballyhooed musical tell-alls, there’s no agenda here. (To help promote the book, an elaborate http://www.followthemuisc.com has been set up).
It’s a quick and easy read that grows breezier as Elektra hits its breakthrough years in the ’60s, and details of his musical-commune experiment are riveting.
Holzman emerges as a man driven by art, loyalty and commerce — in that order — with an ear for a wide range of musical styles. Yet he portrays himself, accurately, as not all that different from his music industry peers sharing a kindred passion for music; once his diskery becomes the home of million-sellers, his decisions become more guided by business and his interest wanes. His loyalty to personal pledges guide him, following through in ’73 on a years-old plan to live in Hawaii rather than preside over his record company.
Holzman kept his company small and hungry in its first decade in New York with the pure folkies Theodore Bikel, Jean Ritchie and Josh White forming Elektra’s spine until Judy Collins came along. As their careers blossomed, so did Holzman’s vision.
Indigenous music from all over the planet found its way to Elektra and eventually Nonesuch, the budget classical label he founded that was an immediate success with consumers.
His artists regarded Holzman a friend and his hands-on involvement on records for the label’s first 15 years reaches altruistic levels; the producer Paul Rothchild becomes his most-trusted employee and, as Holzman drifts more into budgets and unit sales, it’s Rothchild who keeps Elektra on the map artistically.
The label thrived on a new breed of artists in the ’60s and early ’70s that Rothchild had a hand in — the early blues rock with the Paul Butterfield, psychedelic folk-rock with Love, the folk-pop of Judy Collins, the jazz-folk of Tim Buckley, the new breed of singer-songwriters that included Carly Simon and Harry Chapin, the theatrical Queen and, of course, Jim Morrison. Inferred more than declared, the late Rothchild’s contributions cannot be stressed enough.
As interesting as the personalities are — Morrison’s famous antics get on-the-record attention rather than thorough analysis — “Follow the Music” maintains its focus on the mood of the time and making records that fit. It begs for a musical anthology to document the path from the folk songs of Israel, Kentucky, chain gangs and elsewhere to classic albums such as Love’s “Forever Changes,” the Doors’ debut, Koerner, Ray and Glover’s “Return of” and Butterfield’s “East-West.”
Holzman, himself, still held in high esteem as the rare prexy with ears, might well ask, “Anybody out there listening?”