The late Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Cliffie Stone was a pillar of the Los Angeles music community for decades, racking up producing credits on thousands of local television and radio shows, introducing stars like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Lefty Frizzell to Southern California music fans. He was an A&R pro and publishing chief for Capitol Records from the mid-’40s to the mid-’70s, fostering talent and fine-tuning hits during the glory days of Capitol producer Ken Nelson.
Along with his prior how-to tome, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Songwriting but Didn’t Know Who to Ask,” “You Gotta Be Bad Before You Can Be Good” is long on feel-good homilies and personal anecdotes, and padded with recitations of credits and accomplishments of stars who have “made it.” Drill down to the substance of “Gotta,” however, and there are practical tips and colorful insights for both the would-be performer and the serious country music history buff.
Stone was a real hands-on music exec, which was part and parcel of the looser, more free-wheeling times before corporate decisionmaking replaced seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurship. Since Stone was a musician and songwriter of note himself, playing in the dives, beerjoints, honky-tonks and roaring nightclubs of post-WWII Southern California, his advice on breaking into the music business via talent shows is based on decades of first-hand experience. He advises wannabes to include a rigorous checklist of do’s and don’ts that would only come from a keen observer of the talent show scene, and covers everything from schmoozing with the sound man to spending prep time checking out the nightclub or venue, the stage, the management, the competition, the emcee — in other words, the works.
Unlike many books on the subject, Stone doesn’t pull punches. He’s a true believer in self-confidence and much of “Gotta” does fall (sometimes painfully) into a Dale Carnegie “believe in the dream” relentless pep talk, but his genuine enthusiasm for music and show business is solidly balanced by hard-nosed economics and tough love. He’s bracingly clear on the costs of self-producing CDs, mounting a publicity campaign and managing a career, cautioning both aspiring stars and potential backers on the financial risks involved in the biz.
One of the California music scene’s best-loved figures during his long stint in the country trenches, Stone’s enduring passion, good humor and common sense makes “Gotta” a keeper.