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Classic Rock Revisited presents an exclusive interview with...
Rock N Roll Preppie
by Jeb Wright
Before I mention the career of Tom Werman I thought I would tell you how this interview came to be in the first place. Doing Classic Rock Revisited, I meet a lot of interesting people and form 21st Century cyber friendships via email with various music biz professionals. One of the best people I have met and one of the closet friends I have made since starting CRR is Laura Kaufman. Laura is a sweet lady who is a true legend in the world of Classic Rock due to her publicity work for Aerosmith and others. Laura sent an email much like emails we all get. It was a funny story. I opened the email and read it and had a laugh. As I was getting ready to close the email I noticed that in addition to my email address she had sent it to many others. One name stuck out: Tom Werman. Could this be the same Tom Werman that is on the back of half of the records in my collection? I decided to be bold and find out for myself. I emailed Tom and included a link to the site. He must have liked what he saw because that is how this interview came to be. Werman himself does not know how I got his email addy! I am just glad he agreed. What follows is an interview with one of the most important figures in Hard Rock history.
Tom Werman discovered that he had a talent for discovering rock bands. Next he found out he could take a band that had a difficult time in the studio and coax a great performance out of them. With Tom's Midas Touch Epic Records went from moving 12 million albums a year to moving over 250 million a year. Werman was responsible for signing Boston, REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent to Epic Records. His production credits include the following: Cheap Trick Dream Police, Poison Open Up & Say Ah, Motley Crue Shout At The Devil, Molly Hatchet Flirtin' With Disaster and literally dozens more.
In this interview we discuss many of the bands and albums mentioned above. Werman is a legendary figure in Hard Rock's illustrious history yet he remains humble about his innate talents. Tom didn't do a lot of name dropping but he did share a story on why Ted Nugent will never be a spokesman for Milk! It is fascinating to get a small glimpse into the world of a rock legend.
It becomes obvious that Werman is not a big fan of the music biz. He took the money but he also loved the music. The man had a gift for finding the diamond in the rough and polishing it until its glory and uniqueness were plain to see by all. Werman mentions a CD he had made that encompasses the hits and misses of his career. He sent me one. He autographed the CD for me and included this inscription, "Remember that it's healthy to shout at the devil at least twice a day." That sums up what Werman is about. A class act and a fun interview.
-Jeb Wright, December 2002
Jeb: What is Tom Werman up to these days?
Tom: I am renovating a beautiful 110-year-old estate in Massachusetts. I am opening a luxury bed and breakfast inn. I am an innkeeper!
Jeb: No more Rock N Roll?
Tom: If somebody wanted me to do a record in the winter then I could do it but I donít see that happening!
Jeb: I think I have heard you admit that you are really a preppie from Boston.
Tom: I went to a prep school in Boston. I went to a New England college. I am a New England preppie in wolfs clothing.
Jeb: How does an Ivy League grad end up the King of Hard Rock?
Tom: Itís easy. I didnít like to work! I was in advertising right out of school and I hated it. I went to CBS records and I got a job there and immediately started signing bands. I knew more about Rock N Roll than I knew about business.
Jeb: There is a rumor that you actually played with Jimi Hendrix. Is that true?
Tom: I sat in with Jimi twice before he was famous. He was Jimi James & the Flames. He was hanging out at this place where English bands hung out in 1965. It was under the 59th Street Bridge on 2nd avenue. We had friends who played there while we were playing at Columbia College. They finished an hour later than we did so once and a while we would go down and sit in with them. I got to play rhythm guitar with Hendrix. It was cool.
Jeb: In the future you were known for having one hell of an eye for Rock N Roll talent so what did you think of Hendrix?
Tom: I knew he was good. He wanted to join my friendís band but they wouldnít let him in!
Jeb: Did you really turn down an audition with famed Beatle manager Brian Epstein?
Tom: I did. That was back in the days when I was a trained seal. I was jumping through hoops the way I was supposed too. If I had gone with Brian then we would have made a record and then toured and I would have most likely been drafted and eventually killed! That was the tough part about leaving school to do anything in the 60ís when Vietnam was going on.
Jeb: You went to CBS and interviewed with Clive Davis.
Tom: He hired me.
Jeb: What is he like as a boss?
Tom: Heís not easy. He is very well spoken and he is a real gentleman. He is no way as jive as most of the label heads that I have met. Clive is a real gentleman and a very, very smart man. He was my idol. I was really happy that he gave me a job even though I was bitterly disappointed that I didnít get to go to work for Columbia. I had to go to work for Epic instead. I didnít realize that there were more opportunities there at the time.
Jeb: Epic was not the Epic that it became.
Tom: No, we made it that.
Jeb: Were you afraid that he stuck you on a losing team?
Tom: In a way. There were only three big acts on Epic at the time. There was Donavan, The Yardbirds, and The Dave Clark Five. The first thing I did was sign REO Speedwagon. I tried to sign some other bands but they would not let me. Those bands became huge so Epic then let me do what I wanted.
Jeb: Who were the ones that got away?
Tom: Kiss, Rush and Skynyrd.
Jeb: Epic did not want those guys.
Tom: They passed on all three for various reasons.
Jeb: Did that drive you crazy?
Tom: Yes, it drove me crazy at the time because I didnít have the guts to stick to my guns and bang my fists on the table and tell them, ďYou have got to sign this band because they are going to be big.Ē
Jeb: REO became pop stars but in the 70ís they kicked ass. I am from the Midwest and we loved REO back in the day.
Tom: They were very hard rockers. They were really a great live band. I saw them at The Red Lion in Champlain and they were really great. I wasnít producing then so I couldnít do anything with them.
Jeb: Was Ted Nugent the first artist you produced?
Tom: Yes. He was with Lou Futterman and Lou had his production contract but he wasnít his producer. I kind of horned my way in to protect my investment. Lou gave me co-producer credits but he really didnít have too much to do with the production of the music until we got to the vocals. That is where he thought he was qualified. I did most of the tracks.
Jeb: When was the decision made to get Ted away from the Amboy Dukes?
Tom: He was just Ted Nugent when I found him. He had Derek St. Holmes with him already. I saw him at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and I thought he was brilliant. I just loved him.
Jeb: Was Ted as crazed about hunting back then?
Tom: He was hunting crazed. He was still the same guy but he wasnít as over the top as he is now. He wasnít anti-immigration. He was much more reasonable. The animal rights people never understood Ted and how Ted approached hunting. He approaches hunting from a very righteous perspective. Ted taught me a lot about respecting the other personís view. Ted also taught me how to shoot a gun, which was cool. We went out on his farm. I tried to shoot bees. Ted would shoot at anything basically. He was a much better shot than I was. He cooked me up some wild boar in his kitchen. I had seconds.
Jeb: The first Ted Nugent album sounded so much different than his Amboy Dukes stuff. It was as if Ted finally had someone in the studio that could capture him.
Tom: The engineer had something to do with that. I used to try to get bands on the radio. A lot of times people thought I was too clean and neat. Once a band got on the radio then they could do whatever they wanted. I think the best Motley Crue record is Dr. Feelgood in terms of sound and playing ferocity. People like Shout At The Devil but I think itís muddy. As an engineer, Bob Rock did a superb job with them. They think they did it themselves since they werenít shooting heroin at the time. They always say that I was too easy and settled for things. They never say, ďWe were junkies at the time.Ē
Jeb: Was that difficult to work around?
Tom: It wasnít really beneficial to the recording process.
Jeb: Did you have to baby-sit?
Tom: Not a lot. They were pretty much on time. It would just take a long time to do certain things. Drum tracks went quickly. Guitar solos were always done quickly. Bass overdubs and vocals were very slow.
Jeb: You also worked with a guy I have known a few years named Dave Hlubek?
Tom: Wow, you know Dave?
Jeb: He has told me some good stories about the early days of Molly Hatchet.
Tom: We had fun. Dave was always fairly extreme in his behavior. Once we wondered where he was. We were waiting in the studio for him to show up. He had been arrested because he was doing doughnuts in a gas station in his Corvette. I wondered about Dave from time to time.
Jeb: What a wild bunch of guys.
Tom: They liked to go out and drink a lot of Jack and then clear a bar. They always invited me to go with them but I always told them ďthatís okay.Ē
Jeb: Dave gives you a ton of credit for the work you did on ďDreams Iíll Never See.Ē
Tom: That is very nice for an artist to actually credit his producer with anything. Most people say, ďHe fucked us up. He cut off our balls.Ē I remember working on that and rewriting a couple of lines. I thought it went down easily. I really enjoy listening to that song, especially at the end when all the guitars come in.
Jeb: Was Jimmy Farrar the right choice to be the next vocalist for Molly?
Tom: He was certainly a mean looking guy but he had a great voice. I enjoyed working with Jim. I thought he was a very, very nice fellow. He may not have been as tough as the other guys and he may not have come from as rough a background as them but he was just great to work with. I was shocked when I learned that Duane Rollandís father shot him in the stomach. Duane was a brilliant guitar player. He is one of the most underrated musicians I have ever worked with. He was smooth as silk and as tasty of a guitarist that I have ever worked with.
Jeb: I have read where you call Aerosmithís Rocks the greatest rock record ever made.
Tom: The greatest American rock record ever made. Jack Douglas had called me about Cheap Trick. When he told me about Cheap Trick I jumped on a plane and went to see them and I signed them. Jack did their first record.
Jeb: You came in right behind him.
Tom: Jack was busy with Aerosmith so he asked me to do the Cheap Trick record.
Jeb: After Dream Police I heard you had a falling out with them.
Tom: We didnít have a falling out. They wanted to go with George Martin. Who could argue with that at the time? I have always said that I wanted Cheap Trick to be the Who and they wanted Cheap Trick to be the Beatles. I was shocked and disappointed. I had put them in a place where they were really ready to hit the big time and then they chose to go with George Martin. I had not done anything wrong with them. We had to finish Dream Police in 30 days and then it sat on the shelf for 8 months because Live At Budokan went nuts. I was, in a very twisted way, delighted to see that even George Martin, for whom I have the deepest respect, could make a stiff record with a proven band. That was an interesting lesson for me.
Jeb: Did you have anything to do with Budokan?
Tom: I was asked to go over and record it and supervise and mix it but I was finishing up Ted Nugentís fifth album - which was not a good album.
Jeb: Which one was that?
Tom: Weekend Warriors.
Jeb: Thatís a great record.
Tom: I didnít think it was that good and it killed me. It was my choice to stay there and it was a dumb choice. I could have gone to Japan and had a great time.
Jeb: You did In Color didnít you?
Tom: Yes, I did that one and Heaven Tonight.
Jeb: Donít take this the wrong way but that version of ďI Want You To Want MeĒ kind of sucks.
Tom: I think it is great. Itís fantastic. It was a burlesque song, like a 30ís number. That is what they wrote it as. They changed the whole vibe of the whole song, which is cool, but I thought they kind of steamrolled it. Everybody loves the live version but the studio version is just incredibly hip with the finger snaps and all the other good stuff that is on there. I think it is cool.
Jeb: I donít. The live version has that guitar that is right up in your face.
Tom: Itís a completely different guitarist too. Jay Grayden played the lead guitar on the studio version. He was a big jazz session guitar player. There were only two guest guitarists on Cheap Trick albums that I did. The other one was Steve Lukathur.
Jeb: I would say the opposite of Heaven Tonight. What an album!
Tom: I loved Heaven Tonight. That is my favorite record that I ever worked on. ďAuf WeidersanĒ is my favorite Cheap Trick song. I put it on a CD that I made that is my private retrospective of misses and hits and I put that song as my biggest miss. I made 500 copies of a two CD set. I need to send you one of these. The misses side is something that you have got to hear. It has a bunch of songs that are great that I produced but nobody ever heard. I think you will get a kick out of it.
Jeb: As a producer do you get involved with the entire project such as the packaging or do you stay completely out of it?
Tom: I stay completely out of that. Anyone can call himself or herself a producer. I was involved from booking the studio to mixing. Every single step of the way I was involved. I hired the engineer and made all the decisions such as whether touse a wooden or felt beater on the kick drum. I was involved in what went on in terms of vocals, harmonies, overdubs and keyboards as well. It was all arranging and making musical decisions to get the best performance out of the band. I had to tell them when they are doing it right and when they are doing it wrong. I would tell them why they are doing it wrong and how they could turn around and do it better. Other people just kind of show up at the studio and snap their fingers for a couple of minutes and say, ďIím the producer.Ē Thatís just bullshit.
Jeb: Has there ever been an album where you went through the entire process and then saw the cover and it was not at all what you thought it should portray?
Tom: Occasionally but not often. By the time the album came out I was off doing another album.
Jeb: How does doing something like Double Live Gonzo differ from a studio album? How can you have the same control?
Tom: You canít. We did a lot of fixing. The live recording was a crapshoot. You would overdub solos and you would fix some vocals. You would beef up the audience. Everybody did it.
Jeb: Another album that you did that I just love is Blue Oyster Cultís Mirrors.
Tom: Mirrors is an interesting album. That was Blue Oyster Cultís experimental album. I have not listened to that in a long time. They did some cool stuff. Eric Bloom was pretty disgusted with that album.
Jeb: He has told me that he thought it was too pop.
Tom: Because of that he didnít do too many of the vocals. Buck does most of the vocals on that record. Bloom got Dr. Music and a couple more but Buck did the good stuff.
Jeb: How is he to work with?
Tom: He is the best. I remember laughing till I lost control. He was so funny when he got behind the microphone. We had a great time. I also enjoyed Allen Lanier. I was always sorry that the album didnít do better.
Jeb: Can you tell me someone who was hard to coax a good performance out of in the studio?
Tom: Dave Hlubek was very headstrong and usually under the influence. He was so interested in playing fast that he would often play over the melody. Duane, meanwhile, would compose every note of every solo before he would record. He would play and then double everything and never even look at his guitar neck. Dave was capable of more if he had been more focused.
Jeb: Was there an album that ended up wildly popular that you didnít think would be?
Tom: Poisonís Open Up & Say Ah. We had four Top 10 singles. It was a difficult album to make. I didnít think it was that good. It was digitally recorded so it sounded really thin. We worked hard on it but it did much better than I thought it would. They were an honest band. CC had behavioral problems but they all played well. We had people come in the studio and do things with them but they played their own instruments.
Jeb: That album made you the Hair Band producer of the 80ís.
Tom: That and Twisted Sister.
Jeb: Did you sign Boston?
Tom: Yes, I signed them along with another A&R guy from Epic. Everybody had turned them down. We were their last stop. I couldnít believe it. I just said, ďStop the tape! I guarantee you a record deal if this band is anything like this live.Ē And they were so we did.
Jeb: You didnít produce them did you?
Tom: No, I never made a nickel off of Boston.
Jeb: The legend says that Boston didnít have to re-record much that the demos were what you heard on the record.
Tom: Yep. ďMore Than A FeelingĒ was pretty much there.
Jeb: What made you become a great producer? What did you have that other people didnít have?
Tom: I really donít know. I like to feature the rhythm guitaristís main lick. All my hit songs seem to be fashioned after one main guitar lick like ďCat Scratch Fever.Ē There is always a signature seam that goes all the way through the song. Because I worked for a label, I got a lot of bands that were unrecordable or very difficult to record. I was told to get them on the radio. Everything was radio play back then. A lot of bands that hadnít had success like Ted Nugent finally made it. It took three albums but when he got a single in ďCat Scratch FeverĒ it finally happened. The first time I heard ďCat Scratch FeverĒ I called my boss and said, ďTedís written a single.Ē I heard it for the first time at the Omni in Atlanta. That became the focus for the next album.
Jeb: Why was ďFree For AllĒ not his first big single?
Tom: It wasnít as good of a song. It didnít have that lick. Everybody I ever worked with after ďCat Scratch FeverĒ used to riff on ďCat Scratch FeverĒ in the studio just for fun. They would all play it. That is a good thing. That is like the ďSatisfactionĒ lick.
Jeb: What album are you most proud of?
Tom: Heaven Tonight hands down.
Jeb: What is # 2?
Tom: Gee, that is interesting. I would say that # 2 is the first Producers record.
Jeb: We didnít even mention them.
Tom: Nobody ever heard them. They had a small cult following. Thatís the biggest disappointment in my career. I thought they were a brilliant, brilliant band. I thought the two records we made were unbelievable. For one reason or another they just didnít get out there. I was really unhappy about it. That is one of the reasons that I left CBS.
Jeb: Compare how the record industry works today to when you were active?
Tom: I donít know that much about record companies today. There is no artist development, as we knew it then. It is not enough to find a good band. The A&R people want everything. They want a history, a local following and a single. They want it given to them on a silver platter. There is very little risk taking. Springsteen would never make it today.
Jeb: Have you ever thought about writing a book?
Tom: I sure think about it and I probably will. It would be mostly just for me. I donít want to write a book that just pisses on people. A lot of people deserve to be pissed on. I tried to get a job after I stopped producing but the behavior that I saw from label heads was pathetic, especially Doug Morris. He was arrogant and rude beyond comprehension. There were a couple of other people who went out of their way to be rude and not respond. There is no excuse for the kind of bullshit that you have to put up with in the music business. It has got to be worse than what they dish out in the movie or television industry. I think it is the bottom of the barrel. I always loved the music but I didnít particularly like the business. I wasnít very good at politicking. I remember the good people. If I wrote Clive Davis a letter I would get a hand written letter back within a week. Other people you can call them and make four successive appointments with them and they will either break them or not show up. I went to New York to meet with Doug Morris and he didnít even come in to work that day. No one called me. They knew where I was.
Jeb: It sounds like heís a chicken shit.
Tom: It was his way of demonstrating to me that he was all-powerful. Who needs that? That is why I am so happy to be in Massachusetts. If I were still in LA then I would still be in show business. There are other things to do in LA but show business rules. The industry is all anyone ever talks about there. Here, it is kind of an oddity. People think that it is unusual that I was a producer. They donít ask who I knew or if I ever talked to this guy or that guy. It is more real. There is less superficial silliness.
Jeb: You have got to have a couple of good stories.
Tom: I really donít. The only good stories I have involve me and I canít tell those stories! You can imagine what I saw working with Poison and Motley Crue and Ted Nugent.
Jeb: You canít tell one to me?
Tom: One of the most enjoyable memories that I have from that whole time -- even with the decadence of Motley Crue -- was one night when I was on the road with Ted Nugent. I had to talk to him about something after the concert. I went up to his hotel room and I knocked on the door -- I guess the door was open or something because they told me to come in. Thereís Ted with two teenage girls on either side of him in bed watching TV with a glass of milk! First off all, the two girls were girls that he had taken on the road with him. He had talked to their parents and asked if it was okay for them to travel with him. He got permission to do this. They must have been all of 15. I thought it was truly astonishing. It was just a normal night in Tedís life. I think the milk he was drinking was warm.
Jeb: What an image for a ďMilk does a body goodĒ commercial!
Tom: He was something.
Jeb: Last question: I read where you said it was not a good idea for producers to be artistís friends.
Tom: You become friends with your artists. I think it is more important to be a professional authority figure like a facilitator. You are there to help the artist realize his musical vision. You donít want to be a real good buddy. You can be too heavily influenced by the artistís whims. A good producer keeps a professional distance, thatís all I meant by that.
Jeb: I lied. I have one more. I asked you about your favorite album. What is your worst?
Tom: I would say Weekend Warriors was the album that I was most disappointed in because of the songs. I think that is not an important album. I never listen to it. There are other things that nobody ever heard that are miles better.
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