Deconstructing Pop Culture

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My Early Days in the Music Business

March 14th, 2010 by David Kronemyer · 1 Comment

I grew up in La Jolla, California. My interest in music started off being primarily aesthetic. By the time I was 15 I had been to over a hundred operas and symphony concerts. I took music lessons and played the piano. Round about then I bought my first record, the Beatles’ “Revolver.” In junior high school we carried 45 RPM copies of the Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn” around in our spiral notebooks. The local Top 40 AM radio stations – KGB and KCBQ – used a pre-packaged programming format devised by Gene Chenault and Bob Drake. Suddenly they didn’t sound so great. FM radio started coming into its own. The hip local FM station was KPRI, although because of where we lived it also was easy to pick up LA stations like KABC and KMET.

I would sit for hours in front of our modest home stereo. Listening once to “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors I found myself situated in the middle of the music, my attention was drawn to and I even was able to reflect on individual notes as they floated by. Setting aside the merits of compositions and their performances I was transfixed by sound itself. It wafted over and through me like a wave. I became transparent to the physical movement of vibrations through the air and their resonance in my auditory canal. There was nothing to inhibit the music’s forward, relentless flow and I came simply to inhabit it.

I was a total nerd in the electronics club when I discovered the electric 12-string guitar. I developed a curious miscegenated sound combining primitive analog synthesizers with intricate finger-picked melodies. I had a folk-rock band during high school and also played with another guitarist at local clubs like The Heritage in Mission Bay. One evening I ended up at the parking lot in Ocean Beach. Somebody had hooked up a large sound system and was playing the first Led Zeppelin record at top volume. Everybody stood there, mesmerized. My friend Robert Nuese and I became highly critical of the nuances of the lame drum solo in Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida.” My favorite band was – maybe still is – Blue Cheer. I worked for James Pagni, the local concert promoter and went to all the shows at the Sports Arena, the Community Concourse and the San Diego City College football field. On weekends I drove up to the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles in all of its glory and saw the Byrds, the Doors, Love and the Buffalo Springfield. The Jefferson Airplane was creating protean masterpieces like “After Bathing at Baxter’s” and “Crown of Creation.”

By the time I left high school and went off to Berkeley I was totally immersed in the psychedelic music scene. One day I was walking down Telegraph Avenue and “Stairway to Heaven” was playing from one of the record stores. I walked across campus, the first Roxy Music record blaring in my head. I kept various configurations of the folk-rock band going for a while but there came a time when I realized I didn’t have much future as a performer. It was too capricious and, frankly, sleazy. Band members had more interest in being hippies than in being musicians. While some moments were transcendent there also was constant wrangling with equipment, transportation, logistics and delinquent club owners. “Hmmm,” I thought, “maybe there’s something to the other side of this.” Freed from the commercial constraints of playing cover songs at bars, I began to get a lot more creative musically. A local record company put out a few of my records and for the first time I heard myself on the radio. I started managing a few local bands and promoting concerts. One was Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” with Galena and Valery Panov, formerly of the Kirov ballet, and another, “Giselle” with Alicia Alonso, formerly of the American Ballet Theater and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. At the other end of the spectrum there was a show by the late jazz musician Sun Ra and his Astral Infinity Arkestra. They were so smacked out it was all I could do to get them on stage.

I became an executive at Capitol-EMI in October 1980. After I joined Capitol one day the drummer for one of the bands I used to manage showed up to work on my telephone.