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Mike Delich – Personality Sketch

January 14th, 2011 by David Kronemyer · 1 Comment

Mike Delich was one of those sad-sack kind of guys with a perpetual chip on his shoulder.  He had the unfortunate personal characteristic of exactly resembling Heinrich Himmler, chief of the German police and Minister of the Interior during the 1930s-1940s, right down to the moustache.  Evidently at one time Delich had some kind of a drinking problem because (even though he had stopped drinking) he defined himself as an alcoholic, or as an ex-alcoholic.  The existential status of being a (former) alcoholic organized the structure of his life; it gave his life meaning.  This tendency is not uncommon in the substance abuse community.  If I recall correctly, his wife also was a former alcoholic.  In fact they actually may have met at an AA meeting.

At some point in his career Delich started working for American Gramophone Records, the record company owned by Chip Davis.  The sole reason for AG’s existence was to sell records by the band Mannheim Steamroller, a studio-engineered concoction Davis had created.  As Mannheim Steamroller was known for its Christmas-themed records, the vast preponderance of their sales occurred during the holiday season.  They had all of the seasonality and product handling characteristics of Christmas tree ornaments.  Whatever didn’t get shipped in August and sold by December 25th got returned in January.  Davis made tentative forays into selling records by Mannheim Steamroller that weren’t holiday records, and records by other people, but these initiatives were by and large unsuccessful.  Although AG still is around today it exists only in truncated form and is known as much for its sale of novelty items such as apparel, “collectibles” and bath and body items as it is for records.  Listen to a Mannheim Steamroller record today and it sounds horribly dated, a real refugee from the pseudo prog-rock-lite of the 1980s.

This notwithstanding Delich fancied himself as a record man.  Somehow he hooked up with Norm Waitt, who appointed him as President of Gold Circle Records.  Most of Delich’s signings were released on Samson Records, a subsidiary company, which Waitt named after his son.  The way this started was a little bit haphazard.  Waitt was a huge fan of Tommy Bolin, a guitarist best known for playing in the band Zephyr, then with the James Gang, then with Deep Purple.  His stays with the latter two were unremarkable, however, the first Zephyr record with Candy Givens was pretty good.  My personal favorite song is “Cross the River” and I still have the CD around somewhere.  Through Bolin, Waitt met the members of a band named F5 (as in the hurricane rating).  Players in it were Tommy Stephenson (keyboards) and Michael Reese (guitar), who evidently either played with Bolin or played in a Bolin tribute band. There is a subsequent and better known F5 with Dave Ellefson, formerly of Megadeth.  The band Waitt was a fan of is not that band.  Anyway, somehow, Waitt was imprecated in giving them around $50,000 or so for instruments, which they promptly spent.  They proved to be intractable to negotiate with and simply kept, or lost, or pawned, the equipment Waitt gave to them.  They never recorded for Samson at least and insofar as I can tell spent most of their time playing minor gigs at various bars in the Midwest before disappearing from sight.  Delich’s first task was to see if there was any possibility of return on the F5 investment.  And there wasn’t.

Notwithstanding, Waitt wasn’t deterred.  He franchised Delich to go out and sign a bunch of bands, which he promptly did.  These included Kory and the Fireflies, The Day I Fell Down, Jango, Douglas September, Happy Rhodes, and Math & Science.  All of these were incredibly insignificant bands with no commercial potential of any nature whatsoever.  It was breathtakingly preposterous to think they’d ever go anywhere.  I’ll never forget a show in Los Angeles circa 1999 featuring The Day I Fell Down.  Delich had given them a van and they were merrily touring around the country.  They played a club in West Hollywood.  Michael Jensen, in charge of PR, had prominently listed reviewers from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner on the guest list.  This would have been fine except the Herald Examiner had gone out of business at least a decade earlier.  That’s a metaphor for the whole traveling circus.  Then, the label diversified.  It bought a rock club in Omaha.  It picked up a line of records in the inexplicably then-popular “smooth jazz” format, and even some classical records, from the recently-defunct JVC Records.  It started a soundtrack label called Compass III with a motion picture music supervisor named Randy Gerston.  It bought a label from a nice fellow Brad Colerick called Back 9 Records simply because Delich liked the name.  It bought another label named Triloka Records from another nice fellow Mitchell Markus for no discernible reason and pumped tens of thousands of dollars into it promoting acts such as Walela and Krishna Das (sponsoring a showcase concert for this latter act in New York City that cost more than the label’s combined annual sales).  Delich even was keen on funding a movie “The Silver Chalice” to be produced by Dana Altman, son of the famous director Robert Altman.  Eventually the label realized the strategy of signing unknown bands wasn’t going to work, so it shifted to an even-less-promising strategy of signing over-the-hill acts like John Waite and Pat Benatar.  After hemorrhaging money it eventually shut down.

Delich’s taste in music ran to the emo-girls then popular like Joan Osborne and Sara MacLachlan.  He was madly in love with Happy Rhodes, a space-trippy synth-chick with a local following in the Northeast.  Rhodes’ partner was Kevin Bartlett, who had a cleverly-named label Aural Gratification.  Delich spent tens of thousands of dollars promoting and marketing Rhodes’ career.  She actually released a record that I thought was pretty good, “Many Worlds Are Born Tonight.”  I don’t know if Delich ever hooked up with Rhodes, or if this just was a middle-aged fantasy.  From what I can tell, Rhodes pretty much has given up on a career in the music business at this point.

Delich’s most notable adversary was Michael Shrieve, the former drummer for Santana.  Somehow Waitt ran into Shrieve, or vice versa, and Shrieve became Samson’s head of A&R.  This infuriated Delich, who viewed that as his prerogative.  Now I’ve watched Shrieve’s performance in the movie “Woodstock” and I have to say it’s phenomenal, certainly one of the best drum solos ever recorded.  One of my favorite records of all time is “Caravanserai,” which Shrieve claimed to have produced.  “Carlos (Santana) was in a drug-induced haze at the time,” Shrieve asserted.  I asked Santana himself about this later on.  “Shrieve had nothing to do with producing the record,” Santana said.  Who knows which of them was right?  By the time he clamped onto Waitt, Shrieve was a vestige of his former self.  He was physically unrecognizable, having shall we say grown somewhat in girth in the meanwhile.  Delich had huge fights with Shrieve and would call me up to tell me about them at all times of the day and night.  “Shrieve’s going around me.”  “Shrieve thinks he’s running the company.”  “Shrieve wants to sign XYZ band.”  Finally, “Shrieve’s got to go.”  Their rivalry was so intense one could have sold tickets to spectators.  Delich asked for my support to force the issue with Waitt.  I guess Delich won because he stayed and Shrieve left.

The high water mark of Delich’s tenure was signing David Crosby.  Crosby (formerly of the Byrds and Crosby Stills Nash) recently had reunited with his long-lost son and had the bright idea to form a band, which came to be called CPR.  CPR recorded an album, and somehow Crosby found Delich and/or Waitt.  Delich was mesmerized by Crosby and Crosby, thoroughly cynical from a lifetime as a musician, and being an acknowledged master at this, knew how to milk the situation for all it was worth.  Delich, in his view, was ripe for the plucking.  He would entertain Delich with impromptu performances of “Guinevere” and reminisce about what it was like to have sex with Joni Mitchell.  All of this was cause for consternation.  “I’m worried Crosby will sign the record with somebody else,” Delich lamented.  With a wink and a nod Crosby played standoffish, only increasing Delich’s ardor to sign him.  I told Delich he had no basis for any concern on this account as there was no evidence anybody else had the slightest interest in Crosby’s record, or for that matter anything Crosby now did or ever might do, except for possible reunion tours with Stills and Nash, and even that was uncertain.  Delich however devised an action plan.  He flew Crosby and his entourage to Los Angeles and convened a meeting at a private bungalow at the Huntington Hartford Hotel in Pasadena, which is a pretty ritzy place.  “I want to demonstrate our sincerity and let Crosby know we think he’s important.”  As if Crosby ever would be able to imagine anything else.  Delich had spent considerable time working out a marketing plan – something he was good at, especially if sales were to occur around the holiday season.  It was uncomfortable to watch Crosby and Shrieve interact; both like snakes circling each other, assessing the other’s vulnerabilities, waiting for the other to strike.  Both were worried the other would blow his cover.  Logically, though, they needn’t have been concerned, because both were coming from pretty much the same place.

“That went great,” Delich told me, after the meeting ended.  “I think we’ve been able to persuade him to go with us.”  Delich thereupon did a deal with Crosby that literally was on the back of a napkin (which I never saw).  Essentially it was some kind of a distribution relationship, but was silent as to issues such as term, territory, scope of rights, and other similar elementary topics.  It did of course provide for payment of a gigantic advance to Crosby, completely out of proportion to even the most optimistic view of sales on the record.  I pointed these issues out to Delich, but he was not to be dissuaded.  I had an easy camaraderie with Crosby.  He would call me up and laugh about how he really was putting one over on Delich; being in on the joke, all I could do was agree.  One day I was driving around with Delich and he announced, “I have a real treat for you,” and put in a cassette of some of Crosby’s recent recordings.  They were horrible.

Musicians who once were famous but now aren’t, find themselves in a peculiar occupational lacunae.  They became habituated to trappings of celebrity and find it disconcerting when they no longer are around.  It is difficult for them to make a living because they are caught in a bubble, where they think their services are worth tens of thousands of dollars.  But in fact, they’re no longer demanded on any terms at all.  Once this realization dawns on them, they become intensely bitter, even vicious.  They become grasping economically.  They typically aren’t earning any royalties, either because they’ve gotten screwed out of them by previous imprudent or improvident business deals, or, their records just don’t sell anymore.  They find it difficult to reconcile themselves to say, working at Wal-Mart, or pumping gas.  Whenever anybody with money shows even a shred of interest in them – the slightest iota – they turn into hyenas.  It’s the juxtaposition between their former state and their present one that creates dissonance.  Much of their psychological energy is expended on searching for people who even can remember their names.  I don’t think this is their fault, or willful behavior on their part.  I say this not to put down has-been musicians.  They simply can’t help themselves.  It’s part of their nature.  I keep these truisms in mind whenever I think about the halcyon days of Samson Records.