We interview L.E. Kalikow, author of Sex, No Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Memoirs of a Music Junkie. He’s had an amazing life as a recording artist, performer, and entrepreneur. His book is about a horny little guy trying to make it in the music industry during the 60’s and 70’s.
Coming to you this time from the Billboard Archives Library
Thousands of musicians never quite caught the golden ring but Mr. Kalikow came close opening for top acts like Van Morrison, Richie Havens, Phil Oaks, and Buffy Saint Marie at Greenwich Village coffee houses. When the music industry started to change he changed course and went into business.
“The Baby Boomer generation went through the same growth process as the music itself. Right after WWII, the country was innocent and everything was black and white. As we became teenagers and rebellious, so did the country. As we became cynical, the country got cynical. (Nixon, Watergate, etc.) The music was affected by the times.”
When he was performing he’d go to one club after another and put his name on a list to sing. If the club owner liked what he was doing they would put in into an opening slot.
Once he was working at The Bitter End and the concert promoter for Van Morrison and Jefferson Airplane needed someone to perform while the bands were setting up so he got to go on. Grace Slick had dropped acid that night. Meanwhile, Van Morrison was missing in action. No one knew where he was. The only act the promoter had was L.E. As he was about to go on stage, Morrison arrived drunk and rowdy. L.E. had to play loudly to cover the sound of Morrison screaming and yelling backstage.
When Morrison finally came on stage, he fell over and slurred through his set. The audience thought he was being artistic. L.E. says that as a control freak he never did drugs or drink because he hated the feeling of not being in control.
When Grace Slick went on stage she was fabulous despite the acid trip. Some people can adapt and others can’t.
Being successful in the music industry is all about timing
Record producers Cashman and West were working with an artist who had been rejected by every record label after his first album flopped on Columbia. They were doing an album and believed in him but no one would sign him. They finished the album and ABC wanted Cashman and West but didn’t want the artist. They signed the artist just to get Cashman and West. The artist was Jim Croce. That album was a mistake. It wasn’t supposed to come out. Don’t Mess with Jim became a huge hit.
L.E. had a similar experience that didn’t go as well. He was working late at night on a record where they brought in some of the great musicians of the day . The synthesizer had just been invented and a guy was using it for horn sounds on a song called Sweet Sadie Simpson that E.L. did vocals on. Columbia Records loved it and It looked he was going to get his big break. Then the business affairs people found out about the synthesizer and were afraid the musicians union would strike because the electronic synthesizer was replacing a musician. Columbia refused to put the record out because it didn’t want to put musicians out of business.
The synthesizer became popular during the disco era. It just shows that’s it’s all about timing.
During that time, L.E. did music for commercials and ran a couple jingle houses. When disco came in, it wasn’t the type of music he wanted to do so turned his focus on being a businessman .
He started to compile lists of contacts for managers and producers in the music industry and it became a popular “private” newsletter for industry insiders called “New on the Charts” which he ran for 35 years.
The demise of the Music Industry
The Internet (starting with Napster) changed the music industry forever and the 15 billion dollar business disappeared. E.L. started his publication 1976 and by 2011 he had to close it because all the record producers, managers, and subscribers went out of business.
He says the music itself has changed because we’re dealing with a multi-tasking generation doing selfies, Twitter, Facebook and video games. Music is no longer primary for young people like it was for the Baby Boomer generation. Music written now has to have a hook that catches your attention. It’s not as much about telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but has to have a hook so you can remember it through all the other distractions. A good example is Pharrell William’s “Happy.”
However, there is a resurgence of retro music like Acoustic guitar. People are starting to want to hear music in little clubs again, which is exciting.
High Tech – High Touch
The more technical we get the more we want things to be more personal.
Kids are going more grassroots (like we’ve seen with the Bernie Sander’s campaign)
The difficulty of being an artist in the music industry today
Record royalties are gone. Because no one is buying records anymore. Record companies have been acquired by conglomerates and they’re building brands rather than developing artists. Artists gain visibility for their brand by doing film, television, commercials, and photo shoots. This gives them the clout to sell ancillary products for their brands like clothing and perfume. They are selling their brand rather than the music itself.
Fortunately, there are still great artists who are doing this like Taylor Swift, Adele, and Ed Sheeran, but it’s harder for most artists to make a living as musicians.
L.E.’s Article on Huffington Post – The Artist Always Gets Screwed
Agents and Managers make more money than the artist’s themselves in the music industry today. The same goes for artists who draw, actors, and other creatives.
Touring is also insanely expensive. Once you include bus, hotel, food, musicians, getting stiffed by club owners, special effects, it’s hard to make a profit.
The good thing is: Artists will be artists and will do it no matter what.
L.E. talks about his sex life and his views on sexuality – Tune in to hear the entire podcast and what he has to say by clicking on the player above.
Visit L.E’s website. www.lekalikow.com You’ll find book excerpts, sound samples, music, and interviews. In addition to his book, he also has an accompanying album of songs that he recorded during the 60’s in the Greenwich Village coffee houses.