This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Scott B. Bomar, Publisher & Senior Director, BMG Books
The latest extension of BMG Music’s menu of services came with last year’s launch of BMG Books now delivering a delightful spate of music-related hardcovers, softcovers, e-books, photo books, audio books, and associated projects.
Coordinating BMG’s new books franchise is Los Angeles-based Scott B. Bomar who came to BMG Music in 2013 as senior Manager of Licensing in 2013, becoming director of licensing in 2015.
Bertelsmann strategically exited the music publishing business in 2006 and 2007, and the recording business in 2008, only to return with a new vision: BMG Music, a global rights management company, founded in 2008 as a response to the challenges of the digital age of music.
Today, BMG Music has 14 offices in 12 countries.
The cornerstone of BMG Music’s business model is that it represents music publishing and recording rights as well as other ancillary rights.
News has come this week that BMG Music is breaking its American repertoire structure into three separate parts largely due to growth, and coinciding with the announcement that Zach Katz, currently BMG U.S. president, repertoire and marketing, will step down at the end of the year in order to take up a new role.
Effective January 1st, 2019, BMG’s three principal American offices–Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York—will have the same status as countries such as the UK, and Germany, reporting directly to worldwide CEO Hartwig Masuch.
As well, Thomas Scherer has been promoted to EVP, repertoire & marketing, Los Angeles; Jon Loba, EVP BBR Music Group, and Kos Weaver, EVP will take joint control of BMG’s repertoire operation in Nashville; and John Loeffler has been named EVP, repertoire & marketing in New York.
Leading off BMG Books’ new venture in March, 2017 was The “Odessey”: The Zombies in Words and Images, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Zombies’ 1968 classic album “Odessey & Oracle.”
Issued since have been autobiographies of Wanda Jackson (co-written by Bomar), and Billy Edd Wheeler; a memoir by Metal Blade Records’ founder and CEO Brian Slagel; and British music journalist Barney Hoskyns’ out-of-print first book, “Say It One Time For The Brokenhearted: Country Soul In The American South,”’ being the 30th anniversary edition, and its first American publication.
BMG Books has also launched the RPM series spotlighting independent record labels that have made their mark on our culture. The series kicked off on Nov. 20th with its first two volumes: “World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story,” and “Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story.”
Each RPM book is sized at 7″x7” to match the dimensions of a 45 RPM record, and each features a photo insert with rare photographs.
Bomar grew up in Nashville–the son of prominent veteran songwriter and music publisher Woody Bomar—before relocating to Los Angeles. Following several years striving to be a professional songwriter–he had signed to Sony/ATV Music– he moved on to music publishing administration work at Universal Music Publishing (2008-2011). Then after operating 4th and State Music Services for two years, Bomar came to BMG Music.
Bomar, who graduated with a B.A. from Belmont University, and obtained his Master’s degree from Vanderbilt University, continues to co-host “Songcraft: Spotlight on Songwriters,” a bi-weekly podcast featuring comprehensive interviews with leading songwriters including Mike Stoller, Jimmy Webb, Dan Penn, Loretta Lynn, Steve Cropper, John Sebastian, Don McLean, Jim Lauderdale, Randy Goodrum, and Chip Taylor.
Bomar has overseen Bear Family Records box sets of Bakersfield, California music legends Red Simpson, and Ferlin Husky, as well as the set “The Other Side of Bakersfield” with music from independent Bakersfield labels, such as Tally, Fire, Grande, Bakersfield Records, Global, Pike and Mosrite.
Bomar’s 2014 book “Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock” profiled the musicians, producers, record labels and industry figures that exemplified Southern rock. The book, which includes coverage of the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, the Charlie Daniels Band, Elvin Bishop, the Outlaws, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, .38 Special, and ZZ Top was awarded Best Historical Research in Recorded Rock and Popular Music by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections in 2015.
He earlier co-wrote the book “The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country” for the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
Bomar’s next book will be “Bakersfield Sounds: The Rise and Fall of Country Music’s Nashville West” with a release date to be determined. He recently finished book notes for a 10-CD “Bakersfield Sound” box set for Bear Family Records that he co-produced with the label’s founder Richard Weize.
You landed a very cool position at BMG Music last year. How did it come about?
I came to BMG as a consultant in 2012. I was with Universal Music Publishing prior to that. So my trajectory is a little bit unusual. I started out as a professional songwriter. Then I got into the publishing side of things at Universal, and then came to BMG. At the same time, I am a music geek who loves listening to music and digging up obscure trivia about music which led to this journalistic writing thing that I had going on the side. Writing liner notes, and starting to get into writing books. BMG decided they wanted to start publishing music-related books, and I said, “Well, if that gets off the ground I would like to be involved in some capacity. I have been doing these writing projects on the side.” So they said, “Great, you are in charge. Figure out how we are going to start doing this.”
The first book issued was The “Odessey”: The Zombies in Words and Images, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Zombies’ seminal album, assembled by the four surviving original members of the iconic Brit band.
Yes, that was our first title. That basically was the right time and right place kind of thing.
The resurgence of the Zombies is one of the music industry’s most delightful recent stories, but why pick that book to lead off with?
The Zombies record for The End Records which is part of the BMG family. They were out here in L.A. a while back with their managers, Chris (Tuthill), and Cindy (da Silva), and said that they were interested in doing some kind of book in preparation for the 50th anniversary of “Odessey & Oracle,” and that was right about the time that BMG had decided that we were going to start doing some music-related books. It just came together and seemed to be the right moment to do it.
(With a foreword by Tom Petty, The “Odessey”: The Zombies in Words and Images, encompasses photos, original artwork, oral history, and handwritten lyrics for 22 songs, including such rock classics as “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season” with supportive contributions from Brian Wilson, Carlos Santana, Susanna Hoffs and others.)
So the timing was perfect.
Yeah, exactly. Cindy and I did a lot of the legwork on pulling that book together very quickly. The book went from idea stage to market in, maybe, three months. It was very fast. Faster than I would care to work again. But it all came together perfectly. It was like it was just meant to be.
The music book sector isn’t a large one. There are such publishers as Omnibus Press, Backbeat Books, and The University of North Carolina Press involved; and there’s Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series of short books about popular music, but this is not a field that mainstream traditional publishers often tread in.
Yeah, we live in a world where book publishers can’t afford to be as niché as they once were. So you have publishers like Omnibus that is part of the Music Sales Group which is a music company, and you have Backbeat Books that is part of Hal Leonard (Corp.), so again you are looking at some things that are part of a much larger structure. Da Capo Press, at one time, was known as a music publisher, and they have over the years branched out, and done a lot more than music-related books though they still do a lot of great music books. For us, it’s a matter of BMG being obviously in the music industry. We are part of Bertelsmann which also owns Penguin Random House.
Bertelsmann is a media, services and education company that has been publishing books for more than 180 years. It is the company’s oldest core business.
Right, sure, yeah. We have had situations in the past where we have taken BMG clients to Penguin Random House, and they have successfully done books. Then we have had things that we presented to Penguin Random House that didn’t necessarily fit their publishing program and, with some of those things, we looked around. It happened enough that we said, “Hey, we think that there is merit to some of these projects, and we would like to pursue some of these things.” That’s how we really started doing this because it makes a lot of sense for a music company. There’s are a lot of musicians who have ideas beyond just making records. Creative people want to express themselves through various outlets. So having books is a way for BMG to add another service for our existing clients. It is a way, hopefully, for us also to potentially establish new relationships with people who are not yet clients; and it is important for us also to put out books that are good quality. We want to be proud of the books that we are releasing. Some books will have more large mass appeal than others but, at the end of the day, we want to put out books that music fans are really going to appreciate because we are selling books but, in a way, we are selling music-related products to music fans.
Given your interest in the history of country music in Bakersfield, California, you would have been familiar with singer Wanda Jackson—“The “Queen of Rockabilly” or the “First Lady of Rockabilly”– with whom you co-wrote the recently-released autobiography, “Every Night Is Saturday Night.” Growing up, Wanda had lived near Bakersfield, and also took singer/songwriter Tommy Collins to Bakersfield for the first time when she was a teenager. On her Capitol Record recordings was a then-unknown and future Bakersfield legend, Buck Owens.
As an artist, Wanda checks off a lot of boxes for you. How did the two of you meet?
It was at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville in 2003. At the time, it was still a fairly small event. They had the annual awards show. Now, it’s at the Ryman Auditorium, but in those days they just had it (the awards) in the ballroom of the hotel. I had an assigned seat, and I went to my table before the show, and I sat down next to this woman. I said, “Hi, my name is Scott.” She said, “Nice to meet you. I’m Wanda Jackson.” This was just before her resurgence in the U.S. Frankly, I was kind of surprised. I said, “THE Wanda Jackson?” She said, “Well, I guess so.” She and I started talking. I found her really charming, just a warm and likable person. Then that was it. We didn’t exchange information or anything like that. Then here we are 15 years later. I found out from her manager that she was interested in writing a memoir…
Your father Woody, a well-known Nashville-based music publisher, was introduced to Wanda’s granddaughter and manager Jordan Simpson by their mutual friend, Leslie Mitchell. Your father then mentioned to Jordan that you were in Los Angeles publishing books.
Yeah, I think that is how I initially got in touch with her. Jordan met my dad, and she was talking about Wanda wanting to do a book, and that was the initial connection point. My dad told her that BMG was doing music books. So that was how it began. As I mentioned, I got into this because I was a writer myself, and so I ended up co-writing Wanda’s autobiography with her because I decided, “Hey, the reason I love books in that I come at it as a writer.” I am going to try to do a project at least every year or two myself that I get to be involved in on the writing side; not just being on the business side of book publishing.
While most people know Wanda’s 1960 rockabilly hit “Let’s Have a Party” (#37 on the Billboard Hot 100, and peaking on the UK chart at #32) Wanda released a series of great rock records in the late ’50 and ‘60s including “Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad,” “Mean, Mean Man,” and “Honey Bop.” Also “Right Or Wrong,” and “The Middle of a Heartache” were American country hits.
Then there’s “Fujiyama Mama”—“I drink a quart of sake, smoke dynomite. I chase it with tabaccy and than shoot out the light, cuz I’m a Fujiyama mama and I’m just about to blow my top”—which reached #1 in Japan in 1958. She toured Japan several times, starting with a 7-week tour there in 1959.
There’s a great chapter in the book about her first trip to Japan, and that song becoming a big hit there. She had much more success with rock music in places like Japan and Germany; whereas, in the U.S, her greatest success was with country material. She, in many ways, was the first women to really bring glamour to country music. (British author/playwright) Colin Escott said that she broke the gingham barrier in country music.
A true maverick, Wanda was almost certainly the first female rocker with attitude. She toured the American South with Elvis Presley (whom she also dated) in 1955 when he was only a promising newcomer on the Sun label. She also influenced Adele, Miranda Lambert, Rosanne Cash, Cyndi Lauper, Rosie Flores, Pam Tillis, and Jann Browne.
Sure. She was a pioneer in terms of women recording rock and roll, but that wasn’t really recognized until later. Her greatest commercial success came on the country charts. She is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where she very much deserves to be, and I wish that she was also in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Wanda continues to make an impact. Her 1961 song “Funnel of Love” appeared in Guy Ritchie’s 2008 film “RocknRolla”. Two years ago, Cyndi Lauper recorded “Funnel of Love” for her album “Detour.” She released it as a single download and as a limited edition 7″ record.
Jack White doing a record with Wanda did a lot to raise her profile to a new generation as well.
(In 2011, Wanda Jackson teamed up with Jack White to record “The Party Ain’t Over,” an album which reached #58 on Billboard’s Hot 200 album chart.)
One of the books BMG has released is “Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout,” a memoir by Billy Edd Wheeler. Before reading the book, I knew little about Billy Edd other than that he co-wrote “Jackson,” made popular by Johnny Cash and June Carter, and that he wrote and recorded “Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back” which reached #3 on Billboard’s Country chart in 1964. He also wrote such song classics as “The Reverend Mr. Black,” “High Flyin’ Bird,” and “Coward of the County.” Some 160 artists have covered his songs including Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, and Kenny Rogers. He is also the author of 8 plays and musicals, a folk opera, and 6 books of humor. What a prolific writer!
Yeah, he’s an interesting guy. Unrelated to my work at BMG, I co-host a podcast called “Songcraft: Spotlight on Songwriters.” We interview writers from all genres and eras. Billy Edd was one of the guests on the show, and after we finished recording the interview, he just happened to mention that he was almost finished with his memoir. He is such an interesting man. He grew up in an Appalachian Coal Camp (in Boone County, West Virginia) but ended up going to Yale (the Yale School of Drama, majoring in playwriting) and then wound up going to work as a songwriter with Leiber and Stoller (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) in the Brill Building in New York.
You have a connection with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as well.
Yeah, and Billy Edd’s story really resonated with me. He’s a great storyteller. He’s an interesting person. It’s a compelling story. Billy Edd Wheeler’s autobiography is not the sort of thing that a huge publisher necessarily signs, but I thought, “This guy is an interesting guy. It’s an important story. It’s a good story. He’s a good writer.” That was right about the time that we started BMG Books. In fact, that was the first book deal that BMG signed although the Zombies’ book came out before that did. That was actually the very first BMG book deal. Again, it was just one of those things. BMG does administer a portion of Billy Edd’s catalog. So there was a pre-existing relationship with him being one of our music publishing clients. So there wasn’t a pre-existing relationship with him being one of our music publishing clients.
Still, his career story ticks a lot of boxes in your own life from your father being a songwriter in Nashville to your own background as a songwriter in Nashville as well, and to you also working with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller,
Yeah, I think that there is just a natural tie-in. Being someone that grew up in Nashville in a music business family, and being around songwriters, I have an appreciation for songwriters. I was a songwriter for many years before I realized that my talents were better used elsewhere. I do kind of gravitate to those kinds of stories.
Every musician of advanced age these days seems to feel that they have a book in them. Among the books on shelves are those focused on Jack White, Jimmy Webb, the Beastie Boys, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Fugazi, the Clash, Loudon Wainwright III, the Bay City Rollers, Devo, N.W.A., Lilly Allen, the Replacements and the Weavers. Everybody wants their story told. Do you get pitched a lot?
We get pitched a fair amount. What I am most interested in are the opportunities to do–when it comes to autobiography–I like doing something that is a little more niché. I don’t think that Billy Edd Wheeler and Wanda Jackson would necessarily be the obvious choices for an autobiography. But I prefer something where I know that you’ve got loyal fans who are all going to really appreciate what that book is, and what it represents. This coming year we are doing Eddie Floyd’s autobiography which he is writing with Tony Fletcher (“”Knock, Knock, Knock on Wood: My Life in Soul”) and we are also going to do Lamont Dozier’s autobiography which I am co-writing.
I figured that might happen because Paul Duncan and you had invited Lamont Dozier onto your podcast for your 100th interview. A great choice
Everybody in the world knows Lamont Dozier’s songs. He’s not a celebrity in the way that Keith Richards or Bruce Springsteen who have written these really high-profile autobiographies are, but everybody knows Lamont Dozier’s songs, even if they don’t know his name. Everybody has been influenced by his music, even if they aren’t aware of him.
(Lamont Dozier, Brian and Eddie Holland were Holland–Dozier–Holland, Motown Records’ towering songwriting and production mega force, responsible for hits by Mary Wells, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Miracles, the Four Tops, the Temptations, and the Isley Brothers. After leaving Motown H-D-H co-founded and co-owned Invictus Records and Hot Wax Records, producing hits for Freda Payne, Honey Cone, Chairmen of the Board, and 100 Proof Aged in Soul. Dozier continues to work as a solo recording artist, and producer. On his recent 13-song album “Reimagination,” he revisits the H-D-H catalog with guests Todd Rundgren, Graham Nash, Lee Ann Womack, Gregory Porter, Cliff Richard, Marc Cohn, and others.)
Again there’s a guy like Eddie Floyd and the enormous impact that Stax Records had on our culture. He is someone who is, maybe, not as well-known as an Otis Redding, but he’s part of that (Stax) story.
Stax was home not to only Otis Redding and Eddie Floyd, but also such soul legends as Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Booker T. & The M.G.’s and Johnnie Taylor, and fabulous lesser-knowns as, the Soul Children, and the Mad Lads.
A great label
BMG Books also recently released the remarkable retrospective book, “Johnny Cash at Folsom & San Quentin: Photographs by Jim Marshall” (by Jim Marshall and Amelia Davis) which features photographs by legendary photographer Jim Marshall–who died in 2010—from Cash’s performances at California’s Folsom State Prison in 1968, and San Quentin State Prison in 1969.
We worked closely with Jim Marshall’s estate, and with the Johnny Cash Estate on that book. That is one I’m really proud of. It’s an oversized coffee-table book.
You are also releasing a Merle Travis autobiography (“Sixteen Tons: The Merle Travis Story” by Merle Travis and Deke Dickerson). A brilliant guitarist who played in a unique three-finger style, he passed away 35 years ago, but his legacy lives through his guitar style and through his songs “Sixteen Tons,” “Dark As A Dungeon,” “Divorce Me C.O.D.,” “I am a Pilgrim,” “So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed, and “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!”
Yeah, we have a Merle Travis book that will be coming out hopefully before the end of next year. Merle had actually written a partially-completed autobiography that he never finished. So we brought in Deke Dickerson who is the perfect person to round out Merle’s story. He is deep in research as we speak rounding out that book. It will be a hybrid autobiography/biography by Merle Travis and Deke Dickerson. I think that is going to be really exciting for all of the Merle Travis guitar freaks out there.
(American singer, songwriter, guitarist and film composer Deke Dickerson writes a regular column in Guitar Player magazine and feature articles in Vintage Guitar magazine, and The Fretboard Journal. This year, Dickerson wrote the soundtrack of the American comedy film “Action Point” starring Johnny Knoxville and Chris Pontius.)
In a new BMG book “Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story,” music journalist and WXNA co-founder Randy Fox delves into a largely overlooked facet of Nashville’s musical history: Excello Records. Founded by Ernie Young more than 60 years ago, this incredibly prolific indie label released blues and R&B recordings by Slim Harpo, Earl Gaines, Lightnin’ Slim, the Gladiolas, and Roscoe Shelton, among others. Does BMG have any connections to Excello?
No, we don’t, but as I was saying, I think that one of our guiding principals is to release books that are of quality content. (A&R executive) Kate Hyman, who works in our New York office, had the idea a couple of years ago to pursue the concept of a series of books of significant record labels. In some ways, it is similar to the 33 1/3 series, except instead of putting out books about individual albums, we are putting out books about entire labels.
(Excello’s catalog has been reissued several times over the years. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rhino Records put out several compilations. In the early 1990s, AVI Entertainment Group remastered and upgraded virtually the entire Excello catalog. By 1997, AVI was acquired by Hip-O, a label associated with MCA, which issued some Excello material including the 4-volume series “The Excello Story,” and the 2-CD set “Slim Harpo: The Excello Singles Anthology.”)
There’s also the Sub Pop book, “World Domination,” (by Gillian G. Gaar) and the memoir “For The Sake Of Heaviness, The History of Metal Blade Records” by its founder and CEO Brian Slagel.
The Metal Blade book lives outside that RPM Series. We have just released our first two books in the series, “World Domination, The Sub Pop Records Story” and then, as you mentioned, “The Excello Records Story” Frankly, we are not trying to be the advertising arm of BMG. So as this series progresses people will see labels in the series that are part of the BMG family, and they will see books in the series which are not (labels) part of the BMG family because part of what is important to us is establishing ourselves as a respected publisher of music-related books, and not simply being the advertising arms of things that BMG also has going in other areas.
(Coming from BMG Books in the RPM series is “Fade Away and Radiate: The Chrysalis Records Story” by Simon Fellowes. Formed in 1968 by Chris Wright and Terry Ellis, Chrysalis Music developed the international careers of Steeleye Span, the Specials, Sinéad O’Connor, the Water Boys, UFO, Generation X, Go West, Ian Hunter, Runrig, Ten Years After, Ultravox, Paul Hardcastle, and Gentle Giant.)
You obviously have considerable admiration to Bear Family Records in Germany which, founded by collector Richard Weize in 1975, specializes in reissues of archival country and western, rockabilly, surf, New Wave and Americana. There are also other independent collector’s record labels like Light in the Attic Records, Dust-to-Digital, Omnivore Records, Norton Records, Beat Goes On Records (BGO), Sundazed Music, and Jack White’s Third Man Records keeping music history alive. We’d lose valuable archival audio recordings if they did not.
Well, absolutely. I have concerns about the decline in physical music consumption; meaning that streaming is king, and that gives less opportunity for people to hold something like a box set in their hands; and to look at the photos and the accompanying book; and to read about who the musicians were who played on it; or who produced it; or who the songwriters were. There’s a decontextualization of historical music, to say nothing of contemporary music; but, in terms of preserving music history, and so much of that is what I am passionate about, I do lament the days where Rhino Records was something very different than what it is now.
Other labels, as I said, have jumped in to help preserve historical recordings. But Bear Family is remarkably unique.
What Bear Family does is important, and I have done a good bit of work with them. I did a couple of Buck Owens’ projects with Omnivore in the past year, and I think that what they are doing is great. And you have labels like Ace in the UK or Real Gone Music here. There are people still preserving this music. One of the things that I have set as a personal goal for myself is that I want to make sure that I do one tangible thing every year that in some ways preserves or contributes to the preservation of music from the past. Whether I make any money at it doesn’t matter. I just think that it’s important to people who care about that stuff to be involved in it because that’s where the music of today comes from, and it’s part of our cultural legacy. And, I don’t know….the music industry changes, and the way that people consume music has always been something that changes. Who knows how we will be doing it (listening to music) 100 years from now? But I do think it very important for these legacy recordings to be preserved, and for the information about them to be captured while we can. We have already obviously lost a lot of people who could have given us first-hand details about some of the great music of the past.
In the ‘70s, Sire Records put out a lot of ‘60s UK music that was hard to find And there were the pair Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” box sets, and the “Pebbles” series made available over 800 obscure, mostly American punk songs recorded in the mid-1960s. Meanwhile, United Artists, EMI UK, and Pye were continually releasing recordings from their vaults. That type of music archival efforts dried up as majors developed CD budget or streaming catalogs. With the exceptions of Sony Legacy, Universal Music, and Rhino-affiliated Handmade, Concord Music’s Craft Recordings, the majors don’t seem to dig deep into their catalogs. It’s as if the attitude is, “If we are going to only sell 15,000 units, why bother?”
Well, I mentioned Rhino, for example, it used to be that Rhino would license outside tracks that weren’t necessarily part of Warner Bros. So they might do compilations on artists where they had to do a lot of outside licensing. Again, just the changes and the demands in the way that the business is today that is just not really, I guess, viable in a way that it once was. So what you see is that Rhino becoming the reissue label for Warner catalog in the way that Legacy does for Sony etc. It is unfortunate for those of us who are the last remaining music geeks that we don’t necessarily have access to some of those multi-label compilations, and things. We don’t see a lot of newer things coming out in that regard. So you are right. There is not as much of an opportunity for the labels to really go deep and really dig up things that they, ultimately, have assumed that they are just not going to be able to sell. So you fall back into that tug-of-war between what is commercially viable versus what those of us who are historically minded would like to see.
Where, for example, is the bulk of the A&M Records’ catalog beyond the obvious releases? I tried to get Universal Music to do a three-CD of A&M recordings a few years ago, but I couldn’t garner any interest.
I guess we just live in a different music market than we once did and that just means that those of us who love the historical stuff are not going to have as easy access to getting remasters and reissues the way we once could just take for granted.
Also, the majority of people today listen to music being streamed, and listen on earbuds; whereas two decades ago many people had high-end stereo systems. As a result, I think, expectations of recorded must have diminished.
Right, so sound quality is not as important to people it seems as, maybe, it once was. I am one of the people who believes that the CD was the pinnacle of sound quality. I know it’s more popular to say that vinyl was the pinnacle, but I am going to be in the minority, and say that I think that the CD was the pinnacle of consumer access to music. As a guy who has a CD collection that is about 8,000 CDs strong, I am kind of committed because I would spend the rest of my life ripping those into the computer if that was the route that I decided to go. I listen to Spotify like everyone else. I consume music from a streaming platform as most consumers do, but when it comes to historical recordings or things that I consider particularly significant, I still tend to buy CDs because that’s how I still listen to stuff. I guess I am becoming a dinosaur.
Interestingly, printed book sales are growing despite predictions years ago that they would be replaced by e-readers. The most recent report from the American Booksellers Association, a non-profit trade organization for indie bookstores, said that overall book sales across 24,000 indie bookstores for 2017 increased 2.6% over the previous year. Sales of printed books are expected to climb again this year as well. It is believed a demand for physical books will continue because people want to relax with a printed book after staring at a computer screen during their workday. Meanwhile, bookstores are more difficult to find with the demise of the Borders and Waldenbooks retail chains, and the disappearance of so many mom and pop outlets
It’s true the way that people are obtaining books has changed. Obviously, we went from the mom and pop bookstore model to the Waldenbooks and Borders and Barnes and Noble model to the Amazon (ordering via the internet) model. What I do think is interesting is that several people thought that e-books were going to take over the book market but what has actually happened is that is that e-books plateaued, and the majority of books are still physical books. So, unlike the music industry where physical is the minority of sales, physical is still the majority of sales in the book world. That might be one of the reasons that I am so drawn to books as a music fan because it (a book) is still something that people can touch and collect and put on their shelf to say something about who they are, and what they care about.
So I am heartened to see that people still like to have something that they can touch, and feel when it comes to books. And, in terms of losing record stores and bookstores and all that, that’s just the way of the world. You can’t bring back the past. But I did notice a friend of mine has a daughter who is about 11 years old, and she wanted a Polaroid camera for her birthday. She also wanted a record player. I thought, “What is that?” because it’s not nostalgic. This kid is 11. She doesn’t remember using a Polaroid camera or a turntable in an earlier time, and it reminds her of that time that it might with older people.
She’s responding to the aesthetic nature of those products.
Yeah, there’s something about the tactile. There’s something about being able to touch. For whatever reason, I think that with books more than with music, the young generation likes to actually touch it, and have something physical. I think that’s great, and I think that there is something within us as human beings that is wired to appreciate the tactile.
Books also travel well. You won’t have too much difficulty getting many of your titles, particularly “Every Night Is Saturday Night,” “World Domination,” and “For The Sake Of Heaviness” distributed in places like the UK and Germany.
Right. Yeah, there’s an universality and an appeal to music whereas if somebody is writing a novel, for instance, it might be hard to market that in other territories; while music is very much a universal language, and artists that have a following in the United States also have a following in Europe; and, in some cases with a lot of roots music, maybe, a more enthusiastic following in Europe than they do have in the U.S.
Prior to internet marketing, a publisher on the release of a book took out a couple trade and newspaper ads, and then put books into regional and national bookstores. Authors were pitched to radio and TV. Bang, the publishers sold books. How do you market books today? How do you make a profit from the sale of music books?
With us doing books with a lot of people who have a following in the music world, a big part of it (marketing) is being able to tap into social media and to reach the fans of that artist through their social media platforms. We typically market our books the way we would market our music products. So in terms of our PR efforts, for example, we don’t hire book PR people, we hire music PR people. We are trying to reach the music fans. We are not trying to compete with Penguin Random House, or any of the big publishing houses because they do what they do, and they do it well; but we are trying to raise awareness amongst the music fans and get into publications that music fans are going to read. Really, there’s not a whole lot of difference in how we approach marketing a record versus a book. So I think that what we do is a little different than traditional book publishers.
The price points on the BMG books are quite reasonable. In the $20 to $25.00 range. That’s a good deal for a quality book.
Yeah, we try to keep the books’ price point where people are willing to make that investment. There’s more competition than ever for consumer dollars, and we have to price them where we are still going to be able to make money; but we balance that with pricing them also to be attractive. Something that somebody will be willing to spend their hard-earned dollars on. It is always a challenge. Something that is very important to me is having good quality books. So our paper quality, our print quality is good, and I am proud of that. But that also costs money. So it is always finding that balance between creating a product that is affordable but also has a certain quality. When you feel the book you know that you are not touching a cheap book. It is always a little bit of guesswork combined with strategizing and looking at what has and hasn’t worked previously. But yeah, we want to create books that are accessible.
The books are manufactured in the United States?
Yes. We have manufactured all of our books in the U.S. thus far. Even the feel of the books is different. We use a kind of a gritty mat coating on the front of all of our books to give them a distinctive feel. We try to create a little–I don’t know what you would call it—a little bit of a mark (of distinction) with our books. Maybe, they don’t all look the same to the eye, but they have a similar feel.
How did the bi-weekly podcast with Paul Duncan come about?
It’s called “Songcraft: Spotlight on Songwriters” and it’s all interviews with songwriters of different genres and eras. We have done 103 episodes. We put out a new episode every two weeks. Paul and I both grew up in Nashville.
You were in a band together?
Yeah, we were in our first band together. It was called Feedback which is terribly generic.
Was this in college?
This was in high school. We were sophomores in high school when we started our band.
You were the guitarist.
You are 43 and you started playing guitar when you are 12 or 13. You would have been more into Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden while in high school than Elvis Presley. How did you attain the background to write your Southern rock book, “Southbound: An Illustrated History of Rock,” published in 2014?
Well, I was a kid in the ‘80s when everything was about synthesizers. I started playing guitar in the late 1980s, and what I was listening to then was the classic rock station in Nashville 104.5 The Fox (currently branded as 104.5 The Zone), and they were playing a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd, playing a lot of the Charlie Daniels Band, and playing a lot of the Allman Brothers. As a kid learning to play guitar, I grew listening to that stuff and also listening to Tom Petty. I was a huge grunge guy when Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and all that music started coming out. I was really into that stuff as well because it was all guitar music. But, yeah, I was given the opportunity to write this history of Southern rock and, at the time that I began working on that book, I could not say that I was an expert on Southern rock. I appreciated Southern rock.
Few musicians from the South in the ‘70s and ‘80s would call themselves Southern rockers.
Right. It’s interesting and one of the things that I came to understand when I was writing that book is that those guys were like people without a home in some ways because in the South they were kind of these long-haired hippies, and that’s how they were regarded and they were kind of outsiders because they were rock and rollers. Then, as they became successful, and got out to the wider world, they were kind of outsiders because they were Southerners. They had these accents, and they had these assumptions about life, and the way that they were raised was different from some of the other bands that they were touring with. So to the outside world, to the other bands that they knew, they were always thought of as Southern, and then in the South, they were always thought of as hippies or rockers or whatever.
Many of the musicians from the South back then moved to Los Angeles to work. Also, whereas Memphis, Atlanta, Nashville, Jacksonville, Spartanburg, Muscle Shoals, and Macon were all hot spots for rock musicians, there wasn’t a dominant hub city. It used to be Memphis, but by the ‘70s that wasn’t true any longer.
Right, right. Well, you had things going on in Atlanta, and you had things going on in Macon and Nashville even though it’s really never thought of as a rock center, but there wasn’t a….obviously with grunge music, you had Seattle or with Outlaw Country you had Austin, and with electric blues you had Chicago.
With R.E.M., the B-52’s, Pylon, Love Tractor, Oh-OK, and Matthew Sweet, Athens, Georgia was briefly home to alternative rock. Also from Athens were singer/songwriters Vic Chesnutt, and Corey Smith, and country artists T. Graham Brown, and John Berry.
Yes, there was an alternative rock center in Athens, but to me Macon (birthplace or hometown of Little Richard, Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers Band, Mark Heard, and Capricorn Records) was the Southern rock capital because so much of the activity happened there, but it didn’t turn into a major commercial center long-term the way that Nashville or Los Angeles or New York did.
Your mother Carol was a kindergarten teacher, while your father Woody Bomar wrote songs early in his career that were recorded by Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Lee Greenwood, Lynn Anderson, T.G. Sheppard, Rhonda Vincent, Hank Williams, Jr., and others. He then transitioned into music publishing as general manager of Bob Beckham’s Combine Music Publishing which represented Kris Kristofferson, Dennis Linde, Larry Gatlin, Tony Joe White, Billy Swan, and Dolly Parton.
in the late ‘80s, he teamed with business partner Kerry O’Neil to launch Little Big Town Music with former Combine writers John Scott Sherrill and Bob DiPiero. After a little more than a decade and some 15 #1 country hits–he and his partner sold Little Big Town to Sony/ATV where for 8 years he was vice president/general manager of Creative Services. In 2007, he launched Green Hills Music Group.
When I was born my dad was in the advertising business, and he was a frustrated aspiring songwriter. When I was a toddler he just decided, “I can’t stand this anymore; I have to be a songwriter,” and he left a pretty successful job in the advertising business to devote himself to songwriting full-time. He was a successful songwriter.
(Woody Bomar began his music career as a country music songwriter, landing two #1 hits: Conway Twitty’s “We Did But Now You Don’t,” and Jim Glaser’s “You’re Getting to Me Again.”)
Being a songwriter in Nashville in those days was rough.
That was still an era where you could make a decent living with album cuts and a few singles. He was writing so for Combine Music, and he started getting into some of the business side, and pitching songs, and became the general manager at Combine. He realized that as much as he loved writing songs that he was also really skilled at casting songs, and knowing how to be a good song plugger.
While at Sony/ATV your father signed Dierks Bentley, Rascal Flatts, Marty Stuart, and Blake Shelton, and he was instrumental in bringing Taylor Swift, Gretchen Wilson, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert there. Taylor was 15, the youngest songwriter the company had ever signed.
My father was overseeing the creative department at Sony/ATV, and Arturo Buenahora Jr. discovered Taylor Swift and brought her there, and my dad agreed to sign her (in 2005).
Your father continues to operate Greenhill Music.
Yes. So I grew up around the music industry. Everything from the successful independent publisher which was Combine to watching my dad start his own independent publishing company from nothing, Little Big Town; to growing it to becoming a very successful company; and then the corporate world at Sony/ATV which was about the time that I was finishing graduate school. I had a front row seat to the Nashville publishing industry from all angles.
You went to Belmont University, and then to Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
I went to Belmont University for undergrad and got a degree in religion, and then I went to Vanderbilt University and got a Master in Theological Studies. My goal initially was to be a religion professor. Over time, there wasn’t any big moment that made me realize that wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore, but it (my career) was something that just kinda morphed. I still see what drew me to wanting to be a professor is very much what makes me want to research and tell stories about music’s history and to present those stories to people for them to understand. I see a lot of commonalities there in terms of preserving and presenting stories and functioning in some ways as a teacher.
How did you become so skilled in licensing music? From your father or the one-year music publishing course you took at UCLA or reading Donald Passman’s “All You Need To Know About The Music Business,” or Todd and Jeff Brabec’s “Music Money And Success: The Insider’s Guide to Making Money in the Music Business?”
I think that it was a combination of those things. Because I grew up with a father in the music industry. So I understood a lot of the concepts of the music industry from an early age. Then in college, I started getting pretty serious about writing songs. Mike Whelan, who worked at Acuff-Rose Music Publishing in Nashville, wanted to sign me to a publishing deal. We had already gone back-and-forth on the contract, and I got a call one day from him, and he said, “I can’t continue with this deal right now because Acuff-Rose is going up for sale, and we can’t sign any new deals until they can figure out what’s going to happen, and who is going to own us.” Well, as it turned out they were bought by Sony/ATV (in 2002), and my dad was already at Sony/ATV. My dad told Mike “I don’t feel good about signing a deal with my son.”
Yet, you still became a staff writer at Sony/ATV.
I did and that is to Mike’s credit. I had one song in particular that he really believed in. he ultimately brought my dad around to the point that my dad said, “Well, I would never sign a songwriter just because he’s my son.” Then he said, “However, if I had someone that worked for me who really believes in this person it’s also not fair for me to not sign a songwriter just because he’s my son.”
Was this the song that Brooks & Dunn recorded?
No. It’s a song that nobody has ever recorded. It was just the song that got me in the door. Brooks & Dunn recorded “I Miss Johnny Cash” that I co-wrote with Brian Hofeldt of the Derailers, and with Eric Church who has since gone on to be phenomenally successful. Brooks & Dunn recorded it, but then decided they didn’t like the way it came out, and never released it. That was my almost brush with songwriting success. After 5 years of living in L.A., but working as a songwriter in Nashville, I just decided that I needed to do something different. which brings me back to your question. I started having meetings with anybody I knew that was in the music business in Los Angeles; just to say, “Hey, I’ve been a writer and…”
Had you gone to L.A. with the intention of developing a songwriter career there?
No, my wife worked in television. So I just started meeting with people, and said, “I’m trying to get out of the songwriter thing.” I applied for some positions at some different music companies; administrative jobs, like front desk sort of stuff. People would always say, “Oh, you’ve got a Master’s degree. You wouldn’t be happy with us. You are overqualified.” But, I’d say, “Yeah, but I’m not qualified in any of these jobs. I need to start out at the bottom.” So ultimately what happened is that I took a music publishing course at UCLA to bone up on my knowledge and yeah I read the Passman book and I read the Brabecs’ book]. Anytime there were opportunities to interview for a job somewhere I would try and throw my hat in the ring. When I decided to stop applying for entry-level positions and going for stuff that was a little higher the first one was Universal Music Publishing and it was a licensing supervisor position. Ed Arrow at Universal (as VP of Copyright) was good enough to recognize what I could do. He wanted to take a chance on me, and he did. So I learned a lot of what I know about music licensing while doing licensing there which is the exact same way that I am learning about books is by making books.
After Universal, you launched 4th and State Music Services that offered music licensing, copyright and historical research, online content creation, and organization services such as cataloging masters?
Yes. I was at Universal for four years, and then I started doing independent music-related projects. Just becoming the go-to-guy for music projects that needed to be done and that didn’t fit neatly into any particular category. I did a big archival organizational project for Leiber and Stoller for example.
Was that in preparation for their publishing companies being sold to Sony/ATV?
It was after they had sold a portion of their catalog to Sony/ATV. They were essentially getting their assets scaled down and organized for them to be able to move them. They needed someone who could go into a neglected storage area, and figure out what needed to go to the dumpster; what needed to be saved for the sake of the company; and what was historically significant that, maybe, should be offered to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or wherever. That job is probably perfectly representative of my life. I am the guy that can haul stuff to the dumpster, and I am the guy who can know what is historically significant.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.