The greatest record company in the history of the music business was Warner/Reprise.
Don't confuse today's enterprise with yesteryear's.
And as great as Ahmet Ertegun was, Atlantic was no match for its west coast counterpart.
Warner/Reprise had SOUL!
Let me take you back, to an era when music drove the culture, when young 'uns were addicted to the radio and could sing every song on the hit parade, whether they liked it or not. This lasted until about 1968, when underground FM got started, and that's where Warner/Reprise thrived.
It was Jimi Hendrix. It was the Grateful Dead.
It was Joni Mitchell and Neil Young when he was a nobody from up north from a failed band.
Warner let you do what you wanted, it was all about the bands and their music.
But the image came from Stan Cornyn.
He wrote a book, but today everything lives online, and there's no shrine to the man…who made Warner/Reprise hip, who made youngsters all over this great country of ours believers. We wanted to go to 3300 Warner Boulevard not because of Mo and Joe so much as the culture, we wanted to be where the irreverent people who knew no rules were changing our society day by day.
That's what Stan Cornyn did.
I remember running into his trade publication "Circular" at a record store. I wrote a note to the company asking to be put on the distribution list. I was for a while. It was like getting a note from the Pope, after all, music was my religion.
Not that Cornyn was famous. Other than the occasional credit. It was all done in service of the company, of the artists.
And now Stan Cornyn is dead.
He lived to 81, that's a good long life.
And if he were here, I don't think he'd be asking for either praise or remembrance, but my inbox is filling up with testimonials from those who knew him.
Warner/Reprise stood for something. And we knew it because Stan Cornyn said so. He was head of "creative services," whatever that was, he was the person who rallied the like-minded troops into changing our country.
You can read his book:
"Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group": amzn.to/1cygSZ9
Or you can just know that people make a difference. That life is a team effort. And that it's our wackiest, outside the box thinkers, those who prod tradition, who take risks, who change the world.
One of your "Old Farts" died this week. Stan Cornyn had an enormous impact on Warner Bros/Reprise Records during the years when we became a powerhouse regarded as Super Hip.
He changed some of the old fashioned marketing, advertising presentations and we became the envy of much of the industry.
Contrary to your oft repeated indictments of the above mentioned Old Farts we had a group of people who loved the music, went with our own tastes and methods.
In fact it was the Erteguns, Clive, Mo and myself and a few others who shook off the Corporations and went our way and built a business. While we all did well financially no billionaires arrived.
You should recognize Stan in some way. He was the ultimate image maker and no one came close to his style, content and approach
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My hero. Seriously. This was the guy I tried to shape my career after. To this day, whenever I go to WBR, I ask what's left of the old timers there to tell me stories from the Stan Cornyn era.
Never met him. Now I never will.
great, real and true i was there
Indeed, a multi-dimensional dogged fellow. Thanks for that Bob!
My bosses. My mentors. My heroes. Good for Joe! RIP Stan. I am grateful to have walked amongst giants.
Stan in his book wrote one of the great lines about the music business that I quote often…"the music business has always been one step ahead of the Amish in accepting new technology"
Stan was the best writer ever in music journalism.
And I kept my Warners' Circulars' from that period.
Crawdaddy's Paul Williams is also overlooked these days and without him a generation of potential writers would never have had the guts to write about music.
Thanks for acknowledging one of the true record guys.
A legend. Invisible Hands Music's number two exec position since 2003 has been "Head of Creative Services" in recognition of Stan, and that era at Warner / Reprise. We haven't matched it, but at least we're sufficiently aware of rock n roll history to know about it and strive for it. RIP.
Cornyn's book is one of the funniest record business books ever published. Obviously those guys loved music, not just music business. One significant thing is that he didn't seem to take himself too seriously. No ego, just wits. What a guy.
Bob – I worked at Warner Bros. Records from 1973 – 1980 and worked for Stan Cornyn during that time (used to LOVE those Wednesday Black Book meetings). Everything you wrote is absolutely true (except it wasn’t until the mid-70s that “3300” was where everyone wanted to be – it was “3750," Warner Studios’ old machine shop that was the first home of WBR).
He WAS a very special, one-of-a-kind man – glad you wrote what you did.
In the very late sixties and early 70's. When I was on the air, if you were lucky you received "home service" from the majors.
I couldn't wait for the W E A package to arrive.
After that was Columbia.
I was a recording engineer at Warners during the 80s and before that did a lot of Warners acts and it was a very special place. It was one of the flattest companies I ever worked at. Did you have a good idea? Go to Stan or Lenny and tell him. Were you the shipping clerk? Didn't matter. Unique.
Reviewed Exploding when it came out. Had to!
Cornyn seduced me, too. Words have power.
Used to adore those WB two-fers as well, which I considered an extension of Stan.
RIP to one of the greats.
with all due respect to the capitol tower, warners burbank offices to this day are the coolest offices in the history of the business. stan cornyn became my hero from the day i saw an ad on a warnersinner sleeve for a compilation record made up of warner acts that could be purchased for $2. to this day,i still hold precious in my vinyl catalogue such titles as: the 1969 warner reprise songbook, the 1969 warner reprise record show, the big ball, looney tunes merrie melodies, the whole burbank catalogue and who can forget the greatest title of all, schlagers. these were all double albums except looney tunes which was a triple box set for $3. they spotlighted tracks from all of the warners artists and had extensive liner notes. all are collectors items and a brilliant loss leader to expose multiple warner artists and their music. along with stan, carl scott and adam somers were the other geniuses in the creative services division that also devised the warner road show tours that
exposed little feat, alice cooper, captain beefheart and others in touring packages. that these marketing ideas have died on the vine are among the many reasons that our business is in decline. under the leadership of mo and joe smith followed by the in house creative team of lenny warnoker, ted templeman, and russ tittleman, and then the marketing team of the gentleman mentioned above, the warners team of the sixties through the eighties are the benchmark for what made this business great and inspired a lot of us to make it our career. stan 's death leaves us with one less visionary who knew there were no boundaries in an attempt to give an artist a career. we should all reflect on that.
Warners was where everybody wanted to be in the 70's. You're right they had the roster and stood behind talent. I believe Bonnie Raitt had 7 or 8 records that didn't sell well before her Jump to Capitol and "overnight" stardom.
In 1976 I interviewed with Russ Thyret for a promo gig. Had a great interview, he got that I loved and knew a lot about music. I thought the job was in Denver, but at the end of the interview he asked if I would be interested in working in Detroit. I said no. What an idiot I was. As I closed the door to his office and walked down the hall I realized that I had just blown my chance to work there.
The right answer? I'd gladly work in New Delhi or anywhere they wanted to send me.
Warners was that good.
William Buckley Jr.
Stan was the man – no doubt
As Stan said about the music biz,
"There was the Beatles and everybody else."
Today, I can sit in review and say,
"There was Stan Cornyn and everybody else."
Other than Lenny Waronker, no name showed up more often on the covers and inner sleeves of my high school and college record collections, than that of Stan Cornyn. His loss leader campaign, double albums of artists that Warner Brothers distributed was groundbreaking. And giving away Randy Newman’s “Creates Something New Under The Sun” certainly raised some eyebrows. His sense of humor was so subtle. Identifying the songwriter, Paul Simon, in the liner notes of Harpers Bizarre’s debut album as being, “of and Garfunkel” still cracks me up. The other labels of the time were certainly well represented during rock’s heyday, but I always thought, unless you were on Warner Brothers, Elektra or Atlantic, you probably wished you were.
Loved this book Bob! Read it years ago when it first came out. It has a high place on my shelf. I was in the biz late in the game and I thirst for the stories from the beginning. It was great to hear that things were done with more of a purpose to the music than business. Fun read…
They’re all here. The Loss Leaders. Every single one!
Paul C. Rapp, Esq.
Hi Bob: I managed America on WBR for many albums and a lot of hits. Stan was the man, Joe made it go, and Mo was the perfect host. Having an act on Warner Bros. in the sixties and seventies was a unique experience. Stan was reserved, dignified, creative, and always a gentleman. He is one of the reasons, those were the good old days. Hartmann.
Great piece. Thanks Bob.
I remember those brilliant double promo albums you could buy for two bucks mail order…Loss Leaders WB called 'em….the Big Ball (still have it!) Schalgers, etc. Turned me on to so many acts…everyone from Zappa and the Mothers, Joni Mitchell, Capt. Beefheart, James Taylor, Dion (the wonderful acoustic guitar folkie version), Randy Newman, the hilarious "Illliad" by former Fug Ed Sanders. Not to mention not to mention…Wild Man Fischer…a man who'd never get a record deal today!) Too many great acts to name. The 1971 one, Non-Dairy Creamer, turned me on to Little Feat's Snakes on Everything and I became a Feat fanatic for life! Those LPs were wonderful and wonderfully cheap bargains full of amazing music. You filled out a coupon, mailed it in with your two bucks, and a few weeks later it came in the mail and within a week or two I was at Sam Goody's buying those great records. Later when I read his book, I realized what an amazing contribution Stan Cornyn made during what was a
golden age in rock and pop music.
Bob, thank you very much for this piece. Warner/Reprise was a major slice of the soundtrack of my life! Not only did those records put bread on my table, but they filled my ears and heart. This is a real nice piece about something that many of us "old farts" find to be indispensable, playing no small part in having making us what we are today. My ears would be much much smaller if it wasn't for the work of Stan Cornyn & Warner/Reprise.
Stan Cornyn was a great guy, a great music man and a unique creative genius. He was also a lucky guy because he landed at Warner, where his talents were appreciated and flourished. His liner notes will long survive the current illiterates who cannot string two complete sentences together. Yes, the "good old days" were really good.
The man was a master of creative writing. He gave Warner's a voice. In the '70s as a buyer for a small chain of record stores, I looked forward to reading the Warner's solicitation book for new releases. It was was hip, funny, and irreverent. It was like reading Peter Egan's "Side Glances" in Road & Track – it was something to look forward to every month. Maybe that's why I used to find so many of them in the stores' bathrooms (this is no slight – anything left in the men's room was well-read). Even without hearing the music I took bought in every W/B release – that's brand power.
And Warner's trade and consumer print ads were the pinnacle of advertising copy.
But the ones I remember most were the Warners' inner sleeves that advertised their "Lost Leader" vinyl compilations for less that 3.00. They even made The Mystic Moods sound hip.
Stan probably could have been a super star for any ad agency on Madison Ave.
We were lucky to have in our business.
Stan hired me in 1973 to work in their Merchandising Dept. It was a dream to work at Warner Bros. then, two years out of college, and the music business growing in leaps and bounds. Stan's insight was 'spot on'; was never hack, but made you think… From Circular to the Loss Leaders–it was all about the music–with class and style…and some irreverence. Check out his speech from NARM-"The Day Radio Died"..still relevant today. He will be missed.
Stan Cornyn was, unquestionably, the crown jewel of Warners.
If he was the man responsible for the Warner Brothers "Loss Leaders" LP's
featured for $3.00 (or thereabouts) on the inner sleeves of Warner releases,
then he's also responsible, in a large part, for nurturing my love of music.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
As a distant admirer from Warners Australian operation (I was the Creative Services man there during the late 70's and into the 80's) Stan was a mentor and an inspiration.
He set the artist friendly blueprint for Warner worldwide. And unlike so many others in the biz he was not a grandstander. 'Exploding' is essential reading, not just to learn about the good old days but to be reminded of the balance required between art and commerce.
As a teen I actually get a chance to know first hand just how great they were. Back around 1971, Russ Shaw, the Artist Relations Coordinator for Warner was a client of my dad's. He dropped by the office one day and threw a small catalog on my desk. "Pick out what ever you want and I'll get it for you". Oh my God. Everything from Black Sabbath to Joni Mitchell was in there. I couldn't just pick a couple, and I believe I ended up with 20 albums, all classics. What a great label they were back then.
And Stan was a very nice cat, too. Not your street wise or hustler type that often populated the echelons of the record biz streets in that period.
Very well educated and literate, (a top grad of a Middlebury type progressive small liberal arts Cali college—Pomona/Claremont) he brought a level of sophisticated cultural insight to the emerging youth rebellion in music that fit perfectly tly with the zeitgeist of the times.
He was always kind and gracious in his demeanor—with a wry sense of humor, which he wore lightly while engaging you in spirited exchanges.
An Unsung Hero.
For those of us who grew up on the west coast, we had major college radio stations (like the one I was with KUCR from UC Riverside 1966-70) pulling down ratings of second in our market even if we only had 10 watts because we were at the forefront of progressive rock, before the commercial stations climbed on board. We also had KFWB-AM drawing B. Mitchell Reed BACK from WABC so he could play key album cuts in 1966 before he had the opportunity to start KPPC-FM with Tom Donahue.
You never give the West Coast credit of how far ahead we were in the 60's of what finally became cool on the East Coast, and then the rest of the nation. And at the forefront of that was Stan Cornyn, the man who turned Warner/Reprise into the hippest label in the universe through his use of words AND his unique understanding of the youth culture of California, and how he could spread that to break his artists as well as hip the rest of the country to what was happening in California in the late 60's.
No one, and I repeat no one, was more effect in doing this than Stan Cornyn. His press releases, liner notes and creativity truly set the standard for the evolving music business of the late 60's. Although the label group had a formidable promotion staff, and it would be silly to deny the brilliance of Mo Ostin or Joe Smith, without Stan their vision may have never reached the masses in the same way. We lost a giant, and I have to say no one has come along to fill his shoes.
I had the honor of working with Stan Cornyn for almost a decade, one of
the most creative people I?ve ever had the privilege to know.
In 1982, while I was in the Artist Development department, he called me
into his office & asked me to join a New Media work group that was being
set up with Atari to explore the possibilities that computers & digital
media would offer the music industry. He was looking beyond the gold mine
that the CD, coming out a year later in ‘83, would provide the industry &
wanted to explore the opportunities that the disruption would provide.
In that group, led by Stan and Alan Kay of Atari (formerly of Xerox PARC
fame), the creator of the concept of the graphic interface, we talked
about 90% of the current innovations we enjoy today. It was exhilarating,
challenging & it changed my life.
Concurrently, I worked for Bob Regehr, another WB original, who taught me
to be willing to put my job on the line to support the artist.
Add in Mo & Joe, Templeman, Thyret, Rosenblatt and many others & you
realized you truly worked for the Knights of the Roundtable in Camelot.
If you never worked there during those days, you really can’t understand.
You can appreciate it from a distance, but trust me, it’s not the same.
My first paying job in the music business was for Billboard Magazine.
I was sent to my first NARM convention (St. Louis? Miami?) and heard Stan Cornyn speak.
I realized, as he captivated a very jaded record biz crowd, that
THIS WAS THE GUY THAT CREATED THE ALBUM SAMPLERS FOR WARNER REPRISE! HOLY SH*(!
Those albums were part of the path I manifested to get me to LA to be in the music business.
I approached Stan afterwards asked him if I could make an appointment to visit him in his office when we were back in Los Angeles. I told him I could use his advice as I wanted what he had – fearless creativity with a sense of humor.
He gave me his card, told me to call him and we would arrange a time for me to come over.
He came through. That’s right, he kept his word. Go figure.
I sat in his office and thought he’d give me a few minutes. He gave me an hour. He wanted to know why I loved music. What did I
do at Billboard? Who were my favorite bands? What concerts had I been to? What did I want to do next? Did I like LA?
I told him about those promo albums he created and what they meant to me. The inner sleeves! Hours reading the inner sleeves.
I remember him laughing and telling me they cost the company money. I told him with wide-eyed wonder that I couldn’t imagine how that could
be the case as I would buy almost every album featured
on those promos. Captain Beefheart! Little Feet! Joni! Tower of Power! The spoof of the Whole Earth Catalogue! He laughed again.
Stan walked me through Warner’s offices and introduced me to anyone who had their door open.
He loaded me up with vinyl and told me to come back any time. He asked if there was anything else I wanted.
I asked him for his autograph as to me, Stan was the real deal and a brighter star than anyone who had a gold record in the hallways
of Warner Bros.
Stan truly sculpted the face of the company. The first time I ever heard about Captain Beefheart was in an ad in RollingStone. It was written with such flair and honest and irreveverance, I had to buy it – just to see what it was all about.
It was an honor to have worked on the Beefheart box set last year, and send one off to Stan with a note of thanks for turning me on to Beefheart in the first place, as well as so many other artists. The entire "Lost Leaders" campaign was Stan's. These were two-disc albums of all-new music from new artists. You would send in $2 to Warner Bros. and they would send you a "Loss Leader." I purchased at least ten of them, and "discovered" Maria Mulduar, Tir' Na Nog, Marc Jordan, Pentangle, David Blue, Pearls Before Swine, and so many more.
I had sent him an email just last week. I obviously checked with him before giving out his email or phone number, and Billboard was writing about Joni Mitchell and wanted to interview him.
I didn't hear back, so I put a call into him. That was on Friday. Obviously, he didn't get back to me.
There were some who didn't like him – he could be condescending. There was no one who didn’t respect him. I liked and respected him. Hale Milgrim and I took him to lunch or dinner when I went up to see music in Santa Barbara. I played Scrabble with him a number of times in Santa Barbara. The first time I beat him is one of my fondest memories. He just looked at me and smiled. "Do you have time for another game?"