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Backstage in South Florida: My Biz Beginnings With ABC Records

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: The ABC's of my stint with ABC. 

After graduating from college all those many years ago, my great goal in life was to work for a record company. It didn't matter which record company; all I cared about was getting into the music biz and exploiting my love of rock and roll for a salary. Not that it was much of a salary. At my peak, I made $15,000 a year working for ABC Records -- a paltry sum perhaps, but a fortune compared to what I was earning at a record distributor prior to my invitation to jump ship. 

I remember that when I left ABC and took a job at Capitol, my new boss was actually embarrassed for me when I told him my salary. "Let's say you make $18,000," he suggested, thereby giving me leverage to bargain for a respectable wage with my new employer. 

I first worked at a wholesale distributor called Heilicher Brothers, which was located in Opa-locka and obviously far from the hub of the music biz. Nevertheless it proved to be a good training ground, in that it helped teach me the mechanism of record promotion and specifically, what it took to get records played on the radio. I had a number of labels assigned to me -- Motown and Chrysalis among them -- but even so, I really wanted to be employed by an actual real-life record company. 

Consequently, when ABC came knocking, I jumped at the offer.

My first encounter with my new employer was anything but orthodox. I was summoned to the Miami Beach apartment of my friend John, the current ABC rep who had recommended me for the job. 

To my surprise, John answered the door clad only in a towel. He led me into the bedroom and promptly climbed into bed with his wife, who greeted me as if nothing was out of the ordinary. As I sat on the edge of the bed, somewhat unsure of the circumstances, he briefed me on the company's latest records and what my job duties would entail. He had been assigned a regional position in Atlanta, but the position he was in during our briefing moment was a lot more compromising.
That initial introduction aside, the prospect of a career with ABC found me feeling like I had been swept into the music business almost overnight. Suddenly I was being asked to plan promotional campaigns on behalf of soon-to-be superstars like Tom Petty, Jimmy Buffet and Chaka Khan. 

My first assignment was to plot airplay for a new Steely Dan single that was lifted from their LP The Royal Scam, one called "The Fez." Unfortunately though, the album had already peaked in popularity, and "The Fez" eventually fizzled out at the bottom of the charts. Not surprising, considering that the lyrics, in their entirety, went like this: 

"No I'm never gonna do it without the fez on 
Oh no 
No I'm never gonna do it without the fez on 
Oh no 
That's what I am 
Please understand 
I wanna be your holy man"


ABC's national promotion director was a flashy fellow named Charlie Minor, a Southern gentleman who had a talent for charming both his associates and the ladies. Well-dressed and slickly polished, he was the stereotypical promotion man, both enthusiastic and engaging. 

The son of a single mother and from a decidedly poor background, he had worked his way up through the ranks and became notoriously well known for his ability to schmooze, wheel and deal. Still, few people had a bad word for Charlie, and even his detractors had to admit their grudging admiration of him. 

His second-in-command, Steve Resnick, was considerably more laid back by comparison, but also an engaging guy to boot. What I remember most about him was a visit to his apartment in L.A. during one of our national meetings. He owned the first VCR I had ever seen, and I was fascinated by his video of the Beatles performing in Budokan, Japan. 

It was so clear and vivid, and the fact that it was a bootlegged video made it all the more impressive. Being that Betamax was the format of choice, I knew there and then I had to eventually get a VCR for myself. 

I only spent a year or so at ABC before being hired by Capitol Records, but it was a memorable period regardless. It included my first glimpse of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in a West Palm Beach club strewn with peanut shells, an event I recounted in this column last year

There were adventures on the road with Jimmy Buffett and the role I played in the success of his single "Margaritaville," also documented previously. I had a backstage meeting with a drug-addled Chaka Khan, and a chance to chat with Poco at the Miami Baseball Stadium when they opened for the Stills-Young Band. (In point of fact, by the time they arrived in Miami, it had become the Steve Stills band. Neil Young had started the tour in tandem with his onetime Buffalo Springfield partner, but abruptly quit the day before they hit South Florida.) 

Nevertheless, my stint with ABC didn't last long. In 1977, the local Capitol rep was promoted and I was offered the opportunity to take his place. Charlie flew me up to Nashville where he met me to discuss my situation. "Don't go with those guys," he advised with that laid-back, Southern accent he used to turn on the charm. "Those guys aren't our kind of people. They're not going to appreciate you like I do." 

He made the choice harder than it should have been. Despite the fact that he and I couldn't have been more different from one another, I genuinely liked the guy, and he seemed to like me. Nevertheless, the lure of more money and the chance to work for the record label that had been home to the Beatles was much too promising to pass up. I took the Capitol gig. 

Despite Charlie's warnings to the contrary, it turned out to be the right choice. A year after I left, ABC went belly up and was absorbed into MCA Records, which, in turn, was eventually swallowed up by Universal. Charlie and Steve were hired by A&M Records and went on to greater glories. 

Sadly though, Charlie's womanizing proved his downfall. A jilted girlfriend burst in on him one morning at his Malibu beach house and shot him to death. 

There may be a lesson in that for another Charlie. Are you listening, Mr. Sheen?

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Lee Zimmerman

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