by Kate Rix, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2012/11/bowie_calls_jagger_conservative_in_music_execs_collection_of_intimate_interviews_.html
Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Read more of her work at katerixwriter.com and thenifty.blogspot.com.
Back in the mid-to-late 1980s, some of the figures we consider Rock
and Roll icons were near or at the nadir of their popularity.
Duran, The Police and Michael Jackson at the top of the charts, artists
like George Harrison, Bob Dylan and even David Bowie had put out their
last great records and were waiting for the nostalgia wheel to turn.
Enter Joe Smith, recording industry executive and former disc jockey.
Over two years in the late 80s, while president of Capitol Records/EMI,
Smith recorded nearly 240 hours of interviews with a catalog of major
musical artists from Mick Jagger, Bowie and Paul McCartney to Yoko Ono, George Harrison and Linda Ronstadt.
Smith used excerpts of the interviews for the book Off the Record, published in 1988. Now retired, he has donated the archive of unedited audio interviews to the Library of Congress. The Joe Smith Collection will
feature talks with more than 200 artists.
As an industry insider Smith
had extraordinary access. It’s not that these artists aren’t already
heavily interviewed and documented. It’s the intimate tone of the
conversations that pleases and surprises.
In a leisurely conversation with Smith, David Bowie talks about taking classes from Peter Frampton’s father in art school. Yoko Ono,
interviewed in late 1987, comes across as still living in the shadow of
her late husband.
By now, Ono has a bigger reputation as an artist in
her own right. Linda Ronstadt,
who Smith signed to a recording contract, reflects on her years
performing at L.A.’s Troubadour nightclub during the rise of country
By now each of these superstars has written his or her memoir and the
golden era of major labels has been dissected by musical diggers. So
listening to these interviews from the 1980s takes on a nostalgic feel
of its own.
Smith’s questions sound naive now. Isn’t it amazing, he
remarks to the legendary producer George Martin,
that the Beatles were so heavily influenced by African-American blues?!
It’s sweet to hear legendary artists and an industry insider stumble
upon observations like that one, which have now been so thoroughly
Smith transitioned from broadcast radio to record promotions,
eventually rising to executive ranks as president of Warner Brothers,
Elektra/Asylum and Capitol Records/EMI.
He signed the Grateful Dead,
Jimi Hendrix and Van Morrison, so it’s no surprise that Mickey Hart is interviewed, sharing an intimate story about his father.
So far, audio for only 25 interviews is available on the library’s
site. More interviews will be uploaded over time, including one with
Smith himself in which he talks dirt about his relationship with former
business partner Frank Sinatra.