Straight on where we left off. But a warning – this episode contains a very long, but very entertaining, story about Charley Pride!
What happened to Ember Records? Did it become second fiddle to the show promotion?
In the early 1970’s what happened was….I like to create things and I love talent. I was only happy when I was working with talent in a theatre or a club. All I wanted to do was to be near talent. The publishing was running well under Hal Shaper. I used my contacts to bring it in. Professionally Hal did a marvellous job for me – on the personal side, another story..not for today! I had stopped the agency. The club ran until 1975 but I didn’t like the psychedelic approach. We started to have Iron Maiden and these groups. I was ashamed. I wouldn’t go in the club. After my father died in 1964 I was very disenchanted. For a year and a half I did practically nothing; I couldn’t believe he was gone and everywhere I went I saw him, so I couldn’t face the club. I still had a good management team there. Tony Harris was there and if £100 was made, I’d get my £80 or £75, whatever the percentages were – they never cheated me. I’m not saying Rik Gunnell didn’t put his hand in the till, but he put whisky into the club. I didn’t know about that until one night I caught him and fired him. But, as he said to me “this is the way it has to be with allnighters.” I only fired him when I got off the plane, read the Evening Standard one night, and there’s an article saying he owns and runs the club. I went straight down there and fired him. He never worked for me again.
He became Georgie Fame’s manager – we were supposed to do it together but I couldn’t be bothered – I had the club, publishing, records. I didn’t mind what my people were doing as long as they told me. Rik told me he wanted to manage Georgie Fame and I said ‘if you want to manage him, do it’ Fine, I knew.
I was in Nashville with Glen Campbell and I saw Charley Pride – loved him. I was very friendly with all the country artists. I loved Faron Young, all those guys. I used to hang out with them because they all had breakfast at King of the Road, and that’s where I stayed.
Glen told me “stay there” so I was one of the few allowed to sit at the artists’ table, and I’d have breakfast every morning with Marty Robbins, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner and his young bird Dolly Parton. I get a call in 1971 from Jack Johnson, manager of Charley Pride. ‘Look, everyone’s seen what you’ve done with Glen Campbell. We can’t believe you broke a man like that in Europe and sustained it. Would you consider promoting Charley Pride?” I say ‘well, I saw him in Vegas and was quite impressed. Who’s he with?” “RCA. He sells more records than Presley.” I said “hey Jack, if we’re going to have a relationship, don’t snow me. Bottom line it.” He said ‘here’s the number of the president of RCA. Call him and ask him who below the Mason-Dixon line sells more records.” I made the call – Charley outsold Presley 2 or 3 to 1, and the guy at RCA in New York said ‘his contract’s up for renewal Mr. Kruger. He’s going to ask you to do a tour. We’ll back it in any which way. We must re-sign him. He is as important to us as Presley. Anything you want.” I called the Solomons (Phil) for something. Renee and I were going over to Ireland and we had dinner with Maurice, the old man and Mervyn (Conn) and his first wife were there. I said ‘I’m thinking of bringing over some country stuff.” “Great, we’ll sell 30-40,000 albums on each one.” ‘They’re not my artists.” “Well, maybe you can pick up some rights on your Starday deal. Put them out, hold the material. Who’s the first one?” “I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, Charley Pride.” “We can’t get his records in Ireland – I will sell 50,000 albums of Charley Pride within a week if you’re bringing him over.” I said “well, I’m not bringing him here (Ireland) – you guys are at war. I don’t know what I’m doing here!”
Mervyn Conn and Phil Solomons
I called Jack Johnson.”If you’re serious, I’ve now researched it. RCA have put out two Charley Pride albums and have no plans to put out any more. You’ve got 18 albums out there (USA), you want to re-sign. Someone has to put the pressure on somebody here. The only one who has any faith is the RCA plugger Tommy Loftus.” So I sat with Tommy before the RCA meeting and he said “They’re not interested. They’re only interested in Presley and their rock stars. This new American who’s come over in charge – the English hate him and he hates the English people he’s got here. He can’t bring the Americans in and we’ve got no management. We’re torn asunder.” Up I go with Jack. He (no idea who ‘he’ was) keeps us waiting for 25 minutes. I send a note in “You have five minutes and then I’m walking. If I walk, the next act to walk will be Charley Pride and if you don’t think he’s important, please call this number, your president.” And I said to Jack “let’s have a walk round the block.” In that five minutes he must have called New York and he must have been told how important Charley was. As we got back in the building, they were waiting for us downstairs in Curzon Street and now we’re being treated a little more deferentially. “Well, we don’t know what we can do”. Jack said “Look, all I want you to do is, whatever Mr Kruger wants in the way of posters, publicity, promotion, give it to him. We all know it’s going to be charged back to Charley. When he comes in I want all the press I can get. He’ll do every interview, no matter how small, and I want television. I don’t care if he standing on his head!” I told them what I wanted – posters for each venue, adverts for the forthcoming releases and the tour dates on every advert. I wanted trade paper ads, also Disc, Record Mirror, NME and they agreed all of this and agreed to put out some albums. And Jack said “that’s not good enough – all 16 albums are to be released en masse by the time we come over. They must be in the catalogue.” And on that basis he went back and re-signed with RCA. The English people promptly forgot about him. I went up there, sat with them, ordered the posters and got permission from Presley to say “I love Charley Pride – you must see him.” – that was our poster. They would print it and overstick the theatre dates. I thought “great, it’s not costing me anything; these ads would go in, they’d buy radio ads, it was all laid out, ticketed and signed. Loftus was the liaison.
Every year we’d go down to Cannes for the summer for the whole of July and part of August. I get back at the end of August for the tour starting in the middle of October. Nothing. I walk in my office ‘”where’s the Charley Pride psoters?” Nothing. Called Tommy Loftus. He said “everything’s manana. They’ve got some of their rock acts over – this is going to fall on its face.” I said “no it’s not, tickets go on sale next week.” I call Jack – Charlie was with him- they put me on the squawker. Charley said “I’ll call you back in 15 mionutes – don’t budge.” The called RCA’s boss. I don’t know what went on but you never saw a team pull its finger out like the London people did. But again, not with grace. “That effing Kruger.” I was treated like a pariah, but I got what I wanted and Charley’s tour was a sellout. The Solomons sold 150,000 albums in Ireland within ten days of him appearing in Belfast. Charley became a massive seller here as you know. I did three tours with him until I upset him in Dublin through his own stubbornness. We always had to arrange with the Provos and the IRA that if we brought an act over – Glen Campbell, Bill Anderson, Faron Young, Don Williams and Charley – they were the five, that they got tickets and then there’d be no trouble. Special branch used to take me to meet them. The mayor of Belfast opened this up for me and met the heads of…you know, the villains, and I said “Are you sure?” “Yes, we need it here – it’ll be good PR, there’ll be no problems.” I said “well, I’m going to see the Provos next” “That’s OK, we know what you’re doing. Don’t worry about the tickets – we’ll all sit together.” I said “what! – you’re killing each other Monday to Friday.” “That’s business, this now is something else? And I swear to you we never had any trouble. We go to Dublin and the routine was ‘you call the army post and tell them the coach is leaving and it’ll come through the checkpoint at such and such a time and they will escort it to the hotel’ On this occasion I said “I’m following with Charley Pride, Mrs Pride, coming in this Jaguar and we’re leaving at 12 and will be through the border at a quarter to one.” Charley, who could be very stubborn, comes out at twenty past eleven and says “I’m going shopping”. I said “Oh not you’re not” Well, when I said no, he said yes. Charley goes shopping and comes back about twenty past twelve. Now we’re late for the checkpoint. Unbeknownst to me at one-o-clock the morning army shift ended and the afternoon shift took over. They were given a clipboard that said to be on the lookout for a limo with five passengers and help it through to the hotel. The officer in charge knew, but we were late – I didn’t phone. I’m yelling at Charley. “Don’t worry”, he says “I’ve bought gifts for everybody.” We get to the border and there’s suddenly Bren guns pointing at everybody, soldiers lying on the floor with guns pointing at us. “Get out of the car with your hands us.” Charley’s saying “what’s going on?”. I said “I don’t know, we’re late but it’s all organised.” I get out but they say “Everybody”. I said “wait a minute. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ve got Charley Pride in here.” He was a huge name by that time – he was on this third tour – and I said to the officer, “I think there’s been a mistake.” By this time Charley’s got out and is signing autographs, but he’s going “I’ll never forgive you for this.” I said “it’s your bloody fault for going shopping.” and his wife is saying “shut up both of you”. And Frank Mancini of course can only see his artist is upset and he’s going “you should have made us leave.” I said “you’re a fat lot of good, poncing over here, getting a free trip. You’ve never been outside New York. Don’t you ever interfere; you’re lucky I even let you in the car.” After ten or fifteen minutes…”We’re sorry Mr Kruger, we’re sending an escort” and of course we’re taken to the hotel, a sell out concert that night. Afterwards at dinner, Charley said to me “I nearly went white. I’ll never forgive you. I’m not working for you anymore. I said “you’re blaming me for your ignorance. Sod you, go and work for who you like – I’ve got more important artists. ” “Who’s more important?” “Well, I’m bringing Glen over and Don Williams gets the treatmnent next. If there was another black country artist, I’d sign him just to do you!” At that point I learnt he was leaving Jack Johnson, so I lost respect for him anyway. He didn’t talk to me again until I bumped into him in Hawaii one New Year’s Eve, and he comes up and cuddles me. “Come to the show tonight.” I said “I’m surprised you want me.” “Oh well, that’s temper.” I said “I see you’re coming over (to Britain) for someone else.” He said ” I said what I said and I’ll stick to it, but we’re still friends and you’ll come to my house for dinner?” “Oh no, we’re going to see Kenny Rogers with Diana Ross. Michael Jackson’s staying with us and Nick Sevano.” “Bring them up here.” “I’m not bring them to your blinking show.” But I went up for ten minutes, waved, left him and we went to see Kenny, and that was the last time I saw Charley until I had a letter from him the other day asking how I was.
Charley Pride…as if you didn’t know!
I was planning to conclude here, but I know your attention span is reaching its limit. But, stay in touch. There is a final lengthy tale concerning Marvin Gaye and Princess Margaret, among others. I need a drink!
Text ©David Hughes 2017. All photos are drawn from Google images and are for illustration only.