We conclude this interview with John Fruin, embracing WEA, industry observations, Janie Jones, Clive Calder, Martin Mills and others.
What was never publicised (when John was enticed to WEA by Nesuhi Ertegun)was that WEA bought 25% of the business to get me, and George Harris and I both made a lot of money at the time. We flew to New York and George said ‘I’ll negotiate because you won’t sell yourself in terms of money.’ So we went in and met David Horowitz, Nesuhi and their Finance MD.
They said :’We know what you’ve come for and we want to have John, so let’s talk about the sort of deal you want.’ So George said ‘this is what the company is, very profitable, and we don’t want to sell more than 25% and that is dependent on you not having this and that, and this is what we want.’ They asked us to leave the room and thirty seconds later we come back in. ‘OK’. I said to George later – ‘we could have got another half a million pounds.’
So when I went to WEA I still had my own company and they owned part of it. I was chart hyping, the same as every other company in the country. As it happens, on the particular investigation (involving me) we were cleared. There certainly was smoke and fire but it was just all so distorted. I basically got fired because I’d been successful all my working life and I became too arrogant, not competing with the outside world because the company (WEA) was bloody successful in turnover and profit. I made the mistake of falling out with the Vice President of Finance in New York who thought I was an arsehole and was a devious clever bastard. I did everything wrong. I upset *** (my redaction!) by not paying for some unbelievably excessive thing. I fell out with him very badly, so when the chart hyping things occurred he was the one who was really stuffing it in me, regardless of what I’d done for (his artist). I’d also fallen out with Peter Grant over Led Zeppelin, whom I was big mates with from Polydor. At the height of their drug bound period they were so abusive to *****, who was my press officer at the time that I told them what I thought of them and he took extreme offence. That went back to Atlantic in America. I made the ultimate corporate mistake of thinking I was fireproof because the company was so successful and doing so well. We got involved in a big argument and I said ‘if that’s the way you feel, I’ll go.’ ‘Good – off you go.’ Nesuhi had to handle the company himself for six months before Charles Levinson came in for a disastrous period.
You cannot fall out with the American corporation. When I think about it, I was being arrogant. I had a Rolls Royce. The company was incredibly loyal to me – it was very successful. In the July and August before I left we had five number one albums in succession. It’s not really my nature as a person to be like that, so when I went to Zomba I said to Clive Calder ‘I’ll try to run (Zomba) the way you want it to run so that you can go to America, but I’m going to operate with a totally different profile to how I was before…the last ten years of my life, that’s what this is.’ Prior to that I had deliberately projected myself, in the same way that Obie (Maurice Oberstein) did. Artists are attracted to someone who appears to be going out and really going for it.
One of the reasons Clive Calder is so incredibly successful is that he is such an entrepreneur – he’s a totally different person to Richard Branson. Clive is just a brilliant entrepreneur and a larger than life character in his own way. He’s not a corporate person. What the industry is lacking is that there aren’t any charismatic figures any more – maybe the system no longer allows it to happen. I was able to come through from being an apprentice and project myself deliberately the way I did.
What are your observations of the industry today (1999)?
Regardless of the fact that at the top end of the corporation you can earn extraordinary money compared with other industries, if you are a person of ability, entrepreneurial, with some charisma, you can go outside of that corporate (level) within the industry and make a great deal more money. I have great respect for Steve Mason – he is not a charismatic figure with the artistic side, but he recognised he could build something on the fringe of the industry and make it very successful, which Zomba eventually bought for millions and millions of pounds. There are areas now where you can think ‘I’ll build that and sell it.’ which is exactly what I had in mind when I left Polydor in 1975. I think it’s a fact of the times as much as anything else, remembering my first 15 years of the industry at EMI. A&R people got paid a basic salary and there was a certain amount of ‘head looking away’ at them writing ‘B’ sides or whatever, which was the only way they could make (extra) money. There was no question of producer royalties, so a producer probably worked at Abbey Road and was paid much less than the A&R man, as producer cum slightly glorified engineer. That’s all gone.
Norman (Newell) and I literally kissed and made up one Christmas. For two years he wouldn’t speak to me. He was in charge of MGM and I can remember saying ‘this is rubbish; Norman doesn’t know about marketing records.’ I said it at a meeting and he flounced out…’how old are you?’..’28’…’and you think….’ But they (Norman, George Martin, Wally Ridley and Norrie Paramor) were the kingpins. When I went to EMI South Africa for Ken East in 1967 because it was a shambles and Ken East said to Lockwood ‘why don’t we send John Fruin out to see what he thinks.’ So I went there for ten days and came back and told them what I thought, so they said ‘well, why don’t you go out there for three months and do it.’ Which I did. I did everything alright except that I didn’t insist that Bill Richmond, who was the International Area Manager, aged 60, was fired, so within two years of me leaving it was back to where it was before because he undid everything I did. But at that point Derek Hannon had been out there. I had employed him as an A&R man and he came to me one day and said ‘I want to sign this act called The Clive Calder Experience.’ Clive was the 17-year-old bass player and Ralph (Simon) played drums, so that’s how I met Clive. He always tells the story ‘John always tried to persuade my mother to let me leave school without taking my metrich so I could go and work with EMI.’ Totally untrue. By the time Clive was 22 he’d bought a record label, sold it to EMI. I arranged for him to come to London with Richard Jon Smith and when he arrived I’d left Polydor. But we stayed in touch and eventually when he started Jive I was on my own again, and when Derek, Jean and I were on holiday in South Africa, Derek said ‘do you remember Clive Calder? He’s come out to see him mum – I thought we’d meet up.’ Clive said to me ‘I’m starting a record label, Jive, could you do a consultancy for me setting up all the bits I don’t know?’ So no-one in the industry knew but I was part of Jive from the time it started. One day I said to Clive ‘there’s a little promotion company I’d like to buy, run by a guy called Steve Jennings’, and we bought Impulse 14 years ago (1985).
Parts of it (Jive) was deja-vu over the last ten years, but other parts weren’t because the company diversified into so many areas, equipment hire, management. Clive was a guy who came up with the idea of managing a producer – he thought there’s more money in managing producers than artists!
The creativity (in future) is going to be outside of the corporate – it can be bought in. I was guilty of that at WEA when I got to know Martin Mills of Beggar’s Banquet. I offered him a deal whereby he found the artists and we’d build the other bits, and one day he could it himself. He came up with Gary Numan very quickly, because he’s a clever guy, and built on it from there.
Dave Dee was the in house A&R. The Pretenders were our most successful direct signing and originally they were on Warner Brothers. I deliberately set out to have a sun and satellite system. There was WEA in the middle and around it I had Beggars Banquet, Radar (Jake Riviera and Andrew Lauder and Martin Davis) and Hansa, which was Boney M etc. I felt at that stage that trying to have really successful in-house A&R was nearly impossible – this was 20 years ago (1979).
Ken East said there was a period before he became MD that the company expected Rex Oldfield or Geoff Bridge to be MD, and then he came in from left field. And what about the Janie Jones story?
The Janie Jones house of ill repute – the Pye guys used to be there freely. Most of us at EMI were naively innocent. Unquestionably there was a magnificent hush-up job done because ****** got caught there and it got hushed up. Nobody within EMI, including Ken ever knew any of the real circumstances. We managed to hush it up, I don’t know. Certainly ***** got away with it. In the eyes of the EMI board and the risk factor of what might happen, he went. When he went, we were absolutely distraught because the company was doing very well. I knew Ken East and liked and respected him.
Was it (the house of ill repute) to get records played on the radio?
Possibly, but I can’t recollect. By comparison with what the industry had to do ten years later with girls, rent boys, drugs…that was one of areas where I fell out with some of the WEA staff because I’m so anti that; it’s against all my principles. I was always a keep fit bloke and hated the whole drugs scene and it was pretty prevalent in WEA and I just came down on it, refused anybody from getting involved with organising this for anyone who came in from America.
Janie Jones ended up recording for EMI? (I obviously was enjoying this story!!)
On HMV. At the time it was one of the industry scandals because the industry was so naive really, most of them didn’t know what was going on.
Not anything to do with hyping the charts?
Oh no, I don’t think so.
I can remember a famous meeting at EMI that I was at with Sid Gillingham (EMI Press Officer in the early 1960’s),Rex Oldfield would have been there, and others. I was about promotion. This particular record we desperately wanted radio play on, so the discussion was ‘Who’s going to make the supreme sacrifice and take this round to Alan Freeman? I’m not!!’ When I started in 1948/9 if you got it played on Jack Jackson you were away.
At the start, did you think the record business was inferior to publishing and sheet music?
If you were young and on the record side you knew absolutely nothing about publishing and sheet music so you were oblivious to it. It was only the astute Jewish fraternity who ran Tin Pan Alley. Some of them – Norrie Paramor is a good example – were aware how much money there was in publishing. When I left EMI I still knew nothing about publishing. I learn how meaningful it was when I was at Zomba. My general who came into the record business that of them as parasites.
And there the interview ended. As I said at the beginning, I only worked with John for three years at Polydor – The Osmonds years – and he was a fantastic boss who knew how to motivate people…an obvious trait but sadly very rare still in higher management.
Next up is Brian Gibson, best known for his press work at Decca and Pye, who who knows what else we may find about him?
text©David Hughes, 2016. Photographs via Google for illustration only.