by Alex Cosper
Alex: Ladies and gentlemen, with me today is music industry leader Bob Catania, who has held executive positions at Island Records, Geffen Records, Elektra Entertainment, Giant Records and RCA Records. Bob is currently President of Right Way Music Group and works with Rick Dees Entertainment. Today we'll talk about Bob's career in the music industry that spans many years leading up to the present. Thanks for joining me, Bob. Nice picture of you and your wife Karen.
Bob: Thanks Alex ... always smart to have a picture of my beautiful wife to bring in a crowd.
Alex: Nice seeing both of you at the recent music biz reunion ... Let's start by how you got into the music biz.
Bob: Lucky break ... my college roommate introduced me to a high school friend who worked at a record distributor ... and he got me a job there ... in the mail room. I always say that David Geffen and I have that in common !!! It was Universal Record Distributors in Philly and I learned a ton about how the industry worked by being the gopher for all the promo guys there. I was in college radio and thought that would be my career but discovered the world of promotion instead.
Alex: From Philly you made your way to LA and eventually worked at Island Records starting in 1984 .. First tell me what it was like to work with Island founder Chris Blackwell, who brought so many big names to the label like U2, Robert Palmer, Melissa Etheridge and many others.
Bob: There were quite a few stops in between ... NY for a long time where I worked at Island. Working for Chris is still something I still can't believe that I got to do. I had this little book called The Island Book of Records with all the amazing artists he signed. I always had this dream that if I could ever work for him ... but I was just a music junkie from Jersey!! When it happened, it was a miracle. He is without a doubt one of the greatest ever and to work day to day with him was such an honor. Let me say, he was very hands on ... and when he believed ... there was nothing like it. U2, Melissa and all the artists were blessed that he just never let go of his passion for an artist ... no matter how long it took. The payoffs were huge.
Alex: So what were some key highlights at Island during the 80s?
Bob: So many ... I had two eras there ... the Charlie Prevost/Phil Q (Quartararo) era where we broke Robert Palmer; Frankie Goes To Hollywood; and started the process of U2 becoming massive with The Unforgettable Fire & Wide Awake In America EP ... the live version of "Bad" from that EP is what really broke them huge at Rock radio. The 2nd era ... With Lou Maglia as president was insanity. First of all, I did the smartest thing I have ever done in the business ... hired Andy Allen as my partner in promotion (he went on to build ADA into a powerhouse) and with a great staff we went on a tear with U2 ... The Josuiha Tree & Rattle & Hum, Melissa, Anthrax, The Pogues, Peter Himmelman, The Waterboys and Tom Waits. We had massive top 40 hits through our indie label set-up with Tone Loc, Young MC, MARRS, Noel, Marcia Griffiths. We were a small indie with major label success. Heady times for sure. i'm sure I'm missing something there.
Alex: Bob, please explain how you helped promote 2 key rap artists of the late 80s, Tone Loc and Young MC, both on the imprint called Delicious Vinyl Records. Tone Loc's hits "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Media" as well as Young MC's hit "Bust a Move" were huge.
Bob: Lou ... may he RIP ... the greatest boss ever made that deal. There were really no big expectations there and we just had fun with those songs and they ended up as massive hits. I have to say that those were visionary singles in their production and they connected in a big way ... Visionary PD.s like Kevin Weatherly; Keith Nafatly; Hosh Gureli; and Guy Zapoleon made those happen. The Bust A Move video cost $400 ... and the day we mailed hundreds of bottles of Funky Cold Medina stand out. Wild Thing was insanely big hit. Marvin ... Young MC ... was 21 when he wrote those songs I believe.
Alex: Now let's move on to the 90s when you helped Maxi Priest go to #1.
Bob: Ah Maxi ... it was "Close To You" that we had a #1 with at Charisma. Took months of effort but we did it. The women LOVED him. That put us on the map at Charisma ... home of my favorite band Jellyfish!!
Alex: I was proud to play the Jellyfish cover of the Badfinger hit "No Matter What" on KWOD ... Let's talk about your time at Geffen, which was much of the 90s ... How closely did you work with David Geffen and what were some highlights of that era?
Bob: David was already gone to Dreamworks when I got there ... Karen was actually there in that era. Mine was the Eddie Rosenblatt era and it was an amazing run there as well. Geffen is how I got to LA ... as SVP of promotion. We had these incredible records and artists that were era defining: Beck, Counting Crows, Garbage, Nirvana, Weezer, Aerosmith, Lisa Loeb and on & on. The marketing meetings took hours to cover all the hits. Then we also promoted all the Dreamworks music before they staffed up, Outpost Records and Almo Sounds. Much of my time was spent as air traffic control with all the music and imprints.
Alex: Bob, after Geffen you were at Giant Records at the turn of the century around the time the music biz went through massive changes. Tell us about that period.
Bob: I had a short run there ... sadly we got hot ... and that allowed Irving (Azoff) to sell the company!!! Good for him ... that's what a genius does. We spent over a year breaking Disturbed into a multi-platinum act; had the Steely Dan comeback album; and my favorite was the late and oh so great Owsley. Things were changing at that time and the whole digital world was coming into play. I know Irving saw it ... as he is always one step ahead ... not so sure us mere mortals did. The trades announced our closing before we actually closed ... it was an odd & quiet week before we packed our bags for good.
Alex: In the 21st century you've been working independently, running your own company, Right Way Music. Explain what you do and how it involves promoting Rick Dees.
Bob: I started Right Way after I realized I had run out of labels to work at!!! Jimmy Fay and I had been doing some indie work at a small label services company and decided it was time to go on our own. I came up with Right Way Music Group (plug) because as I talked to potential clients all I heard was: "Nobody does it the right way!!" Thus a name and mission statement were born. It was a huge adjustment to be a company guy for over 30 years with all that comes with it ... and then suddenly it's just YOU. I'm seven years in now and having fun. Rick Dees is a huge part of my day to day as I serve as his VP of Affiliate Relations. I love the synergy with Rick as it's all about promoting great content ... in this case it's programs versus songs. Dave Sholin, a legend in the biz calls me the QB and I love that. I QB many projects in many areas ... all music related and it keeps me on my toes and is very satisfying. I also manage Kosh, who is a legend among legends. Alex, the best part is I do my best to help people and I only have to do it for people I want to do it for. At my age that is worth all the work that goes with being on your own.
Alex: You mentioned Kosh, who actually designed some amazing LP covers like the Beatles' Abbey Road and the Eagles' Hotel California ... Tell me how you met him and what you're doing for him.
Bob: We met on a project I was promoting and he was hired to do the packaging. At a photo shoot one day it suddenly hit ... Kosh ... your name is on so many albums I own. I started out just helping to coordinate his legacy and the Kosh page is something I am very proud of. That grew into management and we have found many opportunities for him as he is still quite active. He works with his partner Susan and they are family to me. He has created some amazing artwork that is inspired by his iconic work and we have a major deal in place that will be revealed soon that will allow that work to be available to the world. Kosh is like Chris Blackwell to me ... can't believe I get to work with him.
Alex: Above is a picture of you at Dees Entertainment. What is your association with Christina Perri?
Bob: She is one of the many artists who come by to be interviewed by Rick ... the best interviewer I have ever heard. I work with the labels to have artists come by. Ten million impressions doesn't suck.
Alex: That sounds like the funnest gig on earth. So do you regularly hang out with artists who happen to be on the charts?
Bob: I get to spend a few minutes with them which is great ... but the first priority is always the station needs. I just enjoy letting them know that Rick is one of the greats and that being interviewed by him will always be a highlight.
Alex: How do you choose your promotional projects at Right Way Music? Can an indie artist or manager approach you or do you seek out your own projects?
Bob: It's a bit of both ... bottom line is that I have to feel I can help and the quality has to be there to maintain credibility ... which is all you really have. At the moment I have four great records charting at AC ... that quality keeps me relevant. I also want to say that I with a great group of others in my position and building those teams is vital to any success. Without those partners (they know who they are) it's not the Right Way.
Alex: Just to be clear about radio promotion. How essential is it for a song to become a hit? Are there any examples of songs that radio just likes and plays or is promotion mainly what gets their attention in terms of the artists that go from unknown to familiar on the radio?
Bob: Well, it's all about the hit!! For almost 40 years that is my goal for every project. The reality is that nothing drives a record like massive radio play. For many of my clients i let them know radio is key ... but it needs to be part of an overall game plan. There are no short cuts where radio will do "all the work." I always tell my clients I am in the impressions business ... I will look for every opportunity to find you those impressions ... which is why you will hear about What's in Store Music soon.
Alex: How do you define impressions? Can it be anything that connects with music fans, such as social media?
Bob: Yes ... radio, in store play, social media, a targeted newsletter ... ahem ... syndicated radio play on Rick Dees!!! Anything that provides awareness to the listener.
Alex: Well, Bob, this has been a very fun and insightful chat. I want to get into deeper info about your career and artists you work with in future interviews. Any closing thoughts?
Bob: Thanks for this opportunity and thanks for reaching out to the behind the scenes folks in our industry ... it's nice to know we have an opportunity to share some insights!!! I also want to say thanks to Karen Sobel-Catania who puts up with the insanity that can be this job ... having a partner who is from the business and understands is a big help. And to all my many friends from the business ... thanks for being there ... it's like having a really big family.
Alex: Thank you again very much for this interview, Bob.
Bob: Thanks again Alex!!
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