Interview with Music Industry Veteran Jerry Jaffe

by Alex Cosper

Conducted May 11, 2015 on Facebook

Ladies and gentlemen, with me today is 30 year music industry veteran Jerry Jaffe, who signed some great recording artists for Mercury Records and other labels .. It's for my music site Playlist Research. Today we'll be talking about his career and how he helped some familiar rock and alternative artists get signed. Thank you for joining me, Jerry.

Alex: First of all, Jerry, it was great meeting you at the recent music biz reunion in LA, where I also saw Bob Catania from Island Records. First let's talk about how you got into the music biz, which was 1976, right?

Jerry: Well sort of convoluted. In 1973 or 1974, I met Nick Lowe in Amsterdam when he was playing with British pub rockers Brinsley Shwartz and we worked up a friendship. I was merely vacationing - and we hung out in London and attended lots of pub shows and I met lots of people and Nick sort of suggested I should try to get into the music business. He introduced me to Andrew Lauder, who was doing A&R at United Artists in England and he became my mentor and 1st industry contact.

So then I began writing letters to the presidents of US record labels with a one page resume that basically said I had a PhD in nuclear chemistry and my references were Andrew Lauder and maybe Nick and manager Andrew Jakeman, who later became Jake Riviera.

Alex: Wow, Nick Lowe! What a legend. Then you became a top A&R exec at Mercury, which was part of Polygram. Tell us about how you found The Waitresses.

Jerry: Well lots of water under the bridge between my last comment and "finding" The Waitresses. But moving on ...I was either head of Rock Promotion or just starting in A&R around 80-81. However, I did some ad hoc A&R while still a promo guy. "I Know What Boys Like" was an underground hit in the NY clubs - I had no idea even what label it was on.

Alex: "No Guilt" was another great song by The Waitresses. Their song "Christmas Wrapping" was probably their biggest hit.

Jerry: One night I was just hanging out at a NY club called TRAX - merely a pedestrian putting one on and lo and behold, The Waitresses were playing. I love 'em. After their set as the band was breaking down by themselves - no roadies - I asked the guitar player, Chris Butler, if they were on a label or what.

He said they were signed to Ze Records, who had a distribution deal with Island BUT (Island Records founder) Chris Blackwell, believe it or not, didn't want to release their album. So I merely swing into action and we (Polydor) did a deal for the band with Michael Zilkha, who owned and ran Ze.

Alex: I played the Waitresses on KWOD In Sacramento in the 90s, so they did have longevity.

Jerry: Well "Christmas Wrapping," I think, we added to the debut album. And the rest was history. And I am happy to say that Chris Butler and I remain friends to this day. Now that would be an interesting interview.

Alex: Jerry, let's talk about how you found Bon Jovi.

Jerry: Well Bon Jovi - a bit controversial. You can fill in the blanks. Their lawyer Arthur Mann gave a copy of their "demo" cassette (around the summer of '83) to Derek Shulman, whom I hired in promotion and came with me to A&R. He was the singer in Gentle Giant, said parenthetically. He loved the tape and played it for me. I liked it too and Derek was going to check out the band at an afternoon radio station club date.

I think it was at The Copacabana, which was doing rock n' roll shows too in those end days. I should add they had a finished song on WAPP, an awful rock station in NYC, which no one listed to. We both loved that track and thought it could be a career launcher.

Derek came back from the gig and told me that they were "OK." Can't say he was overly enthusiastic, but I then arranged a showcase at a rehearsal studio, either SIR or Rocket so "we" could make a final decision. Bear in mind at the time it wasn't so much a group we were considering but a solo artist named Jon Bongiovi.

I loved 'em so much that I brought our legal guy and after 1 song instructed our guy, Ted Green, and their lawyer Mann, to do the deal immediately - it was a very standard deal. There's more but I'll move on. The band thought they sucked that afternoon (3 minutes max presentation), but I saw enough.

Alex: Didn't they want to be called something else but you came up with the band name?

Jerry: Well "they"/Jon wanted a group name and the ones they had in mind were pretty dreadful. In the shower I came up with the spelling and name Bon Jovi, rationalizing it had the cadence of Van Halen and referenced Bon Scott from AC/DC. When I sugested it to Jon and his manager, Doc McGhee, whom I also introduced to Mr. Bongiovi (a little bit more history), Doc said it sounded like French Vanilla ice cream and not a hard rock band. They walked out- 2 days later at the office, I heard that their name was Bon Jovi as if they came up with it over the weekend and gave it to business affairs.

Alex: Just to be clear, you live in New Jersey, right? That's where the band is from.

Jerry: I had moved to New Jersey in 1981, but I always hedged my Jersey bet by maintaining small residences in NY. Although it did enable me to see the band a couple of times rehearsing in Jon's parents' basement in Sayreville, NJ. Anyway, history gets rewritten and I suppose I was written out of those quasi embryonic times. No fame, notoriety or bonus for this Jew.

Alex: And the rest is history. By the way, Jon Bon Jovi was my very first radio interview in 1989 and I thought he was very nice. Now let's talk about the Jesus and Mary Chain, who you worked with. Tell me about that experience, since they were a big influence on modern rock in the 90s.

Jerry: Well, after hanging up my record label spikes, I started working with Chris Morrison, legendary London manager - CMO was his company. And I started the NY/US office. He managed Thin Lizzy, Ultravox, Dead or Alive and a few others. I was also consulting for Mo Ostin chairman of Warners and also had a little office at their NY headquarters in the Time/Warner building - actually shared it for awhile with Madonna's sister ... but I digress.

Alex: Mo is one of the top music biz leaders of all time.

Jerry: One day in the conference room I heard this amazing song and barged in. It was Geoff Travis playing it for the assembled WB NY crew. I asked what it was and was promptly told it was "April Skies" by The Jesus and Mary Chain. Then Geoff said they were looking for management having just sacked Alan McGee, whom I did not know at the time, nor did I know he managed the group.

I immediately called Morrison and we arranged to meet the band in 48 hours as they were playing the SFX Hall in Dublin. I remember watching the gig through a window of the promoter's office. Chris thought they were the worst band he had ever seen - also playing with a drum machine and lots of tape. But I pointed to the packed audience going nuts - and saying to Chris: "what does that matter? The fans LOVE 'em." We met with the band afterwards at their hotel over LOTS of beers and lo and behold, they became clients.

And eventually they were more or less my responsibility when Chris acquired management of Blur, which incidentally, was also of my doing in a roundabout way. Maybe that story in a sequel interview.

Alex: "April Skies" is a great song .. so is "Head On." I think their best recording was "Sometimes Always" with Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval. Weren't you involved with that video?

Jerry: I agree, "April Skies" and "Head On" should have been 2 of the biggest rock songs of the late 80s and 90s. I think the band name limited the crossover potential. As far as "Sometimes Always," yes I was one of the people at the bar where the video opens and where Jim sings to Hope Sandoval. The rest of the video was the group wandering around the desert with director Sophie Muller, who within a year or 2 became a household name directing major videos for No Doubt and others.

Alex: Jerry, tell us about what you've done in the music business since Mercury Records.

Jerry: Well with Chris Morrison we handled Midge Ure (solo), Living In a Box and Dead or Alive, the latter of which I could write a novel, On my own with The Mary Chain. There was the fine British popsters, Saint Etienne, Hard rockers from LA, The Electric Angels, Nancy Boy (which featured Donovan Leitch and Jason Nesmith), Course of Empire - an amazingly unique and under-rated band from Dallas, and of course, Joey McIntyre, a seeming non sequitor in my lifeline, but a real talent and one of the finest people I've ever been associated with. I should just mention too that I ran Creation Records in the USA for Alan McGee, and we're still friends to this day - despite, er another novel I could write.

Alex: Jerry, that's so much amazing stuff we'll have to do another interview in the future. Yes, that could be a novel and a movie.

Jerry: Thanks Alex. Take care.

Alex: Thanks again, Jerry.

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