Tom Werman is a name that should be familiar to many rock ‘n’ rollers with an affinity for classic rock. As an A&R man at Epic Records during the 1970s he signed more than a few legendary acts such as Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Boston, Molly Hatchet and REO Speedwagon. In the early 1980s he became a full-time producer and his resume includes producing albums for Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Motley Crue, Kix, L.A. Guns, Babylon A.D., Lita Ford, Dokken, Blue Oyster Cult, Poison, Steelheart, Stryper and Twisted Sister. The results were gold & platinum sales with songs and albums that are still fondly remembered by many to this day.
No longer active in the music industry, Tom now resides on the east coast where he runs and operates Stonover Farm Bed & Breakfast with his wife in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Recently, Mr. Werman was kind enough to grant me a bit of his time and answer a few questions…
First off, how are things? I imagine running a bed & breakfast keeps you quite occupied!
For 6 months a year, I work like a dog. For the other 6 months, I have time to read, write, travel and bang my head at the gym trying to lose weight. I’m starting to write a book this month, based on the memoirs I wrote last year for popdose.com. I ski in winter and play golf in summer. I love to do the yard maintenance here (10 acres) – it’s a passion, not a job.
What’s your specialty when cooking breakfast for your guests?
I have a signature omelet (“The Tomelet”) made with sauteed mushrooms and herbed goat cheese. It’s a big hit – actually mentioned in New York Magazine. I also do oven-baked thick-sliced bacon. We have an AGA stove – a great breakfast stove.
Everyone knows that an A&R man searches for new talent. Could you give us a rundown of what a “normal” day was for you back then?
I would listen to tapes – both solicited and unsolicited – and meet with lawyers and managers, who were pitching bands to me. If I heard something promising, I’d fly out to see the band live.I also did most of the edits on album cuts that we chose as single releases. Back then, I actually cut the tape with a blade – some of the edits had up to 10 splices. Nights were usually spent at clubs. Not a bad life for a young guy with a CBS corporate American Express card.
I can’t even imagine what that would have been like! To be running around with bands, charging everything to The Man… Sounds too good to be true. Has the business of doing business changed drastically since those days?
I think the main disadvantage to today’s music industry is the prohibitive budget. There are fewer business meals, and no more limos to meet you at the airport to take you to your hotel, which used to be four-star and is now probably two. No longer can you see an unknown band that blows you away and convince the label to sign them to a 2-LP deal. They need to have a single, a video, a following, a story – basically an entire package to deliver to the label. Artist development is a concept, and no longer a whole department at the label.
During your A&R days, KISS, Rush and Lynyrd Skynyrd were three bands you wanted to sign yet plans were nixed by higher ups. Did you yourself ever pass on trying to sign any bands that would later become notable?
I did go down to Tampa with Charlie Brusco to see The Outlaws play, but I had already signed Molly Hatchet – so while I thought they were a very good band, it wouldn’t have been a good move for me to sign them to Epic. Otherwise, I don’t believe I ever passed on anyone who went on to become very successful. I saw Manhattan Transfer 2 or 3 times in New York and loved them; I didn’t think Epic would be the right label for them, so I wrote a memo to all the Columbia A&R guys to go see them, but they wound up on Atlantic.
Do you know why would Epic Records purchase but not release the Wicked Lester album? I know Neil Bogart eventually bought the rights (presumably to prevent it from ever getting released) but do you know if there were any plans from Epic to release it after KISS became a successful act?
The band literally broke up directly after the album was completed, and Gene & Paul started KISS immediately. We shelved the record, and later Neal bought it for about $65,000, I think. He definitely did this so it would never be released. It was a very “pop” sounding record.
If I’m remembering correctly, you have said that Cheap Trick’s Heaven Tonight is your favorite album that you’ve produced. Looking back, is there any album that would be your least favorite?
While I really like Ted Nugent personally (not necessarily politically) and always enjoyed working with him, I think “Weekend Warriors” was one of my least favorite albums, because it didn’t seem to present anything new or different.
It’s interesting that would you say that Weekend Warriors is one of your least favorites. I recently bought a “triple feature” compilation that Sony released last year featuring Free-For-All, Weekend Warriors and Scream Dream. I haven’t had time to listen to them yet but I’ve always been a fan of Nugent’s music and as you said he seems to have a really fun personality. Was the album purposefully meant to not rock the boat?
No, not at all – it’s just that Ted toured so extensively that he had little time off to write, so the material for that album pretty much covered very familiar ground, both musically and lyrically. To me, it didn’t represent artistic growth.
Any artists (from any genres) that you would have loved to have produced but never got the chance to? Any that you would have loved to have worked more with?
I would love to have produced the Eagles and The Who. While it may sound strange, I’m confident I could have done a good job on either one, or both. I was disappointed to have been replaced by George Martin as Cheap Trick’s producer. I thought that after “Dream Police”, we were in a really good position to make a very important record, and to take the time required to do it instead of running in and out of the studio like we always had, so they could get back on the road. I’d love to work with the Foo Fighters – “In Your Honor” is one of the finest hard rock collections I’ve ever heard.
Do you feel it is necessary to hold some sort of personal connection or passion for a band’s music when producing them? If there was an artist you felt had no redeeming qualities and the label wanted you producing their album, could you have told yourself “I have a job to do” and go along with it?
I produced Krokus because the label asked me to, and the band had a solid sales base and reputation. I liked the band and the individuals, but I wasn’t a huge fan of theirs. It was a good offer, the money and the timing were good, and I got to rehearse in Switzerland.
Having worked in the music business for so long, you must have many wonderful stories to tell. You’ve done this to an extent on Popdose.com but have you ever considered writing an autobiography?
As I said, I’m starting a book now – but it’s not just an autobiography. It will concentrate not so much on chronological events as on observations of the times and how people behaved then – it’s really more an inside picture of the recording industry in its heyday.
I can’t wait to check this out. Is there a publishing deal in place for this and/or a release date or would that too far off to even talk about?
No publisher – I need to do a lot of writing before I even think about publishing. I have several suggestions from people who have given me names of publishers who have dealt with the music business in the past. If necessary, I’ll self-publish.
There are a few artists that have bashed you after the fact that you helped produce some of their most successful albums. Thinking back to more easy-going times, who were some of your favorite artists to work with? Was there anyone especially difficult?
Now you’ve done it – the can of worms. Actually, the successful artists I’ve worked with can be separated into 2 distinct groups – the ones who revised history and turned on me, and the ones who have always had nice things to say.
In the former category, Nikki Sixx and Dee Snider are my two most enthusiastic detractors. Not a contrary word was spoken when we worked together, but later on there weren’t enough words in the English language for them to express their disdain and dissatisfaction for the work that I did on their 4 multi-platinum albums. Rick Nielsen has done his share of bad-mouthing, as well. He seems to remember a very different series of events from the one I recall. Others like Ted Nugent and the guys in Poison have been very complimentary.
If a label came to you tomorrow and said “Tom, you’re the guy. We need you to produce just one more time”, what would your answer be?
Naturally, it would depend on the music. If I loved it, it would be hard to say no. But at this point, there’s no question that I’d have to love it in order to work with it.
Do you keep up with new music these days? If so, who do you listen to?
The honest answer is a definite no. People have told me to get into Kings of Leon, and I’m sure there are some excellent acts out there – but the need for emotional involvement in rock music at my age is so minimal, compared to what it was 30 years ago. Again, the Foo Fighters are superb, and I’d work with them in a heartbeat. But I am a happily retired guy, and I get my jollies running on the gym treadmill with my ipod.
What bands/songs do you keep on your iPod for the gym? I always need something that will fire me up. “Take on the world” type of songs to help motivate me.
My work-out playlist includes The Prodigy, Foo Fighters, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, Ministry, Enigma, Pink Floyd, The Stones, Supertramp, Don Henley, Bruce Hornsby and so on – I change it around from time to time, but it’s mainly what you’d call “classic rock”.
Finally, what’s a more challenging: A&R, producing or running a bed & breakfast?
Considering that the most important decision I have to make these days is something like “Should I buy more bacon today or wait til tomorrow?” or perhaps “Should I do the lawn behind the barn now or cut the field across the street?”. I have to say that record producing or working for a label is far more challenging and far more stressful. I spend about 2 days a year in LA , and don’t miss it. I have an incredibly pleasant and low-stress life up here in the Berkshires.
Thanks again to Tom for answering these questions!