He got the beat

Next month at the Tip, Duncan/Channon’s fantabulous, soon-to-be-semi-famous penthouse lounge, we’re going to kick off a monthly speaker series. Not boring, corporate speakers or academic pontificators. Not self-promoters or product hucksters. And definitely not anyone in the advertising business. The idea, as the mission statement has it, is to get “people who matter in the world today,” folks with big ideas and deep resumes and, preferably, a well-developed sense of humor. The series is titled “Toast of the Tip,” but, more importantly, it’s subtitled: “Private conversations with people we think are cool.”

And, holy shit, did we score.

Our first guest speaker is a guy by the name of Richard Gottehrer. If you’re in the music biz, you know his name (and if you don’t, you’re not really in the music biz and/or — all due respect — get the fuck out). If you’re a true fan, you know his name because you pay attention to album credits (and if you don’t, sorry, you’re not really a true fan). And if you’re just a garden variety music-appreciating civilian, well, brace yourself. Dude’s the mack. And you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t know him before. Anyway, here’s the brief bio we put together for the invitation:

He’s a man of the future with the most incredible past. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any one who spans more ages and phases of popular music, popular culture and popular technology than Richard Gottehrer. He is a legend who has never become an oldies act, a visionary who has remained a visionary for close to half a century, a fun guy who, in a business characterized by biblical-scale betrayals, has never lost his sense of humor. He also happens to be a composer, performer, producer, entrepreneur and sage.

In 1963, fresh out of Adelphi College (my big brother’s alma mater in Long Island City) and en route to law school, a part-time songwriter working at the storied Brill Building (also the workplace, just for context, of Lieber-Stoller, Goffin-King and Pomus-Shuman), Gottehrer and a couple of buddies composed a cheeky, indelibly catchy song called “My Boyfriend’s Back.” It was performed by a girl group called the Angels and went straight to Number One.

Just two years later, when the Beatles and British Invasion swept aside the Brill Building, the girl groups and the entire music business as it was then constituted, Gottehrer and his two friends transformed themselves — a decade before Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone — into the fictional siblings, Miles, Giles and Niles Strange, who comprised a British Invasion-style band called the Strangeloves that hailed from the fictional town of Armstrong, Australia. Richard and his “brothers” wrote, performed and produced a cheeky, indelibly catchy little number called “I Want Candy,” which went straight to Number 11. At the same time, another indelibly catchy Strangeloves’ song was generously handed off to a young band that the guys had met on tour in Ohio. That band was the McCoys. That song, produced by Gottehrer and Co, also went to Number One. It was called “Hang on Sloopy.”

In 1970, with his friend Seymour Stein, Gottehrer founded a company called Sire Productions that would turn into Sire Records, which would turn into the vinyl home of punk, recording the debuts of such bands as the Ramones, Talking Heads and the Pretenders, before turning into the home of Madonna, Ice-T and the Cure in the 1980s. By which time, a restless Richard had long since moved on.

In fact, he had moved back into the frontlines of music, producing in 1977 both the classic first album by Blondie and the classic first album by Richard Hell, as well as in 1981 the debut of the Go Go’s, not to mention the mid-’80s US breakthrough (Me Myself I) of Joan Armatrading. More recently, he produced the debut of the critically acclaimed Raveonettes and the comeback of Dion.

In the ’90s, Gottehrer founded the Orchard, a distribution company dedicated to the independent record labels that had been inspired by Sire — and by Richard Gottehrer –and that were slowly displacing the major record labels. In the 2000s, Richard re-invented the Orchard as a company dedicated to the distribution of indie music digitally, thereby sealing the majors’ fates.

His songs have been covered by David Bowie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bow Wow Wow, Aaron Carter and Spice Girl Melanie C. His story is nothing less than the story of rock ’n’ roll, complete and unabridged.

(And I, for one, can’t wait to meet him.)

Update: The event took place June 20th and was nothing less than boffo.