The Tim Buckley Archives

Interviews

Jac Holzman - Founder of Elektra Records

Room 109 Interview - December 1999

Jac Holzman was the founder, chief executive officer and creative head of both Elektra Records (1950) and Nonesuch Records (1964). In 1970, Jac sold all of his music interests to Warner Communications Inc. and continued his association with the labels he created for three additional years.

I contacted Jac Holzman in September about an interview for our forum. He replied that he would be happy to participate in December when he returns from vacation. I wrote a long list of questions thinking that we would do the interview via email, but Jac preferred to do it by telephone. He granted me thirty minutes of his time and I must admit that I was nervous about the format and all the things that could go wrong.

It turned out okay, but there just wasn't enough time to ask everything that I wanted or to even follow-up his answers as much as I would have liked to. What follows is the transcript of our conversation.

While a part of the WCI music group, JHolzman helped to establish both the WEA Distributing Group and WEA International. Among the artists he has produced or discovered are: Judy Collins, The Doors, Love, Carly Simon, Harry Chapin, Queen, Fred Neil, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, and Tim Buckley.

In 1973, Jac became Senior Vice-President of WCI and the company's Chief Technologist. He co- wrote Warner's business plan for early year entry into home video and into the first interactive cable system( Qube). In 1976 Jac did the technical evaluation for WCI's acquisition of Atari and was a member of the Atari board until 1982, concentrating on product planning.

From 1972 to 1982 Jac was also a director of Pioneer Electronics, Japan and as Senior Consultant to Pioneer, contributed to Pioneer's early adoption and successful implementation of both Compact Disc (CD) and LaserDisc technology. He led the team that help to launch CD for the Warner Music Group

In June of 1982, Jac assumed the Chairmanship of Panavision, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Warner Communications, then in both financial and structural decline. In two and a half years, Panavision was turned around so that it was no longer a borrower of money but became, instead, a substantial cash generator. Panavision's value more than doubled, and in the spring of 1985 the company was sold for in excess of $70 million.

While at Panavision, Jac introduced an advanced system of 16mm cinematography designed so that the progressive features of this system could migrate, without market disruption, into the camera that eventually became the Platinum Panaflex. Under his stewardship, Panavision began a totally new program of optical design resulting in the acclaimed Primo series lenses and inaugurated a comprehensive management information system to track the whereabouts of rental equipment throughout the world and to determine the ROI on each rental item in Panavision's considerable universe.

In 1986, Jac formed FirstMedia, a closely held investment firm specializing in communications. FirstMedia led the acquisition of Cinema Products, the largest non-camera maker of precision equipment for the motion picture industry which includes the Oscar winning Steadicam® family of camera stabilizing products, the Vidiflex high resolution and super sensitive video viewing system for film cameras and a new Telescanner for the transfer of film to digital video formats.

In June of 1991, Robert Morgado, then Chairman of the Warner Music Group, retained Jac as the group's Chief Technologist to help sort and define a broad spectrum of issues relating to Warner's expanding music interests. His current work centers around DVD Audio and multichannel sound.

In October of 1991, through FirstMedia, Jac acquired the Discovery, Trend and Musicraft jazz labels from the estate of Albert Marx which he refashioned into a fully contemporary label. In 1993 Discovery was acquired by the Warner Music Group and operates as a 100% Time-Warner subsidiary.

Jac has done pioneering work in setting both operating and business standards for the LaserDisc optical video disc and the Compact Disc (CD). He is a member of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers, a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where he has served four terms on the steering committee for Scientific and Technical Awards.

Jac is an alumnus of St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland class of 1952

Thanks for taking the time to participate in our forum. I have an enormous amount of respect for you and what you've contributed to the recording industry. I've read "Follow The Music" and I consider it to be the best book ever written about American folk and contemporary music in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive and it looks like you have the makings of a best seller on your hands.

Well, thank you. They're planning to print a paperback edition of the book this fall to coincide with Elektra's fiftieth anniversary. I hope they don't forget.

In the previous conversation we had, you mentioned to me that you feel David Anderle is the person that I should be interviewing about Tim and Elektra. Why is that?

David spent a lot of time with Tim. He was the eyes and ears of Elektra when it came to our west coast artists. He and Tim became good friends. As you know, he talks about Tim in the book and there may even be more in David's transcripts, but right now they're buried out in Sante Fe. He has a good memory for things so you should write to him and see if he'd be interested in an interview.

Another person you may want to contact is Danny Fields. I'll give you his number. He's been on the New York scene for years and you know Tim worked with the late Nico for a while. Danny had something to do with that. You might also want to talk to Jackson Browne. He knew Tim pretty well. I think he was influenced by Tim.

Tell me Jac, how did you come to meet and sign Tim?

I didn't meet him. An audition record came from Herb Cohen. He and Tim were sort of dancing around each other as a manager/artist relationship, and the disc was made I think at Sunset Sound. I may have the original disc someplace but it's probably in my hangar. I'd have to go through a hundred cartons to find it.

Well anyway, a twelve-inch acetate came to me from Herbie Cohen. I put it on one day and I was totally captivated. Just Tim and his guitar doing four or five tunes and I was thoroughly smitten. I called Herb Cohen and he said "wait until you see this guy, he's gorgeous". I said that I'd be out on the west coast in a week or so. I sat down with Tim and Herbie and I decided that I wanted to sign Tim. It was real simple.

When you and the late Paul Rothchild finished producing Tim's first album, were you happy with it or did you feel that it was just a nice beginning?

Well, I feel that in most cases all first albums are nice beginnings with some exceptions. The Doors' first album and Carly Simon's first album were fully found, and Butterfield's was damn close. I thought that this was a beginning album and I planned for much greater reach on the second album and of course, that's what we got.

So therefore, you were able to foresee that Tim was capable of achieving the degree of excellence that he attained with "Goodbye And Hello".

Yes. I never sign an artist unless I'm ready to do three albums with them and generally that's my rule of thumb. It usually takes that long for the artist to begin to learn the studio, and figure out what they can do. One of the big results, and I think it was true in Tim's case, is that when an artist hears their first record they sometimes cringe and that's good, because then it means that the next one is going to be a lot better. I think that was the case with Tim. It was an affectable album, but it didn't have magic. The second album had magic.

Around the time of Tim Buckley's arrival, Elektra was mostly regarded as a folk artist label. Did you see Tim as a blossoming folkie or could you sense that you had found someone unique?

The distinctions were getting blurred. First of all, folk music had changed dramatically from traditional material to singer/songwriters and Tim was clearly a singer/songwriter who happened to play guitar. I didn't know what the labels meant anymore, and by the time I got to Tim I already had an electric band with Butterfield. I was looking to sign more artists like that. I wanted artists who could take their careers someplace and Elektra along with it. Tim struck me as being one of those kinds of artists.

Did you anticipate that Tim was going to change directions as often as he did?

No. I didn't even think about that as long as every new album was a step beyond where he had been. That was okay with me.

When "Goodbye And Hello" was released on the heels of "Blonde On Blonde", my friends and I thought that Tim might be the new Dylan or the heir to the thrown so to speak. Was their any competition in that respect?

No, I didn't find it. I didn't think that he felt that at all. He would have found that concept abhorrent. Being the new Dylan. There will never be a new Dylan. Beck is not a new Dylan, although he's an extraordinarily interesting artist.

Did you have many conversations with Tim? Did he reveal much of his personal life to you or was it mostly business?

I had a personal relationship with all our artists. Tim hung around with the Mothers of Invention which is probably why he came so quickly to Herbie Cohen's attention. It wasn't mostly business because there's no business to do.

The deal was made, everything was involved with making the records. Tim came to me with the idea of Goodbye And Hello and the thought of using Jerry Yester as the producer and I had known Jerry for a long time because he had been involved with Judy Henske, so that was fine with me.

So, Jerry Yester was Tim's idea?

As far as I recall, yes.

 


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