Gary James' Interview With
David Werner




In 1974 RCA released his debut album, "Whizz Kid". A second album followed, "Imagination Quota" in 1975. Before the decade was up he had another album on another label. The album was titled "David Werner" and the label was Epic. Throughout the years David Werner kept busy with an assortment of musical projects. And so, we talked to David Werner about his musical career.

Q - When I think of David Werner, I think of a comment you once made about Syracuse, New York. I like to think I read it in Circus magazine, but it could have been some other magazine. You said about Syracuse, "There's something happening there." Do you remember saying that?

A - It's possible and I'll tell you why. Mark Doyle worked with me from day one. He was in a band called Jukin' Bone and they were signed to RCA. I think we both shared the same A&R guy. Jukin' Bone may have lost their contract. I don't recall. I knew Mark had become available as sort or a partner in crime. He was highly recommended to me by a man named Bruce Sommerfield who was my A&R guy at RCA. He was my A&R guy. That's how I kind of remember it. Mark was from Syracuse. I wouldn't have known much about Syracuse prior to that. I was a young guy. I was probably just out of school and hadn't really gone there yet. I started to travel to Syracuse as a result of working with Mark and there was some fabulous musicians up there. Believe it or not, I went there not too long ago. I actually worked with Mark Doyle on this. Mark and I got together to produce a record for Mary Fahl. I wanted Mark to be involved with it. I knew he was ideally suited for this project. So, I went to Syracuse. Mark has a studio there. So, I went to Syracuse and man, what a time! I took a little apartment because I knew we would be there awhile. I just got a chance for the first time to really drive around. I went and saw all the little lake areas. Very, very beautiful area to be in in the summertime or in the Fall. So, I'm a big fan of Syracuse. I remember feeling that way from the beginning. So yeah, I probably did say that.

Q - I know that remark had something to do with the musicians and group you'd seen. Unfortunately, Syracuse never became a music capitol like New Orleans or Los Angeles or Nashville.

A - You know, I come from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has always been associated with music in a sense because back in the day we had the DJs. We had a guy named Corky Chudwick, who was kind of our Alan Freed I suspect you would say. Corky was the guy who introduced a lot of great music, even in the very, very young age. So Pittsburgh has had its musical associations, but growing up here, even though we had bands and musicians, you didn't see the kind of presentation that they were making at the time in Syracuse. So, what really turned me on to Syracuse, I remember seeing Jukin' Bone for instance and I think Mark was still playing with them and I went to see one or two of their shows. It was like watching a concert act. I noticed the bands were really trying to do more than just fill a bar. They were actually performing and giving a tremendous amount of effort to their stage and approach and so on. I didn't see that in Pittsburgh as much, so probably that's why I was more turned on, because I could see the professionalism of the bands there.

Q - And Syracuse is not like Los Angeles where you can go down to the beach and watch the girls in bikinis.

A - You got it.

Q - You write and rehearse and you'll be good if you're really serious about it.

A - And they were! Many of the musicians I met there were really serious. Looking back on it they were even better than I realized. I wasn't really steeped in the Blues. I had a musical education. No question about it. I've been aware of music since I was a kid. But, it wasn't that sort of musician's kind of education. Mine was more of an education as a listener and an observer. I was never really a working musician. I was always developing out of songwriting. That sort of thing. A lot of the musicians up there in Syracuse were really steeped in Blues. The musicians were great and still are. I remember when Mark and I did this project for Mary Fahl. She was with one of the labels, V2 I think it was, and we were putting together kind of a 'live' showcase for her and we drafted a lot of musicians from Syracuse to do that. It wasn't easy stuff. It was a really complicated musical show and the musicians were just great. So yeah, they're there. They're still there and Mark is still making good music from that area.

Q - You were signed to RCA when you were 19?

A - No, earlier. As a matter of fact, I couldn't sign a standard contract because I was too young. I'll bet you I was 17.

Q - 17 years old?!

A - Yeah. I bet you I was.

Q - How did RCA hear about you? You were too young to play clubs. The drinking age was probably 18 then. Did you send in a demo?

A - I started playing when I was a teenager. I don't want to be too long winded. My brother was a bass player and he was several years older than me. So, he had already started to get acclimated to bands and other musicians. I didn't. I was just playing guitar in my home and slowing down reel to reel tapes on my dad's reel to reel player in order to figure out what the guitar players were playing. So, I was basically doing it on that level. I started hanging around with my brother. He would reluctantly come and sort of hang out at one of the practices or two and before you know it, even at 13 years old or 12 years old or whatever it was, I would go to practice. They were crude in those days, but they were still trying to put a band together. Those guys may have been four or five years older than me. They were always somewhat taken by the fact that I kind of knew the songs better than they did because I was spending time learning current songs on the radio. Some of the musicians my brother was playing with were just winging it. I would go to a practice and sort of watch. Next thing you know I would say, "That's actually not the way the chord progression goes," and they would let me play. So, I was playing in bars when I was way, way too young. See, we were allowed to play if we were 16. They wouldn't throw you out. In those days they probably weren't nearly as critical as they are now. I remember some of the bars, 16 was okay, but I was way younger than that. I had been playing in bars way, way before that. However, I was playing as a musician, basically a rhythm guitar player in some of my brother's bands. I never was really doing much more than that. Once I got into high school I stopped playing 'live' because I was playing that guitar for four sets a night. I never weighed more than 120 pounds. I was always a tiny guy. I didn't really grow up until I was out of high school. As it turns our, that was a lot to do for $35 or something to play four sets, which I'd do with the bands we had. So I figured quickly it was not my game to stay doing that. I wanted to write songs, so I stopped playing in high school. I just basically spent most of my time trying to get through a crude song or two. At that point I was destined to be more of a songwriter than a musician. What I did after that was crude demo tapes. I went to New York. I think I started hitch-hiking to New York. I had a friend that lived up there and I was able to sort of get lodging for a night or two. I would put $50 in my pocket and I would go to New York with a demo tape and try to find people who would take a listen to it. I got lucky. I came upon a fellow at RCA who liked what I was doing and yeah, they signed me to a record deal.

Q - Here's what's really unique. You got to produce that first album of yours, didn't you?

A - I co-produced it, although I probably would have been a major producer on it because it basically went down the way the band was playing, so I got to co-produce. In those days it was interesting because it was a real interesting business then. There was so much respect for what young people were doing. You had that filter. So if you got to the point where a record company would take interest in you and sign you to a label, that came with a certain degree of acceptance. So, a label wouldn't nickel and dime you about every song. I never auditioned any songs for a record label. I would write my songs in my hometown and I would rehearse them. We'd go to New York and record them. Nobody ever told me what to record or what not to record. They had a lot of respect for you, especially if you were a songwriter because they assumed you knew something that maybe they didn't know.

Q - You probably did.

A - Well, I don't know that I did. I do know that they put a lot of credence in that. It was a young time in music in terms of where it was going at that particular time. Pop music had changed. We all know that in the late '60s, actually in the mid-'60s, it was already starting to. So, as it turned out, by the time we got to that period there was an understanding if you had something to say it was worth allowing you to say that, and I'm not trying to say in any way that I was special in that regard, however they felt I could make a good record and they allowed me to do that, even to the point of co-producing that record. I did that. I don't know if I did it so well, but I definitely gave it everything I had and I came out with at least an interesting record.

Q - How good of a job did RCA do in promoting that first album of your? By the way, Syracuse had a band called The Whizz Kids. I don't know if you knew that, but you know it now.

A - I do know it now. In those particular days the issue was there was so much happening in the music business. It was a renegade business. It probably still is to a degree, but you had a lot of people who were kind of flying by the seat of their pants in the record industry. They had it down, but they didn't have it all down that much. So you could get lost very easily. My record probably didn't get what you'd call consistent promotion. They had a lot of big bands and they knew how to work things at a certain level, but breaking things so that we're getting recognized maybe a little more subtle was always a difficulty. It probably still is for a lot of record companies. As a result, I knew it came out and made a lot of noise on its own because there were people who recognized what I was doing had some value in certain markets and played that record. I know many times if you read reviews from that period the record would be mentioned as a Gold Record. People just assumed by writing about it because their familiarity with it or from whatever city they were writing. They assumed the record was selling to the point where it would have been recognized. And of course it hadn't. Yeah, I guess there was some response, but the record probably didn't get its fair due.

Q - And so in 1975 RCA let you make a second album. How did that album do? Did they end up giving you a bigger push?

A - As I told you earlier on, I could not sign an extended contract. When I signed with RCA it had to be very limited. Normally they'd try to sign you for four or five records. Because of my age I could only sign for two records. I couldn't signed an extended contract. I was too young. As it turns out that second record I made for them, they didn't understand at much at all. I think the A&R staff had changed. I know we had a new head of A&R. That record got almost no recognition from RCA. Once again I got a lot of air play. People responded well to the record in terms of writing about it and playing it on the radio. It didn't have a big, big following, but it didn't do so badly in that regard. However I felt several weeks into the campaign of the record, the record company had probably lost direction on it. That ended my relationship with RCA and I went over to CBS for another record after that.

Q - You were on Epic Records to be exact?

A - Yeah.

Q - Were things better with Epic?

A - When I signed with Epic I have to tell you it was a very different situation for me, and this is why. When I signed with RCA I was just a kid who hitch-hiked to New York with a demo tape and I couldn't have been lower on the radar when I entered RCA. Yes I was offered a record deal, and yes I signed it, but it wasn't as if I was being signed by the President of the company. I got signed as a result of an A&R guy who I still think to this day had really good taste. He was a very cool guy. He brought me to the attention of the Vice-President of A&R. So, this wasn't a deal from the top down. It was kind of a deal from the bottom up. So, when I signed at RCA, even though I was well treated by my A&R man, I was wasn't the priority act. So, I never felt as though it was going to be a top down kind of attention to me, but that was fine with me. I was learning. I didn't know much. I was just thrilled to be in that situation and given that opportunity. When I signed with Epic I had taken a couple of years off and Mark Doyle and I got together. One Summer I'd been writing and writing. We got together and made up a really good demo of what might be a new record for me. Those demos were very, very good. We were excited. I knew I was hitting a different level of writing and performing. We did two stages of demos which resulted in my deal with Epic. Actually, before I signed with Epic those demos that we did garnered me some attention from a lot of people. I was already getting offers from production companies to sign with them, one of which said, "Let's not worry about the deal. Let's just make the record." We went into New York and we started recording. I think I was half way through the record when I made that deal with Epic Records. So, I was farther along obviously. The record was good. The songs were good. I was working with Bob Clearmountain at the Power Station. There were a lot of things in place that would've brought me a little higher recognition before signing. My deal with Epic, they were great! I loved those people there. I got to meet a lot of 'em before I signed. I respected all of them. It was really a good label. They really loved the kind of music I was making. I think everything was great. The problem was not about Epic or their commitment to me. They were very happy to advance us decent money to go on tour. They supported us. The problem with Epic was more of a company wide issue. In 1979 they started to... You had a lot of distributors and they were taking records. The record industry was growing at such a rate that a lot of records were coming out as a result of a record before them. In other words, a band might sign a record deal with a label and sell 200,000 units. The expectation was that every record was going to be bigger than the record before it. So, a lot of record distributors, and this is the way I understand it, were taking albums based on maybe what the last album did despite the fact that maybe the next record wasn't quite as good and wouldn't be as popular. So, record companies were shipping out, let's say 100,000 albums on a band that hadn't even made it to the radio yet based on expectations, and this was happening year after year after year. So, distributors were taking a lot of records that they really couldn't sell and they were saying to the record companies, "Wait a minute. You just shipped us all these records on this new band who maybe did well on their last record, but we're not getting the same support from radio." So, they were getting bogged down with all of these records being shipped to them based on expectation and not necessarily based on performance. And they were starting to get bogged down with all these records. The understanding in those days was that you could always return the records for new product, meaning that the record company said to you, "We're going to ship you 30,000 records." That's a lot of records on the part of the distributor. They'd say, "Don't worry about it. Take 'em. The record is going to be great." The understanding was you could always exchange those records for new product. So, it seemed like a credit. Well, in '79, and it seemed like a month or so before my record was released, record companies decided to rescind the return policy, which means they were at that point in a war with distributors. What that meant was distributors were saying, "We have all of this product you sent us. We'd like to exchange it for new product." The record companies said, "You're not going to be able to do that," because they didn't want to take the loss. Distributors felt somewhat hood-winked I suppose. CBS was the first record company as far as I was told anyway to rescind the return policy. So here I have a record that came out. There was a term for it in the trades when you would be hitting so many ratio stations at the time so you would get a bullet for this or a flash maker, meaning you were the most added record in the country for that week. In those days we were relying on Billboard and Cashbox. So, my record was all over the place and distributors wouldn't take the record. They got into a war with CBS over the fact they had rescinded that return policy. So, here I was getting played all over the country with certainly the most successful record I had at that point. My record company was excited. We were gearing up to go out on the road. The record was everywhere and more radio stations were playing it than any other record in the country for that short period it was released. I don't want to overstate it, but certainly for that period of time it was released we could not get records into record stores because of this issue. All of the distributors were revolting. CBS rescinded and shortly after all the record companies changed their existing policy with distributors. I was stuck in a really bad place where I was getting the support of radio. I was getting quite a bit of good press. Everything was in a high point. Through no fault of my own we weren't seeing sales through because the record would not be stocked as a result of that issue. So, it turned out to be the right record, but at the absolute wrong time for release. As a result, the record was not showing signs of selling, despite promotion, despite radio, because it wasn't being accepted in the record stores for a long, long time. It took a long while for that era to sort of correct itself because of that issue between record companies and distributors. That's a long winded answer, but I have no other way of explaining it. So, what was probably the best and most exciting time of my career turned out to be very disappointing because of that.

Q - Didn't you go on a headlining tour around that same time?

A - Sure, I did.

Q - Where did you play?

A - I was playing the Agora's, the Paradise. I was playing a lot of the venues that were what they considered large clubs. We did play some concert halls. I remember we played some theatres. But we were playing primarily the 1,200 seat clubs. Some smaller certainly in other cities. We might play a smaller club, 500 seats, but we were playing all the premier venues sprinkled in with the cities. I really did well with the 3,500 seat concert halls. We had a really nice tour. We played all over the country. I'm guessing about forty cities. We had a nice time of it. We had a really nice show, I think. We did well. Everyone seemed to like it. A good many promoters were pleased with what we were able to do in their club at that time. So yeah, we had a really good time of it.

Q - You also appeared on Dick Clark's TV show, American Bandstand?

A - No. Where that came from I don't know. I never did much television. I think we did one or two small things, but I don't think we ever did any national television. We were trying to get on a Saturday Night Live. Of course there was another big show that ABC had. It was sort of an answer to Saturday Night Live. I forget what the name of that was. They had a really cool show that was on. You had people in record company promotion and so on trying to get those shows, but they weren't easy to get. There were so many big bands, so many really exciting bands in those days. If you were a new band you really had to almost have a hit to get on them. I never really got that opportunity as much as I would've liked to.

Q - What are you doing these days? Are you still performing?

A - Well, interestingly enough you might not even be aware of it, but I retired pretty much after that record with Epic. I still had my record deal for a long time, but I'd gotten to a point where none of if was making sense and it seemed as though it was costly to keep a band and it was costly to go out on the road. I lost my enthusiasm I think for making records, or I must have looking back on it. So, I didn't want to do another solo record for awhile, and stopped writing for awhile. Then when I got back to it. I didn't think my time had really passed to do that. So, I started to go after a publishing deal which I made and I became a songwriter, staff writer for EMI Music Publishing Co. I had a pretty big hit with Billy Idol, "Cradle Of Love", which I wrote. That got me more into a career of writing and producing, so for a lot of years through the '90s I produced and wrote and got together with different artists and tried to help them come up with some songs for their records. I spend most of my time doing that. I produced occasionally. I went to Europe and did some stuff. Most of my success was more as a writer I suspect, but nonetheless I did pretty well with some records. It kept me busy and I did that for quite awhile. Then the internet reared its ugly head on our business and it made it very difficult for people who were behind the scenes, producers, writers, engineers, studios. It became harder and harder to be paid for your work. I still write. I produced a few records. I produced a record for a guy named Mark Copely for RCA Records which was a really, really fine record. That was in the 2000s. Then I produced Mary Fahl's record, which was really a wonderful record. She's a great singer. And a couple of things after that, that were more independent releases. I was still writing, but I found I wasn't getting paid as much. I had a big hit in Europe with an artist. I doubt if I saw much more than a couple of grand for it. (laughs) Now you're having to start chasing down your money, if it's international monies for songs. Publishers were difficult to track down. Certainly not EMI. They always paid consistent. You were always getting your statements, but God forbid you weren't with a major publisher or you were with a record company that wasn't able to get paid by the publishers. You were finding it was very hard to get accounting on these things or to get paid on these things. That really changed the industry for a lot of us writers and producers. So, I still do it. I just finished something recently I wrote. I worked with a songwriter who's out on an independent label. He's been around the country many, many times. He seems to have a following. I got a song with him and I hope to be able to help him a little bit with his tour. So, I stay involved, but not to the degree I was only because there's so much less business for us.


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