Gary James' Interview With Greg Walker Of
Duke Jupiter

They were one of Upstate New York's most popular bands in the 1970s and 1980s. A hit single, "I'll Drink To You" put them on the road with practically everybody. They toured with Foreigner, Blue Oyster Cult, REO Speedwagon, Z.Z. Top, The Charlie Daniels Band, Bob Seger, Huey Lewis And The News and the list goes on and on. We spoke with Greg Walker from the band we're talking about, Duke Jupiter.

Q - You're now living in Austin, Texas. What's Austin, Texas have that Rochester, New York doesn't have?

A - Sunshine. (laughs)

Q - But besides sunshine, what are you doing in Austin? Are you still active in the music business?

A - No, I'm not. I'm a website designer these days and I've been doing that for twenty years. I came down here because of the weather. Another member of the band, Marshall Styler, had been down here for twenty-some years. He said about six years ago (2009), "Come down and check it out." I did and it worked for me. I moved down here about six years ago. I love the music. I love the people.

Q - Is it true that the locals really support the 'live' music scene?

A - Oh, yeah. It's known as the 'live' music capitol of the world. You go to get something to eat at a small restaurant and there's an awesome trio there that are just knocking your socks off. It's everywhere.

Q - Do you remember some of the clubs you played in Syracuse?

A - We didn't play a lot in Syracuse. We played the Firebarn Tavern. It was a second floor thing. We played this little lounge. It was called The Spirit Of 35, off Exit 35 on the thruway. I think that's it. We played some bigger shows there. We opened up for David Bowie at the Carrier Dome one time. We played the Landmark Theatre a number of times, opening for bands there, Robert Palmer. We may have played there with Stevie Ray Vaughan. I'm not sure.

Q - Did you ever play The Lost Horizon or The Brookside?

A - We played The Lost Horizon. I don't recall The Brookside. We didn't do a lot in Syracuse. I don't know why. We did a lot of stuff up and down the thruway when we were first getting going, you know, college towns, Rochester to Oswego, Geneseo, that kind of stuff.

Q - Duke Jupiter was popular in Central New York, but were there other parts of the country where you were popular too?

A - I don't think so. We started in Upstate New York, Central New York and it kind of expanded from there to a certain degree. We did down state, down to Binghamtom and Elmira, Ithaca. We started out in 1973. Shortly thereafter, in 1979 or so, we started doing bigger shows and touring around becoming an opening act for bands basically. We did some headline stuff, but mostly opening act stuff.

Q - When you're an opening act for all of these established, well-known groups, does that translate for record sales for you? Did it do you any good?

A - Well, we'd be on the road opening up for a band like REO Speedwagon and they had a huge audience in the Mid-West, 20,000 people every night. It was just amazing the kind of following they had and we'd go into local record stores and they wouldn't have our records for sale. The reason we never hit the big time, so-to-speak, was that the record company never got behind us. You know the record business. It's all about money. It's got nothing to do with talent. It's all about whether the record company was willing to spend $250,000 back then, 250,000 bucks to make a group happen. If the group happens, the guy's a hero, but if the group doesn't happen for some weird reason, you owe all that money and the guy's a schmuck and he's got to look for another job.

Q - I never did understand why a record company would sign a group and never get behind them. I was once told they throw everything up against a wall and see what sticks.

A - And they also need write-offs. It's just a standard thing and the standard deal when we did it in the early '80s, you sign with a record company, they get 90% of the sales of albums and the band gets 10% because it's a high risk business of course. They loan you like eighty grand to make an album which pays for the producer and the studio fees. When you start selling albums you gotta pay back that eighty grand out of your 10% before you start seeing a dime. So, you gotta sell maybe 100,000 units before you break even and we did that, but not much more after that because the record company needs to be on board too and have the product in the stores and do the store promotions. It takes a village to really promote a band.

Q - Did the record company give you tour support? Did you have a tour bus?

A - Yeah, we were touring on a bus. We had a crew of three or four guys. They'd kick a little money toward the tour support. Of course you have to pay it back out of your 10%. As an opening band, there will be 20,000 people there, but the band will get $1,000 for opening. It's not a money making situation, that's for sure. It's all spec (speculation).

Q - Mercury Records put out three Duke Jupiter albums. How many of those albums sold 100,000 or more?

A - I think they all hit 100,000 plus, but not much plus. They paid for themselves basically. But Mercury never got behind us. These big record companies, you'd build relationships with these guys and all of a sudden they had a bad year and they'd clean house. Everybody got fired and they'd hire guys from other companies and all of a sudden nobody knew you. When you see how the business works it turns your stomach.

Q - Your manager, Peter Morticelli, didn't he have something to do with Pelican Booking Agency or Pelican Productions?

A - That was his company, yeah. I think he worked with The Rods. That was one of his bands. He had a few bands around. Really he was instrumental for us getting those record deals. Back in those days just getting a record deal was monumental feat in itself.

Q - You're right about that! Wasn't Peter Morticelli more of an agent than he was a manager?

A - No. He was our manager. He started out as a booking agent but then he became our manager. He's the one that got us the record deals that we got. He represented us. Once you get a record deal the agent can scream and holler all he wants, but it's really up to the record company to get behind the act and get the records in the stores and promote their asset.

Q - If Peter Morticelli was your manager, then who was acting as your agent?

A - Well, he was. We got involved with national booking agencies. One was called DMA (Diversified Management Agency) which we re- named Drag Me Around 'cause we'd play in Pittsburgh one night and Chicago the next night, then back in Pennsylvania the next night. It's like, "Really?" (laughs)

Q - DMA handled some pretty big acts, Ted Nugent, Scorpions. Did you ever work with Premier Talent, Frank Barsalona's agency?

A - We didn't. I think most of the stuff we did was with DMA.

Q - Did any of the headlining acts ever throw some compliments your way?

A - Yeah, we got lots of compliments, most of the people we opened for were really nice folks, really encouraging. We'd hang out and party with 'em. They'd be forthright and say "We really like your band." They'd make comments, "Maybe you oughta try this. Maybe you oughta try that." So, they were very cordial. The ones that weren't nice were kind of on their way down and had already peaked and were on their way down like Blue Oyster Cult. Those guys were just nasty. They had had their run and they were still on the road. They had a big show at one time, this big Godzilla thing and they'd pared it back so now it was the bus driver who put on this Godzilla head and walked on stage. They were just really nasty. They wouldn't give us a sound check. They were just pissy. One in a while you run into some jerks. Huey Lewis was an asshole. We did a bunch of jobs with him. The rest of the band was really nice. Generally speaking everybody was great.

Q - You were on Coast To Coast Records and Morocco Records which was a subsidiary of Motown Records. I'm assuming they didn't do much for Duke Jupiter.

A - Yeah. Well, Coast To Coast was a subsidiary of CBS. The biggest noise we made in the business was when we came out with a song called "I'll Drink To You" which was on an album called "Duke Jupiter 1", which was our third album and kind of a new beginning. We had scaled down and kind of a new line-up, two of the originals. So, we were on Coast To Coast and he didn't know what the hell he was doing. He was way into playing the horses. That's what his thing was. He signed us and we did two albums with him and he realized too late he had a hit on his hands with "I'll Drink To You" because the radio stations embraced it. The Billboard statistics are a combination of radio airplay and record sales. The record sales weren't happening 'cause he wasn't getting the records in the stores either to make enough of a dent to do anything with Billboard. We climbed up the Billboard charts just based on radio airplay. DJs loved it. Really embraced what we were doing.

Q - Who was the "He" you're talking about that signed you?

A - I don't remember the guy's name that owned it. You talk about Morocco, that was our last two albums. Pete got us a deal with Morocco. Morroco was Motown's failed attempt to get into the Rock 'n' Roll market, thus the name Mo rocco. They signed up like fourteen acts and we were one of those acts. Peter got 'em to sign us a to a two album deal. So we thought that's a good thing. After the first album was pretty much done, Morocco folded. They just didn't have the resources and the connections. They had the money. They didn't have the connections in the Rock 'n' Roll business. They said, "You know what? We don't know anything about this shit. Let's get back to what we know." So then by default we end up on the Motown label and I'm sure they're thinking who the fuck are these White boys. What the fuck is this shit? Get 'em out of here. They didn't even want to let us finish the album. They tried to rescind some money. It was just painful. So that album never got a final mix on side "A". It got an okay, rough mix on side "B". We didn't even have reverb on the vocals. It was just a real dry working thing. So we got totally fucked on that Motown deal.

Q - Your hometown of Rochester, New York really loved Duke Jupiter! In June of 1982 you guys drew 25,000 people to a concert you were doing. I would've thought someone would've paid attention to that.

A - Yeah. That was when we were on Coast To Coast, the CBS deal. He had one foot out the door business-wise, his company so to speak. They say 25,000 people. It was more like 50,000 people. There's aerial shots. It was the best publicity we ever got because it was on the local news. MTV was just starting out. We were one of the earliest MTV bands because we just happened to be on tour with The Outlaws. I can't remember who it was. MTV was there to do a 'live' show for them. They said, "We're here. Why don't we do you guys too?" We said, "Yeah, that'd be great." That was at Tower Theatre, maybe a 3,000 seater venue which was always our favorite venues, the old theatres. Anyways, a 'live' video of "I'll Drink To You" was on MTV within the first six months of MTV. It was a huge boost.

Q - That was when MTV was good!

A - I have my thoughts. MTV was really contributing to the death of quality music. It became so much more about the look and these bands that had a look they were looking for. We were doing great with MTV, but their music was, "Really?" So we thought radio was a much better format as far as keeping the quality of the music because the image wasn't so much of a determining factor on what was aired.

Q - You're probably referring to the era of Heavy Metal, Twisted Sister, Van Halen, Scorpions.

A - Yeah, and there's A Flash Of Seagulls, these guys with big hair. Some of the other stuff I really liked.

Q - What does Duke Jupiter mean? Is there any significance to that?

A - Well, it's similar to the Steely Dan story. Marshall, the keyboard player, just stumbled across an ad in some magazine about a sex toy and it was called the duke jupiter. It was something like it will propel you into another world. So it was based off a sex toy.

Q - Why did Duke Jupiter break up? Were you guys just tired of being on the road and not getting any place?

A - Yeah. That's it exactly. We'd been together thirteen years. We'd done seven albums and we'd just gotten nowhere with it. The keyboard player found a girl on the road who was from Austin and he said, "You know, I've had enough of this. It's just not going anywhere. We could write songs for another album and try this one more time, but I'm burned out. I've had it." So he left and we just said, "Let's throw in the towel here."

Q - Too bad the Internet wasn't around twenty, thirty years ago. It probably would've helped you guys out.

A - I think it would've helped out big time.

Q - You could have had your own home recording studio, put out your own product.

. A - That's right. Back when we were recording there was no such thing as even CDs. It was all albums and you had to have a record deal and press the album. Today those folks got it great. You make an album on your laptop in your bedroom and put it out and when you sell a CD, if it's five or ten bucks, you get that five or ten bucks. Going back to the model we were, albums were about the bucks, so we get 10% of that. So it's a buck. We've got a manager. He takes 15% and there's four of us. So, today if I was a Huey Lewis, at a certain point when the Internet came out, I could've told the record companies to go fuck themselves. I'll take it from here.

Q - That works for an established act, not for an up and coming act. You still need someone to promote and distribute your product.

A - Yeah. But today nobody's really buying CDs. CDs have become passe. It's all downloads. Everybody's got their stuff on their phones or their computer. It's just a flip flop of business. Back when we were playing you'd go out and play the show for free and you gotta make your money on merchandise at the show and album sales in the record stores. That's what the business is all about. Today it's just a flip flop. You give your music away because people would just put it out there anyway and you gotta make money at the shows. So you gotta get people at the shows and charge a bunch for those shows. It's just a totally different business than what it used to be, but it's a lot more musician friendly than it ever was because you can do it on a shoe string.

Q - I still see people at the top making all the money. Opening acts are still struggling.

A - Yeah, because they way the record business is, radio doesn't matter that much anymore. MTV, who cares? There used to be filters for having some good stuff out there, not always a great filter, now there's so much stuff out there the problem is getting found in the crowd. It's a matter of getting out there and play. At least you have a chance these days. Back in our day, if you weren't on the radio, you weren't. You probably know how radio works. The record companies get busted for payola directly to the radio stations and so they hired like the Mafia. There's like five guys. There's the Northeast guy, the Southeast guy, the Mid-West guy. When we were in the business and there probably still is and was a long time before we got in the business, when the record company comes out with a new record or several albums they'll go out and pay these guys enormous amounts of money to them, five different guys. Those guys send their minions out to the radio stations. A guy goes to the radio station, he goes to the Program Manager and he says, "Well, this week we got ZZ Top and Duke Jupiter and Foreigner. I think I remember you like traveling, right? So, if we got six tickets to Hawaii for two weeks, everything all paid, would that work for you?" "Yeah." "Who are your favorite bands?" "ZZ Top, Duke Jupiter and Foreigner."

Q - You can have somebody offering that, but how does that translate to record sales? You can't make someone go out and buy a record. They either like it or they don't.

A - That's right. My opinion is the public likes what is shoved down their throat. The majority of people that I talk to can't discern crap from shinola. They are told what everybody else is liking, so they like it. I find a lot of people just don't know how to tell the difference between good and so-so music. People just like what's on the radio. They don't know any better. A lot of it doesn't come down to taste, it comes down to fads. The girl I'm trying to get laid with, she really likes this band so I like 'em. Then going back to the payola, the record companies tried to get away from that. Michael Jackson was coming out with "Thriller". He was already a huge, huge success and the record company said, "You know what? Fuck these guys. We're not going to put out millions of dollars for these guys to take it around to the radio stations. They're going to play Michael Jackson of course. They love him." So they put out "Thriller" and radio stations weren't picking it up. They got on the phone with a guy in Los Angeles and he says "I don't hear 'Thriller' on the radio." He says, "I'm not sure it's right for us. Why don't you send Joe over and we'll talk about it."

Q - And here I thought payola was a thing of the past.

A - No. It's still going on with record companies. When FM first came out those DJs could play whatever they wanted. "We're gonna play a full side of The Beatles." They could play whatever they wanted to play. It didn't take long for FM to catch on. Everybody was listening to FM and they started treating it like AM so there's a play list and these radio stations subscribe to a play list and maybe there's two or three guys out there that had these play lists and they're told you got to play those songs and that's it. Nothing else. Nothing local. Forget it. Just what we're playing.

Q - That might happen in the bigger cities, but probably not in the smaller cities.

A - Oh, yeah. It still goes on. I'm so disconnected from it, but that's the way it works.

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