Randy Poe is a Grammy-nominated record producer who has also produced, compiled, and/or written the liner notes for more than 100 albums. He’s won many awards and authored Squeeze My Lemon: A Collection of Classic Blues Lyrics and Skydog: The Duane Allman Story. Since 1985, he’s been president of the highly successful Leiber and Stoller Music Publishing. Prior to that he was executive director of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. But how he got there is what his latest book Stalking the Red Headed Stranger is about – as well as what came after his first job as a music business executive. Subtitled: Or how to get your songs into the hands of the artists who really matter through show business trickery, underhanded skullduggery, shrewdness, and chicanery as well as various less nefarious methods of song plugging.A PRACTICAL HANDBOOK AND HISTORICAL PORTRAIT.
Whew. The title may be longer than this interview. But what a book! You don’t need to be in the entertainment business to enjoy it and learn from it. While flying across Canada, and even taking a ferry to pitch one song to Willie Nelson, he packs in wisdom, wit and wonderful anecdotes about everyone from Bob Dylan to Dinah Shore. And, of course, the Red Headed Stranger, Willie. Lots of great photos and graphic art, too.
1. You arrived in New York City in 1980 from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with $275 tucked in a wallet made of duct tape. You knew no one in the music business. You started by memorizing every name and face you needed to know in Billboard magazine and crashing black-tie events wearing a $5 thrift store tuxedo jacket and pants you had “dressed up” with black electrical tape down the side. No one ever noticed?
The beauty of events like that is that they’re always badly lit. It’s the ambiance . . .and they say sinful things never happen in the daylight. See, nobody paid attention to me. I was in a room full of people who knew each other. My job was to get in, recognize, say hello, introduce myself and get out before the dinner bell rang. I wrote this book because so many people complain they can’t get a break in the music business. There are ways to create your own luck.
2. You do seem inordinately lucky. You also have bulletproof confidence and know how to walk the thin line between being impressed by a celebrity but not intimidated – and make yourself interesting but not draw attention away from the star. Where did that come from? Was your father or mother an entrepreneur?
My father was a Baptist minister! I guess he had to have complete confidence in what he was selling and face a lot of rejection, too. And he took me into some pretty shady places where people had moonshine stills and, well, imagine the movieDeliverance. I was just a kid. It probably had something to do with my fearlessness. But ever since I was five years-old – and I never lived in a city of more than 40,000 until I moved to New York – my nickname was “city slicker.” I don’t know why. There was just something about me that people picked up on.
3. I’m sure you’ve amassed quite a memorabilia collection. What have you done with it?
Oh, some of it’s in my sister’s attic in her big Alabama house built during the Civil War. A lot more is in my garage. I’m just starting to go through it. I turned part of my garage into a Texas roadhouse bar and put a lot of the memorabilia there. Like I have a beer bottle Willie drank out of under glass. Over the years some of the stuff I’ve saved has been mistaken as trash and thrown out, like the butt of a cigar Jules Styne left in an ashtray at the Songwriters Hall of Fame. And a wad of gum from Gene Simmons! In the end you have to say: it’s all finite, baby.
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