linked in with cheryl pawelski, record producer and collector

Weeks ago, I received an invitation from a young musician in England to make a connection on the LinkedIn, the “world’s largest professional network.” Of course I accepted it, despite the fact that I have yet to meet anyone who has actually benefited professionally from any of these LinkedIn connections. Nonetheless, I certainly don’t know everyone on that network, so maybe I was missing something. 1

I corresponded briefly with this young man through LinkedIn (read about it here). While at that site (where people go to connect with other professionals in hope of . . .), I reviewed hundreds of options for connecting with others with a similar professional background to mine. I selected a number of individuals with professions connected to music or records and sent them invitations. Several responded, including Cheryl Pawelski.

I immediately emailed her and we introduced myself. She responded and a brief conversation followed and so I found myself linked in with Ms. Pawelski.


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CP: Hi, Neal! Yeah, oh I know who you are: I have untold numbers of your price guides all over the place. Ha ha! I was moving a stack of them today! After knocking around in the biz for a few decades, I started my own company, Omnivore Recordings. Nice to finally meet you!

NU: Are you a record collector then?

CP: Yep, big time record collector, but I’ve also spent my whole career as a producer. Check out our site for more info on me & Omnivore. Worked my way through Capitol, Concord and Rhino and started my own label and publishing company Omnivore Entertainment Group. I still consult.

To give you an idea, yesterday I had three projects released, two for Wilco (WHAT’S YOUR 20: ESSENTIAL TRACKS 1994-2014 and the boxed set ALPHA MIKE FOXTROT: RARE TRACKS 1994-2014) for Nonesuch Records.

On Omnivore, for its 20th anniversary we reissued the Old 97’s HITCHHIKE TO RHOME as a double album, 2CD, and digital release. This past year we’ve released albums from Hank Williams to Jaco Pastorius to The Posies to Game Theory.

NU: I briefly visited Omnivore’s site to check you out. I am impressed—and not only by your work, but also your collection.

CP: Yeah, I produced the boxed set THE BAND: A MUSICAL HISTORY Robbie and all the Band reissues. Was loads of fun! Lot of great music out there eh?

NU: So, would you want to do an ‘interview’ for my site about your collection and your profession?

CP: Sure that would be fun, let’s find a time that works!

So I sent her an email that included a link to my Rather Rare Records site (so she could see what she was agreeing to) and an invitation to do an interview via email for that site. She accepted and this is what we have so far . . .

Linked in with Cheryl Pawelski

For the past twenty-five years, Cheryl Pawelski has been entrusted with preserving some of music’s greatest legacies. She has been nominated for a Grammy Award four times (see illustrations below). She began her career with EMI-Capitol Records in 1990, where she ended up Senior Director of A&R (artists and repertoire) and Catalog Marketing before leaving in 2002.

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She was Vice President of Catalog Development for Concord Music Group (2005-2007) and then Vice president of A&R for Rhino Entertainment (2007-2009). She is currently serving as Vice President of the Board of Governors for the Los Angeles Chapter of The Recording Academy.

Her vast archival record and memorabilia collection yielded the exhibit Spaced Out! The Final Frontier In Album Covers that opened at Experience Music Project in Seattle (August 2009–January 2010) and traveled to The Museum at Bethel Woods (April-June 2011). The exhibit featured 117 space-themed album jackets released in the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.

In 2010, she co-founded Omnivore Recordings, a company so far devoted to keeping older recordings alive, both previously sides released and unreleased tapes.

“Here at Omnivore, we share an insatiable appetite for music. We believe that the music of the past lives on in the music of today and the music of tomorrow. Our releases contribute to the ongoing conversation between artists and their audiences, each a part of the other and all partaking in the never-ending musical journey.

We don’t know what’s around the next corner, the next chord change, the next surprising lyric, but we do know this: music is essential. Music sustains and satisfies. It feeds our souls, fuels our hearts, and sends us off to look for more.”

According to her bio on Omnivore’s website, she has produced or supervised hundreds of recordings, reissues, and boxed sets for a diverse array of artists including: Wilco, Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, The Band, Big Star, Miles Davis, Rod Stewart, Otis Redding, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Warren Zevon, Chicago, The Staple Singers, Stephen Stills, Richard Thompson, John Coltrane, and many more.

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2007 Grammy Award nomination for ROCKIN’ BONES: 1950s PUNK & ROCKABILLY with co-producer James Austen for Best Historical Album.

Her soundtrack work has included Fiddler On The Roof, Raging Bull, Woodstock, Juno, Up In The Air, Shutter Island, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, and CBGB.




NU: This may sound naive, but what does “produced or supervised” mean in non-technical terms?

CP: Oversaw? Project managed? Not sure how to explain except to say that I could, for example, supervise a project but not produce it. There were hundreds of projects that but I was ultimately responsible for but I hired outside producers to put together (I can’t possibly produce everything).

Many times I will conceptualize a project, do some initial research on it, and then bring someone in to produce. That was the case in heading up A&R divisions at those companies: I would have multiple producers working on projects alongside others that I personally produced.

With the soundtracks, I produced or was involved in the music supervision of the film, as was the case on the Big Star project). Some soundtracks I wind up producing just the soundtrack, while others I get more involved at the supervision level as the film is being put together.

The former is taking the music that was already part of the film (like Raging Bull and Woodstock) and producing the soundtrack, while others—new films being made now—I contribute to the creative decisions about what music gets used and then also produce the soundtrack. Hence, the generic “work” reference.

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2010 Grammy Award nomination for WOODSTOCK: 40 YEARS ON – BACK TO YASGUR’S FARM with co-producers Mason Williams and Andy Zax for Best Historical Album.

NU: Perhaps before answering these two, you could explain what a “producer” of reissues, compilations, etc. does versus what the original session producer did. 2

CP: Original session producers contribute to the creative direction and decisions of the original album, song, music, etc. An historical producer is one part time-traveler and one part historian. Depending upon the project, contributions can range from a simple compilation of the chart hits an artist had (thereby repurposing the original producer’s work) to actually mixing a song/session never before mixed since it was originally recorded.

Also, a catalog producer oversees package design, liner notes, any studio mixing, mastering, and sometimes deal-making. Generally speaking, an original session producer focuses on the original recording. That’s generally speaking and looking back historically: as with everything, these rolls have been changing as technology and business changes.

It’s funny trying to dial it back to layperson terms. The movie biz is way more complicated. Ha ha! What catalog producers do is truly inter-disciplinary in a lot of ways, as it takes in so many different areas. One has to know how to write properly otherwise there’s no way to judge the quality of liner notes.

One has to understand the world of the recording studio and the world of the recording studio going backwards through history. One has to understand art, and the design and manufacturing of all sorts of package construction. It’s crazy good fun, but hard to describe in a sentence or two.

NU: Where are you located?

CP: I’m in Los Angeles (originally from Milwaukee)

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2011 Grammy Award nomination for WHERE THE ACTION IS! 1965-1968 LOS ANGELES NUGGETS with co-producers Alec Palao and Andrew Sandoval for Best Historical Album.

NU: I lived in St. Helena and used to drive down to the Capitol swaps in 1979-81 at some parking lot near Sunset and Vine. After it died an ignoble death, several people tried to put on indoor shows but refused to cooperate with each other and so the competition killed all of them. I could tell you lots of stories about those events. 3

CP: I didn’t move to LA in time for the Capitol swaps, but have enjoyed both the Rose Bowl and Pasadena City College swaps, still going strong too! I got to work at Capitol though, for 12 years, and that was pretty great!

NU: What was the first record that you bought because you wanted to own the  recording?

CP: I made my Grandma buy me two 45’s: Snowbird by Anne Murray (the Capitol Starline edition with Put Your Hand In The Hand on the flip) and The Candy Man by Sammy Davis Jr. (MGM label with I Want To Be Happy on the B-side).  Yes, I still have them both.  Not long after that, I persuaded her to get me a whole LP, and that was JOHN DENVER’S GREATEST HITS.

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Anne Murray’s Snowbird defined her style: pretty, airy, singable but like other rock- and country-related pop that had more in common with easy-listening, devoid of resonance. But, hey! You know what I always say: if it’s good enough for Elvis and Cheryl, it’s good enough for Neal. “Spread your tiny wings and fly-high-high-high-high away.” (At least that’s how I want to hear the last chorus—and yes, I am listening to Ms. Murray as I type this.)

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Um, this is tough one: even if Elvis wanted to back Cheryl up on this one, it would be tough for me to swallow The Candy Man by anyone, let alone Sammy Davis Jr. I would have to lick a lot of hardwired prejudices. 4

NU: I inherited my aunt’s teenage record collection of beat-up 45s and her record player when I was 11. Little Richard and fats and Platters and Everlys and Ricky and lots and lots of Elvis! I was in heaven!

CP: Yeah! A couple years ago I was going through my other Grandma’s records; most of them weren’t of interest, but there was an original Sun Jerry Lee Lewis Great Balls Of Fire with picture sleeve in her stuff. I know it’s not too terribly rare, but it was a cool surprise!

NU: I’ll bet! How old was Grandma in 1957?

CP: That’s a really fine question, probably younger than I am now. Maybe. She was super musical though, played and sang. Her Dad made her stop—didn’t want her away from home. The music thing definitely ran in the family . . .

NU: What was the first record that you bought because you wanted to own the record? You know, own the artifact?

CP: That’s a tough one.  I have no idea.  By the time I was in my teens and working, I was spending all my money on records.  The deluge and education was on!

NU: I started buying the Elvis records that I hadn’t inherited. Then I got swept up in the British Invasion. I don’t remember what the first non-Elvis record that I spent 79 cents on, but my faveravest record of 1964 was You Really Got Me. When did you start collecting records?

CP: Probably with that first batch I mentioned above. So, what’s that?  1971 or ’72?  I guess that makes me 5 or 6 years old.  Bug bit me pretty young!

NU: You got me beat there! Hell, you got every other collector I ever met beat on that. How did a 6-year old go about getting records?

CP: Ha ha! I was driven. Some kids want toys, some want candy. To shut me up, you had to buy me a record!

NU: What did you start collecting?

CP: Vinyl.  I didn’t really collect 8-tracks or cassettes.  I used cassettes the way people use their iPods these days.  Take the boom box with me or throw them in the car—they were mobile.

NU: I think everybody treated them that way. Of course, almost everybody treated their records that way, too. But what I meant was, when you came of an age—let’s say teen years—and you knew you had the collecting bug, what did you go after? Glam? 12” dance records? Punk?

CP: I went after everything. I was never someone who hung around in one genre; it’s all music after all. I was insatiably curious, and nothing was off limits. It’s the way my partners and I run our label, Omnivore Recordings now: if it’s good music that needs to be heard, it’s good music period! But as a kid, I went after everything; I enjoy the process of learning.

I especially enjoyed finding a song that I knew the artist performing it didn’t write and trying to find the original version. It’s an endless thread of discovery. I still maintain, after all these years, the more I know about music, the less I know. Music is infinite.

NU: It’s also an endless process. I ended my question above with “Punk?” because before punk it was unusual to see a female at a record collectors show (unless her boyfriend dragged her there). Punk turned a lot of young women onto the music and eventually into collectors in the ’90s. It was good to see them rooting through boxes of 45s and LPs, totally engrossed in the hunt.

CP: I guess I was unusual then. I just didn’t think about the gender aspect then, I was singularly focused and determined to wrap my ears around anything I could, so I was pretty blind to who was also rooting around in the crates. I did notice my age though: I felt young and weird a lot. (Ha ha.)

NU: What do you still actively collect?

CP: Vinyl, CDs, music ephemera (posters, promo stuff, etc.).  I’m especially fond of 45s.

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2015 Grammy Award nomination HANK WILLIAMS – THE GARDEN SPOT PROGRAMS 1950, with co-producer Colin Escott for Best Historical Album (above). This is also Omnivore Records’ first nomination.

NU: I think every one finds themselves gravitating back to 45s. I have a friend up on here that started dumpster-diving in all of the indie record offices in Seattle back in the ‘80s. Records, tapes, CDs, posters, flats, photos, you name it, he’s got it. He’s a museum but doesn’t know it. Do you specialize in any artists, eras, or genres? You mention your script cover BORN TO RUN on the Omnivore site: are you a Bruceaholic? 5

CP: Well, I do have my favorites like anyone. So yes, I do have some collections that are more extensive/comprehensive than some others, but there are a lot of them. Bruce, absolutely, and Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, Laurie Anderson, The Band, Ella Fitzgerald, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Johnny Clegg, Neu/La Dusseldorf, all things Stax related.

I dunno, there’s too much, that’s some of them. Lots of newer bands too (90’s to now) like Wilco, Animal Collective, The National, King Tuff, Parquet Courts. It’s impossible to name where my main interests lie, I tunnel down in lots of different directions.

NU: What is the most that you ever spent on a record that you had to have?

CP: Between three and four thousand dollars—toward the middle to higher range of those figures.

NU: What record did you pay three grand for?

CP: That was for one 45 that there are less than 10 known to exist, but I’ve bought collections too.

NU: There is a great Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge comic where the old gazillionaire decides to become a “collector.” And he wants to be one NOW! So, instead of actually collecting, he buys every known copy of some common coin, puts one away, then has all the others taken out to sea and dumped! So he can now brag that he has the only copy of that coin in the world.

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“Scrooge McDuck, the Richest Duck in the World.” Oil painting by Carl Barks, one of the masters of the comic book form.

Unfortunately, the lump of coins that he had dumped into the ocean falls straight down and lands in the mouth of an underwater volcano, plugging it up. The plugged volcano builds up enormous pressure and has a HUGE eruption that shoots millions of coins into the air, where they land in city streets and backyards all over the world. Nature defeats the old duck . . .

CP: Ha ha! Well, some collections, I’m just trying to complete, not shooting for the rarest stuff, believe me! The prices don’t suit me! I actually cringe when stuff like this is within my grasp, sometimes I go there, and sometimes I don’t . . .

NU: Did you attend many record collectors swaps/conventions?

CP: Absolutely.  Everyone I could get to.  I would go to a place in Milwaukee called Serb Hall (still there) and they’d have, I believe, a monthly record convention.  Found my first bootleg there and I also remember attending a Beatlefest there.  I still proactively seek them out when I have time, which I sadly have less and less of, but I’ve been to record swaps & conventions all over the place.  Had a great time at a London one a few trips back . . .

NU: I would love to do some “fairs” in England and Germany. Hear they are amazing. This site might help: Record Shows of America. Have you read Clint Heylin’s book on the history of bootlegs?

CP: I have, quite a while back now though!

 

Cheryl said, “I have an enormous record collection because it’s sort of a living, breathing reference library for me. It’s what I do. But I’m also a collector and a record nerd.” Well, you have now created collectable for other nerds! Some of the releases that you have worked on—especially the limited edition boxed sets—have become quite collectable. I checked out a few of those that you have stated to be most proud of and came up with the following (and the prices were taken from current ads on Amazon):


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The Band: A MUSICAL HISTORY (Capitol, 2005)   $ 48.00


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Big Star: KEEP AN EYE ON THE SKY (Rhino Handmade, 2009)   $ 111.85


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Aretha Franklin & King Curtis: DON’T FIGHT THE FEELING: THE COMPLETE LIVE AT FILLMORE WEST (Rhino Handmade, 2005)   $ 199.99

I am ending here as this makes sense. I still have pages of babbling between Cheryl and myself to make a second part, so keep an eye on this site for more!


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Cheryl receiving a 2015 Grammy Award for the Hank Williams album  THE GARDEN SPOT PROGRAMS, 1950.

 


Footnotes:

1   When I wrote this, it was a “few weeks ago.” But it was October. Things do get in the way . . .

2   For those of us interested in older music, the role played by the “producer” and archivist of this music is paramount. Their taste is as important as their skill.

3   Unless you were there, you may not believe some of them.

4   But I would be remiss if I did not attempt to turn on anyone reading this unfamiliar with Willy Wonka, so here we go with a montage of scenes from the movie Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory set to the recording that helped turn Cheryl Pawelski into record collector:

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrortzwghM8]

5   Initial printings of the jacket for BORN TO RUN had the title on the front cover in a scrawl-like script by artist Ralph Steadman. As much as I adore Mr. Steadman’s work—and recommend that you all run out and purchase both of his Alice in Wonderland books immediately!—I think the plainer machine-like print that replaced it made for a better cover.


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