linked in with cheryl pawelski, record producer and collector

I WAS INVITED by 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.

 

CP_OmniovreLogo

 

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.

 

CherylPawelski800

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.

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.

 

CP_RockinBones

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

The conversation

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.

 

CP_Woodstock40YearsOn

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 back­ward 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)

 

CP_WhereTheActionIs

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.

 

CP_AnneMurray_Snowbird

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.)

 

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 the 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 were 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: Haha! 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_SammyDavisCandyMan

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.

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 everyone 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? 4

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.

 

CP_BarksScrooge

“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: Haha! 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 or 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. 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):

 

CP_TheBand

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

 

CP_BigStar 

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

 

CP_ArethaKingCurtis

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!

 

Pawelski_Grammy copy

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   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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