Up Close with John Beecher, Part 2
President of Rollercoaster Records
[Lance Monthly] The Shadows remained relatively unknown in the U.S. during the band’s breakout success in the UK probably because they were overshadowed (no pun intended) by The Ventures. Even I had never heard of The Shadows during my early ‘60s guitar picking instrumental days with The Knights. Your comments?
John Beecher That's the way things were in the ‘50s and early ‘60s; if British artists were able to crack the U.S. charts, it was a novelty rather than a reflection of their talent. Here, the music industry was in awe of America and its artists. Cliff and the Shadows toured the U.S. early on, but never caught on in a big way, I suspect, because Cliff was seen as another Elvis clone and the Shadows (or the Drifters as they were) as his backing group. Listen to the records. There's no reason why their discs couldn't have been hits in the U.S., but EMI's U.S. operation was not renowned for promoting or even releasing British acts, even later!
Hank and Bruce told me back then their biggest thrill on the U.S. tour was going to Lubbock and visiting Petty's studios in Clovis.
[Lance Monthly] So you and Brian Epstein have something in common, as you both had a retail record shop.
John Beecher Hardly a comparison; we had about 300 square feet of selling space!
[Lance Monthly] Did you ever meet him or any of the members of The Beatles?
John Beecher No, [I didn’t meet him,] but I used to see Paul every year when he did the Buddy Holly Week events, and I was usually involved in some capacity together with his office manager Alan Crowder (who became a friend). And we worked together on the documentary he produced with the BBC, “The Real Buddy Holly Story”. It was interesting to see how different life was for someone that famous, and how he was distanced from everything we take for granted, like hopping on a bus and going down Oxford Street.
[Lance Monthly] Did you meet some of the other big British acts like The Animals, The Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, etc?
John Beecher I had some contact with many of them when I worked in music publishing, but no one I could say I ever got close to or liked that much. Bill Wyman stands out in my memory for being "normal" and pleasant when most of the others were big-time. I might have written off Van Morrison's career for him; when he was offered a deal to go to New York and record for Bert Berns’ Bang Records. (He came by our office to tell us about it and I tried to talk him out of going.) Over a cup of tea I told him the rip-offs he had experienced at the hands of London agents and managers would be nothing compared to what they would do to him in New York. "They'll eat you for breakfast," I told him.
Van was pretty broke, and luckily he decided to ignore my advice and take a chance. As it turned out later, I was right about Bang, but fortunately he did have a couple of hits like "Brown Eyed Girl" and got a deal with Warner Bros. Hopefully [he] hung onto most of his money!
[Lance Monthly] Was the reissuing of U.S. ‘50s rockabilly tracks Rollercoaster’s primary goal without any consideration of jumping on the ‘60s British-rock bandwagon?
John Beecher We started in 1976 and my original idea was to record new talent. I had worked for a publisher who was always turning down people I wanted to work with; he‘d let Neil Diamond go when Neil announced he wanted to be a singer rather than a writer! And any time we got involved with a group or singer who did well in the UK, like the Honeybus that Terry Noon brought to the company, the owners tried to take over everything connected with them. We knew that they needed a light bulb or two in their head office royalty department, so ultimately we both left and the [publishing] company closed.
Reissuing old records was going to be secondary, but our first release was an EP, which featured a couple of rarities by The Crickets and Sonny Curtis. I was so pleased with the results [that] we went in that direction, helped by the rockabilly revival and our acquisition of some old ‘50s tapes from Bill Haley's Philadelphia label, Arcade.
[Lance Monthly] Did you start out slowly with the label and personally invest in its growth, or did you have some partners or investors to help you open the door?
John Beecher We did it slowly. I had a partner for a while, Peter Eden, who was an old friend who had produced artists like Donovan in the ‘60s. We both put in enough money to press a few records . . . that's all. Peter lived some distance away and found it difficult to put time in, so he split but continued to bring us projects and to help in other ways. We're still friends. I also had some good publishing connections and we were lucky enough to earn a little money from that, for example with the Darts. So we got by and grew slowly. If we had brought in investors we may have been more successful—but in many ways I'm happy we didn't; it's been fun and I doubt I could say that if someone had been nagging me to make a good return on an investment!
[Lance Monthly] Your view of Norman Petty’s overall business relationship with Buddy Holly is in sharp contrast to that of Holly historian, Bill Griggs. Although you both agree that Norman was a bad manager, Griggs doesn’t buy the fact that Petty and Holly had a serious fallout, saying in a recent interview with “The Lance Monthly”, "If Buddy Holly and Norman Petty really had a fallout, then I ask why Norman was named in Buddy’s new company, Prism?"
John Beecher Good point, but only if the naming of Norman in Prism was something Buddy did (rather than Norman) after the falling out at [or] after the Reminiscing session. It takes time to form a company and it's conceivable that all this was in motion from much earlier in ‘58. Just a guess. Folks can change their minds and I assume Buddy was no exception.
If Bill is saying they didn't fall out at all that would be silly, as we have Norman’s comments on that, and the lawyers’ letters that were published in Bill's “Day By Day” books. One would have to look at the legal entity that was Prism Records and discover just when everything was done, bearing in mind that Norman had power of attorney to sign for Buddy for most of ‘58 until this was cancelled by Holly's lawyer.
[Lance Monthly] In reference to Petty’s artists as a whole, Griggs says, "But I cannot find him willfully ‘ripping’ off the guys." What are your thoughts on this?
John Beecher That's a matter of degree—when does bad management and failure to pay over monies and provide statements become "ripping off?" If a majority of the artists who were signed to Norman were to come out and say they were paid and were happy with the business arrangements between them, then that would change my opinion, although, perhaps, not of those who claim to have been ripped off.
I discussed these matters with Norman as much as it was possible to do; he was defensive, but not revealing, and made counter-claims that I took as an attempt to justify non-payment or failure to account. As did Norma Jean Berry, his assistant and secretary, who probably knew more about that side of things than he did, as it was her responsibility to look after some of the matters in question. I take it that Bill means "The Crickets" when he says "the guys"; if so, you need to ask them whether they were ripped-off.
Meanwhile, a quick read of the contracts and other legal documents signed by Norman with Coral Records and its successors in the ‘60s would show that he effectively denied the Crickets their share of income from recordings they made with Holly whilst ensuring that he controlled and benefited from every recording discovered during that period of Buddy Holly. That is sufficient to indicate to me that there was, at least, an intent to "rip-off."
[Lance Monthly] Did Holly’s death on February 3, 1959 have the same stunning effect on the British public as it did with that of the U.S.? How did the British media deal with it? Did rumors abound?
John Beecher I would say much more, from what I've heard, or rather for a longer period. I don't want to be unkind, but it seemed most folks in the U.S. moved on to other singers and soon forgot. If the U.S. fan mags or the interest from fans on that side were anything to go by. We kept up the interest in anything Holly for a long, long time. I would be interested to know what Holly meant to teenagers over there, one or two years later.
The story didn't get media attention outside of a few newspapers and then, in most cases, just a couple of paragraphs; as far as I know it was not mentioned on radio or TV. But we all knew the next day, as the story spread like wildfire, and, of course, the NME and Melody Maker featured the story the following week.
The rumors that I heard were all accurate in retrospect—there was just the basic story, that Holly, The Bopper and Ritchie had all been killed in a plane crash. The Crickets had made a big impression on UK audiences and had four records in the charts here in the same week in 1958, so everyone at school knew who Buddy was and it was the first rock ‘n’ roll disaster. It was like losing a friend. Hard to put it in perspective now, as so much has happened since, but I remember what a shock it was and people being miserable and crying.
[Lance Monthly] Do you think Maria Elena was responsible for the purposeful omissions of Norman Petty and other key players in the 1979 Buddy Holly Story?
John Beecher No, definitely not. That was more to do with legal requirements that a person cannot be portrayed without their permission. From what I hear, they would have portrayed Norman but those legalities were too complicated; he would have wanted script approval! I suspect Maria would have been more interested in seeing Norman portrayed the way she wanted had she had any influence over the film. In fact, I doubt she had much to do with anything of this sort until after the film was made—she had given her permission and assisted them with it, but I didn't get the impression she was proactive at that time.
[Lance Monthly] Do you know if there’s anyone connected with the Buddy Holly era that Maria likes?
John Beecher Good question! And what a drag that you and others would be likely to think of putting it that way. But that must be mostly her fault, and, of course, I have some misgivings about the way Maria has handled Buddy's legacy in the same way as I have for the way Coral, or MCA or Universal or whoever they now have hand[ling] their side of it. I'm a realist—the music biz is a crappy business for the most part and rose-tinted glasses are not much use to anyone in it; but I wish things and people connected with the Buddy Holly era had been dealt with in a kinder and more loving way.
Maria has been quoted many times as saying she is "working for the fans" in her battles with MCA and others; it's hard to see it that way when the end result is a failure to bring to the market decent products, be they CDs or other merchandise or even to have a concert, bearing Buddy's name. The issues may not be about money; she may be genuine in her wishes to do the right thing by Buddy (and the fans). But she must be employing the wrong PR person, because the impression most fans have is that it's her fault everything is such a mess. The way to the fans’ hearts is not through Curtis Licensing Corporation.
Ah yes, the question . . . no, I don't.
[Lance Monthly] Was Paul McCartney the principal motivator for the production of The Real Buddy Holly Story because he was outraged over the ’79 flick?
John Beecher As far as the idea to make it? No, that came from me. MPL, Paul’s company, had established Buddy Holly Week as a regular event and one time when I was discussing the next year's event with Alan Crowder at MPL, I suggested it would be good to make the definitive documentary on Buddy, to be shown during the Week. There had been a couple of good, but not outstanding, attempts at a Holly documentary, but I felt that with Paul’s name on it, we would stand a pretty good chance at getting everyone involved to cooperate and tell their version of the story. And apart from a couple of hiccups along the way over money and editorial control, that’s pretty well how it happened.
Alan liked the idea, I drew up a list of film clips and people who would need to be interviewed, which Alan discussed with Paul—and he was all for it. So he was the one who enabled it to happen by part[ially] financing it (the BBC was the other part). I don't know how disgusted Paul was with the '79 flick at that point, but he was certainly involved later in the decision to call it The Real Buddy Holly Story, which speaks for itself. And Sonny's [Curtis] song helped sell that idea as it summed up the situation in 3:19 better than I could have put it in a half hour or more.
As the interviews were done, and we saw some of the results, Paul and Linda certainly became aware that the Busey film was a travesty, but like most of us they probably put that down to "Hollywood" rather than a wicked conspiracy against the truth. But it was nice to see the story told pretty well as it must have been—at least nearly all of Buddy's associates and family thought so, and that was neat. There were some fraught moments during the making of the film but fortunately we had a very talented director, Richard Spence; the rest of the crew were the finest [that] BBC could offer and fantastic to work with. The only sad thing from my point of view was we were unable to include Buddy's parents on camera (Buddy's dad died after a long illness while we were filming in the U.S.). It should have been dedicated to them.
[Lance Monthly] How big a catalog does Rollercoaster have in general numbers at present and aside from rockabilly, what other genres have Rollercoaster entertained? Are early ‘60s guitar instrumentals one of them?
John Beecher Only twenty or thirty albums and about the same amount of 45s, singles and EPs so far but a lot more to do when I get time. We have a CD of mostly guitar instrumentals "Can't Sing - Won't Sing" planned and of course we've already released a few Link Wray items and will do more. We have a huge catalogue of over 5000 tracks which includes, for example, the Swan and Lawn labels together with British and American stuff from the ‘50s through the late ‘70s. So there's plenty to do and not enough hours in the day, and here I am giving dumb answers to dumb questions instead of getting on with it! :-)
[Lance Monthly] How big a part does Ace Records have in the reissuing of Petty’s tracks and do you have a reasonably good relationship with this label?
John Beecher They have a deal with the current owners of the studios, which is not to say that they are able to release everything that was recorded there (because many recordings did not belong to Norman Petty—he just stored them for safety after folks had recorded in Clovis). We license material to Ace for their own compilations and have a good business relationship with them.
Actually, the people, who own the Norman Petty Studios and some of the masters, reneged on a deal they had made with me some time before Ace contacted them. For the sake of very little more money, the Clovis Men showed their true colors, thus perpetuating the bad vibes in Clovis. I guess you can't blame Ace for going for it; it would have been nice if they had said: "No, if Rollercoaster has a deal already, forget it," but that wouldn't be like the record biz!
[Lance Monthly] John, you say you’d like to know how the American teens felt about Holly and his music a couple years after his death? This is my view as an early ‘60s performing rock guitarist: The fickle mainstream American teen quickly forgot about Holly and his music because a new 4/4-time-rock movement had been coming into play in 1959, which, in short order, killed 2/4 country-time rockabilly. I must again emphasize that the birth of U.S. 4/4-time instrumental guitar rock in 1959—in which The Ventures became top dogs in this genre—began to dominate the U.S. airways, along with the 4/4-time-West-Coast-surf-vocal efforts by The Beach Boys. The typical rockabilly lead scores became old-fashion overnight, as they were replaced with heavy reverberated and bridge tremolo-bending licks. Chuck Berry lead scores were heavily copied (and altered) and haunting minor chords became the norm. All this, coupled with the dawning of frat rock that was pioneered by the Pacific Coast’s The Kingsmen with the group’s "Louie, Louie" smash hit, put the final nail in the rockabilly coffin. Your thoughts?
John Beecher That's a good summary of the situation—I must say I noticed the "pretty boy Bobby" takeover more than the Ventures and 4/4 issue, etc. stuff from over here, but either way your description is valid when one looks at the U.S. charts from that time. I feel Link Wray would have had far greater success if tracks like "Jack the Ripper" had been called "Surfin’ Jack" or some such. People got into a real mindfix, particularly radio DJs, but I suppose there's nothing new in them following trends rather than setting them. And those greasy rockabillies stood no chance against the [big-label] merchandisers, looking for general approval rather than anything threatening, right?
[Lance Monthly] And don’t you think that if Buddy Holly had lived, he would have had to have changed his musical rock ‘n’ roll approach in order to have remained "in" with the teens?
John Beecher Probably, unless you dream that he would have "done a Beatles" and come back with something that related to what had gone before—with a little excitement rather than the girlie chorus stuff, and made some interesting lyrical and musical advances. He was changing in early ‘59, [if one goes] by the demos he left behind, but it's interesting [that] he went back to things like "Smokey Joe's Café" and "Love Is Strange," which might have seemed a bit retro.
This can be discussed until the cows come home, and I can't even see them coming down the lane. We’ll never know and that’s part of the fun in discussing what might have been. I used to think Ricky Nelson was a good example of how Holly might have moved on while remaining interesting for his original fans—and Rick wasn’t even much of a writer in the early days, whereas Buddy (as Keith Richards put it) "had it all . . ."
[Lance Monthly] I enjoyed The Real Buddy Holly Story, but I was surprised that the Holly backup groups (Tolletts, Roses, and Picks) were not included. Is it because their important roles in Holly’s music were never effectively revealed to the general public since their names were always omitted from Buddy’s singles and albums during Holly’s heyday?
John Beecher No, that wasn't the reason. It was well known by then  to most fans that they were "the backing voices." After all, the Roses had toured with the Crickets and the Picks had been credited in Goldrosen's book and on album covers. When we were in Clovis, I think Richard Spence spoke to some of them at Vi’s instigation while I was recovering from a Mexican meal. He decided, I think correctly, that it was more important to get the lowdown direct from Vi than to discuss details with everyone who had worked with Holly. (Vi after all, was the star of the show!)
The Picks had become a little too "political" in that they had quarries on their shoulders over the way they had been sidelined, and that might not make good TV in that it got away from the main story. I had listed Gary Tollett, June Clarke and Larry Welborn as important folks to interview but, in the end, it was decided we had enough people on film already. Larry did come down to Dallas and met with us, but we were having trouble nailing Maria Elena down for an interview and a lot of time was wasted on that—possibly at the expense of what I would have to call secondary people.
The backup guys like the Picks, good though they were, had done a lot of the work in isolation from the Crickets, as overdubs, so we may have just guessed that they wouldn't have [had] a lot to add to the story. Maybe this was wrong; we were certainly aware of their role and, in fact, John Pickering always gave me credit (probably wrongly) for revealing who they were for the first time. But I think things got a little out of hand when they decided that every Buddy Holly recording should have the benefit of a Picks’ vocal overdub.
[Lance Monthly] How well did The Real Buddy Holly Story do monetarily?
John Beecher Money was not the issue; it was made, as many BBC programs are, purely for entertainment and education. That was the value of our BBC against many other commercial companies. Sadly, things have changed and it probably wouldn't get made under the same conditions now. I suspect it never made a profit and Paul McCartney probably thought it cost him too much, but I have no regrets about that.
[Lance Monthly] Was everyone, who took part in The Real Buddy Holly Story production, pleased with the results?
John Beecher Yes, apart from Maria, of course. She decided, after she had been filmed, that she wasn't happy with the results, and in her defense, I have to say it was not a great interview—she seemed uncomfortable on camera. Richard Spence did sometimes have that effect on people, [but] he should have left the interviewing to someone who knew her well. But her objections may have had more to do with money than pride.
She decided that she wanted a fee of $10,000.00 for her appearance and when the BBC and MPL refused to pay, her contribution was cut from the original version. Later, John Eastman talked her round and she appeared in the video and later US broadcasts.
Most of the other interviewees were not paid; they did it for love. And generally any fees that were paid were around $2,000.00—and for some that included use of pictures and film clips. For example, in Vi Petty's case, we got a real bargain because I think she was thrilled to do it. Norman was no longer around, so she could come forward from his shadow and be herself. She was a natural, whereas Maria was hard work.
[Lance Monthly] At the end of The Real Buddy Holly Story, there is a disclaimer that says, in part, that it has not been authorized, licensed or approved by the estate of Buddy Holly or its representatives. Why was this said and how did this production get released without the approval of Holly’s estate?
John Beecher I'm not sure; this must be in the U.S. version, and because of the laws over there on likeness and use of deceased artists’ names, they have to make the disclaimer. Another case where things have gone too far [is the fact that] Curtis Licensing now controls the use of Buddy's name in many of the U.S. States and they think they own everything connected with him on Maria's behalf. So, for example, they end up taking a photographer's work and using it without his permission . . .
I assume clearances were obtained individually, but not from Curtis Licensing on behalf of the Estate. Maybe the laws that apply came in after the film was shown, but MPL was just covering [itself].
[Lance Monthly] Both Sonny West and Keith McCormack of the String-A-Longs were upset with Petty’s taking half of the writers’ credits for their songs without any real writing contributions. Although it has been cited by many of the Presley and Holly biographers that this was a common practice during the ‘50s and ‘60s enforced by a number of producers, it still doesn’t seem right. What are your thoughts on this?
John Beecher It isn’t right and it never will be. Defenders of Norman Petty and others who did this will say that the artist got something in return. In The Crickets’ case, the free studio time [that] they enjoyed at Petty's is often cited as a good enough reason for Norman to cut himself in on the songs, often getting half the writers’ royalties, as well as half the song as publisher. This double-dipping cannot be justified. If Norman had charged the Crickets ten or even twenty dollars an hour against their song income it would have been reasonable. He chose a different route and got hundreds of thousands of dollars in his lifetime for a hundred or so hours of studio time. Today, his heirs enjoy the same benefits when they have done nothing to earn it.
Meanwhile the real composers on many of the songs get nothing or a very much-reduced share. For example, Jerry Allison, who wrote a major part of "Not Fade Away" (but who was not credited due to Norm's practice of assigning the songs to whomever he chose), gets no kudos or income from that song.
Imagine how you would feel if you'd written a song that was a great Crickets’ flipside and you got no credit, never mind the money. Then imagine how you would feel when you saw the Rolling Stones turn that song into an international hit and you still get no credit for the lines you wrote: "My love is bigger than a Cadillac, I try to show it and you drive me back" is just a part. It says something for J.I. that he never took a contract out on Norman for what he did, and never even started legal action, preferring to enjoy his life, write other songs, and forget about it.
I've always been really disappointed that Paul McCartney, who complains so much about songs he wrote (a major part of being credited to Lennon-McCartney, rather than McCartney-Lennon, and who controls the Nor Va Jak catalogue), has never agreed to change the credits on the Crickets’ songs to what they should be, even though he knows the story of what Petty did, and what is a far greater injustice to the real writers.
I couldn't be like J.I., I would be so angry!
[Lance Monthly] In a recent interview with The Lance Monthly, Sonny Curtis said, "I also think it would be safe to say that if he [Petty] had been responsible for launching my career, I fear it would never have been launched." What do you know about his relationship with Norman?
John Beecher I thought then that he put it very well; I don't know much about their relationship, but I do know that Sonny was unhappy with the way Norman treated him. Maybe he [figured] Norm out before anyone else did; he's pretty good at judging people. At the time, I think Sonny was relying on Norman to get things going for him as a solo [artist] and very little was done in terms of promotion. I suspect the money was flowing in from other things and Norman didn't give Sonny the attention he deserved. At that time, he could have become a major country star but he had to wait a few years for that. That's really just my guess; you'd have to ask Sonny.
[Lance Monthly] Your comment that McCartney probably thought that The Real Buddy Holly Story cost him too much sounds like he wished he never got involved financially with the project. Since the film concept was your idea, did Paul actually complain to you about the results?
John Beecher I didn't intend it to seem that way specifically; as I understand it, there was often criticism from him about the costs of any project. The squandering of money at Apple probably taught him a few lessons about cost control. He certainly never said he wished he hadn't got involved—the opposite, in fact. And it was his project; he decided to go with it, so he could hardly blame me.
I may have encouraged a few people to put in an account for the use of a picture or other material, but that would only be fair. I always think it's silly when people say, "Oh, it's for Paul; then I'll let him have it for nothing," As though they owe him a favour, or that their favor might get repaid. That would not be the case, therefore my advice would have been to charge a reasonable fee—no more and no less than they would charge someone who isn't Paul McCartney.
No, he and Linda (don't forget she was a fan who went to the rock ’n’ roll shows at the Paramount in the ‘50s) loved the project, and I repeat, it was not done to make money (although having it shown on TV certainly didn't hurt record sales and thus, publishing income for MPL). The underlying principle as I saw it was "Let's do this for Buddy—for Love."
[Lance Monthly] Buddy Holly was, in many ways, a lot like John Lennon as far as progressive musical concepts are concerned. I strongly feel that if he had lived, Lennon or possibly Paul would have collaborated musically with him and the results would have been phenomenal. What are your thoughts on this?
John Beecher I agree . . . that would have been fantastic. Either one, John or Paul, would have been very interesting, although outside of their own collaboration I don't see any real songwriting partnerships since they split. So maybe a chance meeting rather than a "Let's get together and write songs" might have lead to something really good. If Holly had walked into Lennon's apartment around the time he was writing "Gimme Some Truth" that might have been interesting!
And Holly's gentleness and heartfelt lyrics would have worked well in Paul’s company; he might have replaced some of the sugar with stronger stuff and for me that would have been a good thing, much as John did with Paul, maybe . . .
We shouldn't forget in all this that much of what we regard as Holly songs were [actually] Holly-Allison collaborations. J.I. has never lost his neat way with a lyric as can be heard in songs like "Cruise In It," "Mulholland Drive," and "Truckers' Paradise"; and even when he talks, he says things that would be great in a song. I always thought he should have written songs with more people, and Lennon-Allison or Allison-McCartney would have been as good a combination as Holly-Allison and Allison-Curtis. J.I.’s not one to push himself on people, however.
[Lance Monthly] When did you co-author the book, "Remembering Buddy" with John Goldrosen? In addition, who published it, how many copies were issued, and where can one find a copy?
John Beecher John wrote the original book and was responsible for most of the work and the original text in all editions (the main body of the book). I helped him with the first edition, as many people did. The Bowling Green University Press published the first hardback edition in the U.S. I found a publisher, Charisma Books, for John in the UK, who made a deal with him and printed 20,000 paperbacks in the first UK edition. They went out of business fairly quickly after selling a couple of thousand.
Then I cooperated by supplying photos on another deal with a second UK publisher, Granada, around the time of the Holly Story film, but again that edition didn't last long.
Then there was a U.S. edition also to tie in with the film. The next large size edition was published by Pavilion Books—they had asked me in the ‘80s to provide them with an art-size photo book with captions telling the story, and, as they put it, "You can get all the information from Goldrosen's book." I convinced them to combine the two books instead and John was gracious enough to suggest that we split the credits, as I had done a lot of work on the photos and the discography and other stuff, which appears at the back of the book. The publisher made [its] own calculations on the total number of pages it would run to, as it turned out completely erroneously [because] we ended up about 35 pages short. Thus, I had to condense nearly all the half and full page pictures to postage stamp size.
Viking-Penguin published the U.S. version of this book, with some updating, but neither sold particularly well, due to lack of publicity and failure of the publishers to appreciate what they had—the best-ever book on Buddy Holly. Again these editions sold in the hundreds.
I felt that John Goldrosen had a great future as a rock historian and he did plan some other books, but I think our experiences of publishers, who cared so little about their products, put him off.
Finally in 1996, we got the rights to the book back from Pavilion and Viking and set about getting a deal with a decent publisher, which turned out to be Chris Charlesworth at Omnibus Books—a company I liked because they published worthy books and kept them in catalogue for many years. As usual we were rushed into updating, and the back section was condensed into tiny type. After the book was bound and covered, I discovered that they could have put at least another sixteen pages in! By this time we were used to publishers being inefficient and screwing us around and so it shouldn't have been a surprise when Omnibus remaindered the book after a year, without warning, despite a clause in the contract that specified we had to be told (also that we should be offered the remaining books). They sold them off for 25p (35 cents), and not surprisingly, they all went in a few days. I had been able to get enough copies prior to this to produce a limited edition hardback version and this will probably be the last one to be published as quite honestly, I've had enough!
We still have some of the hardbacks available; they are all signed by the authors and the Crickets and include some bonus items. Anyone interested can get details from our website or us. I also have some copies of some of the previous editions, which can also be found on Ebay and amazon.com
A few years ago I talked to a small publisher who sounded like a writer's dream. He understood how to market music books, having created a successful record label himself. He was keen, but Omnibus delayed the return of our films and other material, so understandably, he went off the idea. Meanwhile there have been other books on Holly: some good, some bad and some downright silly. I still think what John Goldrosen wrote in the ‘70s stands up today as the best book on Buddy, and one of the finest rock ‘n’ roll biographies. Its a shame that it never sold more than a few thousand in any of the editions that have been published.
[Lance Monthly] Does Rollercoaster use an established distributor in the United States as well as other key worldwide markets?
John Beecher Our products are harder to find because we are quite fussy about who we deal with. In the early days it seems like some U.S. distributor ripped us off every few months, who needed records from us but felt no compunction to actually pay for them. Thus, we lost a lot of money for our artists and ourselves by shipping records and failing to get paid. Now we only deal with people we have learned to trust, even then it’s difficult.
Hep Cat Records in California has until recently been a good source for our products in the U.S. Then they decided that the price they were paying was too high due to the weak dollar and we would have to reduce our prices to them. We couldn't do that, so for now they have ceased buying from us. [Editor’s note: Hep Cat has again hooked up with Rollercoaster.] I know how they feel because the pound was weak in the 1970s when we were importing a lot of product from the U.S.; however, no one ever reduced their prices to us and we just had to ask our customers to pay a little more.
My feeling on pricing is that if someone really wants to buy something that is a good quality item, they will take it even if it costs a few pennies more. There is a different feeling in some sectors that everything must be sold as cheap as possible in order to maximize sales. I never found that worked for me: for one thing you get what you pay for.
Other distributors around the world take our product, many through our UK distributors and exporters, Swift Records. They have supported us from the start and are reliable, honest, and a pleasure to work with. If there were similar companies around the world, life would be a breeze. Unfortunately, the record business has a reputation for cheating and lying and I guess anyone who is good at those things is drawn to it like a magnet!
[Lance Monthly] What new projects are in the offering for Rollercoaster at present?
John Beecher We've been backpedaling for a while, due to general low sales and a few projects that failed to move as fast as we would have liked. We have had an album by Link Wray planned for some time—it’s based on an LP he made in 1958 to follow up "Rumble." Cadence turned it down and let him go from the label because Archie Bleyer felt Link was a bad influence on American youth. A friend of Bleyer's rescued the tapes; we purchased them from him and made a deal with Link to release this long-lost album. It's stunning stuff.
Other than that, we have albums planned by Davey Graham, Roger Bunn, Screaming Lord Sutch, Mike Berry, Johnny Powers, Sonny Curtis, and a few dozen others. When they will see the light of day depends on many things, including getting hold of original tapes and obtaining permissions from other people. I wish there was more time to put together worthy projects because I know it's disappointing when we take so long to get releases together, but I hope the end results are worth waiting for, that's all.
[Lance Monthly] What are your thoughts about the mainstream music of today, especially in the UK, and, judging by what’s "in" with the teens, would you say that rock ‘n’ roll is dead in your part of the world?
John Beecher Hard to say . . . I doubt it's all over, but thanks to radio generally featuring only remakes of current popular hits, the self-perpetuating junk that dominates the charts will go on until something happens to stop it. We know this happens from time to time as it did in the early ‘50s, early ‘60s, and mid-‘70s. Same old story, it's easier to copy last week’s hit than create next week’s fresh and new.
Specialist radio programs have to struggle to survive against hundreds of other programs featuring current music, and the so-called oldies stations feature little from the ‘50s, mostly its ‘60s, ‘70s, and 80s. But underground, old-style rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well in the UK clubs and theatres and the scene supports several high-quality magazines; for example, Now Dig This, which keeps us up to date with what’s going on.
There's no shortage of releases of ‘50s product; in fact, there are probably too many, especially now that the Public Domain era is reaching the early ‘50s and the opportunists are intent on releasing everything at Â£2.99 an album. Great for the general public, but not so good for the artists and writers.
[Lance Monthly] John, in your opinion, what kind of a future does a talented guitarist, bassist, or drummer have in today’s modern world of digitization?
John Beecher Oh, I think their future is secure if they are talented. For one thing, folks will surely tire of mechanical music one day. We've all experienced the thrill of hearing a young and talented musician for the first time; that doesn't happen with a digital box. It's hard to explain, but a few years ago my wife Sandi and I were in Ireland at the Enniscorthy All Ireland Fleadh Festival where hundreds of young people were out on the streets with flutes, fiddles and guitars. It was such a thrill to find that there’s somewhere in the world where everyone is taught to play an instrument at school or in the pubs, and bars, and the ones who excel at it can come from a tiny village out in the country and maybe win a prize at the festival.
As we walked along through the crowds in the evening air, I heard someone playing and it brought up the hairs on the back of my neck. We hurried over and heard a young man of fifteen or so play[ing] the fiddle with such style and dexterity, we were left gasping. Everyone wanted to hear more but he was obviously tired.
The next day we missed the heats, but arrived late in the day to see him awarded the top prize and, once again, captivate everyone with his playing. You can't do that with electronics, clever though they may be. And don't get me started on electronic drums!
[Lance Monthly] Give our readers a little promo about your product and ordering information.
John Beecher Well, I suppose what we try to do is to put out records and artists that will sell enough to make a little profit or at least break even; thus we can consider releases that maybe bigger labels couldn't. Some of our releases, I must admit, are my personal choices and favorites. (What's the point of having a label if you can't indulge yourself?) And we like to package them pretty well by using proper packaging and books rather than the usual plastic boxes and single sheet inlays.
I like our Rolapak CD case, which is a card double-pocket sleeve with a center section, kind of like a triple LP cover! We've done 52 page booklets and usually manage at least sixteen with extensive photos and recording details. Of course, this isn't always practical if there's no photos and not much to say!
Details of all currently available Rollercoaster products are available on our website www.rollercoasterrecords.com and we have just introduced online ordering, which should mean our releases are easily available anywhere in the world providing you have a credit card or are registered with PayPal. Anyone wishing to contact me can write to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to deal with any inquiry, complaint or suggestion.
We still like to get old-fashioned letters too, and our mailing address is:
Rock House, London Road
St Mary's, Stroud
Gloucestershire, GL6 8PU
Telephone: 44 (0)1453 886252 or UK local call 0845 456 9759
Facsimile: 44 (0)1453 885361 or UK local call 0845 456 9760
Forward into the ‘50s with Rollercoaster!
[Lance Monthly] John, thank you for your visit with me. I enjoyed your well-written replies very much and I’ve learned a great deal about UK’s perspectives with respect to America’s pioneering ‘50s rock phenomena. What are your final thoughts?
John Beecher Well, you asked some interesting things, some stuff my memory wasn't too good on, so I hope I didn't get anything too mixed up. I've enjoyed the opportunity to ramble on. One time in the ‘80s I started to write a history of teenagers’ experiences in the ‘50s with an old girlfriend from that time; we planned to explain how different things were then. There had been many books on the ‘60s, but none on the ‘50s lifestyle in the UK and such. It never got finished and I think it's too late now; we did a lot of interviews, but since then, there have been a few good books on the subject.
The UK was certainly very different to the U.S., and the spread of rock ‘n’ roll here was slower for all sorts of reasons. We were way behind and missed a lot of stuff, but it always surprised me just how good the bush telegraph was on things that were important to us. Things have really changed, especially in the last few years.
Personally, my big disappointment would be that the hopes we had in the ‘50s and ‘60s, that there would be a better world and that people would learn to live together, have pretty well been dashed in recent years. Thank goodness we still have the music that will never change—those same records we first heard then are still important to me and it's good to know that Danny and The Juniors got it just right when they sang, "Rock ‘n’ Roll will never die."