9. LOOK FOR VIRTUOSITY
Virtuosity means excellent playing skills. Superior instrumental technique is most obvious to another accomplished musician who has a solid basis for measurement. B. B. King is the best judge of how well Eric Clapton is playing his instrument. However, the talent required to deliver a superior performance is not lost on the average music fan. Music is a mathematical statement in which precision, speed and physical dexterity all play a part. Mastery of a musical instrument combines with the musician's mental choices to produce a specific result. The best technician is not necessarily the best player. The most proficient performers transcend mere technical ability and reach into the depths of their imaginations to create inspired works of art. Music is the mathematics of the masses and our minds respond to greatness without analytical judgement. We feel it when it sounds good and we cringe when its sharp or flat. The emotional reaction is not about logic or reason, it just is. If a musician lacks imagination, the sounds he produces will have less impact. When the meter, melody and message are skillfully integrated the response is visceral and cerebral. Music can close the mind + body gap and create an euphoric experience for the listener. The presence of a virtuoso player in any band inspires the other members to play better and grow. A great player sets a standard of excellence that the others can strive for. Sometimes this ingredient alone can dictate the success of an act. An inspired performance generates excitement in the audience. It is very important to have musicians with superior ability as a primary ingredient in any band. Managers and artists must seek and recognize the great players. A strong band represents the best possibility of putting on a good show. Virtuosity provides a powerful insurance policy for artists seeking success in the highly competitive music industry. There are three ways to master your musical instrument, practice, practice and more practice.
The Man Of Steel - Rusty Young
In early 1972 I had become a partner in G-R Management and was responsible for executing the performing and recording activity of more than a dozen artists. The most recent addition to our roster was seminal country rock band, Poco. Founded in the wake of Buffalo Springfield's 1968 breakup by Richie Furay, Rusty Young, Jim Messina and George Grantham, Poco had enjoyed just enough success to keep them going; but not enough to hold all the original members. By '72 Messina was enjoying popularity as half of the great duo Loggins & Messina. Guitarist, singer Paul Cotton had replaced Messina and Bass player Timothy B. Scmit, later to become a member of Eagles, had joined the little band that could. This was still a very solid line-up of musicians.
Over time Richie Furay had grown frustrated by the pace of Poco's career. He was lured by David Geffen to join singer/songwriter J.D. Souther and Byrds co-founder Chris Hillman in what we hoped would be the next super group, The SHF Band. A meeting was called to make the announcement that Richie was leaving. The extant members gathered in my Sunset Strip office along with Geffen, Roberts and associate manager Harlan Goodman. It was a very awkward encounter.
The band didn't have a clue that their lead singer was about to quit. Nobody wanted to address the issue and after a couple of rounds of meaningless chatter, I realized that it was up to me to break the news. "Lets take the bull by the horns," I offered, "This guy is leaving the band." There was a stunned silence as incredulous glances bounced around the room. It was plain to see the reality registering in the band's collective mind. Suddenly, recent events made sense to them .
The hottest management company in the world had romanced a marginally successful band into its family, just to steal its prime asset. Accusations flew and anger blistered in the room. "You're fired," declared Rusty as he stormed from the office, in a cloud of disgust, followed by the rest of the band. We all adjusted to the shock that reverberated through the room. We had expected it, and we took it on the chin, we absorbed the embarrassment, and slowly drifted from the room.
This event was a turning point in my relationship with Geffen. Our relationship had been strained over other issues, and it seemed like a good time to resign from the company. I turned to Harlan and said, "Lets start our own company," to which he responded, "We already have." Neither of us had any money and without an office or a client, we started Hartmann & Goodman in a phone booth at Sunset and Doheny. We found a role of dimes in my college beer mug and the first call was to Poco. We all gathered at Tim's house and by sundown we had a our first client.
Poco, now a quartet without a lead singer was called to the line. They would either crumble and become a footnote in rock history, or they would rally their skills, consolidate their talents and take a step up and deliver. We were all desperate to create our own survival and the band went into an extensive songwriting and extended rehearsal marathon. We went into the studio and began work on "Poco Seven" for Epic Records. Harlan and I begged Barbara Skydel, of Premier Talent, to book us a tour and the band went on the road for the rest of the year making "Seven" Poco's most successful album to date. We all enjoyed our most financially successful year as well.
Rusty Young was voted "Best Steel Guitar Player" for each of the first five years that Guitar Player Magazine conducted their poll. Eventually, they gave him a diamond award and retired him from future contention, in order to give somebody else a shot at the title. Rusty was without any doubt a virtuoso musician. By shear will power and excruciating determination Rusty turned his pedal steel guitar into a lead instrument. His dynamic performances inspired the rest of the band to reach beyond their previously perceived potential. This was by far the best version of Poco ever.
Rusty assumed song writing responsibility, along with Schmit and Cotton. A succession of hits followed and Rolling Stone Magazine declared that Poco had finally made it. They dubbed Rusty the "greatest slide guitarist in the world." Poco members have been prolific song writers, releasing more than 25 original albums. They continue to tour and always demonstrate their virtuosity.