Fifty years after their first hit, the duo who discovered Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads and Madonna are still producing great new acts.
Reading Richard Gottehrer’s CV, you could believe that everything he touches turns to gold. Richard first made his name as a producer and songwriter in the mid-’60s, crafting a string of big US hits while based at Manhattan’s famed publishing and record label hotbed, the Brill Building. In 1967, he started up Sire Productions, which soon morphed into Sire Records, with fellow young industry-savvy New Yorker Seymour Stein. By the mid-’70s, after playing a pivotal role in the burgeoning label’s early successes, Gottehrer felt the urge to concentrate more on his studio work and duly left Sire to carve out a career as an independent producer. His many credits since then include Blondie, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Joan Armatrading, Dr Feelgood, the Go-Gos, Robert Gordon, Dion, Link Wray, the Fleshtones, Dum Dum Girls and the Raveonettes.
In 1997, Richard’s entrepreneurial spirit once again came to the fore when he co-founded independent music (and now video) distribution company The Orchard, now the biggest digital music distributor on the planet. Furthermore, Gottehrer’s dabblings with record labels have now come full circle as, back in 2010, he and old pal Seymour Stein successfully negotiated a deal to reactivate the legendary Blue Horizon imprint that they helped brothers Mike and Richard Vernon launch back in the late 1960s. While the label’s roster originally showcased British blues boom bands such as Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack, new blues-fuelled acts signed to the label include Texan psych-rockers The Black Angels and vibrant UK four-piece Scoundrels, who Richard has been producing himself.
Inspired by the rock & roll and rhythm & blues records that groundbreaking DJ Alan Freed was introducing to a new generation of American white teenagers in the 1950s, the young Richard Gottehrer developed early ambitions as a songwriter. “You had this whole group of post-war kids, born from the late ’30s through to the early ’50s, that had some disposable income, and the world really was opening up. Alan Freed brought all this music, which was being made for the black community, to this new generation of white teenagers by playing it all on the radio. These were things we’d never heard before and it all had a tremendous influence on me. I was a piano player and I would play boogie-woogie and traditional swing like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Louis Jordan, but also some of the music Alan Freed was playing. It made me think, ‘Maybe I’ll try to write some songs,’ so I did, trying to copy my heroes, and I had this little band called Sultans Of Swing, which of course predates Dire Straits, but we were both referencing Benny Goodman, who was called the Sultan of Swing. We’d play standards at weddings, school dances and bar mitzvahs, but we’d also drop in a rock song every now and again. I went to university and I continued writing songs but didn’t get very far. After university, I started going down to midtown Manhattan in the area that used to be Tin Pan Alley: the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway. There were all these small offices where people could go and knock on doors. You’d have a song, a publisher or record company would listen to it and, with any sort of luck, someone would say, ‘I think I can get someone to record that!’”
It wasn’t long before Richard joined forces with two other similarly ambitious young songwriters, Jerry Goldstein and Bob Feldman, who had also been frequenting the Brill Building with their own material. They called their new venture FGG (Feldman-Goldstein-Gottehrer) Productions. “We wrote some songs that were successful and a lot of songs that weren’t,” explains Gottehrer. “And we were also learning how to make demos and make our songs stand out. Making demos was very different from what it is today, because there were only a limited number of studios and there were no real multitrack recordings, so you had to learn your craft from the bottom up. We morphed from being relatively successful songwriters with some minor hits to actually becoming successful and producing our own stuff. We wrote songs for Bobby Vee and Dion and artists like that, but our first enormous hit as producers and songwriters was a song called ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ by the Angels. That was a number one record in 1963.”
The Song’s The Star