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Astonishing tales of record-biz hijinks in Dave Morrell’s ‘Run-Out Groove’

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There was a time when success in the music industry hinged on the caliber of a record company’s promotions team. Tasked with taking their bosses’ latest investment to the top, these label reps could make or break a career. Iconic record company promo man Dave Morrell’s fourth volume chronicling his many years of music industry adventures and misadventures, “Run Out Groove: Inside Capitol’s 1980s Hits & Stiffs,” covers the decade he spent at the legendary label with astonishing tales of success, failure, hilarity and cruelty.

Morrell’s time at Capitol Records, from 1980 to 1990, was a rollercoaster ride that included dealing with career breakthroughs for bands including Crowded House and Duran Duran, working with legacy artists like Paul McCartney and Bob Seger, and helping some artists, like Bonnie Raitt, reach a new level of success.

Morrell also had to work internally with a few Capitol kooks whose eye-popping antics earned them nicknames in his book such as “Mr. Hollywood,” “Cattle prod guy” and “Psycho Johnny.” Morrell recalls every shocking instance of their absurdity with hilarious clarity and says some of his former co-workers have been in touch after reliving those years through his book.

“All the big-shot record people loved the book,” Morrell said during an interview with The Maine Edge. “Rupert Perry, president of EMI worldwide said that it brought back a lot of wonderful memories. Then the local guys I worked with started calling, saying things like ‘Dave, I’m on my third bottle of Pepto-Bismol, I’m hurting, I’m emotionally scarred, I can’t read anymore.’”

Morrell sometimes shared these insider stories with the artists he met.

“Shelby Lynne came over to my house and she couldn’t believe what she was hearing,” Morrell said. “She brought other artists over and they’d sit around my living room laughing at the dialogue from these jackass record executives.”

Record company hijinks aside, Morrell says he’s always considered himself the luckiest music fan alive. Even before landing his first music industry job as assistant stock boy for Warner/Elektra/Atlantic, Morrell was obsessed with music, especially that of The Beatles. A ravenous Beatles collector from the beginning, Morrell had amassed a huge collection, including unreleased material by the group that began to pop up on bootleg albums in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

When news of the teenaged Morrell’s collection of rare Beatles memorabilia reached John Lennon, he insisted on meeting the lad.

That December 1971 meeting led to Dave handing his copy of a bootleg album of rare BBC Beatles recordings titled “Yellow Matter Custard” to Lennon in exchange for John’s personal copy of an extremely rare record known as The Beatles’ “butcher cover.” It was the group’s 1966 Capitol Records compilation “Yesterday and Today” with its original withdrawn art depicting the four smiling Beatles wearing bloody butcher smocks covered with pieces of meat and baby doll parts. The record was in stores for one day before Capitol yanked it and replaced the controversial image.

Before handing it over, Lennon personally inscribed his butcher cover album to Dave when he added his signature to the sleeve. That story of Morrell’s first of many meetings with Lennon over the next nine years is a highlight from the first volume of his memoirs, titled “Horse-Doggin’” and released in 2014.

A second volume, “1974: The Promotion Man in New York City,” covers Morrell’s years working for Warner Bros. Records, a period that saw him escorting Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones to radio appearances, introducing KISS to New York City and flying to The Bahamas on Deep Purple’s jet.

Morrell’s five-year journey pushing hits for Warners, RCA, 20th Century Fox with “Star Wars,” and Arista Records with boss Clive Davis, is covered in his third book, “45 RPM (Recollections Per Minute).”

Morrell joined the Capitol Records staff in 1980 at age 26 to promote the label’s rock albums. It was a decade of extreme highs and lows that found him working with both new and legacy artists, including some of his musical heroes, like Paul McCartney, when the former Beatle returned to Capitol after a period with Columbia Records.

Morrell’s initial meeting with Paul and Linda McCartney involved some herbal refreshment, a label launch party for the legend’s latest LP “Press to Play” and a moment that Morrell says was like “making it to the top of Mount Everest,” when he mustered the courage to pull out what had been John Lennon’s copy of the butcher cover to show Paul.

“If John’s signature wasn’t on here, I’d nick this off ya!” McCartney said to Morrell with a wink as he added his name near Lennon’s and that of Ringo Starr, whom Morrell had met in the 1970s.

When The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, Morrell finally met and shared a warm conversation with George Harrison. In his book, Morrell explains why he’s grateful he didn’t ask Harrison to add his signature to those of his former bandmates on the butcher cover.

“That was the moment when I could say I’d met all four of The Beatles, I couldn’t believe it,” Morrell said with a tone of incredulity. “Being a New York guy, I always paused whenever I saw a limo pull up somewhere because you never knew when a Beatle would pop out. The day after I met George, I saw a limo pull up outside my hotel and said to myself ‘No, keep going, I’ve met them, it’s someone else’s turn.’”

(Dave Morrell’s “Run Out Groove: Inside Capitol’s 1980s Hits & Stiffs” is available in paperback and for Kindle readers via Amazon.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 24 March 2021 05:17

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