Transcript:

Speaker Oh, definitely, definitely. Getting to that.

Speaker Keeping your Severstal, if you could just tell me just briefly what the state of Warner Brothers records was in 1959. It wasn't.

Speaker Yeah, that's right. Now, that's the only of room we're taping already. Yes. Well, in 1959, Warner Brothers had just started. It was a year old and we really started started from zero. Basically, the personnel in New York consisted of five people, that was the office and I was in charge of the artists and repertoire department. Hal Cook was there. He was in charge of sales, and Jim Coughlin was the president. He was out in California and he had, I think, something like seven people working for him. The gold that we were going for was to create create a strong album product because Jim was a believer and albums and I had been the director of popular albums at Columbia Records when the popular albums were nothing. But then along came LP. And Jim felt that that was the strongest part of the business for the future, and of course, that's exactly what's happened, because by the time I left Columbia, there was more money coming in on popular albums than on pop singles. And yet we had huge hits, you know, made by Mitch Miller and so forth. But the industry was definitely changing in that direction. The biggest problem we had was we had no name or is except for who we could pick up from the Warner Brothers.

Speaker OK.

Speaker Actually, the big problem was Warner Brothers Records. Yeah. Okay.

Speaker Well, I'll start from the big problem was. The big problem was that Warner Brothers couldn't get any big name artists. And so we depended at first on the people who were on Warner Brothers television programs. And of course, I was on the lookout for anybody who could possibly sell records. Eventually, a car head of a story, Bob Newhart and the Everly Brothers were able to.

Speaker That's quite all right. Well, before we get to Bob, though, let's just tell me, too, how in 1959, how was the label doing financially?

Speaker So in 1959, the label was still struggling because we didn't have any name artists. They were all signed up elsewhere. And what we tried to do was get things going with the artists who were under contract to Warner Brothers pictures on television. And that worked pretty well, especially with Cookie Burns and the 77 Sunset Strip. But it still hadn't happened when Along came to opportunities. One was, of course, the discovery of Bob Newhart, who really discovered us. The other was the Everly Brothers who were coming off contract and couldn't possibly be resigned by a small record company. So I signed them both. And the big thing about board was that nobody really had much of an idea of of going in the direction of comedy records because they were not well established. But I got a phone call one day at the New York office from Jim and how Cook, who are just leaving the Chicago office, and they said, well, we heard an audition tape that was fantastic. And if you come out next week, which I was going to do. And you like this guy, go ahead and sign him. I said, great. What kind of a singer? I said, No, no, he's not a singer. He's a comedian. Well, what kind of a comedian is he? Well, I can't describe it. You have to hear it. It's very different. But we think he's good. And if you want to sign him, go ahead. Well, I went out there and the Warner Brothers distributor had the audition tape. He put it on. And I think before the first track was over, which was the Abraham Lincoln one, I said, hey, call this guy, we're gonna sign him. He's really he was really something.

Speaker What was it about him that was so striking to you?

Speaker Well, first of all, it was different from everybody else who was making company records, including Shelley Berman, who used the telephone as a prop. But this was a very different use of the telephone. And the other thing about it was that he sounded so much like an ordinary person who was trapped in a world that didn't understand him. And so I had the feeling eventually after I heard more of this material that, look, everybody can can relate to this. He's like everybody else is somewhat baffled by what's going on around him. But doing the best that he can.

Speaker The tape was so.

Speaker Sorry, sorry for interrupting. In what way was the business? Telephones so different than Shelly Merriman's.

Speaker Well, you know, that's a very good question, which I'm not going to put on this tape. I didn't pay any attention to Shelley Berman after that, and I don't remember exactly what he did. But let's put it this way. The way Bob used the telephone. All you hear is one side of things and you don't know what's going on at the other end except through Bob's reactions. Now, I don't really remember what Shelley Berman did, except he was successful. But it wasn't the same as what Bob. When I finally got to meet Bob, it was at the office of Frank Hogan, who is his manager by then. And then when I heard he's got a manager already, I thought, oh, I don't know what's gonna happen. The one distributor said, Oh, is Frank Hogan. I said, that's great. I know Frank, because I used to record polka bands when I was writing the International Department at Columbia, as well as cloth albums, and in fact had one artist who never made it, but he did eventually, Lawrence Welk. I went to Frank's office and here is this mousy looking guy sitting very quietly and didn't raise his voice a bit except to say, hello, how are you? And I said right away, Bob, I love the tape. We're going to we're going to record you for sure. And I'd like to explain what the terms of our basic contract are like. He said, oh, sorry, I'm I'm a CPA and I can understand figures and so on. So that's great. I said one big thing. Frank, you've got to look him into a club where I can record him in person because I don't want to record him in a studio. I don't want to record him with the friends because it has to be a natural environment. And when I said that there was a dead silence.

Speaker I said, what's wrong?

Speaker I said, well, you know, Bob has never worked in front of an audience. And Bob said, in fact, I never even made a tape or I'm sorry.

Speaker I small.

Speaker What can you just figure out before? How would you like to overlap just where you said you wanted to record and live in front of an.

Speaker Lick my lips a bit.

Speaker So I said, you know, the way to record you, Bob, is to record your lies so that you react to the audience, the audience reacts. You don't want to go into a studio or anything. So, Frank, I'll take the audition tape to New York. Make copies. I'll send it to all the clubs and places that I think would like Bob. And you do the same with your copies and we'll get a job and I'll get an engineer wherever it is and we'll record. And then there was dead silence. And I said, well, what's wrong? Frank said, well, you know, Bob has never worked in front of an audience. And Bob said, In fact, I've never even talked into a microphone except to make this audition tape. I thought, oh, boy, what have I done that I thought again. I'm positive this guy has it. We're gonna go ahead and do it. I said no problem at all. We'll get you a job somewhere. And as soon as we do, we'll record. And so I left them with that plan. And it took five months before. Frank was able to get a job or I couldn't get him a job. I went to everybody I knew. They all said, oh, yeah, it's very interesting, but it's a little strange. No, no, we don't. I don't think so. Finally, Frank called me and said, I've got him a job.

Speaker Sure. No, actually, let's just go back.

Speaker I'm sorry this was long, but look, this is what happened. This is all stuff, right? Really? Sure.

Speaker If you can tell me a little bit more to about when you're listening to that tape. More specifically about that, Abe Lincoln. Do you remember that hearing that piece and what it what was so unique about that?

Speaker I'm sorry, say that Abe Lincoln routine. What was so. Oh, yeah.

Speaker All right.

Speaker The thing about the Abe Lincoln event was that it was so true to life. I mean, this is the way press agents and image makers operate. And even though Abe comes off being a little bit jealous, you say it was hilariously funny because it's entirely possible that if this had happened years and years later, something like this would have taken place in which the reluctant candidate would have his own ideas of what to do. But he's overruled because the press agent says, look, this is what you have to do. I know the business. You don't. And you know something? I think that's exactly what's happened in life today. Look at what's from what's going on in Washington. My God.

Speaker That's true. I do. Was it. Did you think it was fairly, you know, sort of edgy? Today's word, barely. What, edgy? Or was it very tough to to sort of make fun of that? The whole press system in that way, was that pretty? You knew what Bob was doing?

Speaker Well, I don't quite understand what you mean. But let me let me try to answer this anyway. Well, I thought what Bob was trying to do was just a perfect way of sparing the whole business of publicity and promotion and so on. It was an absolutely priceless. I think that he couldn't have chosen a better example than Abe Lincoln, except, of course, he chose George Washington also in a different way. But Abe was the perfect one.

Speaker So you're sitting there with him and now you've left and describe a little more what went into booking that first getting your about.

Speaker Well, Frank and I sent out those tapes. We never got a serious nibble at all. For five months and finally the phone rang one day and Frank said, George, I've got a live one. I've got him a booking. I said, Great. Where is it? It's Edison in Houston, Texas. I said, well, all right, I know an engineer there who does a good work. I'll hire him and we'll love record there. So what do we have a week? He said, no, it's just a weekend. I said, well, that's all right. Let's say Friday night, two shows, Saturday three shows, Sunday night, two shows. But that's enough. Frank said, no, no, George, it's only two nights, one show each night. Well, once again, I thought, oh, what a look. Forget it. We're gonna do it. So that's what we did. And because Warner Brothers was losing money hand over fist at that point, trying to build a catalog without big names, I had to do it very, very cheaply. I got no tourist tickets for Bob to go down from Chicago myself from New York. And so we went to the club, which Frank explained to me was a bottle club. Well, I was naive enough not to know what it was, but he explained, it means that you pay like five dollars for a bottle of ginger rail and bring your own liquor and a paper bag. I said, OK, that's fine.

Speaker When we got there before we go into that part of the story, I'm just wondering if you could tell me, though, two more about why it was so hard to get Bob a gig. What were you like, peoples? Everyone turned him down. And why?

Speaker You know, the reasons that were given to me for not taking Bob when I was offered at first or not very valid, I thought, first of all, what do you say to someone who says, well, I don't get it? It's a little strange. You have to say, believe me, it will go.

Speaker And they don't pay any attention because they know. Right. On the other hand. I know. The other thing is that the aspect of Bob coming on stone cold with no reputation whatsoever, anywhere, I think, frightened all these people who had never been on television or anything like that.

Speaker They'd never heard of him. And he was from Chicago, which I think worked against him in terms of New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles. There's a pretty snobby attitude with those cities, I'm afraid, and a so continuous. But sometimes it's justified.

Speaker Did you think he was too different? No.

Speaker Part of the argument was always so intellectual. It's it's something that people won't get. And I said, look, here, we have a great success with Mort Saul, for example. And he is about as intellectual as you can possibly be. I did no good. Every argument that was thrown back at them failed to take effect. So I went in there stone cold. And in setting up the recording. I asked Frank, I look at what are the what is the arrangement that was going on all along? I said, no, he's just an opening act. And so he doesn't have too much time. I said, well, who's the opening act? And he told me, Oh, heck, I've forgotten their names.

Speaker It turned out to be two people that I knew. There was a husband and wife team who did the special material for Arthur Godfrey. And Arthur was one of my artists. And I had made a huge hit with the Arthur Godfrey TV Callendar show, which was based on the idea of an original song for each member of his television cast, and that sold a million copies. It was the first million seller we had and that new pop series of 12 Hentschel piece that we had started. So those couple collecting all the copyright royalties for twelve songs on a million plus seller with Godfrey were very, very amenable to anything that I wanted to ask. And they said, don't worry, we'll give him extra time. And so this was way Bob and I went down to Houston and the first morning when we took a cab to check out the location, we were in trouble right away because it snowed and the cab driver was very, very timid. They weren't used to snow in Houston. You say it was February 12th. They said, look at that. It's Lincoln's birthday and you Yankees had to bring snow with you. Well, we were off to a bad start there, but it didn't matter. At the club, at the club, Bob warmed up with the microphone and the sound system and so forth, and he was pretty nervous, of course, but I kept reassuring him. Look, it's perfectly all right. It'll be OK. He started off opening the first show on Saturday night. And he was a little shaky, but once he got rolling, it was so good that I thought, hey, this is great. We're gonna make it. With two shows. And this was going to be a short show because it was the first one and the second show, he was going to do everything that he knew. Well, he came off just happy as can be. I'm still nervous and I told him, look, we're safe. Whatever you do on the next night, it's going to be all right, because I've got enough here so that I'm confident that whatever else you do, we only need maybe 10, 15 minutes more. That wasn't true, but I had to keep my spirits up, too. But I wasn't worried because he was so good right away that I was confident the second show would be even better.

Speaker And it was a little bit more about that first night. What month and year was this sort of set the scene a little bit. How he seemed backstage before you went on.

Speaker What went right? Well, it was a holiday weekend being Lincoln's birthday, which, of course, is not important in the South except in a negative way.

Speaker And so the crowd. What year it was. It was February. It was February 19th. Oh, Lord. Sixty nine. Fifty nine. No. Sixty five.

Speaker So it was Lincoln's birthday, February 12, 1960. And the crowd was in a fairly holiday mood, even though it was Abe Lincoln in the South. And they were too noisy, but they reacted very, very well, which I was glad to see because I didn't know how relatively forgive me for saying this, a relatively unsophisticated audience and a little obscure club.

Speaker And and that he was from Texas was going to react to somebody like Bob.

Speaker Bob came off not only very happy, but rather confident that he was going to be OK. And I kept reassuring him that he didn't before.

Speaker Could you tell he was nervous or he wasn't?

Speaker Well, before Bob went on, I could tell that he was nervous, but he was very, very self-contained. He didn't show any signs of, you know, perspiring heavily, stammering, stuttering, trying to distract everybody from the fact that he was going to make his world debut.

Speaker Bob was very much together, guy and so many ways. And I had sort of sense that when I first met him, that was the night that I realized this guy can handle or whatever he's going to face, and he'll be nervous because his hands were shaking a bit. But his voice was very well controlled, as you can hear on the tape.

Speaker So do you think I've heard you say he was nervous, but where do you think his confidence came from? Just that he knew his material was fine. Your.

Speaker I think that Bob had great confidence in his material. He had to to keep on going despite the problems that we face of rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection. And so I think when he got the chance to show what he could do, that he was ready. And believe me, he'd showed it.

Speaker How did the audience respond? Were you amazed at how was it you? Was it a great reaction? How did the audience really respond?

Speaker Very good question.

Speaker That's how the audience reacted. You can hear it on the tape because it's right there. It's a what? Whatever happened and it's not a big audience. And I think the fact that the audience warms up as he went into the program shows in the reaction that you get as the program develops, because I followed basically a pattern.

Speaker I felt to to.

Speaker Yeah. We'll get some more.

Speaker OK, so first you want to say that it was the natural sound, right?

Speaker The sound of the audience on the recording is the natural sound. Because we didn't have stereo or we just made it a mix on the job. And the only thing that I remember particularly about it is that the audience got into it more and more as the program developed. And then in lining up the tracks of the LP, I followed basically the routine that Bob did that night so that you can hear the slight building up. Be that as it may, I still had to do a few things about the soun because there were some costs and so forth that were interfering and I snipped them out. And sometimes in order to brush, you might say that sounds smoothly. I would add some non legitimate sound to cover that up so that you don't hear anything at all. I think I didn't explain that terribly well, but that's quite important as far as Bob's pacing is a concern. He had a good sense of timing right from the start. But in a couple of cases, I brought his silence a little closer together because you can't see him. You say you don't see him blinking his eyes. You don't see him doing that and so on. So that it sounds smoother when you make a pacing, fit the ear more than the eye plus the ear. And I think the proof I think the proof of that.

Speaker I'm sorry I stepped on, right?

Speaker I think the proof of that is that Bob was very happy with the finished result. I thought to myself, maybe you might complain about something or another that I did. Not at all. Perfect. I'd make the proof of it was also.

Speaker And I think that the proof of it also was that over a million people bought the records so rapidly that it made our heads spin.

Speaker But before we move on to how well it did, I just wanted to talk a little bit more again about that first night and those recording Friday and Saturday night. How much was was riding on this for four bob and for the Warner leave?

Speaker Oh, boy. I was going to I was going to have Jack Warner's. No. No. I'll do it seriously without the Assads. Yeah.

Speaker There was a great deal riding on this because remember, at that point, Warner Brothers Records was struggling. We'd spent a lot of money. Jack Warner had insisted that anything that Jim Oribe wanted to do had to be screened by the man who ran the Warner Brothers Music Publishing Company in New York. Herman's star, now Hermann's star, was a very powerful man in the business because his company, that is to say, the company he was president of. Controlled music by every popular composer in the history of American music except Irving Berlin, who always kept his own copyright, so he represented the cream of Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Vincent Youmans, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin. And so he carried a lot of weight with Jacques. Herman had to approve anything that Jim or I wanted to do. When I went over the things that I was going to record in the next month and I talked about Bob Newhart, he said, Hey, George, wait a minute, wait a minute. You want to go down to Texas and record this guy who has never done anything like this in his life? And if you want a comedy album, talk to me. I'll get you anybody you want. I'll get you a young man. I'll get you Milton Berle. I said, Herman, Herman. It's not quite like that anymore. You know, this is a different thing. It's it's it's up to date. And the younger people will relate to this person. I'm sure in a successful way. He finally said, okay, but don't spend any extra money. Be sure that you go just tourist class, cheap hotel, inexpensive engineer. And I said, Herman, you'll be happy to know that I'm going to take the tapes home to New York and then to edit them on my own machine at home and send them out to California, where Lowell Frank, our engineer, will put out the finished product. Is that OK? Keep it cheap. And that's what we did.

Speaker So you kind of put your your name. Your name was riding on this. What would have happened?

Speaker Well, I wasn't too worried for myself if it hadn't gone well, because for one thing, I had turned down the presidency of MGM Records before that and I had offers from other companies. And so, yeah, all went down the tubes. That would be very, very unfortunate. And I would feel bad about it from every point of view, including nobody likes to fail no matter what. But I didn't I didn't have any fear. The result was that I was willing to take chances. As long as I was given the opportunity and I did it with confidence. In fact, I can say this. There are only two artists that I can remember who were completely unknown, had never done anything in the profession before, whom I signed. And I had total confidence in both of them. One was wild, of course, and the other was Johnny Mathis, who had never had a singing job. And in fact, I heard him on the first job that he ever had in San Francisco in which he got paid to perform. And I still remember very clearly, my wife was sitting with me, turning to and saying immediately after 16 hours of his first song, which was tenderly, by the way, which is not the way you open a show.

Speaker Right. You should open a show with. Hello, everybody. Hello. Here I am. And so forth. Instead, he sings tenderly. I turned to I said, gee, I don't know what I want to do with this young man, but I've got to sign them. And I did.

Speaker And so on Bob's second night, you can talk about how was it that much better that this was a Saturday night than right?

Speaker On Saturday night, Bob was much more at ease, and he he showed no real signs of nervousness or anything like that.

Speaker And I think what also helped him was that the husband and wife piano and song team, who I had never heard of, of course, before, assured him that he was really doing beautifully. And so he had somebody else up professionally. Other than myself telling him, look, don't worry. In fact, I remember that they came out the first night and went to the back of the room to listen to him, and they did the same thing the second night, which was pretty unusual for a couple of tried and true professionals to listen to some young upstart doing something as a debut performance. So the second night, everything went much better. And in my head, I was certain that I had an album, I was going to be at least a moderate success. I reassured Bob. We went back to our respective cities. And I called him up after I'd finished editing the tapes. And I said, look, I'm going to send a copy to Frank. Sit down and listen to it. I think it's it's fine just the way it is. But do tell me if there's anything that you would dislike about it. And he called back a couple of days later to say that it's fine, it's perfect, but I think we should put it out just as it is and we do.

Speaker Did you seem to know what a big opportunity this was, how it how big this was for?

Speaker I'm learning my answer is take him on the second side and take off his yours. Where do we go? Are we ready? Yeah.

Speaker I'm sorry, I was just asking you, did everyone settle? If Bob realized what a big opportunity that was for him.

Speaker You know, I don't think Bob ever even thought in terms of, hey, this is a great opportunity, I can make a career and so forth. He just wanted to get a good job done to show what he could do. And I think he was probably more interested in proving that he was right to have confidence in himself than anything else. He never once asked anything about, gee, what kind of promotion are you going to do? And so forth. The promotion was very simple. We were going to announce that we think this is great. We were going to send the tracks as well as the whole LP to disc jockeys. And Dan Sorkin, of course, was the man who had steered Bob Jones. And he was going to get behind a solidly. And so the aspect of the future did not seem to concern Bob at all. And in a way, it didn't really concern me because I felt confident that it was going to sell reasonably well. I didn't think it would do nearly what it did, of course. And I had other things that I was thinking about it and working on at the same time. So there wasn't any great pressure or concentration on let's make Bob Newhart a big seller. Let's just let's make Bob Newhart a successful album so that we can see what goes on after we get it launched properly.

Speaker So, again, you wouldn't do this all in front of a live audience and talk about whether or not this was the first live comedy album.

Speaker I was told later, and I've never checked it out, that this is the first live recording of a comic. And I think it's probably true. There's another aspect about it that I never realized, which came about in an odd way.

Speaker Billboard magazine published a series of books which included charts for decades by decade, you know.

Speaker And all of a sudden and looking up for Bob Newhart and the album. So it took. All of a sudden, and looking up Bob Newhart Selvam in the book that covered the decade of the 1960s. I came to a shocking realization. That album outsold every album made by Elvis Presley except Presley's Blue Hawaii album, which was backed by a film, of course, as well as Presley's reputation. And also so outsold every album made by the Beatles. Which was, of course, a Hard Day's Night, which was backed by a film as well as a big reputation and events. So here's a little Bob Newhart never did anything like this in his life. The first time that he talks into a microphone in front of an audience. He comes up with a multimillion seller that outsells everything else that these two artists did. Except those albums that were backed by movies. Unbelievable, but true.

Speaker And how did it do on the charts, number one?

Speaker Yes, rather quickly. It became number one on the charts and it was, in a way, salvation for Warner Brothers, because as orders came in, what we did, along with what we did also in terms of the orders for the Everly Brothers and the 77 Sunset Strip album, was to tell the distributors, look, you want 20 thousand copies, right?

Speaker You know how much money you owe us. Send us a payment of X thousand dollars next week and we'll send you eight thousand copies. And it was a strong arm tactics, but within a short time, we brought in literally millions of dollars of debt. How many I don't know about. It was way over a million dollars.

Speaker Very quickly. And in order to do that, Jim and Hal and I and everybody else in the office was given names of distributors to call and tell them that you're not going to get these orders that you want as fully as you wish, but you will get a substantial, useful amount if you start paying your pass bills.

Speaker The importance of that is this.

Speaker In the record business, the sales of a record are not reflected in terms of dollars coming in until payments are made. And these are payments that are delayed and the will very briefly. Something like this. The dealer has so many days of grace before he has to pay the distributor. The distributor doesn't have to pay the manufacturer for so many days. As a result, time and again, record companies had hit singles which sold in the millions. And they went out of business six months later because they couldn't collect fast enough to pay for the manufacturing that they had to pay for at the time of manufacturing. So the cash flow was a very important factor.

Speaker So can you just explain that basically Bob's first album helped save? Right. Is that right?

Speaker Well, not quite bankruptcy because, you know, so Bob's album was a very key part of rescuing Warner Brothers from a severe deficit.

Speaker In terms of cash flow. Without Bob and the other two albums, which was such a good sellers, I don't know what would have happened as it is. The company was still on fairly shaky grounds because they still didn't have a real catalog. It wasn't until after all of us left, and I'm sorry to say that I didn't want to stick around once Jim Conkling left because his contract right out and he didn't want to continue and neither did hell. In fact, Hal was offered the presidency of Warner Brothers Records a week before it was offered to me.

Speaker So because they were the first choice about the title of the album and what it meant, you know.

Speaker Now, that title of the album Button Down Mine, that was something which was decided on in California, Jim was all for it. And I think Dan Sorkin may have suggested it, too. I didn't care for it because I didn't understand it. I said, what do you mean? But mind. Is the reverse of the button down advertising type of character that you associate with a button down shirt. You know, I don't have any buttons on my hair. And the answer to that was, look, it simply means that whatever you interpret as a button down, it's OK. Because Bob is universal. So button down to me. Represented an uptight kind of personality. But to other people, I think it meant that he was very much together. He was buttoned down and he knew, you know, where the buttons. So I should go. I have never heard anybody give me an adequate explanation of what it means. So that's as far as I went, because my my big thing about it, of course, was that I was so happy to have taken a huge gamble. And I found it exactly what I thought would happen. Plus, plus, plus multiplied. It's just wonderful when you stick your neck out and people tell you, oh, forget it. And suddenly it turns out that the judgment was right. Take Johnny Mathis, for example. It took me a long time to persuade Mitch Miller to make singles with him. And finally, when it was done, he had millions selling singles as well as albums with Bonds.

Speaker Was it the first striptease? Was it the first comedy album to sell over a million copies?

Speaker Mm hmm. You know something? I don't think anybody knows, but let let's address that. I've been asked, was that the first comedy album ever to sell a million copies? And I think the answer has to be yes, because in those days, you didn't have really accurate figures. It was all based on surveys of record shops and so on. And I don't believe that anybody ever came close before Bob hit that million figure.

Speaker Well, I should know because frankly, I had a small override of royalty on on that album because of my agreement with Warner Brothers, wants to work as cheaply as possible to get the company started.

Speaker But if I signed any new artists who were receiving less than the maximum royalty, then I would have a small percentage. And I'm happy to say that Bob did wonders for me in that regard. I wish it never. Well, it hasn't stopped yet. So I get it. I got a check for at least a few hundred dollars twice a year. Most, most welcome.

Speaker Believe me when you consider that in the early days, including up to that time, producers didn't get royalties and Columbia Records produced records which made millions of dollars in profit, not just in royalties. And all I got was my salary. So this sort of made up for it. Thank you very much, Bob Newhart.

Speaker If you can explain to know that this was not obviously the first comedy album, there were others before his. But they do explain, though, what was different about this one.

Speaker I wish I knew what was really different.

Speaker I've often thought, well, why did Bob sell so well? And again, I think the answer becomes, first of all, it's a unique approach and he does it so beautifully. And it looks the part of what he sounds like totally the every man who is a little bit baffled that the world doesn't quite understand his point of view. But most of all, I think that Bob was not a pushy kind of personality the way most of the comics are. Every one of the comedians who sold well on albums before Bob and after, I think was a personality who was pushing himself forward because that was the nature of what comedians did. They got up on the stage and they were in control of everything. Bob is not in control very well at all, but he's coping the best he can. I think that nobody could possibly have anticipated that such a reversal of personality would pay off so well, and that's why all the people that I knew in the business turned him down on the basis of the audition tape that I've sent. And of course, once he got going and the reports came in, hey, this guy is selling tens of thousands of albums a week. People got seriously interested in him. And it was Jim Conkling who personally got Jack Paar to put Bob on. And incidently, it gave Bob a very interesting piece of advice backstage. We told him, no, look. Watch out. Paar is going to try to make you do your act, but you mustn't do it because you're just on there as an introductory person. So hold back a little bit and then he'll hire you again and again and again. Well, Paar got him to do part of one of his routines, but it worked out fine because that was the taste that for.

Speaker Was able to rely on for the reaction of the audience to to the real Bob Newhart.

Speaker So the advice German I gave him was not quite as good as what actually happened. Bob became, of course, an in demand person on television. And the beauty of that was that the personality that he has on the record is exactly the personality that you see. And it's an effective personality because people watching can say, gee, you know, that could have been me. And that's that's so important. Just like these are very poor rock and roll singers who have hit records, the kids. But I'm thinking, gee, I can do that. Well, they can't really. But they think they can because the quality of performance is so low. If that's a prejudice remarks, I'll be a. Was use your recording people like Sinatra, Mathis and so on.

Speaker How do you think that his comedy album affected the comedy scene and landscape? He didn't bring comedy to a younger audience or how did an impact.

Speaker Well, I think that Bob showed one thing that nobody had ever really thought seriously about before. Comedians generally, I think, appeal to older audiences who went to the clubs and later on the concert performances with fairly high prices. You know. But Bob appealed to a younger audience. Let's say from 20 to 30 especially, and he broke in on the club circuit of places like the Hungry Eye and so on, which were modest in terms of of the entry at the door, drinks and so forth.

Speaker And so he reached a younger audience than other comics ever had. This became, of course, the foundation of his career, because once you're a Bob Newhart fan, you're a fan forever. And so today there are people even older than I am. And I'm 10 years older than Bob who love Bob because they grew up with him. That's the kind of thing, incidentally, which I think is so important with any artist.

Speaker It's the way the staying power of Tony Bennett or Johnny Mathis enables them to continue to perform in front of audiences that understand them, and they can go on forever. And so a lot of time runs out for all of us.

Speaker Tell me if you can. When that first album came out and how it start, how to start, it started being picked up on the radio, catching on.

Speaker Of course, we paid enormous attention to what was happening with the album, because we can see that this was going to turn into a gold mine. And it turned out to be a better one than we thought.

Speaker We especially paid attention to radio. And I talked to my surprise, the first place that really reacted to Bob. Sales wise was Minneapolis. I never thought that would happen. I thought I knew what Minneapolis was like because my sister was living on on. You know, just on the suburbs on Lake Minnetonka. And I thought, this is not Bob's audience, but it really was.

Speaker If that could happen in Minnesota, it could happen anywhere, we thought. And gradually it did. When I say gradually, it took two or three weeks for people to react and other cities to report that, hey, he is hot and this city is hot there and so forth, because everybody here is that all the time and thinks, oh, yeah, it's a lot of baloney.

Speaker They're trying to hike me up. Right. But it turned out to be so true.

Speaker The reaction that took place eventually was such that Bob was an enormous demand and hope and had a great deal of difficulty figuring out where to place him. And I think I'm not sure because I didn't stay close to that. You have to remember, this was just a very small part of the job that I had, which was to produce a product that would make money for Warner Brothers.

Speaker And so I didn't stay close to the promotion, but I think that we were able to tie in television appearances wherever he went. So there wasn't just a case of getting on the big network shows.

Speaker Can you tell me when that first album came out? When the first album was released.

Speaker I don't remember the exact date of the release of the album, but of course, it had to be in the spring of 1960. All right, I'll start over again. The album was released in May, and that traditionally is not the best time to start something new because summer is coming on. People are not running for the record shops. The fall season is the best, actually. So that was something else that caught us a little bit by surprise. But on the other hand, you have the right product. It'll go at any time. And that was the way it was with Bob. And also the Everly Brothers who broke open about the same time. It was just a case of when we could we could get the product out and not if it was the most favorable time in terms of the marketplace and the mood of the public in terms of buying records.

Speaker Could tell me how quickly was he asked to do a second album? Susan.

Speaker You know something I don't remember? Oh, boy. Well, all right, let me put it this way.

Speaker Of course, we immediately began thinking in terms of a second album. And that turned out to be not too great a problem because Bob was so worked up with enthusiasm that he began developing routines for the future. I don't remember how long it took for him to have a complete album ready. It wasn't too long, but I do remember that he had very little material ready that he did not perform in the first album.

Speaker And that's understandable because.

Speaker Well, what was he going to do with it? All in all he'd been faced with so far was failure and rejection. So we didn't have any great inspiration to do more. And yet he had ideas which he had been developing in the back of his mind, and he was rather quickly able to come up with the winners. The wonderful thing about Bob is if you listen to his later albums and no matter how little time there might have been between the releases and twice a year as a is a normal schedule and even less, perhaps the quality is high.

Speaker And that's because he has such a fertile imagination in terms of every man's problems.

Speaker He lives what he writes and he writes what he loves.

Speaker Simple as that.

Speaker You're making me come up with the things that I never really thought of in that way.

Speaker And what awards? First album, right.

Speaker Well, there weren't very many awards to be won. But Bob cleaned up his album, won album of the year. And the Record Academy, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which are not only one of the founders, but my membership card is number for lifetime. I feel very good about that. And it also won Best New Artist of the Year. So somewhere in the basement of my home, I hope I can dig it up in time. I've got two wonderful photographs of Bob coming up and receiving from me the two awards, which he didn't expect. But we told him, listen, show up just in case. And in those days, the producer didn't get grab his hand out, grab like peanuts today. But I did get two plaques and I don't know where they are. They're somewhere in the basement. You see, those things are very nice, but there's work to be, John. So that was the attitude that I had at the time. And I think Bob was kind of amazed that he had succeeded. So in terms of the industry, but he deserved every bit of it. And of course, he's won more honors since then. But those are the only real honors that were available at the time. And he had a sweet album of the year and the best artist, best new artist of the year.

Speaker He's a good part of the Grammys. Yes. Could you just say one, two Grammys? I did say that already. Yeah. Did you say Grammys?

Speaker I guess I must have. I do want to redo the whole thing again.

Speaker Not at all. I just just I don't know if people know that it was random. There were Grammys.

Speaker Oh, I did say yes. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. I mustn't use the word Grimey's. By the way, are you going to have a substitute for Tipper, your voice, or are you just going out?

Speaker That's what you should be on the camera with me.

Speaker No, you're doing fabulous. You're doing great. OK. And then so that the second album. Is it right. Can you tell me, did it came out later that very same year.

Speaker I don't really remember.

Speaker It came out in the fall, I believe.

Speaker I think it did, because we had art. As far.

Speaker Take another sip.

Speaker Mortimore, you. All right. Oh, OK.

Speaker Just tell me about when the second album.

Speaker Well, when Bob got the material ready for the second album, we are scheduled it for, I believe, later in the year so that there was enough time left for the first album to really grab hold and get the maximum initial sales. Because if you release any anything in the record business too quickly on the heels of a success, you automatically reduce the sales of the impetus and the momentum of the first release.

Speaker The second album, of course, didn't sell as well. No, it never happens that way. But it was a huge seller anyway.

Speaker And the title was one which was quite a natural. A buttoned down mind strikes back. Oh, I tell you, there was even more material that we didn't use on that album, which was saved and finally released later on. What what exactly? I don't remember because I left the company after turning down Jack Warner's office of the presidency and I took the job of running at our department for RCA. Victor had a very nice salary. They'd been after me even before I went to Warner's. And that was not natural progress of of natural progress of my own career.

Speaker Who gives a damn about that? Cut out the natural progress. Whatever you want. Go ahead. We're talking about Bob, not me. Go ahead.

Speaker No, those first two albums held a particular record for quite some time. You remember what it was. Tell me about that.

Speaker It held a particular record.

Speaker The first two, I believe, were the longest record for number one and number two albums.

Speaker Oh, I don't remember. I better not say anything. Oh, I can just say something like this. What was wonderful was that the second album also sold very, very well. So that Bob had a one two punch, which was quite unusual since many, many times after the first success. Nothing too great happens comparatively with his follow up album or follow up singing.

Speaker And do you know how many albums he had total?

Speaker I wish I knew because remember, we got a royalty. I tried cash the checks. That's all I can say.

Speaker How do you think Bob's success may have impacted the way other comedians pursued a career? In other words, he went from being nobody to going straight to doing albums. Did that change the way other comedians tried to get in?

Speaker That's a question. Well, I'll tell you what what my reaction is to your question and then we'll go from there.

Speaker I don't think Bob's success had too much impact on other comedians other than envy, perhaps because he was he was not possible to imitate. If you did, then you were second rate the Bob Newhart, which doesn't get you anywhere. As a matter of fact, until you have a funny thing that happened one night, I was in San Francisco and Bob was working at the hungry guy fairly early in his career. And he came down with a terrible sore throat.

Speaker He was sneezing, wheezing. His voice was raspy. He almost couldn't speak. I said, Bob, listen, here's what we can do.

Speaker I can alert the press to this, too. We'll say that you weren't able to. No, we'll do it this way.

Speaker Go on and then say, you know, I'm sorry, I can't continue. But, George, would you would you finish for me, you know, the routine. Because I did.

Speaker Of course, he was doing the routines that were in the album, which I had edited with great care, and therefore I knew them. So I said, Bob, what do we do that? It'll be on the front page of the Chronicle and The Examiner tomorrow morning.

Speaker And Bob looked looked at me and said, I think I can make it. I think I can make it.

Speaker I realize I overstepped my bounds. And you know something? Bob went on and there wasn't a single call for Rasp or anything like that. And when he came off, he couldn't talk. He was so worn out. But it just shows what the artists drive can be. I've seen the same thing happen with my wife was a concert violinist. She was definitely ill and decided I'm going to play anyway. Sneezing and all that stuck a handkerchief like Louis Armstrong's on the piano. And she went out on the stage play. The recital came off wheezing and eyes running, went back on the after the intermission. No problems at all. So artists have that special ability to rise to the occasion. And Bob certainly had it that night. I was terrifically impressed by him because until then, frankly, I'd looked upon Bob as a kind of an unusual one of a kind person who had no experience and yet was able to carry on like a seasoned professional. And he was a seasoned professional that night.

Speaker What is there a difference between the Bob Off-stage and does something happened to him when he got it? Did you see that something happened to him when he would go on stage?

Speaker What was the last thing, isn't there a difference between Bob Off-stage and oh.

Speaker You know, Bob Off-stage was like Bob on-Stage very nice, ordinary person. And he remained that way. I never saw the slightest sign of any temperament or conceit or pushiness. Bob Newhart remained Bob Newhart. I'm told by people who will continue to work with him on television that that's the way he always was. I think that one reason he was able to be that way is that he handled the sudden success as though, well, I don't know what's going on, but let's just go on just the way we were and see what happens.

Speaker That's the attitude that I could see in him, as well as the career developed in terms of television. I think that the one reason Bob was so successful is that the persona that he himself had and which was depicted so accurately on the record was the persona that was able he was able to project onto the characters that he'd play later on. I think Bob is the most natural person imaginable. And the fact that he is also a pretty good actor surprises me because he doesn't look as though he's acting.

Speaker When I saw him in films, I thought, well, let's find out what Bob is going to do with this character. Bob was Bob Newhart, period.

Speaker You think that's part of the Kate?

Speaker You know, I would change. Don't tell him I said this and he probably doesn't realize it. Well, no, he wasn't. Well, it doesn't matter. I would change one word from one night to the other just because of his inflection was a little better.

Speaker You can't tell, but it's there when you were editing. Yeah.

Speaker I didn't do an awful lot, but I wanted so badly to make this as perfect as possible and as effective as possible that I didn't hesitate to change words.

Speaker I just wondered if you had any favorite routines.

Speaker People ask me, what's your favorite routine? The easy answer is all of them. I don't know. They all have a different kind of appeal. The Abe Lincoln one is great for one reason and the driving instructor for another.

Speaker The USS Codfish is absolutely priceless. You know, when I first heard that line about we broke the record for this and that, and we don't want to forget the men that we left up on deck. Good God. It is so cool about that.

Speaker The only word I ever asked, by the way, to change was about the. Well, let's not forget that. No, it's not worth going into.

Speaker You did change one word because I said, look, it's it's more timely then boy naras or something like that, something that would have been something in the news. Forget that this is about Bob anyway.

Speaker What was his writing process. Would you see him writing. Would you try things out on.

Speaker Well, I never saw Bob write anything, but then I wasn't around in that much, of course, because because there was no need to be.

Speaker But Bob did have things prepared. And in a fairly organized fashion, I'm told, followed by him himself, so that everything sounds spontaneous. But he knew where he was going and he didn't he did not change his routines too much when he appeared in clubs. I heard him many, many times, of course, especially in New York and San Francisco. And the differences were minor and they were based on reaction that he received from the audience. But essentially, Bob knew where he was headed.

Speaker And that's one reason he has great confidence, despite the fact that he sounds as though is aunt has it and so forth. He's not hesitant at all. Ford knows what he's doing. I discovered that quickly.

Speaker And he reads an audience. Well, make.

Speaker Bob was great at reading audiences because I saw him work in order. I saw him work in front of audiences, which included a wise guy, hecklers. And he handled that very well without being unpleasant. I don't remember anything specific. And there was nothing on any of the tapes that I made which showed that kind of situation. But he was totally unruffled. And I never saw him come off the stage muttering about the whole God that fell on the third row. What a monster. Get him out of here. That wasn't Bob. I don't know if he really felt that way, but it was like, OK, everything's all right. Bob is pretty good at masking his worries, I think.

Speaker I think you're right. He has privately said that it's a drunks and the hecklers, really.

Speaker He was very, very good about that. I guess maybe if you're not a brash kind of person, you don't get heckled as violently as, let's say, you shake a grade or somebody like that would be if you could just listen to.

Speaker In what way? Do you think that Bob has most impacted the field of comedy? What's been his biggest legacy? Do you think?

Speaker Well, people ask me, what do you think Bob's legacy is, and I know I can only say I think what he did was show that comedy could be low key and still get huge laughs.

Speaker And you don't have to talk dirty or do anything like that.

Speaker You just take life the way it is. Give it a little twist. And that's a good way of looking at the things that Bob is up against. That is routine. My God, this poor guy is being trampled on by everybody. They don't understand him. They don't see his point of view, but he carries on as best he can. And the curious part also is that Bob is really two people at once because he doesn't have somebody working with him. He's got that voice at the other end of the phone or what have you. And so he creates a picture of both the person who is, let's say, offensive and the person who is offensive. And he does it so beautifully. It's perfect. I don't know anybody also who could pull that off. I haven't seen anybody since you could.

Speaker Yes, Mike. I'm sorry, Mike. Be causing your shirt to turn out stencilling.

Speaker No, just give it a twist. My lifeline.

Speaker OK. That's all I'm worried about my.

Speaker Are on the.

Speaker All this hard work for three months.

Speaker I just wanted to chalk up, to repeat again the beginning what your job was and where you were when you first. What your job was at Warner Brothers Records.

Speaker Well, what?

Speaker When Warner Brothers Records started, it really started with one man, Jim Goggling, and Jim reached out to bring Hal Cook, the sales manager at Columbia Records, who had also been a sales manager, a capital before with Jim into the company. And then he asked me, which I didn't I didn't do at first because I had already planned to leave Columbia. And start now. Let me let me start again.

Speaker Think of Supercheap. Yeah, if you can just say just one wasn't clear, I don't know if I had what your title was, you know.

Speaker The auto I don't want to get into as much detail as I was about it. That's the thing. And I want to edit this in my head, you know?

Speaker What?

Speaker What did I say at first, because I was a good, good first line when water brought one of our, you know, when Warner Brothers Records sorted. It was really based on one man, Jim Conkling. And Jim reached out to Hal Cook, who is the man in charge of sales at Columbia Records and had been a colleague of his before a capital. And after that, for the artist and repertoire direction, he asked me, but I had already made a commitment to leave Columbia and go into a partnership with Dick Barque of the World Pacific Record so that we would be the only independent jazz label that had.

Speaker A person in California and a person in New York who knew sales, promotion, everything and all that.

Speaker This turned out to be difficult to do because of the cash flow situation. And so when Jim asked me again, I said, okay. And I came on board. At that time, I had already produced a single record independently for Warner Brothers. It was the first hit single they had on the charts Tab Hunter as a jealous heart. So it was nice to be back together with Jim and Help. My title was director of Artists and Repertoire. But in actuality, Jim handled that in California. I live in New York. And the responsibility for the direction of the company was set by Hal Cook and myself flying out to California for upwards of a week every month or so to discuss plans, directions, a promotion and so forth. We were very, very small. Today, Warner Brothers has a thousand plus employees. I don't think we had more than, oh, perhaps 15 or 18 people at the time that Jim and Hal and I'll left two years after the record company started. Of course, it began to grow rapidly after that, that we got it off to a kind of a start, which made it a very powerful company. And I feel very proud of that because the three of us were. I think the people who got Columbia Records rolling back in the 1950s to a degree that it overtook the powerhouse RCA organization, which I ended up working for and been in Colombia for a while. And the growth was all based on a simple premise originality, daring, inventiveness, uniqueness. And that's what we try to do at Warners also, and it was extremely difficult because we didn't have the name power of the artists that were available to us when the three of us were working at Columbia Records. But the foundation was laid. And I'm delighted because if if the company had not become a huge success, I would have been very disappointed. Having decided to split and do something else and have it sink instead of rise the way it did.

Speaker So it's great. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Speaker When do we do some more of this? Listen, you're wonderful, you've got it well organized. Thank you. So we're going to sit very quietly. OK. Sure. Ten seconds.

Speaker I think we owe it to women.

Speaker This is our room, turn on to Mike's room.

Speaker Andrew.

George Avakian
Interview Date:
2005-05-31
Runtime:
1:10:36
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-542j679d0t, cpb-aacip-504-dn3zs2kw9b, cpb-aacip-504-2b8v980466
MLA CITATIONS:
"George Avakian, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 31 May. 2005, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/463
APA CITATIONS:
(2005, May 31). George Avakian, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/463
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"George Avakian, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 31, 2005. Accessed October 19, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/463

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