By Jerry Honigman
In 1977, I was living in Dallas, and my friend Chuck and I had a little four-track recording studio in our house. I was (and still am) a songwriter with designs on a music career. One of the albums I was listening to at the time was called A Stone’s Throw Away by a beautiful singer named Valerie Carter. I loved the record, which featured musical backing by members of Little Feat and Toto, and I loved her voice, which I imagined harmonizing with. So, I wrote a song called “Run Your Life Away” with her in mind, and got my friend Cindy to sing the parts I had written for Valerie on our home recording of it.
This song, along with a handful of others we strung together as a demo which Chuck and I decided to start shopping to record labels. Unfortunately, we were a little naïve in the ways of the actual music business and didn’t realize that the only real action in that realm couldn’t be found anywhere other than New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles.
Nevertheless, I looked up the number for the Dallas offices of CBS and Columbia Records and made an appointment to see the head of the regional branch, a fellow named Mike Gussler (Gus). He magnanimously told us he would certainly take a listen and invited us in. He welcomed us warmly, told us he enjoyed our music, and educated us as to why there was pretty much nothing he could actually do from Dallas on our behalf. By way of consolation, he told us that the trade magazine, Radio and Records, was having their annual convention that weekend at the Fairmont Hotel and invited us to join him there as his guests. Very nice.
The entertainment for the industry muckety-mucks that Saturday was to be provided by Boz Scaggs. He was promoting his Silk Degrees album on Columbia Records, and Gus was his handler for the convention. He was also backed on stage by the musicians who had played on the album, soon to be known as Toto.
After the performance we were invited by Gus to the CBS Hospitality suite to join Boz, his band, and the guys in a New Zealand band called Split Enz, with whom I was familiar and whose current album I had. Among the band’s members were the Finn brothers, Tim and Neil, about a half dozen years before Neil formed Crowded House.
The 19th Annual Grammy Awards were taking place that night, and we were all watching it on the television in the suite. Stevie Wonder was sweeping most categories on the strength of his album Songs in the Key of Life,” but Boz had also been nominated that night for Best R&B Song for “Lowdown,” which he co-wrote with David Paich. When Boz and Paich were announced as the winners for that category, Boz, who obviously was not in attendance at the award ceremony, excitedly jumped up, not three feet from me and yelled his acceptance speech to the room: “Stick it, Stevie!”
Here comes the cool part. By 1979, I had moved to Los Angeles with my band, The Romeos. We were signed to Columbia Records. David Paich of Toto produced our album with other members of Toto helping out. One of the songs on the record was “Run Your Life Away,” on which Valerie Carter sang with me just like I had imagined. Mike Gussler had relocated to L.A. and was assigned to us as our record label liaison when we toured the country, with Kenny Gradney of Little Feat as our bass player.
Karma Chameleon making the rounds. Coolness abounds.