HITS Daily Double


One of the most interesting, talented and envelope-pushing record guys I ever met was Bob Krasnow, aka Ernie or Bilko (nicknames given to Kras by Warner’s Lenny Waronker because of his resemblance to Phil Silvers, who played Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko in the hit ’50s sitcom The Phil Silvers Show).

The first time I met him, I was still living in Seattle and he was taking an artist named Penny Nichols on a promo tour for Buddah Records. One thing led to another, and we ended up getting wasted and tripping out that night. We kept in contact, and by the time I moved to L.A., he was running Blue Thumb Records with Tommy LiPuma and Don Graham out of an old barber shop on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills—complete with barber chairs and an apothecary full of weed and pills of assorted colors.

The label debuted with Captain Beefheart’s Strictly Personal, and in its first few years would release Tyrannosaurus Rex’s Unicorn, Dave Mason’s Alone Together—on marble-colored vinyl in an elaborate die-cut package—and Headkeeper, Love’s False Start, the first two Mark Almond albums, a couple of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks LPs and a pair of Ike & Tina Turner titles.

We resumed our friendship and began hanging out at the Troubadour, Tana’s, the Whisky, the Roxy and especially the infamous Bungalow 8 of the Beverly Hills Hotel. He wanted me to work for him as head of promo—ugh—but it was just too crazy for me, even though I loved what he and Blue Thumb were doing.

Blue Thumb was part of Gulf+Western’s move into the music business when Tony Martell headed it in NYC. It was a collection of various indie labels besides Blue Thumb, which scored a hit with The Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can Can” (from their self-titled first album) the year after G+W bought it. The G+W family also included Just Sunshine Records from Woodstock’s Michael Lang; Melanie and Peter Schekeryk’s Neighborhood Records, which took her “Brand New Key” to #1; and Artie Ripp’s Family Productions, which released Billy Joel’s first album, Cold Spring Harbor, and single, “She’s Got a Way.”

G+W’s music division was hemorrhaging red ink, and Jay Lasker bought the company and all those label deals. Blue Thumb was shuttered, and Lasker asked me to let Kras know that it was over. It was not a great meeting. Mo Ostin could spot exec talent like no other at the time; perched like an eagle surveying the landscape from his house high in the Encino hills, Mo swooped in and hired Kras and LiPuma.

Kras immediately set his sights on two of the acts I had broken: Steely Dan and Chaka Khan, both of which he was instrumental in getting signed to Warners after ABC began to fall apart.

We were happening until the corporate bozos in NYC fired Lasker and hired high-profile business manager Jerry Rubenstein. Jerry was not a bad guy, but he was clueless; the company was sold to MCA about four years after he got there. Rubenstein only lasted two years, but before he got fired in ’77, he made me a new three-year deal and doubled my salary to $90k.

David Geffen, who was running Elektra/Asylum, and Steve Wax, his president, called me to say Jerry was a loser and I should come to work for them. They were right, but I didn’t.

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