Clockwise from front: Bill Muster (back to camera, researcher's father), Perry Mayer, Dick Rising, Fred Rice, Bud Frazer, Steve Auld, Jack Smothers. Unknown photographer, circa 1957 - 1958.
May 16, 2008 interview with Don Hassler (and Paula Hassler)
Nori: We have talked about the hierarchy of Capitol a few times, but I am not clear about who all the people are. That's the purpose of this interview.
Don: Well, I am going to go right in line. The first one, of course, was your dad, Bill Muster [foreground with back to camera]. Bill started out doing paste-up, which means he would sit at a work table and take pieces of type and photographs, and various other things, and paste them onto a page, so the lithographer could run off the pages. It was called the Weekly Wrap-Up. Wrap-Up meaning it was Capitol's message for the week to all the salesmen in the field. Capitol had mostly its own sales force. They owned their own distributing sources, unlike the other record companies in those days. Capitol was the first, I believe, that had its own distribution network.
Nori: So other companies would hire a p.r. firm to sell their records?
Don: No, the p.r. firm was the guys in this picture. They were doing the p.r. and they were sending out information to the salesmen about what records were coming out, who the artists are, where the artists are appearing, what cities, who is recording what, what movies are coming out with Capitol artists in them. The Weekly Wrap-Up kept the salesmen in the field totally involved in the things that they wanted to promote from Hollywood. Instead of having a weekly sales meeting (which of course the branches also did), but the Weekly Wrap-Up was the word from the home office in Hollywood.
Nori: So the Weekly Wrap-Up was mailed out.
Don: It was mailed out every week to every branch. And also there were some independent distributors who got them. But the branches accounted for about eight-five percent of Capitol sales; record sales, their company-owned branches, distribution nodes, or facilities. They had branches in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Memphis, Philadelphia, Dallas, and so on; big metropolitan areas. So your dad started out doing that, then as he progressed with the company he did more and more with the merchandising department, other than just sitting there pasting things on a piece of paper. He was writing material for the Wrap-Up, he was participating in meetings to decide what to promote and how to promote it, and what the people in the home office wanted to say to the people in the field. I'm not sure what his title was when he left, but he was probably in the second level of management in the merchandising department. There was a VP in charge of the whole thing (Lloyd Dunn, who is not in the picture, vice-president of sales and marketing). Your dad was doing all that, but his focus even at the end was that he was involved in the Weekly Wrap-Up to the sales force; what we wanted to tell them and the guys in this picture were the ones who decided what to do with the Weekly Wrap-Up.
Perry Mayer, who is the next guy in the picture. I can't tell you exactly what Perry did, my memory doesn't go that far back, but Perry Mayer was a sharp guy. I used to ride to work with him. He ended up being the head of Capitol's music publishing business, which is totally different from the record business. A lot of the artists who recorded for Capitol had their own songs and if they didn't have their own publishing firms, Capitol became their music publisher. Perry was the guy who handled that for several years, at least.
Dick Rising, who's the next guy in the picture, was the second of command when Bud Frazer, the boss, wasn't available. Dick Rising was like, if you had a squad of ten men and you had a commander, he was probably the assistant commander.
The next guy, Freddie Rice, was one of the geniuses of Capitol's entire company. Fred Rice was in charge of all displays and point of sale merchandising. He was the guy who came up with the idea of making a browser box that you could put albums in so people could do self-service. Instead of asking a clerk, "show me that album," or "get me that album," or "do you have this album," you put all the albums in the browser boxes and put index labels on them, and let the customers browse through them and pick out what they wanted. That was just one of the things. Fred also designed cardboard cut-out displays for ever fall program that we had. Fred would be out there with cut-outs and easels. It was like the kind of merchandising that the movie companies did, except Capitol did it in the record business. Capitol was probably not exclusive in that. There were other companies that did that too. The idea was to get as much exposure for your products as you could for your product on the record retailer's sales floor. You had x-thousand square feet to fill, and the more Capitol Records could get out there, the better chance you had of selling more.
The next guy around was Bud Frazer. He was the boss of the whole department. He reported directly to the vice-president Lloyd Dunn. Bud was very smart, but he was a tough boss and he didn't like pipe smokers, so I had to quit smoking my pipe when I worked there.
Paula: He used to say, "Anyone who smokes a pipe has lead in his ass."
Don: Bud also wasn't too crazy about crew cuts, so there were no short haircuts in that company.
Nori: A crew cut was bad?
Paula: A sign of anti-social . . .
Don: I don't know what it was.
Paula: It was like hippies then.
Don: It was just one of those corporate things that happens in all big companies. There's always something that's taboo. The guys at IBM all wore white shirts. Well, why would that be? It just happened to be the way it was at IBM. They also had to wear ties, by the way. Just because top management reflected those things to middle and lower managers.
The next guy around, Steve Auld, I don't remember Steve well at all. I can't tell you what he did, but if he was in this committee meeting, he was obviously involved in some aspect of the merchandising and marketing activity.
Jack Smothers, the last guy in the picture, around to the right, was a writer. He did record albums, and he wrote copy for the Wrap-Up, he did a lot of things in the editorial vein. And by the way, I've heard from Jack Smothers. He lives over in San Diego. He contacted me. Jack Smothers stayed as a writer and continued doing editorial things for a long time. As far as I know, and he was a smart guy. His work is on the back of a lot of Capitol Records album covers.
Nori: That's it for this photo, but I have a few more questions about the Capitol Records Tower. I always thought that it set the company apart because it looks like a stack of records.
Don: Glenn Wallichs, who was the president of Capitol Records when we opened the Tower, and one of the founders by the way, insisted without any subterfuge, that there was no intent to make the Capitol Tower look like a stack of records. Or, to make the top of it look like a needle playing the records. He insisted the Capitol Tower was designed that way by Welton Beckett, who was the architect, because it was more efficient. You had all the service items for the building in the center. You had the elevators, the electricity, the water, the sewers, everything you needed was in the center, then everything on the outside was offices and office space. Also, you had more light control, because in a circular building, everybody had a window pretty much. It was never intended, according to Glenn, that it would ever look like a stack of records, but everybody said it did. In fact, Stan Freberg is quoted as saying that in the event of a nuclear attack, Glenn Wallichs pushes a button and the Capitol Tower screws itself into the ground.
Nori: I have some more names I want to run by you. The first one is Johnny Mercer.
Don: Johnny Mercer is one of the three founders of Capitol Records. The other two were Buddy deSylva, a song writer (which also Johnny Mercer was), and Glenn Wallichs, who was the owner of Music City Record Store. They started Capitol Records in the early forties, during the war, when shellac was hard to get to make records. Because Wallichs owned the record store, he had access to some shellac. They decided that no record companies had any headquarters in California, where a lot of the entertainment was, especially the movies. So they started Capitol. Johnny Mercer was one of the great songwriters of all time, as far as I'm concerned. He wrote Stardust, which is arguably the number one most popular song of the twentieth century, along with Hoagie Carmichael; Mercer wrote the words, Carmichael wrote the music. He also wrote a song called Stardust*, and dozens of others. On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. You probably never heard that one, but it was a real pop record back in the forties. Johnny Mercer - great song writer, piano player, lyricist, and musician.
Nori: He was already famous before he started Capitol? So he brought star power?
Don: Yes, he sure did.
Nori: And you said the other one was Buddy deSylva?
Don: I think DeSilva was basically at that time his writing partner. Most songwriters, at least many of them, there would be two guys writing. One would do the music and the other would do the lyrics. George and Ira Gershwin were like that, Cahn and Styne were like that, Rodgers and Hammerstein were like that, Mercer and Carmichael were like that. Cole Porter was different, he wrote them all by himself. He was another kind of genius. Mercer brought a lot of star power and he was a big wheel in Hollywood.
Nori: How about Perry Como?
Don: Perry Como was a pop singer. He was almost a contemporary of Tony Bennett. Perry Como died quite a few years ago. He was popular in the early forties, probably through the sixties. He was an Italian baritone, very similar style to Bing Crosby, who also had a successful singing career. Neither of these were on Capitol.
Nori: How about Studs Terkel?
Don: Studs Terkel, I knew him in Chicago when I lived there with my kids and my first wife. I worked at a radio station where Studs Terkel worked at. He used to have a weekly show. He was primarily a writer and humorist, but he also was a jazz aficionado. Whenever there was jazz around Chicago, Studs Terkel was usually there, if not listening, at least involved in talking about the artist, maybe even writing stuff about it in one of the newspapers. He had a radio show, a newspaper column, he wrote books, and a pretty interesting guy. Very left-wing, however.
Nori: He was a guest on the Al Franken show on Air America.
Don: Turkel is at least as left-wing as Al Franken, if not more so. Turkel was at one time suspected of being a Communist, but I don't think that ever went anywhere. But I just think that Studs was a very bright guy and very interesting. I didn't agree with any of his political views, however. I've always been pretty conservative, but that didn't affect any of my liking of his writing. His writing, the part that wasn't political, was very good. He was a humorist. A very interesting guy, a good conversationalist.