Record producer TOM WERMAN speaks up on Motley Crue, Cheap Trick and many more!!

Record producer TOM WERMAN speaks up on Motley Crue, Cheap Trick and many more!!
August 30, 2011 | By More

Tom Werman is a friggin LEGEND. The man is easily one of the most important figures in the history of rock music since 1970 as both an A&R man and record producer. The artists he’s worked with are so numerous that there was no way that we could even cover it all in this interview. Selfishly, I stuck to the groups he worked with that were most important to ME growing up, but I think you guys will all probably dig it…..READ ON

LRI: You’ve been described lots of different ways by lots of different people, music legend, wild partier, family man, even simply as a preppy kid from Boston. How did you enjoy growing up out there and how involved in music were you then. I talked to Frank from Angel who went to Berklee, did you ever consider that kind of music education?

TW: Each of those descriptions is reasonably accurate. I came to Columbia College as a New England prep school grad, and quickly taught myself guitar and formed a band. I was politicized, we all started smoking weed, and we all got very serious about music. The band was quite popular, and we played college gigs all over the Northeast. I have no love for Boston, but I do love New York – after college I got my MBA at Columbia, so I spent a total of 6 years on the Upper West Side. Loved it. Still do. Yes, we all did rather stupid things in the 70’s and 80’s, and I enjoyed partying as much as the next guy. At the same time, I was father to 3 wonderful kids, and I always maintained a firm grip on my projects. Compared to many of my clients, I was a sober professional. I could never learn to read or write music (but neither could McCartney), and all the arranging I did just came from inside my head.

LRI: Around these parts we all know you were instrumental in signing our hometown boys Cheap Trick after you made the jump to A&R at EPIC. You also signed Boston, and another area act REO. Did the Boston signing go anything like the lyrics to “Rock and Roll Band” and what was early Champaign era REO like?

TW:  I heard the almost-finished REO album only several months after starting in the A&R department at Epic Records. I flew to Champaign to see them perform at the Red Lion Inn – Irving Azoff was their manager. He told me of his ambitious music business plans, and I almost laughed at how unrealistic I thought they were. Within six months he had achieved everything he told me he wanted to do, and much more. REO played much harder rock at the time, with a killer version of “Sympathy for the Devil”. That trip to Champaign was the first real party experience I had. Irving made sure I was well looked after.

As for Boston, my A&R colleague Lennie Petze brought their manager to my office, requesting that I listen to their demo. Halfway through “More Than a Feeling” I thought I might be being set up for Candid Camera. No unsigned band could be this good. It was an A&R man’s wet dream. I didn’t have to hear more than 2 songs. I promised their manager a generous contract if Lennie & I could confirm that they could reproduce their music live. Weeks later, we saw them at Aerosmith’s rehearsal facility near Boston, and the rest is history.

LRI: When you got Trick hooked up on EPIC what did the band initially have as far as a song repertoire what plan did the label have in place as far as how to actually market the band?

TW:  The label knew little about any new band. They waited until most of the first record was recorded before they listened to the music and tried to design a marketing program for the band that would make sense. Rick had quite a healthy backlog of songs, and tons of song fragments – a chorus here, a line there, a concept here, a verse there. Several songs were actually combined in the studio to create a brand new song.

LRI: IN COLOR has been the source of much discussion. The band told me (Tom and Bun in particular) back in the 90s that they thought it was sterile. It sold and sold, launched them in Japan, and you were pegged again to record HEAVEN TONIGHT and DREAM POLICE. What gives, they went on to have wayyyyy poppier productions in the 80s….is this classic revisionist history or did they really make it clear to you that they were unhappy with IN COLOR?

TW:  While I signed the band, I didn’t work with them in the studio until their second album, “In Color”. Contrary to Rick’s many creative recollections of my alleged dictatorship in the studio, the plain fact was that I heard their music a certain way, and wanted to take it in that direction. Every producer does the same thing. During “In Color” and “Heaven Tonight”, I would repeatedly solicit the band’s opinion, and Rick’s typical response was “You’re the producer”. He’s claimed in print that I wasn’t even present at sessions I can clearly remember. There was not one single session I did not produce. The string session for “Gonna Raise Hell” was done at RCA Studios on Cahuenga in Hollywood, with Jai Winding (at my advice) arranging and conducting – yet Rick said I wasn’t even there. Pretty remarkable stuff. He also seems to recall that I forced them to do things in the studio. Pure fiction. I’ve always seen my job purely as a collaborator. The band hires the producer; the producer simply doesn’t have the authority to force the band to do anything. If there’s an impasse, they can fire him. Naturally, I would put forth my case. If they didn’t like it, we didn’t do it. End of story. I wanted to produce singles – they were a new band and they needed a radio presence. Years later, they decided that my approach was too pop. Bad timing, I guess. Lots of folks seem to love these records I produced, regardless of the band’s opinion. I hear from Trick fans online all the time, and it’s all positive.

LRI: HEAVEN TONIGHT is a landmark in that it is so strong from start to finish, how easy was it making that album and creating such extreme and different songs?

TW:  I have to hand it to the band on this one – in the midst of touring to support “In Color”, they came in with a roster of really strong songs that demonstrated a real growth that gave their fans some really new musical approaches to chew on. All four members of Cheap Trick were just about the best I’ve ever worked with in the studio – competent, cooperative and fast. No fooling around when it came to work – only when it came to humor. If we experimented with sound in the studio, they would focus, and we’d reach a decision very quickly – no wandering the halls looking for “something different”. Rick had very interesting ideas. I honestly think “Heaven Tonight” and “Dream Police” represented a very strong combination of band and producer, and remain among my very favorite career albums.

LRI: Did you have any specific instructions or tricks that were used to make the title track so magical? It is genuinely spooky and timeless.

TW:  It’s hard to remember more than 30 years later, but I think the cello and the lines it played were my suggestion, as well as the clavinet parts and the big backward swoosh in the middle of the song. Naturally, Rick will refute all of this. I actually feel that Gonna Raise Hell is far spookier.

LRI: How much had changed and how different was it working on the DREAM POLICE album and how did it come about that Tom was gonna sing?

TW:  This album was less a leap forward than its predecessor, and I feel the band was too involved in touring to come up with material that differed significantly from “Heaven Tonight”. Still, it was great material, and because of touring deadlines we had 30 days to do the album from start to finish. At that time, this was quite an achievement, as most albums took from 6 to 8 weeks to complete. As it turns out, it sat on the shelf for 8 months until “Budokan” had run its course. Just for the record, I was asked to supervise the Japan live recordings, but was unable to do so because of a prior commitment to Ted Nugent. So the band couldn’t really have been too dissatisfied with me yet. I believe that Tom got a lead vocal shot because he was pressured by his girlfriend Dagmar. It was a bit like the Beatles having Ringo sing lead.

LRI: Again, some of the amazing and magical was captured again on “Gonna Raise Hell”. As far as you can remember and are willing to say what was the atmosphere you were gunning for and how did you achieve it?

TW:  This song always seemed far shorter than its 9 ½ minutes. Rick wrote some of his cleverest lyrics here, and the dynamic range of the song goes from whispers to screams – Bun E. and Tom in the intro set the tone sonically and rhythmically – swinging, but dark at the same time. I do feel that Tom’s bass could have been louder in the mix during the verses and choruses. My individual contributions were the shakers in choruses and breakdowns, the Hammond B3 in the middle (“Mother” ) which gives that section a kind of religious feel, and during much of the song I slammed a 2 x 4 board on the studio floor to provide a sharp report on top of the snare. We had a lot of fun doing that song.

LRI: To clear up another misconception, which is what we’re trying to do with this interview; Was there ever an official falling out between you and the band or were they just simply so enamored with the Beatles that they decided to go work with George Martin for “All Shook Up”?

TW:  It’s not at all unusual for a band to change producers – especially after three albums. I could hardly be upset by the fact that they wanted to use the most successful producer in the world at that time. I have great respect for George, both as a producer and a gentleman. We worked together briefly on a Jeff Beck single, and he was generous with his time. I’ll admit that I did feel some measure of perverse satisfaction when the sales of his album fell short of Dream Police – but I felt no resentment toward the band.

LRI: You worked on so many things for “Uncle” Ted Nugent. How important was the chemistry of the band aside from Ted and how crucial was Derek as a frontman when you worked with them?

TW:  Ted was clearly the ringmaster of this circus. He knew exactly what he wanted in terms of instrumentation and arrangement. In the beginning, I was really there for quality control, and to help preserve the music’s edge. Lew Futterman, who owned Ted’s production contract, didn’t share Ted’s ferocity the way I did, and Ted and I had the same musical goals in mind. Sometimes I felt as though Ted trusted my musical taste more than anyone else’s in the room. I loved working with Derek, who had a sense of humor as strong as his voice. He was clearly overshadowed by Ted, but recently Derek has actually been doing some dates with the band.

LRI: You famously presented KISS, RUSH and LYNYRD SKYNRD to Epic and they turned them all down. Not to be negative but did you ever snicker or sit in stunned amazement as they all went on to massive success?

TW:  I actually felt sorry for myself – but I had no right to, since I allowed the label (specifically, my boss) to pass on these acts without giving him an argument. I simply didn’t have the confidence or experience at the time to take a firm stand, so I swallowed hard and just shook my head. My boss was a fine person, a good boss, and a friend – he just wasn’t conversant with rock & roll, whereas it was my meat & potatoes. Eventually there was a new boss (not the same as the old boss) – and I was turned loose to sign the acts I wanted.

LRI: You really fucked up our childhoods with your work with Motley Crue. You have to understand that people can never know enough about the nuts and bolts of their breakthrough, SHOUT AT THE DEVIL. It famously brags that it “may contain backwards messages” which may have been the first album to actually advertise such a thing as backmasking. For the record, was this just a part of the marketing concept or did you actually indulge them in backmasking?

TW:  I did use backwards speech in a couple of songs, but don’t think I did anything like that on Shout. Nikki probably wanted that printed on the jacket – he was the marketing brains of the group. I did some backward stuff with Cheap Trick (the entire Lord’s Prayer backwards, considerably sped up) – and on a wonderful song called “Why Do You Think They Call it Dope?” by Love Hate. I repeated “Just say no” several times backwards in the middle breakdown. I remember that there was some big to-do when Cheap Trick’s song came out. The right-wing fundamentalists were all chasing their tails, claiming brainwashing through “backward masking” – it was all just a joke.

LRI: I once stupidly had so much respect for Nikki as a songwriter and personality that I named my first born daughter Nikkayla in his honor. In recent years between the outside writers, poor live shows and his general holier than thou attitude I am officially put off more than anything. The books, all of them, in my opinion are entertaining but ridiculous. We just interviewed John Corabi who said he seriously doubts the validity of most of Nikki the “author’s” words and that he basically slandered you among others. Did you ever see Nikki actually writing in a journal during the years you worked with him?

TW:  No, I didn’t. I’m clearly on record as having said that much of his writing is pure fiction, and we had a little war of words after the Heroin Diaries was published. I always thought it amusing that he thought people would believe the diary of a guy who was high on heroin while he was writing it.

LRI: Would it be fair to say that Mick and Tommy were a pleasure to work with and asked to do a lot of the “heavy lifting”?

TW:  I really enjoyed those two, and Vince as well. Mick was highly underrated in my book – great signature licks, great solos, great fills – and he just did his job really well with no complaints. Tommy was a superb drummer – he was always on 11 and anxious to experiment – very serious about his work, too. Vince would sometimes let partying get in the way of his conditioning, but was a very reasonable guy to work with. All 3 shared a great sense of humor, and I enjoyed working with them very much.

LRI: More misconceptions, more revisionist history. Nikki wrote the liner notes to THEATRE of PAIN and GIRLS and basically shit all over them for various reasons. Corabi said that he has actually tried to remove the 94 album from the library. These albums were professional affairs and some of the fans favorite albums. What do you think when you hear about an artist basically negating a vast majority of their work that sold millions and made lots of people happy?

TW:  Some musicians apparently need to blame others for everything they’ve failed to achieve. I can only say that wile I was producing multi-platinum albums for the Crue, they treated me as one of the family. 20 years later, they claim I was unfocused, incompetent and a disinterested. The whole approach to making records changed radically over those 20 years – at the time we were making them, the musicians were more than happy with the results.

LRI: Was there a clear purpose or vision that they expressed in pursuing a different musical environment on the Theatre album rather than the old metal THUD?

TW:  I think every band wants to experiment a little, and do a different album, like the Stones’ “Satanic Majesties’ Request” – something that shows a bit more of the band’s breadth and capability. But Motley Crue was road-weary and more into drugs at that time, and I think the songs on Theater reflect this.

LRI: Did the ability to HAVE a clear starting slate or vision become progressively worse? In other words, was GIRLS more difficult to see to completion than the previous records?

TW:  Actually, Girls was no harder than the previous two, and I think we made some good progress in terms of individual sounds. Mick finally had a serious guitar sound, Tommy was getting into the technical side of drumming, and Nikki’s bass playing and sound had improved, as well. I was really happy with the title track and “Wild Side”.

LRI: You indicated that a band you worked with “The Producers” should have been bigger than they were. I think similarly that albums you made for STEELHEART and BABYLON A.D. were unbelievably strong. Were any of the afforementioned albums just a victim of bad timing? Is that half the trick of the biz?

TW:  While I think there are merits to the Babylon & Steelheart albums, I was incredibly disappointed about the relative lack of success for The Producers’ two records. I thought the debut album was as strong a pop album as I’d ever heard. I loved the band – sonically and individually. They were wonderful musicians, great songwriters and fine people. I lay a lot of blame on the fact that they were placed on the new Portrait label instead of on Epic. I think the label did a poor job of launching this group.

LRI: You produced one of the most enduring glam albums ever, “Open up and Say Ahh”. The band had broken already and the anticipation leading up to the release of the album was palpable. Regardless of his difficult reputation did you ever get the feeling that C.C. was the musical “muscle” behind the band or at least the songwriting engine?

TW:  As far as I could see, Bobby was the brains behind Poison, while Brett was the single most important individual in the band. CC did give the band its personality and its sound, but was so distracted by the recreational side of rock that he didn’t realize his potential. He was a lovable guy, but suggesting musical directions and recording his leads were formidable tasks.

LRI: A lot of acts had their breakout records with you at the helm. Is it more interesting or fulfilling to break bands like DOKKEN or KIX than it is to work with artists that are already firmly established?

TW:  Absolutely. With the exception of “Dr. Feelgood”, every gold or platinum-selling band I ever worked with had their biggest record with me. If they chose a different producer, they failed to continue their climb. Dr. Feelgood sold a little more than Girls Girls Girls, but it marked the high point of the band’s work, as was the case with Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Molly Hatchet, Dokken, Kix, LA Guns and Poison.

LRI: Piggybacking on that question, you made arguably the BEST albums of both LOVE/HATE and LA GUNS catalog. Does it surprise you to see that Jizzy and Tracii are together? Basically…… Love/Guns

TW:  I had forgotten about that, but they’re both among the best at what they do. I felt that the Love Hate record should have been much more successful.

LRI: You have gotten some shit in the press from Dee Snider though you produced THEIR really good album as well. Though to be honest, when I talked to him he actually blamed himself more than the band or you for what went wrong in their career saying he got caught up in trying to be a POP star. Million dollar question; was Twisted Sister a tight, disciplined ship prior to the massive success of 1984/85?

TW:  I only produced “Stay Hungry” for Twisted Sister. While the worldwide success of this album was the band’s finest achievement, it seems that Snyder could never deal with any credit given to anyone but him. He was stunningly two-faced, as he went from being a glad-handing good guy to a total trash-talker who literally made up things to tell the press – never ever said a negative word to me, but only to the press. I’ve emailed him and his radio show staff several times since then, asking for an opportunity to be a guest on his show, but he remains in hiding. He worked with JJ French building and touring with this band for years and years, and when they finally achieved superstardom, he wanted all the credit for himself. As I’ve said in print many times before, I only had two requirements for every band I worked with – I wanted a member of the band in the control room during the mix, and I always insisted on an approval of the final mix by the band before I turned the record in to the label. There were no problems back then, so why 20 years later?   I think that if I had produced only one hit record, there would be none of this – some artists have a real problem working with someone who has proven to be consistently successful, because then an album’s success is attributed partly to that producer. The artists simply can’t tolerate this.

LRI: Tough question, what would Tom Werman have brought to the table of some of the few bands you HAVENT worked with?. Are there artists you wish you could’ve had a chance to produce but just never worked out, like KISS or Van Halen for instance?

TW:  Not really. There are some artists whose records I feel could have been stronger if I had worked with them, but the artists I would have been really delighted to work with are artists who are so good that I don’t think I could actually have brought anything to their table at all – acts like The Who, or the Eagles or the Foo Fighters. Who could improve on most of their records? In the late 80’s I received a call from Paul McCartney’s office in London, inquiring about my availability. Nothing ever came of it, but it was the most exciting moment of my professional life.

LRI: There are still some good bands nowadays for sure but no real ROCKSTARS that come to mind. They are as nameless and famous as the guy working at the oil change place, you may know the name of the band or the song but that’s about it. Is the lack of real “ROCKSTARS” good or bad for the business?

TW:  Ten years ago I literally retired from the music business. I’ve had nothing to do with it since then, and I’ve seen only one show (Steely Dan at Tanglewood this summer – absolutely brilliant). My son knows far more than I do about the current state of the record business, but as you may guess, I would blame the lack of excitement in today’s music business on the studio tools which can produce perfection – everything from the vocal pitch to the perfect timing of the entire drum kit. We’ve already seen a reaction to this in some of today’s newer, more organic bands — bands who use real drummers, acoustic guitars and analog tape machines. I think there will be more of these, and that listeners will welcome this move back in time as a great leap forward.

LRI: Thank you so much for taking the time for this……Last question, you’re off the hook. You’re living the dream and surprising as it might sound to some, running a successful Bed and Breakfast out east. The unthinkable happens and Cheap Trick, Motley and Poison all tour together and wanna crash at your place. Do you just shutter the windows and go on a quickie vacation or let em in???

TW: Great question. This is a luxury Bed & Breakfast, which used to be a contradiction in terms. It’s the only one I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve worked very hard to achieve even more success with this than I achieved as a producer. It’s my second and last career. While we’ve had some big names stay with us here from politics (Giuliani) to show business (Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Leonard Nimoy, Alan Alda etc.) and industry, it’s really heaven on earth here in the Berkshires, and it’s as different from LA as you can possibly get. Though I still have close friends whom I regularly visit there, the musicians I’d welcome here from my past would be on a very short list.

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  1. BrineB says:

    This is the type of interview that I LOVE to read. Growing up as a full-blown metal head in the 80’s….when I saw Tom Werman’s name on an album…I knew I was going to like it before the first note. After getting Shout At The Devil a few days after it’s release….and becoming familiar with every word on the sleeve, his name was like gold to me. I also enjoyed the questions asked of him. Just a great read.

  2. Cip Cipriano says:

    Amazing interview. I just discovered this on a google search and am so glad I did! Very well researched! Thank you!!