Initially, I was an artist, but I realized very quickly that you have to have some sense of who you are. If you wanted to stay in this business, you had to treat it like a business and you needed to learn.
You have to love the business end, but it’s an individual choice. Don’t think Sting is not business-based. Gene Simmons [of Kiss]? A nut like I am—all business. Some of us understand that we need to be our own people.
My first contract was a basic standard agreement. ABC gave me $100 a month to live off, and to write songs.
My first record contract was the release, 50 years ago, of “Diana,” with ABC-Paramount Records. I went there to see Sam Clark and Larry Newton. They looked at me like I was an alien. Don Costa, who was the A&R director, was the one that made it happen. He saw through all of my roughness.
ABC-Paramount owned all my masters and publishing. My manager Irving Feld and I sensed change was coming. That’s when I huddled with Irv and said let’s buy everything back and leave. I offered them a lot of money, $250,000—it was all my savings—and they gave me everything back. I think they looked at the money as opposed to the content.
I handled my money as best I could. You have to learn the new rudiments that a dollar wasn’t a dollar, because there are taxes and expenses. You kind of respected the fact that the money enabled you to live differently than you had ever lived, but you still had those around you pounding into you the value of it and how to deal with it.
We weren’t rolling in millions and billions as people are today, where kids have no sense of what that is. Right now, it’s about media and marketing and celebrity. Why learn about business if you’re not going to be in business long enough?
My publishing company, Spanka Music, represented James Brown’s catalogue in Europe, among other writers. I had offices set up all over the world. My business partner was Stig Anderson, Abba’s manager. You gave an advance, and then you represent the catalogue for two or three years.
My father was running it. My dad came from Ottawa—my mother died when I was very young so I was very tight with my family. I wanted to give him something to do. His health got a little sketchy and he later died of a heart attack. He was not well and I just wanted out of it. So I sold it to Gordon Mills and Tom Jones for close to $2 million. I’d rather have kept it. It’s worth $25 million right now.
Then I started a new publishing company, Paulanne Music, which I own. It was a very natural move. You sell one company and build another. I’m not in it like I was with offices everywhere—the whole industry’s shrunk. What’s happened in the publishing business, in a sense, is that they’re in the banking business. There are no song pluggers anymore.
When Frank Sinatra and I worked at the Golden Nugget in Vegas for Steve Wynn, he had a very small nightclub room capacity and he said, “I’ll give you guys options instead of payment.” We took that gamble and less money and it worked out very well. We got a half a million options.
There was a time when people went, “Vegas, are you kidding? There’s no future there.” Now, these hypocrites are all working there and playing long term. Elton John, Prince, all of a sudden it’s cool. I’ve been there all my life and it is cool.
Los Angeles Born July 30, 1941, in Ottawa Multi-platinum-selling musician
Moves to New York and plays “Diana” for execs at ABC-Paramount. The ensuing record goes on to sell 10 million copies.
1962 Leaves ABC-Paramount, buys back his masters and publishing for US$250,000, and sets up Spanka Music Corp.
1971 Writes “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones, and later sells Spanka Music to Jones for US$2 million, a decision he regrets.
Receives the Order of Canada. Rock Swings, a collection of jazzed-up ’90s rock songs, sells 525,000 copies.
Gets ready to release his 127th album, My Way, in September, and still continues to write his official autobiography.
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