Tom Werman, producer: “Good band – no songs”

Tom Werman, born 1945 in Boston, is a legendary American record producer, responsible for many equally legendary hard rock and heavy metal albums. His discoveries for Epic Records as an A&R man include Boston, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent.

Starting out 1970 as A&R man for Epic Records, how did I get into music production?
When I signed Ted Nugent (no politics involved here), I didn’t think too much of the producer’s facility or approach to rock & roll. I needed to protect my investment in Ted, because I felt I needed to sign a successful act at that time. It had been 5 years since I signed REO Speedwagon, and while they were doing well, I needed another hit in order to feel good about my job security as an A&R man. I began spending quite a bit of time in the studio with Ted and with Lew Futterman, the man who basically owned Ted’s production contract (and consequently had the right to name himself as producer) . I made so many production suggestions that Ted and Lew thought my contributions were worth a credit on the LP as co-producer. The record went platinum in a short period of time, and bingo – I was a producer.

Details about the production of Ted Nugent’s First Album
Ted came into the studio with every note for every instrument in his head. He basically directed all the band members and told them what he wanted them to play. I was more “quality control” than producer. It was a very inexpensive album, and was recorded in just a few weeks. “Stranglehold” was a great experience for me, and the first song I ever mixed.
Lew did the initial mix, but I found it disappointing and went down to Atlanta to do my own mix. In those days we had only three pieces of outboard gear with which to modify or affect the sound of the instruments or the voice, and I suggested a few backwards things, which we did. Ted was delighted with the album, and told me how much he loved what we did with “Stranglehold”, but advised me to never take such liberties with one of his songs again without getting his approval first.

What was the first album I produced solo?
After I co-produced Ted Nugent’s first LP, my first solo production happened soon afterwards, when I signed Cheap Trick and produced their second LP, “In Color” — and I was off to the races. Cheap Trick’s “In Color” was named Rolling Stone’s “Album of the Year”. It was recorded in Los Angeles, and my experience there convinced me to move from New York, because entertainment was the number one industry in L.A. and it was so convenient to make records there.

I produced 5 albums with Ted, 3 with Cheap Trick, and 5 with my next signing, Molly Hatchet, and all were either gold or platinum. I then left Epic Records (in 1982, the ed.), served briefly as VP of A&R at Elektra, and became an independent producer.

“The Ones That Got Away”
Werman produced 23 gold and platinum albums, including for example Blue Öyster Cult, Mother’s Finest, Molly Hatchet, Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister, Jeff Beck, Stryper, L.A. Guns, and Poison.
He also brought acts to the label, which the label refused to sign – and probably regret it to this day:

I had signed a group called Wicked Lester, a pop group with catchy tunes and lots of harmonies – but they broke up before we could release the record. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were the leaders of this group, but decided they wanted to go in a different musical direction. They formed a new three-piece band (with Peter Criss), and I took my boss, the head of A&R, to a private showcase in a rehearsal room where they played a short set. I wanted to sign them, but he didn’t understand their approach at all, so he passed.

Note of chief-ed: In case you don’t recognize the musician’s names, they soon afterwards added a band member and became…

After that, I tried to sign Rush, but the CBS Records Business Affairs Department said they wanted too big an advance ($75,000 for a 2-album deal!), so that didn’t work out.
Then after I heard the Lynyrd Skynyrd demo, I flew to Macon, Georgia to see them live, and I took my boss to see them live in Nashville. They played a set which included “Free Bird”, and his comment afterward was “Good band – no songs”.
Those three bands have sold over 100 million records.

Producing L.A. Guns
I frankly recall very little from that project. At that time I gave my engineer and a third member of our team the chance to be “line producers” for half the album. Tracii Guns was a superb guitarist, and the album eventually went platinum, but it was long ago, and it
was a pretty straightforward project. My engineer Duane Baron and our friend John Purdell produced “What Happened to Jane” , which did pretty well at radio, and I did my favorite song from that album, “Rip and Tear”.

Werman left the music business in 2001 and ran Stonover Farm, a “luxury bed and breakfast” in Lenox, Massachusetts with his wife, Suky, for the next 20 years and then retired from this activity as well. In September, 2023, he began working on his memoir “Turn It Up! My Time Making Hit Records In The Glory Days Of Rock Music”, which is available now.

Why Did I Write the Book?
I was asked to do a growing number of podcasts a few years back, and one of them got 150,000 hits. I recognized that there was a growing interest in “classic rock” from a wide age-range. Then I wrote 18 episodes about how I started in the record industry for a blog called “Popdose”, and this became the model for the book. I continued to write about things I recalled, and about how we found bands and recorded them in that era, and I would add those pieces into the blog text chronologically. I never wrote for more than 20 minutes at a time, and sometimes I wouldn’t write for a month. Over three years, the book took shape, and I was fortunate enough to find an agent and a publisher soon after I sent out my book proposal, with chapter summaries.

Am I a fan of heavy metal music?
Actually, I’m a pop guy. I prefer acoustic guitars and lots of vocal harmonies. The Eagles are one of my favorites. I had no Iron Maiden or Slayer or Black Sabbath, but I did love The Who. I think my success with making hit singles was due to my emphasizing the pop elements of a song, and making it “acceptable” for AM radio. A hit single could sell a few million albums. Many of the acts I worked with probably would have liked things gnarlier and rougher, but they wouldn’t have had those AM hits – especially the “power ballads” like ”Home Sweet Home” or “Every Rose Has its Thorn”.

Interview: John Wisniewski
Fotos: MusicRadar, MusicBusinessWorldwide (bw), Amazon (book and album covers)

GastmitarbeiterInnen / guest contributions

Regular guest contributors e.g. Melanie Kircher, Tatjana Tattis Murschel, Grit Kabiersch, Marina Minkler, Jasmine Frey, Maria Levin, Elvira Visser, Nina Ratavaara, John Wisniewski