Sunday, 27 July 2014
Who Is Herb Coen ?
'Herb Cohen, who has died aged 77 of complications from cancer, did not elicit much affection from the artists he managed, but he played a pivotal role in shaping the music of the Californian counterculture in the 1960s and early 70s. His most notorious relationship was with Frank Zappa, with whom he co-founded several record labels before they parted company amid a flurry of lawsuits. Cohen was born into a family of New Yorkers, and his initial ambition was to join the military. After a brief stint in the army in 1952, he moved to Los Angeles, where he began running coffee bars and folk clubs such as the Unicorn and Cosmo Alley. Among the first events he promoted in the late 1950s and early 60s were concerts for the folk icons Pete Seeger and Odetta. His big break into artist management came in 1965, when he saw the avant-garde outfit the Muthers, led by Zappa, in an LA club. Cohen immediately offered them a deal, organised a residency at the city's premier rock club, the Whisky a Go Go, and set about securing a record contract under their amended name, the Mothers of Invention. Their satirical debut Freak Out! (1966), a mess of dadaist psychedelia, made Zappa an instant hero of the west coast demi-monde. Cohen himself was listed on the record sleeve as one of those who "have contributed materially in many ways to make our music what it is. Please do not hold it against them." He is also credited as "playing cash register" on the following year's Absolutely Free and featured on the cover, pastiching Sgt Pepper, of We're Only in It for the Money (1968). Cohen's other discoveries included the singer Tim Buckley, whom he first met at an LA club called the Trip in July 1966. He promptly booked the 19-year-old into the Night Owl Café in New York and alerted the Elektra label boss, Jac Holzman. "Herb called to tell me that he had a new artist and that he was sending us, and no one else, a demo disc with about six songs on it," Holzman later recalled. "I didn't have to play the demo more than once." Buckley's Elektra debut arrived three months later. Cohen also managed Linda Ronstadt and the comedian Lenny Bruce. In 1968, Cohen and Zappa formed the Straight and Bizarre labels, with the intention of nurturing LA's more outre musical talent. A key release was Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band's 1969 masterpiece, Trout Mask Replica, which fused zero-gravity jazz with surreal blues. Cohen was startled during recording when Beefheart, aka the eccentric Don van Vliet, landed him an $800 expenses bill for a tree surgeon. Van Vliet had apparently feared that the band's music would frighten or damage the trees outside the studio. The Cohen-Zappa axis also funded records by the GTOs, Ted Nugent, Wild Man Fischer and the then unknown Alice Cooper. But Cohen's ruthless streak, hidden behind an affable exterior, drew the wrath of several of his charges. The producer Jerry Yester remembered him as "a lot scarier than people would think", the GTOs' Pamela Des Barres claimed Cohen never cared for the music and Van Vliet, in a typically elliptical putdown, said he resembled "a red marble in a can of lard". Tricky relations with Zappa came to a head in 1977, when Zappa claimed that Cohen and his lawyer brother Mutt were skimming off his earnings and helping themselves to holidays with the profits. He wrote Mo 'n Herb's Vacation as a riposte, before stinging Cohen and the distributor Warner Bros for $10m. Cohen countersued, claiming that Zappa had bypassed their new label, DiscReet, and taken his album Zoot Allures straight to Warners. By then, Cohen's main focus was the beat-styled songwriter he had met at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles in 1971, Tom Waits. Waits's first demos had been recorded for Straight/Bizarre (later issued as The Early Years I & II), and Cohen had helped secure him a deal with Asylum. But again, the pair also fell out and in 1993, Waits successfully sued Cohen for allowing two of his songs from a 1980 album, Ruby's Arms and the title track Heartattack and Vine, to be used in television advertisements. That year Cohen founded Manifesto Records, which has since released early recordings of Buckley and Waits, as well as albums by the Wedding Present and Concrete Blonde. A year ago, he filed a $1m lawsuit against the writer Barney Hoskyns over allegations made in his biography of Waits, Lowside of the Road. Cohen is survived by his wife Elizabeth, and their daughters, Lisa and Tamurlane. • Herbert Cohen, record label owner, music publisher and manager, born 30 December 1932; died 16 March 2010' http://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/apr/01/herb-cohen-obituary