One of my favorite artist stories was Eric Clapton. When you deal with artists many times your relationship with the Roadies, (or Tech’s as they now are called because everybody needs a more interestng title these days) is much more important than the relationship with the artist. Especially when the artist is high proile. Many of those artists rely solely on the Roadie to keep them current and trust their recommendations to this day. Actually these days it is the rule. Access to a star is about zero and going to a show is really nothing like the old days. There are some great exceptions today primarily Slash, who is a great member of he Ernie Ball Family. Remind me to tell you of Paul Mc Cartney….fantastic gentleman.
So Eric had some issues back then and sort of reemerged ad ended up in with a bunch of players from Tulsa. He had a great and wonderful Roadie named Willie Spears who used to work for Leon Russell. Willie was just a fantastic down home guy that really cared and was really fun to be around. Eric had just finished 461 Ocean Blvd that the Tulsa guys and him recored in Miami…you know the one with the Bob Marley cover of “I Shot the Sherriff”.
Willie called to place his string order to prepare for Eric’s first tour in awhile and we were chewing the fat and I asked him what he was doing for amps and he said that Eric was using Fender Dual Showman’s but was looking for something more powerful and something with a master volume. I said that there was this new company that my godfather started with some old Fender veterans ( Icouldnt mention Leo as his non compete clause was still in effect with CBS) and they had these new amps that were really good sounding and built lke a tank. He was curious and asked if I could bring some to the Long Beach Auditorium to sound check for Eric to check out. This would not happen today. I said sure then called Tommy and first off had to tell him who Eric Clapton was and convince hnim that it was worth bringing amps to Long Beach. I told Tommy to trust me that if Eric used the amps that he would be set.
We loaded up Tommy’s 67 Cadillac Sedan De Ville with two heads and two cabinets and barle fit in to drive there. Willie meets us at the loading dock and Im sure is scratching his head. Heere is this skinny kid along with a grandfatherly guy in his overloaded Caddy and golf clothes with these amps. We set them up and I played a little and so did Willie and he was sufficiently impressed to bring Eric out. Eric was knocked out and wouldn’t give those prototypes back. Tommy asked if he could have a photo for endorsement purposes and Eric said as long as he got the amps. That was the first endorsement ad for Music Man…..It was Eric standing in front of the amps with a Gibson Explorer with the title “There is only one Music Man”. Tommy trusted me and ran with it and it really jumped started the amps. Eric used Music Man amps for many years. The ad ran internationally and the amps were off to the races.
Now Tommy is building a team that included so many Fender veterans one being this blond German lady named Uschi Eastman who was a really great International sales manager. To most of the smaller US companies we didnt understand export. Tommy asked me if we needed any international help. I went my boss at Ernie Ball and asked him if he wanted Uschi’s help and he said that we were covered and that all you needed was Japan, Germany, France, and England. (Kind of like Spinal Tap when the manager said “Boston isnt a college town”)
I thought about what to do and decided that I would go ahead and ask Uschi for a list of names in various countries and send out a mailing to those people and see what came of it. I actually believed the world was biger than 5 countries. So I took the list and after hours sent the stealth mailing out. Twenty two countries responded with orders. That was the straw that broke the camels back with the Sales Manager. Besides being hyper, loud, and uncontrollable I had shown him up for the last time and he quit. I remember the next company boasting that they got the brains of Ernie Ball.
Now I’m 22 and my Dad sits me down and says, “Sterling, you act like you have all the answers. You can have the Sales Manager job..you have one year. If you grow the business you have a job. If you don’t your done” I did pretty well and the first year the business with 14 employees was up 50% and I had a job.