Bay Area Reporter :: Howie Klein: The Modern Music Man


Depending on how long you’ve lived in San Francisco, and by extension, how long you’ve read The Bay Area Reporter, the name Howie Klein may be familiar to you. Klein, who wrote about music for BAR some 40 years ago, was a radio DJ who co-founded the legendary 415 Records label. 415 was home to major San Francisco bands including Romeo Void, Wire Train, Translator, The Nuns, Pop-O-Pies, and Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, to name a few.

In Los Angeles, Klein went on to work for the big label conglomerate Warner Brothers / Reprise / Sire where he supervised artists such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Depeche Mode, The Pretenders, The Smiths, Talking Heads, Green Day and d ‘others.

I had the privilege of speaking with Klein, who is openly gay, about the Liberation Hall series of albums reissued by 415 Records, including the Readymades, Uptones and SVT, as well as his work in the field. progressive political activist.

Gregg Shapiro: You and Chris Knab named your San Francisco based independent label 415 Records. 415 is both the police code for disturbing the peace, as well as the area code for San Francisco. Was it coincidence or intentional?
Howie Klein: We had both in mind when we named the label. We found him cute and loved him. We didn’t think it was deep, we just thought it was cute.

I lived in Boston in the early 1980s while studying at Emerson College majoring in writing. If I remember correctly, Romeo Void, a 415 Records band, even came to Boston to record their EP Never Say Never at Ric Ocasek’s Synchro Sound Studio.
It was even more wonderful than that. They came to Boston because we were selling a lot of records there. It was because of all the broadcast, mainly because of [WBCN DJ] Odipe, who loved Romeo Vide.

I loved Odipe! He was the best DJ ever!
Yes, Odipe was wonderful. He was very supportive of the 415s, including Romeo Void’s music before “Never Say Never”. Anyway, they came to do a show and Ric Ocasek was at the show and he was amazed. He walked up to the band and said, “I have my own studio. If you have any songs I would be happy to record them with you.” There was nothing planned in advance. The band had a song they hadn’t recorded yet, which was “Never Say Never”, and they went to the studio with Ric and recorded it. It changed their lives, changed my life, changed Chris’ life, all of our lives.

Given that you had a background in radio, how important was it that you, as a label manager, had that kind of attention paid to your artists on the radio?
It makes all the difference in the world. On the one hand, this is no longer true, but at that time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, radio was practically the only way to market a band outside of the immediate circle of their town. native where he could play live all the time.

The reason Romeo Void broke out in a few cities across the country – Boston being one of them – was that there were some cool radio stations. University stations, BCN and FNX, suddenly turned Romeo Void into something real that then sold out and hit the charts. Then people from other record companies would see it; bigger labels who were then interested in working with the group.

Howie Klein (right) with the group Green Day

Currently, the label Liberation Hall reissues the titles of the artists of 415 Records. What does it mean for you to be able to see bands that you defended at the time rediscovered or discovered for the first time by listeners?
Oh I love it. I am so happy about it. There’s no real deal between Liberation Hall and 415. It’s not really a question of money. In order for me to license the music to them, I just asked them to donate money to the Bernie Sanders campaign. It is the only money involved. If they suddenly started selling millions of records, which I wouldn’t expect and no one else either, then all the bands would start making money and I would even make some money.

But that’s not what it is. That’s exactly what you said: to be proud of the music and to let people know that music. Remember, when 415 came out records, there was no CD. Much of this music has never been available on a CD before. I say this at a time when people don’t even know what a CD is anymore. What I’m saying is music has never been available digitally before.

Following your experience with 415 Records, you were with Sire, Warner Brothers and Reprise. Along with your work there with cutting edge rock and classic rock bands, you’ve also brought Joni Mitchell and Neil Young home to Reprise. Do you consider this to be one of your most important acts in the Warner family or is there something else that is more important to you?
It’s like asking a parent which of their children is most important to them. I love people like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. On top of that, I also personally love Joni Mitchell. I like Daniel too. It’s just that I was personally closer to Joni just because more than anything she lived here [laughs] to the. I was able to have a meal with her from time to time.

Howie Klein (center) with the group Rude Girl

But I love these two people. When I was in college, many years before I worked in a record company, I booked the two to play in my school. This is how far I go with these two artists. On the other hand, where I am right now in my house, I am looking at a painting that was done by Dave Gahan.

From Depeche Mode.
That’s right. Dave had some problems and he was in a drug rehab center for a while. The doctor who was treating him in rehab encouraged him to exorcise his demons by painting. He did the painting and literally the minute he got out [laughs] he asked the limo to take him to my house and handed me the painting, which I am looking at right now.

It would be difficult for me to say that an artist is more important to me than any other artist. I knew all the artists I worked with and at one level or another I had a meaningful and important relationship with them and with their music in particular. Whether they were on 415, by the way, or whether they were on Sire or Warner Brothers or Reprise, they were all very important to me.

In addition to your long career in music, you are renowned for your political activism, especially for progressive causes. How much do you attribute this to your connection to the punk rock scene and how much can it be attributed to having lived in San Francisco and being gay, or are they all connected?
I could spend an hour talking with you about a very close old friend named Harvey Milk, but let’s not go down that road.

Howie Klein with the handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators at Mabuhay Gardens.

There is something important in the question you asked me. What that has to do with the connectivity between the kind of music that I love and what the music does to people, and the political feelings that I have.

Let’s go back to when I was in college. The kind of artists that I was, played on the radio and booked to play in my school were all cutting edge artists. Back then, it was a hippie era.

The very first group I booked was a group from New York called The Fugs. I was like I was first year class president at the time and booked them to play the first year class dance. At this ball, which was packed, we couldn’t move, it was in a small hall. Bob O’Connor, the captain of the basketball team, who was in every way my opposite, approached me. You could see that the vein in her neck was pulsating, her very white face was very red. He looked like he wanted to rip my head off. He started yelling in my face that his girlfriend was so offended by this junk I had brought to school and she couldn’t get out of this place because there was no room to go out ; there were too many people.

At that point, I realized that if music could do that, make someone so emotional like that, that’s something I need to dig deeper into. [laughs]. It wasn’t the deciding factor, but it was one of the things that helped me decide to be in the music industry. I could spend hours talking about the connection between cutting edge music and progressive politics, and there always has been.

Howie Klein in Istanbul

If you haven’t already, have you considered writing a dissertation?
Funny you should mention it. Of course, I thought about writing a dissertation. I write a blog and sometimes I write about my stories in the blog. I have lived abroad for almost seven years. I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, India, Nepal. I lived in Amsterdam for four years. There have been a lot of things in my life. My Harvey Milk part would be a chapter in itself.

My favorite writer in the world is Dostoyevsky, and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to write an autobiography until I had written a book as good as The Brothers Karamazov, which was never going to happen.

The reason your question is interesting now is that an author recently approached me and asked if she could write my bio. I spend a lot of time thinking about it now. At first I was very excited and told him yes. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I didn’t know.

There are going to be a lot of things that are very difficult to deal with; things that I don’t know should be brought up. Much of my life has been very public. The way people interpret what is happening or what has happened is different for everyone. Experience and truth are sometimes at odds with each other.

Some of these things were very public, like what happened, what really happened on the night of the San Francisco riots, for example, after the death of Harvey Milk, or what actually happened to Dan White. . I don’t know if I want to tell this story publicly. Maybe if it came out after I died, that would be a better way to deal with it. But I don’t think the author is interested in spending a year writing a book for it to come out after my death. [laughs].

Finally, is there a group that you currently like and want to share with readers?
When you say now, you could mean last week, last day, last hour. It’s like that for me. When I go to YouTube now, every song from a band called Las Cafeteras appears immediately. The reason is that I have listened to Las Cafeteras so much [laughs] that YouTube continues to feed me that. It’s a band from East LA. I’ve never seen them play live. Someone attracted me to them because they made a really wonderful Spanish version of “Georgia On My Mind”. They made the song for a reason, which was election. I liked it so much that I went to see what else they have done in the past. They have been around for a long time. I have found so much music that I love that I can’t stop listening to it. I want to turn everyone on Las Cafeteras.

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