Guitar Player Feature (Part 2 of 8: Jim Crockett)
Posted by s woods on November 6, 2007
Strumming, Picking, and Shredding:
After leaving Guitar Player, Jim Crockett raced cars and wrote/published a monthly newsletter, “Autoracer’s Monthly,” for serious amateur racers.
Then Crockett and his wife moved to their Cayman Islands home for eight years. He had a five-person scuba shop that he ran for five years, handling marketing, training, taking divers on trips, etc. He also played drums in two rock bands, two jazz bands, a 22-piece swing band, a Dixieland band, a show band, a blues band–and had the time of his life. Additionally, he taught broadcasting, writing, and public speaking, and created an educational radio station, at the International College of the Cayman Islands. And there was a year or two as a news editor and announcer for the goverment’s Radio Cayman.
Crockett and his family (along with 18 assorted animals) live on five acres in Southern California. For a while he was a Media Relations Executive with an international PR firm for publically-held companies, then put in a few years with a daily newspaper and now has a couple of agents shopping his screenplay, Great While It Lasted (based on a true story of the world’s first female jazz band, 1916-29). He has also written and published the book, The Why-to of Scuba Diving.
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“Was this an opera mag, a bagpipers newsletter…”
“By 1970 I’d quit teaching broadcasting at the Univ. of Idaho in Moscow over fighting a loyalty oath issue, moved to Livermore, CA with my wife, two daughters and a son. And no job. I worked a while in an art gallery in San Francisco; we lived in Stinson Beach, and I scuffled around looking for a steady job in San Francisco. Began freelance writing, doing feature stories for the SF Chronicle, SF Examiner and San Jose Mercury Sunday sections. Fine, but a little difficult to support one’s family.
“I always believed in one thing a day toward a goal equals 30 things a month, and at that rate, something’s got to break free. My one thing, that day in 1970, was to check the newspaper classifieds, and there was a 4-line ad: ‘Editor wanted for music magazine’ was the lead. I’d been a drummer from the mid-50s, was a DJ, did jazz radio shows, produced jazz concerts, etc. Music! I couldn’t believe it. But, was this an opera mag, a bagpipers’ newsletter, a flautists’ quarterly? I went to the three-room office in Los Gatos, CA to meet, and interview with, Bud Eastman, the creator of Guitar Player magazine. Great gentleman, excellent country pedal steel player and had a music store in San Jose. So, he had a customer list–but few customers. He started Guitar Player in 1967 basically to drum up business for the store, but, after a couple of years, he began to think there might be something here. He was wise enough to realize that while he knew music and musicians, he didn’t know publishing. He needed someone to run the magazine. With my years of writing and music, Bud felt I was worth a try, so we shook on it.
“One of the places I had applied to was the educational TV station in Sacramento, KQED. They offered me a position producing educational programming. Cool. By then I had a B.A. and M.A. in radio-TV with emphasis on cultural programming. Dilemma time: Guitar Player vs. KQED. I opted to follow Bud’s dream. My first paycheck bounced. What the hell had I done?
“I figured if I gave up lunches the hours would equal about a month full-time to build up the magazine, giving me an edge on other publications, though we were alone in the musician field. The staff was Bud, his wife Maxine, a secretary and a part time college guy. And now me.
“I studied guitar in its every form–music styles, instruments, construction, repair, marketing, recordings, whatever I could find. Even took lessons from Bud’s daughter. One day I interviewed Andres Segovia in the morning and Chicago’s Terry Kath that afternoon. Then I’d get on the phone and sell advertising to manufacturers, design and paste up the issue pages with a tiny hand waxer, convince printers to give us credit, talk a distributor into trying out this unheardof type of publication, make collection calls to stores and past advertisers, dream up marketing and promotion schemes. Like that. I convinced the Gibson company to sign a color contract for the back cover which allowed me to produce full-color front covers cheaply.
“All of a sudden we looked real professional, real successful. We went from 40 pages 8 times to monthly at 80. Our ads grew with it
“We actually began making money.
“Bud and Maxine kept their interest and partnership in Guitar Player, but moved away after my first year, having faith that maybe I knew what I was doing.
“I decided to broaden the company by creating Keyboard magazine…”
“But, I couldn’t hang our proverbial caps just on the guitar, and its ups and downs in music and in advertising. That’s when I decided to broaden the company by creating Keyboard magazine, changing the business name from Guitar Players Inc. to GPI. I hired a Stanford grad–a brilliant writer and music lover–Don Menn to be GP’s editor while I ran the business, directed the publications, hired the Keyboard staff and contributed articles and interviews.
“Over time, I added Drums & Drumming, a book division, a recording division, a newsletter division, Frets and Bass Player.
“When I left GPI we had about 130 people instead of four, Guitar Player was around 200 pages instead of 40 and we were having monthly jams in the warehouse with such guests as Gerry Garcia, Country Joe McDonald, B.B.King and Chick Corea. They were good times.
“As time elapsed, and the publication grew, we moved from that miniscule Los Gatos office to bigger space in Cupertino then I designed a good sized two-story place also in Cupertino (where we rented a small office to Steve Jobs who had a handful of people creating something called Apple Computers), and then another larger one there.
“A magazine for players rather than fans…”
“As one may imagine, the staff of Guitar Player expanded as needs arose. We hired art people, advertising people, writing people, a regular photographer, a marketing guy, even a head of personnel. That brilliant music photographer Jon Sievert joined in our early days. Steve Rosen was an excellent freelance writer for us then, too (and before we could afford staff, freelancers were our life blood); Dan Forte joined GP early on as a hardworking interviewer and writer. Don Menn did yeoman work, too; in fact it was Don who was later to hire the brilliant and funny Tom Wheeler to take over as editor when I moved Don to assistant publisher, I think it was.
“We computerized early on, somewhere in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, and all editorial people had those loveable old Kaypros. It was all too common to hear blasting down the hall, ‘#**@#! I forgot to Save!’ Those were still good times.
“My mission from my beginning was to stress Bud Eastman’s initial goal–to make a magazine for players rather than fans. There was nothing else like it. Bud probably didn’t realize he’d created a ‘first.’ He just embarked on what seemed to appeal to him. I placed more emphasis on the serious side of things, I think. One marketing slogan I used for a few years was ‘The serious guitar magazine for serious players,’ or something like that. I mean the magazine itself was fun; our goal was to educate entertainingly, but always directed to people to whom music and guitar matter most in life. Well, nearly ‘most.’
“Has that changed over the years? No way. Sure, music has changed, technology has changed, staff and owners have changed, but as any frequent reader in this 21st century can tell, Guitar Player is still for players who give a damn.
“’What are you gonna do when the guitar fad is over?’ I must have heard that a thousand times it seems. People with distributors, with ad agencies, magazine retailers all were waiting for the bubble to burst, then where would we be? You just knew none of them were musicians, especially guitar players. To those types, Guitar Player was definitely underrated, if rated at all. To them GP was like a bell-bottom magazine.
“But to players, Guitar Player was like a Bible. ‘My son has always had trouble reading,’ parents would write, teachers too, ‘but once he found your magazine, I can’t get him away from it.’ If you were a guitar player in those days, with GP you’d finally found people who took you seriously, who wanted to help you play as good as you wanted, regardless of musical style or instrument. From the very first issues we had jazz, rock, classical, country, flamenco, pop–if readers cared about it, so did we.
“We weren’t Hunter Thompsons or Tom Wolfes…”
“How good was our music journalism? Were we up to, say, Rolling Stone which started around the same time?
“We weren’t Hunter Thompsons or Tom Wolfes. Our job wasn’t journalism; it was communication. When Guitar Player writers did interviews, they didn’t ask about hotel mayhem or future gigs or recent marriages. We asked about string gauges, finger picking vs. flat picking, hammering-on techniques, pickup placement, solo creation, instrument evolution, musical exercises. Things like that.
“Our job was to ask well-known guitarists and guitar experts what you as a player would ask if you were there. Then to write the story or edit the interview to pass along this information as clearly and concisely as we could.
“Guitar Player was completely different from every other music magazine out there. There were no other publications that cared about players.
“The tree is the same, but with a whole lot of different branches…”
“GP has lasted 40 years. So far. Longer than most businesses, longer than many countries and certainly longer than the majority of marriages. And a product that lasts 40 years doesn’t do so unnoticed. There are Guitar Player’s step-children throughout the U.S., or course, but also in Europe, Asia and no doubt regions I haven’t thought of. I’ve seen publications that target violinists, pedal steel players, bass players, drummers, vocalists, acoustic guitarists, piano players and even saxophonists. These publishers know now what Bud Eastman knew back in 1967.
“Somewhere around 1990 Bud found himself so removed from both the daily contact with who was doing what at GP and what we were doing it about, that he realized he had other things he wanted to do with his money if he sold his stock. Remember, he had not been active with GP since 1971. I was the only other shareholder, having received stock from Bud over the years. We knew no company would want to buy part of GPI; it would be all or nothing, so I went in with him and set out looking for the right buyer, someone who would know not just what we did it, but why; not simply how much we made, but how we made it. No easy task.
“After three or four years of meetings and negotiations spanning two continents, I had made a deal that Bud, Maxine and I were happy with–for us and for the staff. Then that buyer sold to someone else, and on it went and I lost track of it all as people I’d worked with for years were let go and projects close to us all were dumped. I focused on racing cars then moving with my wife to the Cayman Islands to run a scuba business and play in a bunch of bands for eight years.
“I’ve been away from GP almost as long as I was there, and I’m frequently (really; it’s amazing how often I’m still recognized by face or name) asked: How does the old GP rank with the new version?
“The tree is the same, but with a whole lot more branches. Evolving technology has allowed GP to do things we never dreamed of; each issue is packed with instructional tips and explanatory sheet music; equipment reviews are solid and unbiased; art design is more striking than ever and the photos convey emotion as well as information.
“The ‘old days’ were great in the sense that we were pioneering, making our own way, taking our chances and our lumps. Each day was a surprise, time to try this or that. We were blazing trails, but didn’t even think of it. We just wanted to make the best musician magazine we could. And it’s my guess that the folks at today’s Guitar Player feel the same.”