Anything for a Hit: An A&R Woman's Story of Surviving the Music Industry

Anything for a Hit: An A&R Woman's Story of Surviving the Music Industry

by Dorothy Carvello

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Overview


Dorothy Carvello knows all about the music biz. She was the first female A&R executive at Atlantic Records, and one of the few in the room at RCA and Columbia. But before that, she was secretary to Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic’s infamous president, who signed acts like Aretha Franklin and Led Zeppelin, negotiated distribution deals with Mick Jagger, and added Neil Young to Crosby, Stills & Nash. The stories she tells about the kingmakers of the music biz are outrageous, but it is her sinuous friendship with Ahmet that frames her narrative. He was notoriously abusive, sexually harassing Dorothy on a daily basis. Carvello reveals here how she flipped the script and showed Ertegun and every other man who tried to control her that a woman can be just as willing to do what it takes to get a hit. Never-before-heard stories about artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Steven Tyler, Bon Jovi, INXS, and Marc Anthony make this book a must-read to grasp what it takes for a woman to make it in a male-dominated industry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781641602242
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/01/2019
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author


Dorothy Carvello began her career in 1987 as an assistant to Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary Atlantic Records founder, and went on to become the label’s first female A&R executive. She worked for many of the biggest names in music—Morris, Azoff, Galante, Buziak and Ienner—at Atlantic, Giant, RCA, Relativity, and Columbia.

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CHAPTER 1

REWIND

I was born in Brooklyn in 1962 to a working-class Italian American family. My mother was an unfulfilled housewife; my father was a gambling addict. She worshipped the ground he walked on; he wouldn't give her the time of day if he worked in a clock factory. You could have torn us from a Scorsese film — one of those period pieces on the Italian immigrant experience — except no one in my family had an association with the Mafia. Yet.

My father and I had no real relationship. He was a narcissist, and our lives revolved around his gambling addiction, without any thought for what it did to us. The best I can say is he never hit us — his father beat him as a child, and he didn't believe in administering discipline that way. He also didn't believe in administering anything. He was absent. He worked a civil service job and did real estate deals on the side, but as soon as the money came in, he'd gamble it away. He took night shifts as a waiter to pay his debts. On weekends, he'd make himself scarce.

My mother didn't know how much money my father made. If he gave her five dollars for the week, we had to find a way to live on it. I remember going two straight years as a child without new shoes. I assumed we were poor, and so did my mother. I didn't learn until later that we were actually middle class, or at least we would have been had my father not gambled our money away. I revered my mother. If this life was good enough for her, what right did I have to expect better?

I have two older brothers, but when it came to chores and housework, the responsibilities all fell on me. At the tender age of six, I learned my duties: "Bebe," my mother said (Bebe was my nickname; Ahmet was the first person in my life to call me Dorothy), "you have to clear the table and wash the dishes every night."

"Why?" I said. "They eat too, but they don't have to clean up."

"We're not talking about them."

"Why aren't we talking about them? What's the difference?"

She grabbed my arm and pulled me to the sink. "Do the dishes," she said.

"I can't reach the sink."

She got her wooden spoon, gave me a couple of whacks on the ass, and set up a bench. Every night, while my brothers lived wild and free, I had to set and clear the table and wash dishes like I was in the army. That's when I first discovered the difference between boys and girls.

I felt rejected at birth just by being female. It wasn't something to be cherished or honored. It was a burden to bear. The message was: men live for themselves; women live for men. I saw this message repeated everywhere, from my brothers, to my parents, to my aunts, who pretended to be modern but were just as backward as the rest of them.

I also have a younger sister. My parents spoiled her in comparison to the rest of us — they had more money by the time she came. When she turned six years old, I didn't want to do the dishes anymore. I asked my mother if my sister could start doing the dishes, and my mother said, "No, she has to develop at her own rate." There was another message: if you have to be a woman, at least don't be the oldest one.

My mother devoted her life to taking care of others, and she trained me to do the same. It was like a script I had to follow. The playbill of life listed my role as girl who follows men around with a broom and a mop. It seemed like a bum deal, but every time I tried to wrestle my way out of it, someone came along waving the script in my face. Don't get any bright ideas, they'd say. Know your role.

Life under these conditions left no room for fantasy. "Look at where you come from," my mother would say, tethering me to reality. "Look at how you look, how you speak. This is the best you can hope for." To even acknowledge my needs and desires felt selfish and wrong.

Sometimes I'd see a crack in my mother's facade, a glimpse into her inner life with all its stunted desires and unused talents. In those rare glimpses, I sensed a mother's tenderness. One particular moment stands out. I was ten years old, it was the Saturday before Christmas, and she took me to lunch at Abraham & Straus, a high-end department store in Brooklyn. Walking past the toy department, I mooned over a stuffed Siamese cat in the display window. It must have cost about eight dollars — serious money back then — but I begged for it. My mother said, "I know you want it, but Christmas is coming and we can't afford it." I upped the ante, threatening to make a scene the way children do. She relented. God only knows what she must have sacrificed to buy that stuffed cat, but I cherished it. I still have it in my bedroom today.

Despite my mother's occasional shows of support, I felt no encouragement from the rest of my family. No one jerks you off in an Italian household. If I expressed any determination, any dreams or ambitions, I got smacked down. "You're too stupid," they'd say.

Life outside the house wasn't much better. One year my uncle took us to see Santa Claus in the old Daily News building on Forty-Second Street. Santa Claus asked what I wanted for Christmas. I said an Easy-Bake Oven. I knew I wasn't getting the oven. I just wanted to dream. He said, "I can't give that to you because you might burn yourself." Motherfucker, I thought. Even Santa Claus won't jerk me off.

Once or twice, my mother tried to warn me away from her life. She told me the most important job in life is being a mother, but she cautioned, "Don't do it unless you're prepared to give one hundred percent." She told me I could do better and I believed her.

At the same time, my own desires were crushed under insurmountable guilt. I learned to feel the guilt at home and had it drilled into my skull at Catholic school. Those Irish Catholic nuns didn't fuck around. They believed in an angry God and built their world around repression and retribution. These women never had a normal, healthy human impulse they didn't despise.

As an Italian girl in an Irish school, I was treated like low-rent riffraff. I didn't fit in with my classmates. I disliked my last name — Sicignano. It was so long and no one could pronounce it. It was massacred at every Communion and graduation. It was just one more thing that set me apart from my classmates. Even my bread was different. When I brought a sandwich for lunch, I had Italian bread while my classmates all had Wonder Bread. I'd tell my mother, "I want a sandwich like everyone else has." What could she do? We were Italian.

I always had my face pressed against the glass looking at what other people had. I never lived the life of a happy, carefree kid. I was, however, independent. I put myself to bed at eight thirty every night, unprompted. We wore school uniforms, and I had only one shirt, so every night I had to wash it, hang it on the clothesline, take it in, and iron it. I began doing this in the second grade. I never asked my mother for help.

Even my independence came off wrong, though. The kids on my block called me "Bossy Bebe," a name that filled me with shame. Everyone told me I had a big mouth and a stubborn mind. Again, the message came through loud and clear: girls aren't leaders. To have a backbone, or even an opinion, was not acceptable. I'll never forget the advice I got from Sister Rose Ellen in the sixth grade. She took me aside and said, "You have leadership qualities. Men are going to try to break you."

I only felt free while listening to music. One of my first memories is hearing a song called "Take a Letter Maria" on the radio. While the music played, anything seemed possible. One of my brothers also collected records, and I'd eavesdrop on him spinning the latest from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. I'll also never forget the time I saw John Lennon in Manhattan. He looked right at me and passed an electric current through me that I can still feel today.

I grew up in the heyday of classic rock, when listening to the right bands made you cool. I liked the sense of belonging to the in-crowd, but I also took great interest in the way these bands turned their fantasies into reality. It fascinated me that someone could release an eight-minute-long song like "Stairway to Heaven" or "Hey Jude" and make every second of it so enthralling that radio stations had no choice but to spin it. What freedom, to bend the world around your will.

As a child, I dabbled in music. I began classical piano lessons in the second grade and continued for five years. My mother could barely afford the two dollars a lesson, but she insisted that I keep taking them. It was another sacrifice she made, another glimpse into that other world. I loved the piano, and I might have developed a knack for it, but my teacher was one of those old-fashioned nuns who seemed to revel in killing joy. She'd sit next to me on the piano bench, dressed head to toe in her habit, and slam my fingers on the keyboard if I missed a note. Those kinds of methods never worked on me. Hitting, yelling, and reprimanding made me defiant. I'd do the opposite of what I was told to do. That's how it went in my career, too. If I had the right teacher, I excelled. If not, I rebelled.

In grade school, I found a different kind of freedom in running track. I was always fast, and running appealed to me. I suppose it makes sense — symbolically, at least, I was running away from my life. But life always catches up. At birth, I had a benign tumor in my knee, and when I turned twelve, it began pressing against the bone and causing intense pain. I had a biopsy at age twelve and a surgery at age sixteen to remove the tumor (I had to have a second operation when I was twenty-one).

After that first surgery, I spent three weeks in a hospital bed with nothing to do but contemplate my direction in life. This can't be me, an invalid trapped in a world with no prospects. As I hobbled around on crutches for the next several months, I felt a fire burning within me. I had to get the fuck out of Brooklyn. I had to be better than my family. With the arrogance of a teenager, I saw them as slobs who couldn't get out of their own way; only later did I realize what a burden it must have been for my parents to take the train to a Manhattan hospital and pay medical expenses they couldn't afford. Regardless, it was a turning point in my life. I had to escape.

Leave it to my mother to plot my escape. I never had any plan of going to college — it wasn't done in my family — but after graduating high school, I came home to find an acceptance letter from Marymount Manhattan College. My mother had filled out the application and sent it without telling me. In her youth, she was desperate to attend college herself but had to drop out because she couldn't afford it. Now, she was making sure I had the chance. It was another subtle kindness, another glimpse behind the veil.

During college, I lived at home and commuted to school, where I majored in political science. It was a women's college staffed mostly by nuns, giving me a false confidence in what women could achieve in the workplace. I found the classes difficult, but I got through them. In my junior and senior year, I even excelled.

After college, I decided to join the FBI. Many people in my family worked in civil service, and the advantages of these jobs had been impressed on me since birth. It was steady work with a pension. Plus, I believed in truth, justice, and the American way. I wanted to lock up scumbags. Also, the prospect of joining an organization dedicated to justice seemed like a nice tribute to Sister Rose Ellen. I filled out the application and quickly received a response. They accepted me, but first I had to prove I had held the same job for twenty-four months.

OK, where could I work for two years?

CHAPTER 2

THE JOKER

It was mid-1985 and I needed a job. I felt anxious to get into Quantico, but at the rate I was going, it seemed permanently out of reach. I had found temporary work at Redbook magazine, but despite the glitz and glamour that came with my title — temp receptionist — I needed more.

During the dreary morning subway commute, I daydreamed that I was a rich and powerful music executive. I had always revered musicians — to this day, I am in awe of anyone who can write a song. The music business seemed like it would give me everything I wanted but couldn't get: status, power, money, and the forbidden thrills of sex and rock 'n' roll (drugs didn't interest me). It was just an idle fantasy. I had no qualifications and no connections to get my foot in the door. But life is strange, and my luck was about to change thanks to a tiny island off the coast of Syria.

Glancing at the New York Daily News on the subway one morning, I noticed an article describing an escalating conflict in the island nation of Cyprus, which seethed under its second decade of Turkish occupation. The conflict had caught the attention of the head of the US Armed Services Committee, Congressman Stephen Solarz, whose mother happened to be a family friend. Solarz planned to appropriate money for finding a solution in Cyprus, and one of his fundraisers, the article noted, was a Turk named Ahmet Ertegun. He happened to be the founder of Atlantic Records.

Foot, meet door.

Unfortunately, my connection to Solarz's mother proved weaker than I thought, and I couldn't ask her for a favor, but my head is hard as a rock when I want something. I also had a friend, Peter Abbate, who had worked for Solarz and was running for the New York State Assembly. Peter said if I worked on his campaign he would have Solarz's chief of staff set up an appointment with Ahmet. Six months of stuffing envelopes and hanging signs later, I called in my favor with Peter. Nothing happened. I waited and waited, clicking my heels to no avail.

In the spring of 1986, I finally got my interview. I entered Rockefeller Plaza, took the elevator to the second floor, and entered the offices of the famed Atlantic Records. The place looked like shit. Atlantic, I would learn, was notorious for cheapness. Clumps of shabby, mismatched furniture dotted the waiting room. The offices all had a miser's touch. Even Doug Morris, president of the company, had an office fit for a low-level peon. The only nice office in Atlantic's headquarters — the only room with matching furniture, even — was Ahmet's. It was a sign of his power, as was Atlantic's position on the second floor, where the views ranged from terrible to nonexistent. Ahmet was terrified of fire and wanted a quick escape if the building burned down, so he chose the second floor and everyone had to deal with it. That was the thing about Ahmet: he never heard the word no.

You had to give Ahmet credit, though — he'd earned it. Gold records (awarded for five hundred thousand sales) lined the Atlantic hallways like wallpaper, a sight fit to impress a jaded industry veteran, never mind a girl from Brooklyn. As I walked down the hall, I recognized albums I'd loved as a kid, including "Take a Letter Maria," which Ahmet had produced.

His office was the size of a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. He sat dwarfed behind a desk so large it could have doubled as a ping-pong table. He didn't make a great first impression — he was a short, bald, old man with round glasses, a goatee, and a yellow-toothed grin — but taking a seat opposite him emphasized the gulf that separated my world from his. I lusted for that world, yearned to be considered worthy of it, even if only for a few years before starting at the FBI. This was my one shot at freedom before I inevitably took on my mother's life.

Ahmet began the interview. It came as a slight relief that he didn't have a copy of my résumé in front of him, considering it was complete bullshit.

"So you just graduated?" he asked.

"Yes — well, a year ago."

"What school?"

"Marymount."

I was proud of my degree. Most people in my family didn't even go to college. For all it meant to Ahmet, though, I might as well have named a clown college. Virtually everyone on his level was an Ivy League grad. This was my second inkling that Ahmet existed in a higher stratum than anyone I knew.

"What were you thinking of doing in music?" he asked.

"Publicity," I said. I didn't even know what publicity meant in the record industry, but I liked parties.

"You're a woman; you have to start at the bottom," he said. I wasn't sure what he was getting at. Obviously I didn't expect to be appointed head of the Publicity Department.

"I guess I'm looking for an assistant publicist position," I said, demoting myself before the first interview had even ended. Granted, I wasn't qualified for anything other than an entry-level position. Maybe I wasn't even qualified for that — I couldn't type or take dictation — but in later years, I'd see many incompetent men get promotions they hadn't earned to jobs they weren't qualified for. Yet even after I had learned the business and proven myself, I still didn't feel right asking for what I was worth.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Anything for a Hit"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Dorothy Carvello.
Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Men (Then) xiii

Fast Forward 1

Part I Atlantic Records

1 Rewind 7

2 The Joker 13

3 We're Not In Kansas Anymore 22

4 Oz 31

5 The Clown-Fucking Awards 38

6 All Access 41

7 Down Under 45

8 Lucky Sperm 50

9 Lucky Criminals 56

10 Follow The Yellow Brick Row 61

11 Goin' Down 73

12 Damned If You Do 77

13 Howdy, Partner 83

14 Magic Mike 87

15 Fractures 90

16 Platinum 96

17 Game of Thrones 100

18 The Tender Trap 104

19 Sucka Punch 110

20 Knockout 117

Part II Giant/RCA

21 A DJ Saved My Life 123

22 The Poison Dwarf 126

23 Southern Comfort 134

24 Too Short 138

25 A Good Man Is Hard to Find 142

26 Mr. Freeze 148

27 With a Little Help from My Friends 153

28 Knight in Shining Armor 158

Part III Relativity/Columbia

29 The Wake Up 171

30 He's Gone 178

31 Lucky Criminals, Part II 180

32 Break Up 184

33 Page Six 186

34 We're Number One (Columbia) 191

35 He's Gone Too 196

36 Top Banana 199

37 She's Gone 202

38 Gaslight and Glitter 206

39 Meteor 210

40 Dorothy Sees Behind the Curtain 214

The Men (Now) 217

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