Telephone conversation with Mike Omansky

Telephone conversation with Mike Omansky

Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 01:18:11 EDT
Subject: Re: RCA/BMG
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This is the gist of my telephone conversation with Mike Omansky on 5/6/99:

Mike called me in response to my letter to him about the release of more of John's music. He said my letter raised a good many issues and he felt it would be difficult to respond to them; he was glad I'd included my phone #. So am I! Mostly, I discussed the financial benefit to RCA to release more of John's music.

He said John's Greatest Hits Vol. I album actually did not sell 10,000,000 copies in the U. S. Those are world-wide figures, he thinks, though he wasn't at RCA at that time. Apparently, the RIAA uses only figures based on royalties paid and careful records weren't kept at that time, or if they were, they're long gone. If you noticed, the albums on the list were relatively new in comparison to that one. He did say it's possible. He joined RCA in 1984, which is when he became friends with John. They remained friends ever since; Mike came back to RCA three years before John died, and he was working to get him a record deal (I heard elsewhere it was with Capital, but Mike didn't say).

Reasons for RCA and John parting ways were many, he says: First, the many changes going on at the record company, which is why Mike left around the same time John did. Also, he put much of the blame on Jerry Weintraub; said he kept telling John he was too big a star to go around to record stores and radio stations, so they turned against John, would not play his music or promote his recordings. Also, John was VERY stubborn but then we knew that! Said he was very good at dragging his heels. Wanted to write "What Are We Making Weapons For?" instead of stuff that could be commercial. Well, I'm glad he did!

For that reason, it is unlikely we'll ever get Autograph on CD. It's not commercial. Funny, it's one of my favorite albums. John's most commercial album was probably Dreamland Express, and it's also one of my least favorites musically, though John sounds wonderful on it.

I asked him how sales of Forever, John are doing. He said, quite well, over 100,000 copies in U. S. I don't think that's so great but there was almost no publicity and I haven't seen it in many record stores. He said there aren't that many financial benefits to releasing John's music, what with the costs of digital remastering, distribution, etc. However, most of his albums have done well enough to merit continuing their release.

As far as the focus of Dave Cox' letter to get RCA to release John's early albums, well, maybe, but it didn't sound too promising. I'm glad I got them from the Japanese import. They're terrific, especially Whose Garden Was This? He's disappointed in the sales of Live at the Sydney Opera House. I pointed out that it'd probably have done much better if there hadn't been that earlier release, but he didn't say much about that. He said he had trouble getting JD into stores; that's why they added the bonus tracks. Supposedly, stores can sell albums with lots of music on them more readily than they can shorter ones. However, part of the problem was that JD wasn't commercial enough. Now, that puzzles me. It's certainly not one of my favorite albums, but I'd say the songs on it are pretty commercial, certainly more so than those of WGWT! However, 60,000 albums are produced each week and stores can select only about a tenth of them, so I guess we should consider ourselves fortunate that they do carry some John!

As far as tons of John's music being available in RCA's vaults is concerned, that's a mistake.Mike said more extra music is recorded nowadays than was in John's day, that he might have only one or two sometimes NO leftover songs. However, he's got people scouring their vaults to try to find more of John's stuff. Nothing is labeled, so it's very time-consuming. Guess they never thought they'd need it. I offered to go up and help! What fun!

Now for the good news. A double CD of John's music will be released in September, with some previously unreleased material on it. He expects to release something twice a year for the foreseeable future as long as there's a market for it. John did know about the compilations and agreed to them. The Rocky Mountain Collection has done quite well, he said. Of course, we all know The Very Best of John Denver from Heartland Music went platinum in January. That was an RCA product, it turns out. They're overall very pleased with the sales of John's music. He's very disappointed that John never got the chance to record more music, though he didn't seem to think his Windstar material was as good as other stuff. Funny, Ken Davies said just the opposite and that's how I feel. Sure, John did write and sing some wonderful songs early on ("Wings That Fly Us Home", for example) but I truly appreciate his later stuff.

Mike does agree that John was doing his best singing just before he died, that his voice had gotten so much richer and better. He last saw him on July 31 at a concert in New Jersey, after which they talked for three hours. He was on the phone with John frequently in the weeks before he died, working on the latest deal. Said John was being typically stubborn but in the end bowed to Mike's suggestions to no avail, of course. He was greatly saddened by his death, says John was a truly wonderful man, deeply committed and sincere, no artifice. And, John was very happy and optimistic in the period just before his death.

Hope this provides some information. I cannot vouch for its accuracy; wish I could have taped the conversation. However, it's correct in general and pretty much so in specifics.

Peace for John,

"Back Home Again"