One of the more interesting side stories of our reckless indie-label days was the guy pictured here – Herb Belkin. Mr. Belkin was a longtime record industry veteran, having done his time in the 1960s and 1970s as a lawyer, among other things, at both Capitol Records during its heyday and also at ABC Records when it existed. He also went on to head up Mobile Fidelity, a small outfit that made its mark in the record business by re-releasing famous albums in that gold CD format, which somehow had some kind of technology that made it sound better. Or something. I was never truly clear about it, myself, all I know is that true audiophiles loved the stuff.
Anyway, we made a connection with Herb through a friend of my dad, at precisely the time when we landed our distribution deal with an arm of Warner Brothers. We actually had some buzz – a feature story on the label in the Boston Phoenix, news blurbs in various industry rags like Billboard, etc etc. iThere was no better time to explore the landscape for private investment. We knew that Herb was very comfortably retired and living right on the ocean up in Camden, Maine, just a few hours drive north from Tar Hut HQ in Somerville, MA. So we called the guy. Why the hell not? Surely enough, whatever we said was enough to get him to meet with us in person at his house. Hot damn.
And so we took the roadshow north. Dave flew in from Chicago and the three of us hopped in a car and made the trek, first stopping at Leo’s mother’s house in Wells, ME, vacant at the time, which would be our base camp for the weekend. I’ll truly never forget the next two days, which ended up being a combination of awe and a good bit of comedy to accompany it.
It was quite apparent pulling into Camden, ME that we had stumbled upon an affluent community, complete with large houses on beautiful tree-lined streets. Herb’s house was one of them. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the house was a multi-level beauty fit for an old record industry vet awash with old cash. I couldn’t help but smile when Herb answered the door, a 60-something balding guy in raggedy shorts with a protruding gut and a big fat cigar hanging from his mouth. I probably wasn’t that far off in terms of what I wore (I couldn’t care less about such things back then), but I think Leo and Dave were decked out in their business casual attire – or maybe I’m remembering that wrong. We went out to a restaurant and had lunch with Herb, where everybody knew him, of course. Any why I’ll never forget ordering blueberry soup is something that mystifies me to this day. He recommended it, so I got it. It sucked.
Regardless, I honestly don’t remember much about the business end of the conversation, but it was relatively brief, maybe 45-60 minutes of telling him our story, our plan, everything. Of course, we brought him some CD’s to sample, too. He waxed about things like the future of the business and technology in general and said some things that, in thinking about it seven years later, were pretty on target. At one point, I think Leo asked him point blank ,and in his very-skilled level of half-sarcasm, if he was going to just give us some money. He smiled and asked us to put a business plan together and send it to him for review. We still make the occasional joke about the Tar Hut business plan today.
The last half of the meeting was the most memorable. He took us on the tour of the Belkin estate, walking us through, up, over and down around the house. He took us up into his office upstairs and at that point as he closed the door, I do remember thinking as I looked out at the Atlantic Ocean that we had been making very sophomoric jokes on the ride up about what we would be required to, um, do with Herb in order to get him to fund us. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. Here’s three dudes with a pile of CD’s at this guy’s mansion. Unreal. Anyway, we shot the shit for a few more minutes, then he let us pick out any vinyl album we wanted from his Mobile Fidelity Collection. I took the soundtrack to Anatomy of a Murder, performed by Duke Ellington. I forgot what Dave and Leo took.
The best part was when he showed us the indoor pool. It was fairly small, more like a lap pool, but hell, it was a pool located indoors, right? He started waxing poetic about some band from the 1970s that he had wanted Capitol to sign. He was convinced they would have been huge and that he and Eric Carmen from The Raspberries were both trying really hard to get the powers-that-be from Capitol on board. He left the room for a minute, came back and threw a cassette in the stereo. So we stood there, looking at the lap pool, overlooking the ocean in a room surrounded by sliding glass doors, and listened to a very outdated combination of Steely Dan and Journey. We all nodded, as if it were the best thing we’d ever heard in our entire lives. It was a classic moment – funny.
I really liked Herb. Not many old, rich and retired record business people would agree to meet with and take phone calls from dudes who had an indie label with 3 releases. But Herb did. He took time out of his day, which admittedly didn’t appear to be overly busy, to meet with us and offer his guidance. It was truly memorable. That night, back at Leo’s place in Wells, ME, was a night I’ll always remember as one of the nights when I laughed the hardest I ever have in my life as we reviewed the events of the day and reverted back to our sophomoric comments and scenarios regarding Herb. But he was a totally cool cat.
He never ended up giving us any money, although I truly believe he did seriously consider it, if only for a few moments. I think, like the rest of the people in the business, he ended up holding onto his cash because the internet was starting to be a real wildcard – nobody knew where music was going. It can be argued that feeling remains the same today.
It was years later that we found out, not long after our meeting, maybe a year, that Herb had died while on a fishing trip in Alaska. The obit was in Billboard and a lot of other industry mags. Definitely sad. I do remember his wife being extraordinarily nice and he was also very close with his sons, who I believe were on the trip with him and whose pictures were all over his house.
Another memorable chapter indeed.