Former GUNS N’ ROSES, GREAT WHITE Manager ALAN NIVEN - “The Ten Albums That Changed My Life”

September 18, 2016, a year ago

By Alan Niven

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Former GUNS N’ ROSES, GREAT WHITE Manager ALAN NIVEN - “The Ten Albums That Changed My Life”

The concept of this question bothered me. I am old enough to remember when it was a world of singles and albums were rare. My earliest memory of finding joy in singing songs is of singing along with my mother, in the car, singing Ferlin Husky, Don Gibson, Marty Robbins and Hank Williams songs. We didn’t have a radio in the car. We just sang the songs together.

My musical consciousness was first impacted by singles – The Shadow’s ‘Apache’ made me fall in love with the voice of the electric guitar. It sounded incredibly mysterious. My mother once burnt all my singles – I think she took the greatest exception to ‘Honky Tonk Women’, but one half term holiday I came home from school to find them gone. That had an impact. My embryo of anti authoritarianism began to pulse. Further, it was a single, ‘Hey Jude’, recorded by Wilson Picket and Duane Allman that set the template for Southern rock, which I have always had a sweet tooth for. Discovery, in my youth, was in single form. I discovered Jimi on 45 RPM.

But you asked for ‘life changing albums’ …

1. The Blues Volume One (Chess/MCA) My first discovery of Howling Wolf. ‘Spoonful’ and ‘Smokestack Lightning’ sounded strange and incredibly powerful. I wasn’t sure what he was on about, but I knew he meant it. It was music from another world, far from my British village. It stirred equal parts of fear and curiosity. It connected to me somehow, but I could not articulate why at that young age.

2. Anthem For The Sun (Warner Brothers). This was the soundtrack to my use of l.s.d. Taking l.s.d. was a process of deconstructualism for me. Under its influence I questioned all I thought I knew, and determined what I really thought, as opposed to what I had acquired by osmosis from familial, educational, and environmental influence. ‘Anthem’ may have not been the catalyst, but it was my grounding sound during that period.

3. Tubular Bells (Virgin). Life changing? This record funded the very first record company I worked for. Without it there would have been no Virgin – we nearly went belly up even with Mike Oldfield’s records as it was. I started there as the van driver. Virgin sent me to America for the first time.

4. A Rainbow In Curved Air (CBS). Terry Riley completed what Ron Painter, then a professor of music at Oxford University had started on a sunny afternoon at Jesus College. Painter’s lecture opened my mind to sound and arrangement, and took it from the predictably arranged.

5. Never Mind The Bollocks (Virgin). This album made Virgin valid and it got me through many US doors. For example, I spent a Saturday afternoon in the studios of WMMS with Matt The Cat. We shared a couple of grams of coke, drank a fifth of Daniels, and had a blast. It was the first time I had been in a U.S. radio station. I still have friends from that station. We played ‘Pretty Vacant’ at the end of the afternoon block – the first time The Sex Pistols had American airplay.

6. City To City (United Artists). In 1978 as I travelled the US on behalf of Virgin visiting retailers, distributors and radio stations, I’d end every meeting by playing ‘Baker Street’ which I thought was the best release by an English company at that moment. I loved its vibe and Raphael Ravenscroft’s sax phrase, one of the best ever. This little bit of eccentric altruism on my part got me noticed – I was eventually sent a platinum disc – but it also got people to trust my judgment and passion. I would soon be asked to contribute to The Friday Morning Quarterback, along with all the p.d. and m.d. heavyweights.

7.  Too Fast For Love (Leathur/Greenworld). One of the owners of Greenworld asked me to evaluate this record. It was a glorious mess and it had a bona fide great rock song, ‘Piece Of Your Action’. I recommended they pick it up. I was later asked to take over the negotiations, form the contract and supervise the sales and marketing of the record. It brought me to Tom Zutaut, still a friend after all these years. We moved the band onto Elektra together. He later signed Guns n’ Roses and literally begged me to work with this catastrophic band of fuck ups. It brought me Don Dokken, who taught me studio craft and song writing. He also introduced me to Dante Fox, who I renamed Great White.

8. Shot In The Dark (Telegraph Records). After the disaster of the debut Great White record on EMI – which taught me how internal company politics can totally wreck a band – I found I had to self fund and self release an independent album to keep the band growing. I also knew I had to re-invent the band, and move it from being a Judas Halen wannabe. KNAC, KMET and KLOS all played ‘Face The Day’ – all summer long. Keep in mind that the latter two stations did not programme ‘indy’ records. FTD was even pronounced the #2 Track of the Year at KLOS just behind ‘Arc Of A Diver’. The results gave me a confidence in my A&R, my composing, and my ability to produce in the studio. It also gave me a certain cachet in Hollywood. Geffen would soon come knocking with Guns.

9. Once Bitten (Capitol). Twice platinum over the years according to contemporary phorensic accounting.  I told Capitol that I could produce an album as well as the producer they were suggesting. Tom Whalley said, “prove it – cut four tracks.” ‘Rock Me’ was one the tracks. I became a fully responsible producer, and a co-composer. Michael Lardie and I became the team that supplied the foundation of the band. We proved that we knew what we were doing. Glad I brought Michael into the band, over the protests of Jack and Mark.

10. Psycho City (Capitol Records). Without question the best studio album from Great White. Capitol deleted it after it had sold 350,000 units in a fit of pique – we refused to re-sign with the label, now into their third President during our time there. We were not appreciated there anymore. I asked Milgram to meet with the band. He duly arrived with a six-pack of beer in the conference room. We got the message. The champagne was for M.C.Hammer. Politics first, as usual. The album was also received in an offhand way by most of the press, now enamored of Seattle. I used to feel an umbilical connection to the rock n roll zeitgeist but I could not connect to grunge – which sounded miserable and pointless to me. The Sex Pistols had already espoused there was ‘No Future’ but they did it with a rebellious spunk. For the first time in my life I felt alienated from what was perceived as the spear tip of rock n roll. I felt alienated by the betrayals and deceits of Hollywood. I started to retreat to the desert, and, under the canopy of the Milky Way, I contemplated bigger issues than making records.

“Appetite”? That record did not essentially change the course of my life like the others did – it amplified it. And with over amplification came the tinnitus of distortion, the constant conveyor belt of stressors. What I would observe is that without Izzy there would have been no AFD. Hell, for that matter, without Tom Zutaut and myself it would not have gotten made. Geffen were not going to go forward with the band without management. They were inclined to drop ‘em and David Geffen would have buried them as he did others that displeased him. As it was Tom and I fought the battles for a whopping $365,000 to be spent on the recording.

(Top photo by Fraser Harding)

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