So you want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star

Robin Wilson thought the Gas Giants would be a great new beginning. He had no idea what he was getting into.

Universal rid A&M's roster of virtually all its bands save a handful of big-name acts. A similar purge happened at Mercury, Island and Geffen Records and other labels affected by Seagram's takeover. Some 2,500 employees lost their jobs (among them Mercury label president Danny Goldberg and A&M honcho Al Cafaro), while 300 bands -- including the Gas Giants -- were left without deals.

Four months after the corporate housecleaning began, the band was officially dropped. In the interim, Wilson had decided that he couldn't wait for new record company execs to determine his fate. It became clear that the band would have to find another way to put out the record, something that seemed the forces of fate were conspiring against.

Set against the desperate scenario with the record company, another drama was unfolding within the band. In May, Wilson fired his longtime friend and bassist G. Brian Scott. Wilson says Scott's lack of professionalism and commitment prompted the move.

The late Doug Hopkins (left) and Wilson during happier days.
The late Doug Hopkins (left) and Wilson during happier days.
The late Doug Hopkins (left) and Wilson during happier days.
The late Doug Hopkins (left) and Wilson during happier days.

It was a difficult decision for Wilson, who numbered Scott among his closest friends. "I did not want to fire him. Having gone through the same thing with Doug [Hopkins] -- it was the last thing that I wanted to do," says Wilson.

For his part, Henzerling says he did his best to try to avoid such a drastic resolution. "I told Robin for a long time, 'You can't fire Brian, he's a founding member of the band.' But in the end, it was becoming too much of a drain on the group," says Henzerling. "That's why the whole thing was so sad. I thought, 'Jesus, haven't we gone through this before?'"

Although his dismissal was initially characterized as an "indefinite leave of absence" and while it's possible he may rejoin the band at some point, it seems unlikely that Scott will be part of the Gas Giants in the near future. Regardless, Wilson says the band will not hire a permanent replacement (for the time being, Henzerling's former Grievous Angels bandmate Mickey Ferrell is handling bass chores).

Scott, who's now working as a disc jockey at a local strip club, doesn't dispute the reason he was fired. He adds that he's hopeful he will join the Gas Giants again.

Al Teller speaks with the kind of easy confidence and authority you would expect from someone who's been making and breaking careers since the 1960s. During his 30 years in the music business, he's served as chairman and CEO of MCA and president of Columbia Records.

As early as 1993, Teller, then at MCA, was quoted in the L.A. Times and Musician as saying, "We are at a start of a radically different way of life when it comes to the concept of home entertainment."

Teller also noted that the record labels "would have to continue to prove our place in the world."

Few industry types heeded his warning. With a pair of engineering degrees from Columbia University, Teller has an uncommon insight into the role technology has had in changing marketing and distribution in the entertainment industry.

For the most part, Teller says, the major labels were unwilling to deal with the impact that emerging computer and Internet technologies would have on their businesses.

That began to change in the last few years with the introduction of MP3s. The format enables consumers to download and listen to near-CD-quality recordings through their home computers.

MP3 is a significant development that threatens the entire superstructure of the music industry by allowing artists and labels to bypass traditional distribution outlets like record stores and radio stations and get music directly into the hands of the consumer. Although in its infancy, this so-called digital revolution has already altered the music business dramatically.

In February, Teller launched his own Internet record label, Atomic Pop. Billed as the "21st Century music company," Atomic Pop operates as both a record label and an online shopping site offering downloadable music and video games, CDs and music-related merchandise.

Atomic Pop made big news in July when it released Public Enemy's There's a Poison Going On online, making the rap group the first major act with an album available for digital download before it hit the stores.

Despite its high-tech pedigree, the label also has a traditional distribution channel (through MCA) and sends its products to record stores and radio. But it operates with an outsider's mentality -- the label's motto is "Few Rules, No Limits."

Although he realized the business of buying and selling records wouldn't be changing overnight, Robin Wilson saw the potential in this new kind of company and was convinced by Teller to sign on.

The next step was finding a way to free From Beyond the Backburner from Universal (the music subsidiary of Seagram's), which still owned the record.

Although former A&M execs say the new company had no intention of ever releasing the album, Universal decided to play hardball with the band. One of the first things it did was draw up a release agreement that stipulated the band would not be allowed to sell its record as a digital download.

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