Longform

Happy Trails

Page 3 of 6

Determined to carve out a place for himself in the music business, Garrett dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles for what proved to be a frustrating year.

"I slept in the car and dressed in gas stations, and all that, and didn't get anything much done," he recalls.

Burned by his California experience, Garrett went back to Dallas and landed at Big State distribution company, promoting records to radio stations. That led to his big breakthrough, a job as a radio DJ at KDUB in Lubbock. During his year-and-a-half stint in Lubbock, he deepened his already solid grasp of pop music, and established a close friendship with Lubbock sensation Buddy Holly.

"He was a good guy," Garrett recalls. "He knew what he wanted. We were both Ray Charles freaks in those days. I remember when 'Swanee River Rock' came out by Ray Charles, we were in Wichita Falls and Buddy came down to spend a week with me. We must have played it a thousand times over the next two or three days. Night and day we played that."

After his Lubbock stint, Garrett moved to Wichita Falls, where he hosted a TV and radio show. An old connection at Big State landed him a job that turned his career around.

"There was a guy named Al Bennett who took over a record company which was sort of failing, but then all of a sudden had all this success with the Chipmunks, and that was Liberty Records," he says.

Liberty had been founded in 1955 by Lew Bedell and Si Waronker, and was starting to emerge as a rock 'n' roll force on the West Coast. Garrett sensed that this opportunity was his ticket out of Texas.

"I knew if you want to be in the music business, Wichita Falls, Dallas or Lubbock was not the launching pad, so I had to go to New York--which was too damn cold--or back to L.A., which was where I wanted to go," he says.

To do so, Garrett, who had made $350 to $400 a week as a broadcaster in Wichita Falls, had to settle for $90 a week as a Liberty promotions man.

After about six months in L.A., he convinced Bedell and Waronker to let him produce a record. "I begged, pleaded and lied," he says. "I didn't know anything. I mean, from the radio station, I knew how to run a board and how to run tape."

Maybe it was beginner's luck, but Garrett's first production, a track called "Dreamin'" for Memphis rockabilly singer Johnny Burnette, was a Top 10 hit. Garrett swiftly followed that up with Bobby Vee's equally huge "Devil or Angel," Burnette's classic "You're Sixteen," and scored his first No. 1 hit in February 1961, with Vee's "Take Good Care of My Baby."

Though Garrett invariably belittles his own role in the studio ("it was the songs, not the music, that made it"), "Take Good Care of My Baby" is a textbook case of his intuitive pop genius. Garrett heard a demo of the song, written by Carole King and her then-husband Gerry Goffin, and knew it was a potential hit. But he believed that it needed an intro to really connect with a mass audience. So he told Goffin and King, one of the great songwriting teams of all time, to write an intro for the song ("My tears are falling 'cause you've taken her away"), and the song went through the roof.

"Snuff's big deal is being able to pick a song," Rigsby says. "He knows more about that than anybody I've ever met. He's got great ears for that sort of thing."

In those days, as both a producer and an A&R man for Liberty, Garrett spent much of his time flying back and forth to New York, where he listened to countless songs by aspiring writers, seemingly unerring in his ability to pick the one hit out of a stack of duds.

Garrett's musical instincts extended to his choice of musicians and arrangers. For his early Liberty work, he contracted with a childhood idol of his, producer/arranger Ernie Freeman, to help him arrange string-section parts. "We did the string thing. We perfected a little sound that glued together."

Garrett's use of strings on Burnette and Vee's records caught the attention of a snotty, young, acne-scarred hotshot named Phil Spector. According to He's a Rebel, Spector believed Garrett was "the only L.A. producer who really mattered in '60s rock."

Garrett was equally knocked out by Spector's evident talent, and offered him a job as Liberty Records' East Coast head of A&R, for which Spector demanded the then-exorbitant salary of $25,000. Though Spector's stint at Liberty was stormy, Garrett managed to get along with the legendary egomaniac better than most people. Garrett recalls that Spector was "crazy as a run-over dog," and highly opinionated about music.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia