Showcase Music Magazine - Betty In Black
May 1997

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By Nort Johnson

Heart & Soul Records had to move up the release date for the new BETTY IN BLACK CD COOL BREEZE AND THE CADILLAC FISH HEADS, due to unexpected early demand in Baltimore, the band's hometown. The album was released in Baltimore and in other East Coast markets on April 11, and Nationally April 22 as the newest addition to Heart & Soul's INDEPENDENT EXCELLENCE SERIES. COOL BREEZE AND THE CADILLAC FISH HEADS is the third effort by Betty In Black, but the first to be internationally distributed. The band is an extremely energetic funk-alternative act. Their live show, like the new album, effortlessly mixes funk rhythms, alternative guitar voicings in thirty-one flavors of electric and acoustic, and the hip-hop-next-step work of singer Mike Semies.

The Band

Heart & Soul Director of Marketing John P. Spain found Betty at a showcase during the 1996 NAIRD (National Association of Independent Record Distributors & Manufacturers) Convention, and immediately arranged a meeting with the band. Their discussions led to the band's decision to complete tracking for their new album in Baltimore with engineer, co-producer and old partner-in-crime Drew Mazurek, and then to travel to Chicago's Acoustic Cafe to mix the album with producer John Nevin. While the band was in Chicago, Heart & Soul continued working on them to arrange for the release of the record through the Independent Excellence Series. The label finally prevailed, convincing Betty that a Heart & Soul contract would not only give them the opportunity to work with a national-release label, but that it would also afford them the freedom to maintain control over their own musical choices.

Heart & Soul had intended the project for May 1997 release, but as promo copies of the album became available in Baltimore, the band's shows in the market became progressively crazier. Kirk McEwen, morning drive at 98 ROCK in Baltimore (WIYY 97.9), did a feature on the act in late January that only added to the heat, so Heart & Soul decided to arrange to move the release up, as well as advancing the timetable for the band's East Coast support tour.

Heart & Soul Records is an Independent label here in Chicago. They have managed to keep their heads above water for close to ten years now, however, they have swallowed a few mouthfuls over the years. With the recent signing of Baltimore's BETTY IN BLACK Heart & Soul is again ready to set sail. Heart & Soul has continuously been one of the hardest working Independent labels in the country. Their marketing strategies have out scored the Major labels numerous times with charting positions, radio play and media coverage and Marketing Director, John P. Spain has pulled more rabbits out of his hat than Houdini.

With all this success you would think Heart & Soul would have sold a million or more records, unfortunately this is not the case. I spoke with Heart & Soul's Marketing Director, John P. Spain about the label's past experiences and the signing of, in my own opinion, the best act they have ever had.

"Making a record is the fun part, artists have to understand that there is a long road ahead of them and the road is littered with more than just mines. There is a hell of a lot of work to do to in order to be somewhat successful and if you really want the big things that you say you don't, be prepared to check your egos at the door and lace up the working boots.

I am not going to tell you artists are always responsible for their own demise, however, they are, in many instances, the ones in the driver's seat and if they unwittingly choose to crash and burn, we refuse to be part of it. The following events sound ridiculous. however, they are absolutely true and in my opinion, severely hampered each artist's chances to succeed. In addition, these events strained several industry relationships which Heart & Soul had worked painstakingly to achieve. Luckily the majority of the industry had dealt with such foolishness one time or another and understood the few situations.

We had just finished taking a band in the studio and finished mixing three of there songs. The songs in my opinion were incredible and still to this day, are some of the greatest pop songs I have ever heard. The band decided they didn't like the mixes and were going to remix them on their own with a friend. More than five years later, they still haven't finished the album and the band's career is basically over. The funny thing is, a band member's wife was the Music Director for one of the largest rock stations in town and the songs fit perfectly into the station's format. I can't say for sure that they would have played them, however, it would have received a good listening to. One last thing, the guitarist/songwriter of the band recently heard the mixes from a friend and thought they were remixed because they sounded exceptionally good. They were in fact, the same mixes that he held up his and the rest of the band's career over, not to mention wasting Heart & Soul's time. Isn't it ironic?!

In another case we had just charted an act at radio after two years of working our asses off and we were gaining some serious momentum. We manufactured five-hundred pre-printed promotional packages which included a three song CD and the band tells us three days after we received them that they were going to change their name. I was beyond speechless, I would have been less shocked if you told me the Cubs won the Series.

We also signed a band two years ago with the assumption that the band would be playing out a few times a month. We put together a marketing plan for the band and gained coverage with both the local and national media. I worked with our distributor to make sure their records were in the stores. The band played, I believe, ten shows in two years and the son-of-a-bitches have the nerve to call me up every month and ask how many records they have sold. How many do you think?

Artists sometimes think their music is a necessity like water or bread; IT'S NOT. You have to work hard to sell your records and if you don't, you're going to have coasters, lots of them. Labels can only do so much and an Independent label doesn't have deep pockets like the majors. As an Indie label I can get your records in-stores; I can schedule in-store appearances; advertise in the coolest of the cool magazines and if you, as the artist, are sittin' on your butt waiting for the money to roll in, you are going to be beyond disappointed. Don't get me wrong. There are the million-dollar-deals out there waiting, however, you're probably going to have to sell your soul, your mother and, yes, your favorite pair of baggy pants in order to secure such a deal.

We recently signed Betty In Black and are very excited about their new album. I found Betty last year in Baltimore while attending the NAIRD Convention and the band just blew me away. The musicianship is incredible in this band and the only egos this band has is in the morning for breakfast, or is that Eggo's? Anyway. After talking and meeting with the band over a course of several months we found them to be as hardworking as we were. The band also has a very high level of integrity that is very uncommon in this business and working with them has been a pleasure."

Betty in Black is presently on tour in support of their new album "Cool Breeze and the Cadillac Fish Heads". Betty's Guitarist Ronnie Ecker recently phoned in from New York City's most infamous venue CBGB's.

SHOWCASE: First of all, congratulations on your new album "Cool Breeze and the Cadillac Fish Heads'. It is one of the best records I have listened to this year and probably the best record I have ever received from Heart & Soul Records and they have released several great albums.

RONNIE: Thanks, we also like the record and working with Heart & Soul has been very cool, they have been very up-front with us on many issues a band would not even think about.

SHOWCASE: How is New York and CBGB's?

RONNIE: We've been working the last hour on getting into a New York State of mind. John our bass player was already sales pitched into buying an overpriced leather coat, a waitress at the restaurant we just ate at bitched about the tip we left, and 95% of the people here have a comment about the band's purple van. Now that I think about it, these things happen to us everywhere! CBGB's? New York's first unintentional scratch & sniff museum. If you're in a band you've got to play there (at least once!), if for nothing else but the atmosphere.

SHOWCASE: I have read the band is from New York, Baltimore and Nashville.What is the real deal?

RONNIE: Actually, we're all from Maryland. Sean, who's originally from Annapolis, lives in Baltimore. John's from Baltimore, but now lives out in God's country with me and Mike. I was born in New Mexico, but that's another story.

SHOWCASE: The band line up has changed since the release of the record, what happened to drummer Greg Gianatti and tell us about his replacement Sean Sheya!

RONNIE: Greg wanted to move in other directions musically. We're still good friends, and he just told me the other day he was getting ready to record some material with his new band. Sean Sheya is the new guy. John has played in several bands with Sean and I've known him for years. SMOKIN' DRUMMER! He's really got the STINK GROOVE goin' on!

SHOWCASE: Where does the name Betty In Black come from?

RONNIE: Bettie Page - The 50's pin-up/fetish queen. I collect everything about her. She's an incredible women. One night I had on a t-shirt with her in black lingerie. Hence the name.

SHOWCASE: I noticed that some of your new pictures include back up singer Paula Deluca. Aren't you afraid people will start to think she is Betty and fronts the band?

RONNIE: We thought about that for 2 seconds. But Paula smokes as a back-up vocalist, and has really become a staple of the band. She also looks great and gives fantastic back rubs. If we could only get her to dress like Bettie! If people think she fronts the band from pictures, they'll find out the real deal at our shows or on the CDs.

SHOWCASE: The musicianship in Betty In Black is phenomenal -- did you actively search out the best musicians?

RONNIE: That's an interesting question. If I had gone through the normal process of putting a band together, these would have been the guys I would have been looking for. I had played with John in other bands and I already knew Sean. When Mike and I found ourselves in the position of needing players, there they were. A lot of luck was involved because John and Sean had just come back to town after being out on the road for several years with their respective bands.

SHOWCASE: Your new album Cool Breeze and the Cadillac Fish Heads has to have some sort of story behind it. Can you explain the mystery for our readers and myself?

RONNIE: When I lived in Baltimore I was the only long-haired, white -boy musician in the apartment complex. I was nicknamed 'Coolbreeze'. I dig Converse All Star hi-tops - the Cadillac of sneakers. Get it? Cadillac Fish-Heads!

SHOWCASE: The album art is extremely cool. Who did it?

RONNIE: A good friend of mine. Internationally known tattoo artist - Dave Waugh.

SHOWCASE: The songs on the album vary in moods. Who writes the material in the band?

RONNIE: That's the best thing about this band - we all do. Generally John or myself will bring in an idea and BAM! the bands collective creative juices go to town

SHOWCASE: Your guitar playing on the album is infectious. Wwhat did you use in the


RONNIE: Gibson Les Paul, Fender Telecaster, Yamaha 6 & 12 string acoustics, PRS amp, Crybaby Wah, and a Roto-Vibe pedal. I like to keep it simple, no multitude of effects.

Let me plug for John too. He uses a Zon Fretless bass, Steingerger w/whammy-bar, and Peavey amps.

SHOWCASE: A lot of people don't know that this is your third album. What were the first two?

RONNIE: The first was 'Betty In Black', and the second 'Psychofunkamungus'.

SHOWCASE: How did you land a deal with Heart & Soul Records?

RONNIE: We discovered Marketing Director/A&R John P. Spain at a club in Baltimore while he was there for a music convention. We were extremely impressed with his performance. For us it was love at first sight. Honestly, John Spain came out to one of our gigs during the NAIRD Convention -- he liked what he heard and then one thing led to another.

SHOWCASE: How was it to work with Producer John Nevin and the Acoustic Cafe Recording Studio?

Ronnie: Genius! The Albert Einstein of producers. He even gets that Einstein hair thang goin' on by the end of a session. Seriously it was great because something clicked and we both seemed to ride on the same wavelength. The Acoustic Cafe made us feel right at home. Incredible equipment! I love those Genelic monitors. By the way, did I mention that Mr. Spain

knows were to get the best donuts & corned beef. Not to mention that John Nevin makes the best cup of real British tea.

SHOWCASE: What's in store for Betty In Black the rest of the year?

Ronnie: Well, we are going to continue touring in support of Cool Breeze wherever they will have us. We have about 15 new songs or I should say parts of songs that will be on the new album. We are coming to Chicago in May to do some pre-production work for the new album with Producer John Nevin at the Acoustic Cafe. While we are in town we will be playing a gig on Saturday, May 17th at the US Beer Company in Chicago. We will be back in the Midwest in June to perform at the RMS festival in St Louis and I imagine we will play Chicago, Detroit and wherever again. In September we are scheduled to start a 30 date college tour which we are looking forward to.

You can see Betty In Black live on May 16th at 4pm at the Tower Records on Clark Street in Chicago and at US Beer Company (1801 N. Clybourn, Chicago) with Pivot Man, Saturday May 17th.

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