The Legendary Phillip Rauls talks about his great and acclaimed career in music industry & photography

"Music fads will come and go but those three styles have stood the test of time. That’s the beauty of blues music, soul music and rock music."

Phillip Rauls: The Midas Touch

Phillip Rauls name is associated with many well-known music icons from the mid 1960's through the mid 1990's. His involvement in the early development of recording artists established him as a vital player within the promotion and marketing arena. He is best known for his forte of generating key media influence for up-and-coming artists that produced fundamental airplay and print-media reviews. Phillip worked in promotion and marketing at a time when people-skills played a major role in the music industry. In a competitive industry demanding high profile and visibility, drawing attention to himself was never a priority. As a team player, he perferred to remain a background figure and spotlight the artists he represented.

He traveled often within the innercircle of rock royality and socialized with elite members of the media. Phillip Rauls was a regional executive for several of the music industry's top record labels; Stax Records, Atlantic Records, 20th Century Fox Records and EMI Records. Known for being well-respected, he was an industry survivor with a career spanning over four decades. Phillip was instrumential in establishing the careers of many recording artists in the diversified fields of Urban and Rhythm & Blues, Top 40 Music, Adult Contemporary Radio (A/C), Contemporary Pop Hits Radio (CHR) and Rock Music's Album (AOR) formant.

Phillip is also an accomplished photographer and music archivist having contributed to magazines, books, news programs, a TV documentary and historical institution such as; The Smithstonian Rock 'n Soul Museum in Memphis TN and the VH1 TV documentary on The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Three noted books have resourced information and photographs from his archive collection such as; The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, The Authorised Biography of YES, and noted author Peter Guralnick's book titled "Sweet Soul Music." In July of 2006 Phillip was featured in the News Spotlight section of the official website Led featuring an impressive twelve page spread showcasing his photographs and storyline. Recently added to his list of distinguished credits is a popular web blog focusing on Pop-Culture and the music business.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Mr. Rauls, when was your first desire to become involved in music & who were your first idols? 

My first desire to get involved with music was as a youngster and listening to a Memphis disk jockey named Dewey Phillips. He played music that opened a new awareness within myself.  While growing-up in Memphis I was surrounded by a city of great music and many of my very close friends were musicians. Some of my school mates had a garage band named The Gentrys and fortunately they needed a road manager as they were playing gigs extensively. The band went-on to have a million selling record titled, “Keep on Dancing” and naturally I was inclined to follow their paths with a career in the music business. As far as music idols, I was heavily influenced by early rhythm & blues artists such as Little Richard, Lavern Baker, Chuck Berry and James Brown. Yet, when the British invasion came to the states in the mid-60’s, I gravitated to that style of music with songs by The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks and The Zombies. Early American bands that I enjoyed were The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Jefferson Airplane.

What has music offered you & what have you learned about yourself from the experience?

Good question. Some of my earliest travels outside the city of Memphis were with The Gentrys as we ventured to distant locations and cities that I had never visited before. It was during those journeys that I discovered the nomadic explorer within myself as popular music was the means of my travels. I guess to answer your question, the business of music has provided me with a platform that enabled me to grow culturally and develop as a person.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

There are so many good career moments and I am personally so fond of them all.  And the bad career moments…geese, I choose not to remember. Ha! But you had to ask that question, right? One of the best moments for me however is winning the EMI Records Promotion Executive of the Year in 1989. No doubt I was greatly honored to receive the award and will cherish the moment forever. EMI was a powerhouse record company at the time and dominating the charts with artists that we had launched and put on the Billboard charts. Some of those artists and albums were; Richard Marx’s “Don’t Mean Nothing,” George Thorgood’s “Bad to the Bone,” David Bowie’s “Never Let Me Down,” Jane Wiedlin’s “Fur”, “The Pretty Woman Soundtrack” with dozens of huge hits, Thomas Dolby’s “Aliens Ate My Buick,” The Stray Cats “Blast Off,” Robert Palmer’s “Heavy Nova,” Glass Tiger’s “Thin Red Line,” Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy,”  Queensryche’s “Empire,” Cory Hart’s “Young Man Running,” Natalie Cole’s “Everlasting,” EMF’s “Schubert’s Dip,” Roxette’s “Look Sharp,” and The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Mothers Milk.” Promoting those records during that period and winning the award was a very uplifting moment and something I will brag about to my grandchildren forever. (Photo: Phillip Rauls (R) while receiving EMI Records Promotion Executive of the Year Award 1987)

What are some of the most memorable projects you’ve had?

That would probably be working with Led Zeppelin and promoting their first six albums on Atlantic. That was really a special time for me as getting “Stairway To Heaven” on mainstream radio wasn’t as easy as one might think. I also really enjoyed working with YES and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I still see YES when they come to Seattle and always try to get together with them after their shows. Touring with Stephen Stills & Manassas was a total gas plus I’ve got some great pictures from those tour days. Promoting The Allman Brothers first three albums was special also. Not to mention working on the promotion and marketing of Derek & The Dominos “Layla” album. That song is considered the most influential song in the history of rock music. Wow! Being associated with the promotion and marketing of that song and the significance that it holds is something very special for me.
Another most memorable project was working on the promotion of the STAR WARS movie and soundtrack. That was a thrilling experience. Being involved in the behind the scenes mechanics in the marketing of the movie at 20th Century Fox Records was indescribable. When the movie and soundtrack were released in 1976, the successes of science fiction movies and their soundtracks were considered a thing of the past. The idea was like an afterthought. Nobody expected the project would succeed to that level and yet it changed the entire movie industry. Here we are 35 years later after the video’s release and still feeling the profound effects of that monumental movie. 


(Photo: Phillip with YES at their 35 year reunion tour in Seattle 2006)

Of all the people you’ve worked with, who do you admire the most?

I probably admire Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records the most. Hands down, he’s a legendary figure that will never be equaled or replaced. He’s the original Rock & Roll mogul. Just to give you an example of his legacy, upon his untimely death several years ago, Led Zeppelin held a tribute concert in London honoring his longtime legacy at Atlantic. Huh. How’d you like to have Led Zeppelin play at your own memorial? Plus, you got to give acknowledgement to a record executive who departs this world by accidently tripping backstage at a Rolling Stone concert and strikes his head and receiving a major injury. Sadly he dies from the fall several days later. But what an unusual way to die for a music guy who gave start to so many legendary artists like Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner and Ben E. King, The Drifters and The Coasters. You can’t write a better script for a documentary than Ahmet Ertegun’s historic life and his accidental death with Atlantic Records.   


(Photo: Phillip in N.Y. while visiting the corporate offices of Atlantic Records) 

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?

Looking back, I probably would have changed a few things but there’s one thing that I would have never changed. Truth is, I spent an entire career avoiding being promoted to elevated marketing positions in New York or Los Angeles. You see, when you do a good job as a regional field representative for a record company, the natural course for advancement is being promoted and relocated to your corporate office headquarters. That’s where you move up the ladder by displaying pride in your company and accepting a national promotion job. But for me the safest place for a record executive was being a regional field representative. Traveling throughout the country and promoting music from city to city is where I felt the most effective. It was there in the streets where things were happening and you didn’t have to deal with all the corporate bullshit and home office politics. I always enjoyed being a middle-management executive and working one-on-one with the artists out in the field. Working on the road is where I could be my own boss and I could break an artist regionally while avoiding the high burn-out of holding a marketing position in New York or Los Angeles. Plus, my ego didn’t need all the attention of being a promotional executive and in the national spotlight. I enjoyed the low-key approach and if I had it over I’d do the same.

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet and work with?

Probably I would have enjoyed working with Ry Cooder. Or maybe working with Steve Winwood would have been ideal too. Also, I would have loved to work with Pearl Jam, Train, Johnny Winter or even Norah Jones. I like diversity in music and those artists always mix it up a bit and bring home the goods. The special thing I like the most about them is they don’t try to copy other people’s music, they create their own style. Naturally they’re influenced by other artists but their presentation still remains original. I’ve never been big on copy bands or cover bands. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music?

Jim Stewart of STAX Records taught me the most. His low-key approach and professional demeanor is something that I have always tried to uphold. A good example of one of Jim Stewart’s earliest students was STAX producer & guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & The MG’s.  He’s another really sharp guy that always upholds high standards. Steve Cropper is a real classy guy and never forgets his friends. Two other people I learned quite a bit from were Jerry Greenberg, former President of Atlantic Records and Jack Satter, Sr. VP at EMI Records. Both were always straight with me and never sugar-coated their words. I also liked Frank Fenter co-founder of Capricorn Records and learned a lot from him too.  (Photo: Phillip with Jim Stewart founder of STAX Records)

What characterizes your philosophy about the music business?

In the music business, you always have to practice integrity. Without that, it is impossible to gain the trust of your associates.

Difficult question, but which artists have you worked with & which of those do you consider best friends?

You’re right, that is indeed a difficult question. And that’s only because I have so many recording artists that I would consider as my best friends. Perhaps it’s better to say that I have too many friends to list here as I meet new friends almost every day. Plus, many of my dear friends who were successful recording artist are no longer with us and I would not want to leave anyone unmentioned.

Did you help many artist in the meantime and did you found any gratitude from them?

Oh absolutely! Gratitude is a two-way street and people always appreciate kind jesters when you do something special for them. An example of gratitude being returned was when one time the phone rang and it was Steve Howe of YES calling to say Hello and that we was in town and inviting my wife and I to have dinner with him. That was really nice and totally unexpected. Another time was when a family member of mine was very ill and Jimmy Griffin of Bread called to say that he was keeping my family in his prayers and wishing for their safe recovery from the illness. You definitely remember receiving gratitude like that. What goes around comes around. Right?  (Photo: Phillip with Jimmy Griffin co-founder of BREAD)

What mistake of the music business, would you wish to correct?

I would correct the mistakes being created by the music called gansta rap. I hate that music because of the violence it suggests towards women. That message is buried within the lyrics of that style of music. Leaders of the Black community and their respected organizations should take a stand to abolish this trash

Are there any memories of all GREAT MUSICIANS you meet which you’d like to share with us?

One of my favorite memories was in the early 1970’s when I worked for Atlantic Records and went on the road with British soul band Vinegar Joe. They were the hottest band in Europe at the time and named by Melody Maker Magazine as the “Band of the Year.” On that tour I first met Robert Palmer who at the time was a background vocalist in the group. You couldn’t help but notice that he was a star in the making. Years later in the mid-1980’s I was hired by Island Records to promote his “Riptide” album and again worked with Robert Palmer. Upon that venture I received a platinum album for my promotion & marketing support. Still again, in 1990, when I was with EMI Records, I worked with Robert Palmer for the third time while going on the road extensively with him as his EMI regional promotion representative. That of course was at the height of his career when he had the video of the dancing girls behind him and won the MTV Video Artist of The Year award. He also had a platinum album at EMI titled “Heavy Nova” and the record is still played on the radio today. It is very unusual circumstances for me to work the same artist on three separate record labels and spread out over three different decades. (Photo: Phillip with  EMI’s Robert Palmer in 1991.)

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

When I started out in the music business, 45 RPM singles and 8 track tapes ruled the industry. When album sales took over from singles and cassettes were introduced into the marketplace, it revolutionized the business. It was about that time Rolling Stone Magazine ran an article about the record business saying it was “the last of the gold mine industries.” Wow! I thought times were good and had to pinch myself because I was in the business they were speaking of. Upon that announcement, my boss then expanded my expense account enabling me to spend up to $25 a week on business lunches. I thought I was a heavyweight. The 70’s brought on a gravy train for the industry as many, many recording artists became successful. But there are always changes. Years later when Disco hit the market, the bottom dropped-out as album and cassette sales dropped. Next came MTV and videos and suddenly the business came back. Then came spandex and big hair bands. In the late 80’s, CD albums were introduced and the 90’s business prospered from the new technology. But when Napster began giving-away music without compensation to artist or record companies, all of a sudden we’re back to where we started. Now that industry has corrected that we’re now in the midst of the download generation with iPod listeners. That’s some of the changes I’ve seen since the 60’s. Pardon me for a minute while I go flip the Zeppelin album that’s playing on my stereo turntable. Ha!

(Photo: Phillip Rauls in 1969 promoting Led Zeppelin’s 1st album)

What is the strangest desire that someone have requested to work with you?

Believe it or not, there were a few bands who expected me to round-up groupies after their concerts and bring them back to their hotel suites. It was like they thought I was their pimp or something. Promoters who perform tasks like that are nothing more than errand boys, not professional record executives. That was pure rubbish as you can always see through the phonies.  

Which of the artists were the most difficult and which were the most gifted?

In defense to some of the gifted artists that I worked with, I never expected any of them to be angels. And I didn’t hold high expectations when it came an artist’s people skills either. I always kept our communication within the standard of industry protocol. As a record executive, I think I was always respected for being a professional and if an artist did become extremely difficult to work with, well, in return I wouldn’t get their record played on the radio.

Why did you think that Phillip Rauls continues to generate such a devoted following?

Good question. I think my blog has generated a devoted following as people love to read stories about pop culture and view photographs from a magical era of music history. My blog started in 2005, well before Facebook, and continues today after seven years and still going strong. Check: Phillip Rauls PhotoLog

Make a quick review of your work? What are the secrets to music business? What is the word "seal" of your work?

During my career I always carried a camera with me and loved to shoot photos during unsuspecting moments. It may sound strange but I still have every snapshot that I ever took during all of my music ventures. Those are moments that are ‘sealed’ into history and will remain frozen in time forever. Just like a photograph record or the printed text in a book, those are historic time capsules that will be always preserved. If there are secrets to the music business that you are asking about, then it is revealed in the pictures, the text, and the music…which doesn’t lie.

What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you so popular in music business?

Well, thank you as I never considered myself as being a popular personality. But I do think that I always treated people fair. Maybe that’s because I had good parents and they taught me well. If any of my colleagues felt that I was good at what I did - then I’m very flattered by their acknowledgement.

What are some of the most memorable shoots you've had? How does the music come out of your lens?

I’ve had many memorable moments in taking pictures. However, I’m more of a snapshot artist as compared to a traditional photographer. My style of photography isn’t taking pictures of “posed” images as I would rather snap a picture of an unsuspecting subject that isn’t rehearsed. Some of my most memorable work was taken at The Atlanta Pop Festival and many of those photos have been reproduced in various publications such as Rolling Stone and others. That was a memorable shoot. If there is a story that comes out of my camera lens, hopefully it’s my love for the music that is being performed.

Which of the musicians were the most difficult and which was the most gifted on pickup lens? How important is image to artists?

When I photograph artists I shoot mostly improv and spontaneous images without asking permission to capture the moment. There are really some great photographers out there who shoot artist on stage and I admire their excellent work. However, I enjoy shooting the casual moments away from stage and when people are just hanging out. Within recent years I moved away from photographing images in the entertainment industry and settled more on images of pop culture and capturing photos of general interest.  

Some music styles can be fads but the blues, soul  and rock is always with us.  Why do think that is?

There will always be an audience for blues, soul and rock. Within that trio there are the basic formations to the fundamental foundations of a song. Music fads will come and go but those three styles have stood the test of time. That’s the beauty of blues music, soul music and rock music. They are easy to understand and pleasant to hear. (Photo Credits: Blues legend Paul Butterfield taken by © Phillip Rauls 1969 at The Atlanta Pop Festival.)

What is your “secret” MUSIC DREAM? Are your dreams fulfilled?

Yes indeed, my dreams have been fulfilled. I had a nice run during my time in the biz and have no regrets. There’s also a story there as I just completed my first YouTube project which is a documentary featuring some of my favorite photographs. Check it out as the title is “Promoting Music Means Promoting People.” It’s a special project which I’m very proud and includes some of those music dreams. From my own personal perspective, I reached beyond my expectations. By my own account, I’ve been to the mountain-top on several occasions. But to be perfectly clear and clarify that statement, it took an entire team to reach those heights. I’ve worked with some great people and had the good fortune of always representing great music. My only regret is that I didn’t make a million dollars as planned.  But what the heck, I’ve still got my health and plenty of great memories.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

I think that I might be living that most interesting period right now. Writing about those memories on my blog and canvassing the stories with my photographs is very special to me. Plus, I’m also in a great relationship right now and that makes things special.  Hopefully someday I’ll have a book out and maybe even leave a few footprints behind. We’ll let the pictures tell the story! (Photo: Phillip Rauls at his residence in Washington state USA)

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