In 1971 Mike Appel, who looks like a tough Paul McCartney, was a song and jingle writer for the Wes Farrell Organization. "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted," written with his partner Jim Cretecos, had been a big hit for the Partridge Family. He and Cretecos then made an outside move, producing the first album by Sir Lord Baltimore (described by a former Mercury A&R man as "a heavy-metal joke").
In 1971 Bruce Springsteen was playing clubs in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He knew nothing of Appel. He did know that his career was at a low ebb; in five years as a professional musician he'd never even made $5000 in a year. Tinker West, a surfboard manufacturer who was Springsteen's manager at the time, suggested that Appel might be a port of entry into recordmaking. In the fall of 1971 Springsteen met with Appel, who was impressed but told Bruce to write some more songs and pay him another visit later. Springsteen decided to leave Asbury Park for California, hoping he might find his break there.
After about four months of travel and touring, Springsteen returned to Appel in March 1972 and signed with Appel's new management and production company, Laurel Canyon. For music publishing he signed with Sioux City Music, owned by Appel's partner, Cretecos. An audition with Columbia A&R man John Hammond, a subsequent Columbia Records contract and the first two LPs, both of which sold fewer than 200,000 copies, quickly followed the signings with Appel and Cretecos.
It's important to note here that money had never been one of Springsteen's priorities. Had his attitude about finances been different, he and Appel would probably never have had their contretemps. What Springsteen wanted, to the exclusion of almost everything else, was to make a great rock & roll record – and to find someone who believed in him without reservation. Appel was his man.
Mike Appel believed that Springsteen belonged in rock's pantheon alongside Dylan, Presley, the Stones and the Beatles. "When he sang," Appel said last year in a Record World interview, recalling their second meeting, "I couldn't believe what I heard. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a major, major talent find." A former associate confirms this: "He thought Bruce was the greatest, bar none. He also thought his way of dealing with the money was protecting Bruce. His plan was to set up proper books and run the business legitimately when everything broke for Bruce."
But before that happened, another believer appeared on the scene. Jon Landau bumped into Springsteen in early April 1974. The musician was reading an enlarged display copy of Landau's review of his The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle; it filled a window at Charlies, a Cambridge bar where Springsteen was playing a benefit for a local friend. Landau introduced himself as the author, asked what Springsteen thought of the review, and the two became friends. Later that month, after seeing a Springsteen concert at the Harvard Square Theater, Landau wrote an impassioned review from which Columbia Records culled the now famous line, "I have seen the future of rock & roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen," for its advertising campaign.
Landau and Springsteen continued to communicate by phone, and after the sessions for Born to Run – with Appel at the helm – had floundered for several months, Springsteen asked Landau to become involved. Landau left his job as records editor of Rolling Stone, a position he had held for six years, and became coproducer. Soon Appel began to resent Landau, for logical reasons. Landau's influence over Springsteen was increasing, and he eventually replaced Appel as Springsteen's major personal and artistic confidant. In addition, it was clear to Appel that Landau was skeptical of his competence.
In 1975 Born to Run, produced by Appel, Springsteen and Landau, made Springsteen a star. He appeared simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek. But Appel's contracts were about to run out, and he suggested to Springsteen that they renegotiate. According to Leonard Marks: "When things started looking up, Appel offered to renegotiate the contracts with Springsteen – including giving him half the stock of all Laurel Canyon companies. Springsteen said he didn't want to deal with a written contract but wanted to work it out with Appel on a day-to-day basis with a verbal agreement based on trust. Appel had an audit done by Mason & Company and then sent Springsteen a letter saying that 'the books are open' and inviting another outside audit by Springsteen."
Springsteen, on Landau's advice, retained Mike Mayer of Mayer, Nussbaum and Katz, who also represented Landau's music business affairs, for the negotiations. Springsteen also had accountant Stephen Tenenbaum audit the money received and disbursed up to that point. Still, as late as March 1976, Springsteen remained confident of reconciliation with Appel.
The first legal blow was struck by Appel. In May 1976 he sought, through the New Jersey State Court, to attach funds from a week of Springsteen concerts in Redbank, New Jersey. Appel wanted the money held in escrow until he could draw his management commission from Springsteen. He was denied by the court.
Then Springsteen and Landau, who were discussing the artist's fourth album, learned that Appel was planning to prevent Landau's involvement in that album. Springsteen filed a massive lawsuit on July 27th, 1976, as the result of both Appel's desire to block Landau as producer and Tenenbaum's independent accounting of Laurel Canyon's financial records. Tenenbaum reported in an August 9th affidavit that Appel "conducted Springsteen's business in a slipshod, wasteful and neglectful manner; that he failed to maintain adequate and complete books and records relating to Springsteen's activities; and that enormous amounts of expenses and cash disbursements are charged to Springsteen which are in large measure unsubstantiated." His conclusion: "My audit reveals a classic case of the unconscionable exploitation of an unsophisticated and unrepresented performer by his manager for the manager's primary economic benefit."
Leonard Marks replies: "When Springsteen's lawyers sent Tenenbaum in they gave him leeway to maximize any possible claims against Appel as a negotiating device. Later on, Springsteen's new lawyers saw that it was useless because it was so biased and full of holes that you could drive a truck through it. When the Tenenbaum audit was finished, they wouldn't even give us a copy until several months after the litigation started." (Springsteen lawyer Peter Parcher says, "As I recollect it, the Tenenbaum audit was being completed just as I came into the case. I sent Marks a copy of it after I saw it.")
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