Bruce Springsteen Reclaims the Future
At 3 a.m. on May 28th, after ten months of legal battles and nearly two years after Born to Run had catapulted him to national celebrity, Bruce Springsteen and his former manager, Mike Appel, settled their differences and parted ways forever. The move finally enabled Springsteen to record a followup to Born to Run with Jon Landau, the producer of his choice. But despite pronouncements of satisfaction with the terms of the settlement, both sides paid dearly for the truce (Springsteen, especially, lost much valuable time). The case is a textbook example of a financially naive musician learning the meaning of money only upon success. And Springsteen’s success is the only thing that separates him, in this regard, from countless other aspiring musicians.
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Even though two key figures in the case, Springsteen and Landau, are close friends with various Rolling Stone writers and editors (Landau himself is a contributing editor), details of the settlement are sketchy. Springsteen, Landau and Appel refuse to discuss the case; the only court document relating to the settlement is a single sheet of paper that says the matter has been resolved, and neither party can sue again. In addition, several thousand pages of depositions, which insiders say are both colorful and revealing, were suppressed by the parties involved and never entered the public record. A vow of silence may well have been part of the settlement, but even that no one will confirm.
Appel appears to have made out well; his attorney, Leonard Marks, calls the settlement “a complete victory for Appel.” Marks says the settlement provides the former manager with “substantial economic benefits, including a share of the profits from the first three albums.” Also included is a five-year deal between Laurel Canyon Productions, Appel’s company, and CBS Records, a third party to the litigation. “Substantial” reportedly means Appel will receive several hundred thousand dollars from Springsteen and CBS for relinquishing his interest in Springsteen.
Springsteen’s chief concern, though, was not money but his freedom. His lawyer, Peter Parcher, says, “If Leonard Marks really says that he had a ‘complete victory,’ then it’s just not so. I would suggest that the press observe who’s producing Bruce’s next LP; whether or not Laurel Canyon Music or Management has anything to do with it; and who now controls the entire catalog of previous songs.”
Indeed, the three contracts (for publishing, recording and management) which bound Springsteen to Appel’s Laurel Canyon Productions have been rescinded. His recording agreement with Columbia Records has been renegotiated, reportedly at a handsome rate (neither Columbia nor Springsteen would make the figures available), and Springsteen will now administer all of his publishing. Appel will continue to receive some proceeds from the records and publishing from Springsteen’s first three albums, but he will not administer them. Such a major concession establishes a precedent for future artist-manager disputes, or at least those in which an artist is more interested in creative control than cash.
Springsteen paid a heavy price in lost time. He had planned to begin recording his fourth LP June 1st, 1976. Instead, he started exactly one year later. Springsteen also alleged in an affidavit sworn last December 8th that the delay hindered his songwriting: “Ever since the issuance of the court’s preliminary injunction order, I have started countless numbers of songs which I have been unable to develop to their potential for lack of a proper recording opportunity . . . many of these songs will never be finished.”
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.