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The Article in Cosmopolitan Magazine, October 1973,
pp. 198-201

Here comes . . .
There goes . . . Chi Coltrane . .

by Richard Boeth

This is all about the possible rise of a rock singer named Chi
Coltrane, but we need a little background music first....

Whenever I think upon popular American heroes, I never fail to
cast the mind back to the fighter pilots of World War II -authentic folk
idols they were, ever ready to fly their Birds of Paradise up the other
guy's nose if it meant a few less Nips for Uncle Sammy to have to worry
about. Since then, it seems, we have got to the point where almost all
our pop heroes have something basic in common with World War II fighter
pilots-one brief but glorious arc across the sky as the whole nation
cheers, then phooom and on to the nest folk hero. Andy Warhol, in his
ghostly way, caught the essence of it when he remarked that in the next
generation, everybody in the whole world is going to be famous-for five

Until that era arrives, we have a pretty good approximation of it
in the institution of the rock star. I don't refer here to the
neighborhood rock star, earning $100 a weekend at the Dew Drop Inn and
wondering where to send that demonstration record he made last month in
somebody's basement. I was thinking of the thousand more or less
professional groups and singles that have come and gone in the last
decade. They played for $2,000 or so a night- superloud, derivative
electronic whingwhang with too much past and no future-warming up the
concert crowds for Sly and the Family Stone or Poco, and maybe putting
out one album on Buddah Records, plus a hit single that reached number
eighty-seven on the charts. These near-miss groups got a very brief,
very dizzy ride for their pains. One minute the air was thick with grass
and adulation; they rode limos to the airport with groupies in the glove
compartment and a tax man riding shotgun trying to help them figure out
where last year's $200,000 went. The next minute everything was gone (it
wasn't really there to begin with, of course), and the lead singer was
back driving a taxi in Detroit and dreaming of the second big break that
would almost surely never come.

There is a big dream behind it all, however-and it is this large
economy-size job that keeps the whole carnival spinning. Every knock-
kneed banjo player, every mudcolored group catastrophe, has visions of
becoming the rock trade's newest Messiah: the He, She or It who will
turn out to be another true superstar, someone who will bridge the great
divide between rock and pop and will go on selling records, year after
year and million after million. Presley, the Beatles, Dylan, the Stones,
now maybe James Taylor, Carole King, Cat Stevens-all these performers
were and are true superstars, true perennials, arners of legitimate
bankable millions in their own right and of millions more for all those
record companies, electronics manufacturers, rack jobbers, and simple
unassuming ticket-scalpers who York the Felt Forum and the Portland
Auditorium. Where ill we find their like again?

Where, indeed? Actually, the superstars are hardly monuments to
permanence themselves (always excepting Presley). Hendrix, Joplin and
Morrison are dead, the Beatles have split up, and while it may be too
early to predict just when the string will run out on the rest, it
doesn't seem unfair to say that rock superstars have a natural
performing life of a decade or less. That's enough, really. The
economics of the music business today are such that Dylan can make more
money in five years than Duke Ellington has in fifty-so five colossal
years count as a whole career now, and the record companies are
constantly on the prowl for anyone with any sort of potential for making
it into orbit that long. So it's a fascinating and elusive chase, made
up in about equal parts of hard show-biz professionalism and soft,
dreamy-eyed divination and wishful thinking. The odds are enormously
against anyone's making it all the way to the top rung, but the rewards
are so huge up there that the performers and the record companies alike
can't resist taking an expensive crack at it whenever the slightest
plausible long shot presents itself. So here, for your edification, is
the story of one Plausible Long Shot: a pop-rock singer still only in
the larval stage, promotionally speaking, but one who has been picked
out for the big push by Columbia Records, which has a track record of
pouring more money, determination and know-how into these cosmic
creations than anyone in the business. And still the odds are enormous
that our heroine won't be any more of a household name a year from now
than she is today. What makes it fun is the other possibility, the one-
in-a-million chance that by the time you read this our heroine will be
rubbing royalties with Melanie and Laura Nyro-or maybe even
with Carly Simon and Carole King. Ready, set, go.

She is called Chi Coltrane, and she wants it known that this is
her real name, so why not? The Chi is pronounced "shy," the Coltrane is
no relation to the great jazzman John Coltrane, and it is possible that
you have heard of her already. Her first album, which came out in the
spring of 1972, sold something close to 100,000 copies (and we shall
have more to say on this in a moment). One single derived from that
album, a driving, up-tempo member called Thunder and Lightning," reached
member thirteen on the national charts that summer, selling about
500,000 copies overall, and in a few cities such as Boston and Chicago
it was one of the biggest hits of the season.

Chi is an honest twenty-five now (she usually knocks a couple of
years off her age out of fear that the teen-agers, who are every rock
musician's lodestar, will have more trouble relating to an older woman),
and she is in every way a splendid singer person: smart, gifted,
determined, pretty, ballsy, and very good at what she does. What she
does is play half a dozen musical instruments, preeminently a piano from
which she coaxes everything from piano-bar kitsch to funky back-alley
blues, and sings. Her songs cut across a similar range: reedy little
Carole King-like laments, whammy up-tempo revival numbers, earnest and
well-meant blues that just don't have enough sex in them to warrant
comparison with Joplin (much less Nina Simone) but that sound pretty
good in comparison to a nice sweet thing like, say, Carly Simon. Chi
writes all her own material, too. Shez didn't use to, not until a couple
of years ago, but then she 3, figured out that all the really big rock
stars write their owns songs. Anything the big girls do, Chi figures she
can do, too.
It would seem from all these qualifications that Chi is pretty
well set. She has talent, experience, one well-received if not quite
sensational album already on the market and another aborning. Best of
all, she boasts the standard one plus-four recording contract with
Columbia - meaning that Columbia promises to bring out one Coltrane LP
in the first year of their association (as it has already done), with
the option to renew each year for four more years. Chi's option for the
second year has already been picked up, and Columbia remains genuinely
and all but irrepressibly excited about her future. Too many people
believe in Chi for her to have much chance of failing-everybody from
Clive Davis, [then] company president, on down," says Bob Altschuler,
Columbia's publicity chief but not a wholly irresponsible source of
information for all that. It's overwhelming, it's all one-sided.
Everybody thinks she's going to be the next real superstar." And this
could be the truth.

So what is this girl's problem'? Why is all the talk about Chi's
future when it would seem to any casual observer that she is doing
pretty well right now? Answers in a moment, but first let me bolster the
illusion of her present success even further. Just from her first album-
with its hit single, " Thunder and Lightning " - Chi would seem to have
pulled in enough money to keep anyone but a glutton in truffles, for a
few months, anyway. Under her contract with Columbia, she earns about
forty-five cents from every LP as a performer, plus another twenty cents
as composer- a total of almost $60,000 if we figure on a conservative
basis of ninety thousand albums sold. The single brought her a nickel a
record-add another $25,000. Then there were air-plays; as composer of "
"Thunder and Lightning," she received two cents every time the song was
played on a commercial radio station in this country. Figure six plays a
day on 3.600 radio stations for the four weeks the record was hot, and
that comes to another $12,000 or so, making for a grand total (flourish
of trumpets) of about $85.000, not counting the $21,000 that Columbia, a
talent agency, and various clubs threw in last August to underwrite a
promotional tour.

That's not bad bread, or at least it wouldn't be if it were real.
But the truth is that Chi is living in a $200-a-month apartment in West
Hollywood, on the unfashionable side of the Sunset Strip. She drives a
battered heap in place of the white Lincoln Continental she once had in
Chicago (it got totaled by an oil truck), and the mink coat once
shimmering in the closet has long since been sold to pay the rent. All
the money from her records has gone to pay off various necessary
advances from Columbia, and she is tens of thousands of dollars " in
debt" to the record company, various lawyers, agents, managers and
arrangers. It's impossible to put a hard figure on Chi's "indebtedness,"
because much of it is as illusory as her wealth, that is. Various people
and companies have advanced her all kinds of services, facilities and
expertise in the expectation that she will someday make it big. If she
does, she pays them off; if not, or if she drops out to join a Nepalese
nunnery, everyone's all square. In the meantime, though, Chi literally
struggles along close to flat - broke on what looks at first glance like
an income" of better than $100,000 a year but is, he truth, a fraction
of that. What she actually lived on for the last five months of 1972 was
$3,000 carefully saved from her promotional tour.

To understand how this very appealing girl got into this perfectly
typical fix (typical for a young recording artist, anyway), we had
better double back to the thrilling days of yesteryear when Chi was
trying to hack it as a sometime saloon pianist, sometime hard-rock
bandleader in Chicago. This would have been the late summer of 1971, and
things were both good and bad for Chi. She had spent the year before
pouring most of her money, energy and soul into trying to make a go of
her own band, known (naturally) as Chi Coltrane, and had come out of the
experience weary, broke and sort of brittle - the state of mind in which
you think you are tough as hell but you're really ready to crack
the minute somebody taps on you. Add to the saga an unsuccessful
marriage that had finally ended after four draggy years - that was a
help. She had also been picked to represent the U.S. at an international
rock festival in Rio (Elton John had been U.S. representative the year
before), and that was good. Chi was also working regularly in such
places as the Executive House and the Back End in Chicago, but the long-
range career didn't seem to have many mountaintops in its future, and
Chi was perhaps a little more receptive than she should have been when a
Chicago theatrical personage told her he had the contacts to put her
into records and concerts - otherwise known as The Big Time. Chi signed
him on as her personal manager, then began discovering, she says, that
his contacts weren't quite the right sort. "He knew a lot of actors and
actresses," she says, but that didn't help me." Her new manager did
persuade her to move to the West Coast, however, and she booked herself
into a couple of pretty good clubs and wangled some guest shots on
national TV, notably on the Merv Griffin show. What she needed, however,
was a record contract, and that still wasn't forthcoming. So Chi took on
another partner, an able and knowledgeable independent record producer
named Mike Gruber, and with him formed Just Us Productions, whose sole
purpose was to package and peddle Chi Coltrane to a big record company.

That, as it turned out, was a fairly easy thing to do. Chi had
been writing material for some months, and had six songs ready to go;
using just bass, drums and a guitar for background, and spending little
more than $1,000, Chi and Gruber produced a demonstration tape with six
songs on it. Gruber then called Paul Baratta, a veteran Artists and
Repertoire executive at Columbia's Los Angeles office, and said, "I have
a tape of Chi Coltrane's, and I think she's going to be a superstar."
Veteran A&R men are supposed to be skeptical, but Baratta evidently
didn't take much persuading. An oldtime theatrical casting agent, he
tends to judge people by how they move. When he saw Chi walk into his
office - all chunky hard-packed energy, with that pretty blond head
riding above  - he instantly became the mentor, guide and champion she
had been looking for ever since she started singing for nickels and
dimes in Zion, Illinois, seven years earlier. "Even before I heard
anything,'' Baratta told me, "I thought she was the most emotion-filled
talent I'd ever felt." The demo nailed it. Baratta immediately called
Clive Davis at executive headquarters in New York and insisted on
fetching Chi with him to meet Davis. "Davis would have gone along just
on my faith." Baratta says, " but I wanted him to be involved. "

Chi went to New York, conquered Davis, and went back out to the
Coast to cut her first record in February of 1972. An uptown production
using nine first-rate sidemen and a chorus; the eleven tunes took two
weeks to record, with everybody working ten six-hour sessions, and then
three weeks on top of that to do the "mixing" (the balancing and
blending of song and rhythm tracks, and in this case the addition
electronically of occasional horn or string backgrounds). When it was
done, Chi sent the master tape to New York, where the ponderous
machinery of Columbia's marketing and promotion departments groaned into
action. In all, about fifty different executives and department heads
crowded into Clive Davis's office to listen to the master tape (for most
of them, it was the first time they had heard their latest phenom ).
Preliminary decisions were made about which songs might go best as
singles. Chi herself - who had done everything from writing arrangements
to booking hotel space in her knockabout musical career -flew into New
York again and made herself known and agreeable to all the key hands,
including the executives in charge of A&R, marketing, artist relations,
publicity, cover design, the lot. About $10,000 was budgeted for ads,
mostly in trade publications: a free-lance West Coast publicity outfit
was signed on to do additional tub-thumping at $800 a week: a three-
month tour was laid on for Chi and a backup group in Denver, San
Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Washington
( D.C. ), Los Angeles and Ipswich ( Massachusetts ) .

Chi now calls the tour "the hardest thing I've ever done in my
life." Daddy Columbia had included a road manager in the traveling
carnival, but Chi's years in the back alleys of the music business had
left her with the feeling-which she still has, to the eye-rolling
annoyance of some of the people who work with her - that nothing will
ever get done unless she does it. "I put together the group, made air
and hotel reservations, paid the bills, handled the phone calls, talked
to writers and deejays, and rented the trucks for the sound equipment,"
Chi told me at lunch in New York recently. " There were supposed to be
two guys doubling up in each of two hotel rooms, and me in a single. But
two of them were clean livers and two were swingers. The swingers wanted
a room of their own, so I ended up sleeping on a cot with the two clean
livers while the swingers got room to play."

The purpose of the tour, of course, was not simply to introduce
Chi to new club audiences but to reach the disc jockeys, who for the
most part were tranquilly unaware of her existence. The ultimate object
was what Altschuler calls the single hardest thing in the whole world -
getting airplay. Whether it was the tour. Columbia's promotion efforts,
the merit of the album itself, including the now-released single of
"Thunder and Lightning," whatever was most responsible for turning the
trick, Chi did begin to get her precious air-play soon after her tour
began in May. Boston was the first city to go for her in a big way: the
disc jockeys in Chicago picked her up a little later (without knowing
what was happening he Boston), and several other key areas followed. New
York didn't join the group. Despite a big ride on WCBS-FM, "Thunder and
Lightning " was never a major wow in New York, a provincial town,
musically speaking, which generally doesn't catch on to a new singer
until all the rest of the world has caught on first. Still, the single
made it up to number thirteen nationwide one week, a performance that,
for a newcomer, ranks somewhere between sensational and dynamite.

All these happy successes represent the rosy side of the saga of
the Plausible Long-Shot. What I've left out so far, in the interests of
narrative clarity and suspense, is the fact that Chi Coltrane during
this period of her glamorous emergence into the big time was as hassled
and frightened as a chick can be - and, if anything, getting poorer by
the minute. The economics of the record business is made up of some
dazzling high-energy numbers, but these very rarely break down to the
immediate enrichment of the performer.

The largest worm in the apple is that all recording artists pay
the production costs on their own records - or "borrow" them, as is more
likely, as an advance from the record company. Chi's first LP was not an
extravagant production, but it was well and carefully done, with good
musicians and technical equipment and no corners cut in the studio. The
result was that the record cost Columbia something close to $100,000 to
produce, all of which went down in the little black ledger to be
deducted from Chi's royalties as they came in. As we saw earlier, Chi
has earned about $60,000 from the LP so far on sales of about ninety
thousand copies - so she still owes the record company something like
$40,000 just to get off the nut on her first LP. This may or may not be
unfair, but is certainly standard practice: Paul Baratta told me that a
performer has to figure on selling about 175,000 LPs and perhaps half a
million singles before he, she or it begins to show a net plus.

The record company itself is not in so tough a bind. Though
Columbia pays promotional and marketing expenses out of its own pocket,
it still figures to net close to a dollar on the $3 wholesale price of a
pop or rock LP. What this means is that the record company - unlike the
performer - breaks even on LP sales of about fifty thousand, so Columbia
made out all right on Chi's first album.

In Chi's case, the financial picture was a good deal worse even
than we've seen so far. All the figures about royalties up to this point
have been given as if these earnings went wholly to Chi-which they
rather spectacularly did not. By the time she had finished signing up
with her personal agent in Chicago - she is still bound to him in some
mysterious legal way and Mike Gruber and Just Us Productions in Los
Angeles, Chi had managed to divest herself of something more than 50
percent of her own earnings, often in fairly complicated ways. All her
music, for example, was copyrighted and published under the name Chinick
Music-a partnership between her and her original manager. So there went
half of her composer's royalties right there, and it would not have been
unusual (though I do not know that was the case here) for her manager to
have taken about - 5 percent of her half of these royalties as a fee for
personal services. Just Us Productions, which is to say Mike Gruber,
also came in for a percentage of her earnings off the top, and there
were a hundred other hidden costs for a neophyte to hang up against. An
arranger named Toxey French made a few suggestions during the cutting of
Chi's LP (almost none of them were used, she says) and submitted a bill
for $1,800. This was not out of the ordinary in any way, but Chi still
feels that she was booby-trapped. "Toxey didn't rip me off," she said. "
My own inexperience ripped me off." All in all, Chi was cut up so many
ways that her nominal earnings of $100,000 in 1972 really came down to
less than a half of that - and every penny of what she did make was
spoken for before she properly got her hands on it, anyway. Chi has now
hired some good lawyers (high-priced ones) to try to negotiate her way
out of this mess with all her managers and agents but the likelihood is
that she is going to have to be very rich indeed before she stops being

What keeps this story from being an all-out tear-jerker is the
internal evidence that Chi may well have survived too much for too long
to let anything stop her when she is this close to cashing in big. She
grew up grubby-poor in the rundown factory town of Racine, Wisconsin,
one of seven children in a family so rootless that Chi attended twelve
different grade schools in eight years. Music was her one salvation. She
learned to play about eight instruments by ear, the piano supreme among
them, and took her early influences where she found them - Strauss
waltzes, Stephen Foster, even Liberace on the tiny tube. Leaving at
seventeen she began singing weekends, just for kicks, with bands in
small clubs just across the state line in Illinois. More out of boredom
than anything else, she began working a few little clubs in Chicago
about five years ago. From the start, she had a sort of schizophrenic
career. Part of the time she spent singing rock, blues and gospel with
black bands in out-of-the-way joints in Chicago; part of the time she
spent hired out (at about $300 a week) to genteel cocktail bars, playing
piano and crooning. "The piano bars were a drag," she says. But the
money was good there, and she stayed at it at least part-time until the
summer of 1970. Chi's subsequent attempts to make it as a rock star-
first with her band, and then later as a solo performer - not only took
most of her assets but also most of what was left of her trust in her
fellow man. It is perhaps not irrelevant that she became a Jesus freak
in those dark days - and still is, though she doesn't talk about it much
except among other JFs. Christian fellowship provides her only deep
human contact: she has little to do with guys, singular or plural, and
has no real friends, except maybe for Columbia's avuncular Paul Baratta
and his wife.

But soon the college and concert dates and the touring will
resume, with Columbia Records doing its part by ferrying in disc
jockeys, wholesalers, newspaper reviewers, and everyone else in the
business to listen to the new sensation. By that time, the new LP will
be out, and Chi will have passed one more milestone on the rock star's
road to success. What milestone? Why, Chi Coltrane will be another
$100,000 or so in the hole, and that's the surest sign of stardom there