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Record Label President A Maverick In Industry

May 22, 1987|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

Sam Gennawey loves to talk about music, whether it's an intriguing new band he has discovered, a favorite out-of-the-way record store or the state of commercial radio.

Perhaps Gennawey's passion just seems unusual because he is the president of a record label--Primitive Man Recording Co. (PMRC), the new alternative music offshoot of Miles Copeland's IRS Records.

But where most music industry executives pepper their dialogue with jargon like "product," Gennawey still refers to the mainstay of his work as "music" and "records."

"Whenever I get too frustrated by the business side, I start calling people I know at college radio stations because they just care about the music. The same with some cool record stores around the country that I know of," Gennawey, 27, said in an interview this week at a Huntington Beach restaurant less than a mile from his home.

"When I talk to them, it really puts the business back into perspective," he added.

The former owner of Camel Records in Huntington Beach, Gennawey was chosen by Copeland to head Primitive Man, whose first two releases are reaching stores this month: "The Bears," featuring guitar whiz Adrian Belew, and "New Campfire Songs," a six-song mini-LP by the new Los Angeles folk quartet, the Balancing Act. Due out next month is an album by New York band Tirez Tirez, which Gennawey described as "like Talking Heads around their 'Remain in Light' period. Or Steve Reich if he did pop music."

Primitive Man garnered considerable press when it was formed last fall because it has the same initials as the Parents Resource Music Center, the Washington-based group that has promoted a rating system for rock lyrics.

But despite the label's humorous logo--a naked, prehistoric man listening to a Walkman--Gennawey insists the name was not meant as a jab at the other PMRC's efforts.

"It was a mistake," Gennawey said of the duplicate acronyms. "In fact, one of the visions Miles (Copeland) had at our first meeting was to start a new company that didn't have an acronym."

In addition to being chairman of International Record Syndicate (IRS), Copeland and his brothers Ian and Stewart are variously involved in running Frontier Booking International (FBI), Los Angeles Personal Direction (LAPD) and the Organization of Soundtrack Services (OSS). Their joint film projects company is Copeland, Copeland, Copeland & Power, often referred to by its initials CCCP, which happen to be the Russian letters for the U.S.S.R.

But after Copeland and Gennawey systematically eliminated every suggestion on a list of 150 possible names for the new record label, Gennawey suggested "out of desperation" the name his wife had come up with: Primitive Fandango. Copeland liked the sound but wanted something shorter, so they settled on Primitive Man. It wasn't until later that Gennawey said a friend pointed out that by calling the label Primitive Man Recording Co. it would have the same initials as Parent Music Resource Center.

"It got us some attention when we first started," he said. "It's allowed us to make some statements (about censorship), and we are gutsy enough to speak up.

"But sometimes when people have returned my calls, they were very nervous, especially college radio stations, or very angry until I explained that I wasn't with that PMRC. But now as long as people call it, I don't care what they call it."

Gennawey, who sold Camel Records in 1986 and spent some time as a bank loan officer before the PMRC offer came up, admits that his criteria for signing acts are highly personal. "It's just a matter of A) something that will fit within the budget; B) that I really like the music, and C) that I like the people creating that music enough to work with them for the next five to seven years."

Although Gennawey can sign any act he likes, he said that because of his affinity for Orange County, "I'd like to be able to find a good Orange County group to get behind. . . . I really like living in Orange County. It's only the nights when I'm at Scream (club in downtown Los Angeles) at 2 a.m. that I wished I live in L.A. so I could be home in 10 minutes."

PMRC is essentially a one-man show that operates in close association with IRS Records. Both have the major label distribution of MCA Records. "I'm working out of the IRS conference room right now, but next month I get my own office. I guess success breeds a real door," he said with a laugh.

"Miles has given me a lot of autonomy," Gennawey said. "Basically he said, 'Here's the concept. Here's the money. Now go ahead and do it.' "

The goal at PMRC, Gennawey said, is to continue the maverick spirit IRS had when it began in the late '70s discovering new music acts including the Police, the Go-Go's and the Alarm.

Ironically, because of the success IRS has had in finding new talent, Gennawey said, "now they are in the position where they can't always take a chance on a new group. The overhead is too high. So that's where PMRC comes in.

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