A lawyer in Chicago, a former radical who now represented all the authors in town and had done some work for me in the past, came to me one day in and suggested that Mercury Records might be interested in my services as a consultant. Mercury was looking to get into the increasingly hip folk market, which I was thought to be knowledgeable about; maybe we could work out a mutually beneficial deal.
I liked the idea. I didn’t know what Mercury could want from me– I knew nothing about records, and I was still learning my own end of the business. But I knew I could learn a lot from some exposure to another side of things. I think the people at Mercury knew I was wooing the Chad Mitchell Trio and might be able to bring them a recording contract. I never did figure out whether they were more interested in me or the trio.
Mercury was the biggest Chicago-basad record company, and had recently been sold to Phillips. it was very much part of the hip Chicago scene. Some of their early artists were Frankie Laine, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, etc. During the two years I worked with them they had Johnny Mathis, the Chad Mitchell Trio, the Smothers Brothers, the Singing Nun, Roger Miller. For a short period they were toe to toe with Columbia, not in overall volume but in records on the charts.
I remember once hearing Irving Green, Mercury’s founder, talk to Frederick Fernel of the Minneapolis Symphony on one phone and Sarah Vaughan on the other. I was amazed at the way he could relate to both artists on a level they could understand. He had that kind of charismatic personality. He was a big man.
My lawyer friend negotiated a contract for me to help them out as a sort of part-time producer. As it turned out, I did benefit from the relationship. I met Sherman Wolfe, a very nice and competent PR man for the agency. When Sherman left that agency and went into business for himself, he became my regular PR guy, and remained that for many years.
It worked for a couple of years. I was more of a talent finder than a producer. I had neither the ears nor the ability to produce records, although the deal paid off for them — I got them the Serendipity Singers, which was not that great a group, but they had a regular television show spot, a hit single and a good album. I had contracts out on two artists which were never signed: Bill Cosby, and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. But I felt good that at least these two artists justified my getting the contracts for them.