A Letter Each From Yoko, Hunter, & Sublette

20/09/2011 § Leave a comment

Yoko Ono, yes that Yoko Ono. I was her product manager at Rykodisc and worked intensely with her over the course of releasing the Onobox and her solo albums (and those duo Unfinished Music albums like TWO VIRGINS that she created with You-Know-Who). And yes, Robert Hunter, lyricist for the Dead. And yes, Sublette, Ned Sublette. Who? Look him up. When Rykodisc was being pulled to NYC by Chris Blackwell, I decided to get a raise and a better position instead of going back to the Big Apple with no raise, no cost-of-living increase, and no moving allowance, and in the lowly position of PM. Lowly, as they were trying to de-Rykodisc Ryko at the time with tighter marketing budgets and other de-naturing parts of their new Palm/Ryko bidness plan.

Figuring some cool letters of recommendation would get me, I hoped, to the top of the resume pile during my job search, in the summer of 1999 I reached out to a few famous folks to nab me some great signatures to wow the suits who didn’t yet know me, those potential powers-that-could-be I needed to speak with, and impress, in order to become gainfully employed. A week ago, I found these three and other flotsam from my past while looking for something important in the basement. Of course I didn’t find what I was looking for, but these I had to retrieve.

I know I must have made an impression on Yoko and Hunter as they gave me more credit than was due (Yoko) and added more years to our professional relationship (Hunter). It was both Don Rose and I who ventured down to Studio One to present our ideas to Yoko for the massive Onobox project, though I was more in her face (on the phone) during the length of the projects to push them along, get the liner note revisions from her to Robert Palmer, who wrote some great liners. I was instrumental in getting her to release her solo materials through Rykodisc years after the Onobox release. Even though we had the rights in the initial agreement, I had to drop on down to the Dakota and detail our plans to try and convince her we would do right by her, again. Which did smooth the way to her approving what she initially agreed to years earlier, and had already signed away to us in triplicate.

I was also given Yoko’s Good Cop/Bad Cop treatment, which she resorted to if she couldn’t bare to hurt your feelings—even in a business relationship—she would hand the phone over to the person who could. I knew the treatment was coming after I kept asking about obtaining a certain bonus track for one of the albums, making the point, as is my wont, a few different ways and from another few different angles, and perhaps a few changes in tone and pitch. When Yoko said she was handing the phone over to someone, I knew that 1) I was important enough to get handed over to the Bad Cop and 2) I was not going to get my way.

Since I was only at Rykodisc from sometime during the Fall of 1990 to sometime in 1999 when Chris Blackwell closed the Salem office, some skant 9 years which seemed like a lifetime, there is no way I knew Hunter for fifteen years. Again, I think since I was a good PM and wrangling him for material and working closely with him on his one release, perhaps it did seem like 15 years to him. Or again, he was getting me mixed up with Don Rose, who he had known since the early days of the label.

Don’t get the jist that I’m still chummy with these guys. Nope. I don’t even have a return address for Hunter; the envelope just has R HUNTER on it and I lost that physical Rolodex in my many moves since then. No new email address either for Robert, since he dropped his icenine.com one. And, rereading his letter now, he unhesitatingly recommends me only for employment in the “record industry,” which, even then, selling high margin and profitable items like cds and greatest hits albums and boxed sets, was already a dying industry going down under the rising wave of the ever-growing internet. So, a back-handed thanks there, Robert.

Unfortunately, I never got a letter from Gerry Casale of DEVO. It would have been cool to get one in DEVOSpeak, snidely taking swipes at the corporate suits who might have read the letter. I don’t think I asked, so don’t get all pissy on Gerry and muck up his Facebook page. He and I still get along. Nor did I get one from Bill Laswell, MMW, Ringo, Lydia Lunch, Karen Finley…

I do have a detailed one from Jim Sampas about our Kerouac releases, which is a good read. I’ll add that one here a few weeks on down the line. Sampas is now over at Reimagine Music, and executive producing the Michael Polish-helmed feature, BIG SUR under his Reimagine Films banner.


1 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023

July 20, 1999

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a letter of recommendation for David Greenberg. I have worked with David on my solo projects through Rykodisc, and have found his attention to detail and follow through on all aspects of the releases remarkable.

At the beginning, it was David who was the sole Rykodisc representative who came to persuade me to release my work through Ryko. His knowledge of the industry he had expressed at the time was thorough and concise. However, I was still not convinced if Rykodisc would be the right company for my work. David, with his gentle but firm persuasion, finally won out. Now, in hindsight, I am truly glad that I made the decision to go with Ryko.

My two projects with Ryko: Onobox, a 6-CD boxed set, and the 11 solo releases, were huge undertakings and required someone on the record company side to pull everything together under a great deal of pressure. I found David to not only be attentive, understanding and encouraging to me, the artist, but he made things happen in the company in the right way for the two projects. Both projects, in result, have received worldwide acclaim and have become tremendous successes.

In the course of working with him, I had the chance to observe how David worked on other projects as well. He had a knack for finding the right artist for the company, persuading the artist, and then making the project work by treating the artists and their work with the respect and care they felt they deserved. I believe sincerely, that without David’s persuasiveness, and his enthusiasm and genuine love for his work, Rykodisc would not be enjoying the unique and powerful catalogue it is now known for.

I highly recommend David Greenberg for these reasons.


Yoko Ono


August 28, 1999

To Whom It May Concern:

I have know David Greenberg in his professional capacity as Product Manager at Ryko for fifteen years. He has always struck me as efficient, friendly, knowledgeable and innovative. I recommend him for employment within the record industry without hesitation.


Robert Hunter
(Lyricist, Grateful Dead)


PO Box 1256, Old Chelsea Station, New York NY 10011
voice: (212) 294-7175/ fax: (212) 294-7169


August 23, 1999


This letter is regarding my working experience with David Greenberg. I have been working with David since November 1998 in his capacity as product manager for my CD released this year on Palm Pictures / Rykodisc.

“Product manager” in the record business connotes someone who will be responsible for interfacing with the artist and who will coordinate all branches of activity regarding a project. It is a demanding and highly accountable job requiring a thorough knowledge of all phases of the record business – as well as communication, tact and diplomacy. It requires both creativity and reliability.

Effectively a product manager does many different jobs at once and is not allowed to screw up on any of them.

My situation is a bit unusual, in that in addition to being a recording artist I also run a small label – QBADISC, which has been in existence for 10 years – so I know the vagaries and headaches of the trade and am perhaps in a little different position than other recording artists to evaluate a product manager.

David got everything done immediately every time, was on top of all the processes, gave me accurate information, made valuable suggestions, cut through the red tape and gave me a feeling of confidence in the company. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with him again and I’m sorry he’s leaving the company.

Very truly yours,



Yoko Ono Onobox
Yoko Ono Releases
The extensive, intense and spot-on Onobox essay we commissioned from the late writer, Robert Palmer, for the releases, now in full glory on Yoko’s site.
Robert Hunter The Sentinel
Ned Sublette Cowboy Rhumba


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