Following the kids, listening to Keith, and talking to the Dead

forum-27450_1280 I'm long overdue for another interview with myself.

Self-interviews are a challenge, of course, because it’s so difficult for the self-interviewer to catch the interviewee off guard. Even more so when the interviewer and interviewee are so busy that the Q&A has to be conducted by email. But we did the best we could.

    Q. So what kind of music are you listening to these days?

    A. I like to listen to a wide mix, but lately it’s been a lot of old blues. Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker. The folks whom the early rock bands, like the Rolling Stones, grew up listening to. Too many contemporary rock artists have no clue about the roots of R&R. If I were teaching Rock 101, I’d start with Robert Johnson and the folks just mentioned and then move onto the R&B giants like Louie Jordan. They're all part of the rock & roll canon.

    Q. Is there a business lesson there?

    A. Absolutely. The blues and R&B greats were all pioneers in some way. We may not notice it now because they've been copied so much, but those blues greats in their day were innovators. They staked out new territory. Important for any business, especially in the Creative Economy.

    Q. What are you learning about business from your hobby of street-singing?

    A. Well, if you would ever read this blog, you’d know! But my latest insight is about selling. When I’m playing in the park I see a lot of kids with their parents. The adults may not notice me at first, but if I get the children’s attention they’ll get their mom’s attention. The adults have to stop and deal with me if their kids are responding. Pretty soon a crowd forms watching these children—including toddlers—dancing and going wild. Then I have an audience.

    Q. How does that apply to businesses besides entertainment?

    A. A simple example: Commerce Bank (now TD Bank) set up a coin-counting machine in their lobbies that kids loved so much they would drag their parents back to the bank every day, who would wind up doing more business there. So forget about “follow the money.” My new motto is “follow the kids.” Or “follow the kids to the money.”

    Q. I'm not sure I understand that, but it sounds good. So you're doing a lot of different things in your life now. How do you navigate through them? What's your compass?

    A. Oh, I just ask myself the same question that I'm sure most people do: "WWKD?" (What would Keith do?) Who's a greater fountain of life wisdom than Keith Richards? Just yesterday I was trying to decide what to do about something, then I realized Keith would probably do nothing. The problem resolved itself.

    Q. You say you spent 12 years working on your book—about business lessons from rock. Was it difficult working on a book for 12 straight years?

    A. Well, I took meal breaks.

    Q. What will you do next?

    A. Probably have lunch.

    Q. Will we EVER read this book?

    A. Well, I don’t know about you, given your reading habits, but it will eventually get published in some form. But while I’m looking for the right publisher I may self-publish a short eBook of outtakes from my manuscript and some revised blog posts. Or not. I'll consult my inner Keith.

    Q. You often brag that you’ve opened shows for Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Michael Bolton, and others. But what did you learn from the time you were living and hanging with the Grateful Dead?

    A: It was a brief time, in their very early days, but I learned the importance of being curious, of being open to everything. The Grateful Dead took in a lot of influences and they constantly experimented. That’s a lesson for any organization that seeks to be creative. And band members were available to other musicians. They loved to jam with everybody. I guess they taught me that anyone can commune with the Dead.

    Q: That makes you a medium, eh?

    A: Well, actually I think of myself as an extra large. But you may be onto something. I always hear voices in my head. Angelic voices, singing softly. But badly off key.

    Q. How is it that someone who has worked in mainstream business as long as you have can sound so…how can I put this delicately…unmoored?

    A. I think the answer is contained in your question. But the other problem is you’re always quoting me out of context. In fact, I don't think I'm saying any of this.

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  1. Having a chat with a Jewish friend once, he remarked that I knew so much about Judaism. Caught me off guard; I couldn't imagine anyone pondering Christianity without going back to its roots. Jesus of Nazareth was Jewish. Kept the Law, all that stuff.

    Playing rock without knowing Robert Johnson baffles me. I meet people who call themselves musicians who don't know who Jimmie Rodgers was and think Hank Williams sang Family Tradition.

    When I hear the classical elements Chris Squire brought to Yes, the jazz progressions Jimmie Rodgers used, the country patterns Pat Metheny uses on New Chautauqua I just don't get musicians failing to learn their history.

    And, of course, you may extrapolate that to business folk not knowing who Ogilvy or Tom Watson were.

    Hey, why don't you two collaborate on that book and get it done even faster?

    1. Me and Tom Watson? Actually the manuscript was finished quite a while ago, tho' I continually update it as new businesses emerge and the old ones bite the dust. One publisher says I just need to build up my "platform." Getting another 10,000 viewers of this blog would probably handle it. Tell your friends. (Unfortunately, most of my friends can't read.)

      Good point about knowing business history—and especially the revolutionaries (famous and not so famous) who broke the mold, like Bill Gore or Ricardo Semler. Which reminds me: it's time to talk about Tony Hsieh again.

      1. I meant the interviewer and interviewee.

        Semler and Gore. Another great band. Yes, those chaps are more core concept reading.

        Another conversation in an author forum I run is colliding with this one. SO many "entrepreneurs" are good at their thing, not good at business. Authors, really good ones, don't inherently know any more about business than the mechanic who opens a garage with zero biz knowledge.

        An eternal wail from the authors I know: "Why won't you do my marketing for a share in the profits? If you're good at your job, we both win! Take on 20 authors and get rich!"

        This has the same financial appeal as taking 20 guitarists to dinner and "splitting the bill." (And what's the difference between a guitar player and a medium pizza? The pizza can feed a family of four. Ba dum pssshhh!)

        I'll spare y'all the spreadsheetiness of it all, but I'd need 2 very successful authors A WEEK, for the rest of time, to make a living. That is, if I didn't starve during the first year when it was all incomeless platform-building.

        5am rants. This is why we have the Internet, right?

        1. Now I get it. Yes, I should talk to myself more.

          "Core concept reading" is a good way to put it. Reading Ricardo Semler, for example, can upset your core concepts and leave you feeling pretty dislocated—if you're wedded to organizational hierarchy.

          Hmm. I wonder how many business authors are good at tending to their own business?

          I heard that riddle as "What's the difference between a dobro player and a medium pizza?"

          Rant all you want. That's why we're here.

          1. I used to sit in a pub in Sacramento and listen to Pete Grant play his custom eight string dobro with an Irish folk band.

            If he'd had a tip jar set out, which he never did, he'd have fed a family of four no problem.

  2. I have a pet theory (which I feed by regularly visiting htis site) that the book doesn't exist - it's a construct of John's imagination.

    BTW, who were Elmore James et al listening to? All music is about standing on the shoulders of giants - it just depends how far down the line you really care to look.

    1. It's not hard to hear the raucous energy of Jelly Roll Morton in the blues of the 30s and 40s, and it's impossible to miss Louis Armstrong's style of soloing and riffing in it as well.

      And they emerged in response to, perhaps in opposition to, the rigidity and propriety of ragtime, military bands, and other music of the turn of the century.

      What interests me is that you can, with a bit of digging, follow virtually all modern music in the western world back through channels to either the Celtic music of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, or to African music.

    2. Well, the book IS a construct of my imagination, but there's also a manuscript, though it's gradually being cannibalized for this blog.

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