Look What You Create
Recording Artist: Beggars and Thieves
Release Date: 1997
Songs By Jim Vallance: Stranger
Comments:
Author and journalist Hunter Thompson once wrote: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs". He must have been thinking of "Beggars and Thieves", a recording project that began so full of promise, and eventually turned into a slow-motion train wreck.

My sympathies go out to the band ... wonderful, creative guys who were left holding the bag while everyone else ran for cover. It's a story worth telling, if only as a cautionary tale.

For me, it all began in 1991 when I got a call from Bob Pfeifer, an A&R guy at Sony Records, Los Angeles.
Alice Cooper
"How'd you like to write with Alice Cooper?", asked Bob.

Of course I would!  I'd been an Alice Cooper fan since "day one".  I'd also heard that Alice was one of the nicest people in the music industry ... which turned out to be true!

A few weeks after my conversation with Bob, Alice flew up to Vancouver.  I had a wonderful time writing with him. His wife Sheryl came, too. 

Vancouver happens to be where Alice and Sheryl met, more or less. You see, Sheryl, a former Joffrey ballerina, was a dancer on Alice's "Welcome To My Nightmare" tour. During the Vancouver performance Alice missed a cue and fell off the stage, breaking two ribs. He spent a couple of days in a local hospital, then he checked into a Vancouver hotel for a few more days of recovery. Sheryl nursed him back to health and they've been together ever since.
Bob Pfeifer
(click on image for biography)
 
 
 
A few years after I wrote with Alice, Bob Pfeifer called to offer me another project: co-writing and producing an album for a new band called "Beggars and Thieves". Bob sent me some demo's, I liked what I heard, and I signed on.
 
 
 
 
Jim Vallance and Ron Mancuso, Vancouver
The key players in the band were singer Louie Merlino and guitarist Ron Mancuso, both based in Las Vegas. Great guys. Very talented, and very easy to work with.

Ron and Louie flew up to Vancouver and spent a couple of weeks in my studio. We wrote four or five songs, fine-tuned arrangements on their existing material, recorded some demo's, and basically completed "pre-production" for the album. The rest of the band joined us for rehearsals just prior to recording.
 
Everything looked good: the musicians were excellent, the songs were strong, and the band were signed to a solid label, Sony Records.

Even more significant, "Beggars and Thieves" were managed by Cliff Bernstein and Peter Mensch, partners in Q-Prime, a respected and successful management company who represented AC/DC and Metallica, among others.
 
Armoury Studios, main recording room >
"Beggars and Thieves" were the first band to record in my just-completed studio, "The Armoury". Engineer Paul Northfield flew in from Montreal to record the sessions.  I had great confidence in Paul, having worked with him on the first two Glass Tiger albums (1985 and 1987).  Paul had also engineered Alice Cooper's "Hey Stoopid" album, which I'd also worked on.

In addition to Ron and Louie, the other musicians in the band included drummer Bobby Chouinard, Parish Dilly on bass, and Alan St. John on keyboards (I also contributed keyboards, drums and percussion).
Bobby Chouinard
The band stayed in apartments I'd rented in a beautiful area of Vancouver, near Stanley Park and the ocean. The sessions progressed smoothly until the second week of recording, when Parish's girlfriend came to visit. They had a nasty fight and did serious damage to their apartment.  They broke the bed, the mirror, the bathroom door.  There was blood everywhere.

We were sent a huge bill for repairs. Parish Dilly was shipped home. Ron completed the bass tracks on the album. 

Bobby Chouinard was a world-class drummer and a sweet, wonderful guy ... but I had serious concerns about his health. His diet seemed to consist of Pepsi and chocolate bars.  He smoked too much and his complexion was pasty.  He didn't look well at all. Sadly, this would be Bobby's last album.  He passed away a few months after the album was completed.

If it's starting to sound like the album was jinxed, maybe it was!

But there's more ...
Stanley Park
 
 
"Left-overs"
(click)
As I mentioned, the album was recorded in Vancouver and the band's managers were located in Los Angeles. Faxes were more widely used than email at this time, and MP3's hadn't been invented yet, so once a week we'd "FedEx" a cassette tape to California to keep everyone updated on our progress.

In the beginning, all of the feedback was positive. Then one day Cliff Burnstein phoned with a suggestion. He wanted us to try "something different" on one of the songs. "Kind of like Steppenwolf", he said.

"Which Steppenwolf song ?", I asked.

"You know, the fast one", Cliff said over the phone.

I thought for a minute. "Do you mean 'Magic Carpet Ride'?"

"Ya, that's the one", he replied.

Eager to please, we went to the CD store and bought Steppenwolf's Greatest Hits.  We studied 'Magic Carpet Ride', and to the best of our ability we inserted something similar into our track.  We did a "rough mix" and FedEx'd it to Los Angeles.

Cliff Burnstein called the following day.

"No, No, No!", he yelled into the phone. "That's not what I meant!" 
Peter Mensch
Cliff Burnstein
 
In fact, Cliff never did successfully communicate what he meant. Or maybe we just didn't understand what he meant. In any event, the episode upset me enough that I stopped sending tapes to Los Angeles, which resulted in Bob Pfeifer flying up to Vancouver to see what the hell was going on.

We didn't really need a visit from Bob.  Things were going just fine. But Cliff and Peter thought we were off the rails. So, like the Martin Sheen character in "Apocalypse Now", Bob Pfeifer was sent up the river to check on Colonel Kurtz and his tribe.

Bob arrived in Vancouver and took a taxi straight from the airport to the studio. I had the distinct impression he'd used the two-hour flight to acquaint himself with the our recordings and make notes. After all, if he was travelling a thousand miles he had to say something!

We gathered in the control-room at Armoury Studios, and song-by-song Bob recited a list of recommendations: a little more guitar on this track, a little less guitar on that track, and so on. I listened patiently, but I didn't think any of Bob's ideas were useful, valid or necessary. When he finished talking, I told him what I thought.

It was apparent we'd reached a creative impasse.  It was not a pleasant meeting.  Voices were raised. I nearly threw Bob Pfeifer out of my studio!
 
 
 
We eventually completed the album, on time and on budget. It'd taken many months of 12-hour days to bring it to this point, and it had cost Sony a considerable sum of money. I thought it was a good record.  Ron and Louie thought it was a good record.

A few weeks later Bob Pfeifer quit his job at Sony Records.

Sony dropped the band. 

The album was scrapped ... as in, "not released".

I was devastated for the guys in the band. Me, Bob Pfeifer and Cliff Bernstein simply moved on to the next project.  But for Ron and Louie, "Beggars and Thieves" was their whole life!  Everything!

Years later the album was finally released by an independent German record company. It was well received by the European music press, but the small company was unsuccessful in delivering the sales the band so richly deserved.

I'm still in touch with Ron and Louie ... we exchange Christmas cards and the occasional email. Remarkably, they remain focused and positive, and not at all bitter about their experience.
Louie Merlino and Ron Mancuso