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© Kevin Sprague
In describing the timeline of his professional life, producer Tom Werman puts a spin on the popular Hollywood proverb that there are five stages to an actor's career: "Who's Tom Werman? Get me Tom Werman. Get me a Tom Werman type. Get me a young Tom Werman. Who's Tom Werman?"
He laughs easily, then adds, "I'm OK with that. Listen, I got to be a successful record producer in the '70s and '80s. That's the best job you could have had during that time. The budgets were big, the records sold like crazy, and the perks were incredible. I had a lot of fun and lived the kind of life most people dream about. I used my CBS Records American Express card like you wouldn't believe.”
Starting out as an A&R man for Epic Records in the early '70s, Werman quickly distinguished himself as having an ear for rock radio, signing REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Molly Hatchet and Boston, among others. Becoming a producer wasn't necessarily in his game plan ("I didn't have a plan"), but because of the way Nugent's deal was structured, giving the guitarist's manager production responsibilities, Werman ensconsed himself in the studio to protect his investment. "I wound up doing so much that the manager gave me production credit," he explains. "Suddenly, I was a producer."
Werman admits that he didn't set out to specialize in hard rock, but that once he got rolling, "people assumed that's what I did," he says. "They like to pigeonhole you in this business. Ted Nugent was hard rock, and hard rock was what I was offered to produce. Truth is, my ears and my instincts are pop, and that’s why my bands got on the radio – I went for hit singles.”
At his peak, Werman's efforts ruled the airwaves, turning many of his signings into stars. Over the course of his career, the producer racked up an astounding 23 gold, platinum and multi-platinum releases. "But I was doing what came naturally," he stresses. "I listened to pop and rock radio since I was nine, so that’s what I wanted to hear from my bands. I didn’t make records for other people; I made records for me.”
And when it was time to get out, Werman did so with no regrets. "I read a book called Who Moved My Cheese?" he says. "It’s a self-help book about moving on to the next phase of your life. It made a lot of sense to me, and two weeks after reading it, I bought a bed and breakfast in Connecticut. My wife and I moved in, set up a new business, and we've been at it ever since."
Asked to name what he misses most about his high-flying times in the record business, Werman chuckles and says, "Nothing. I did it, and now it's over. I made something like 50 records, many of them big, big sellers. I spent my life in windowless rooms, with tobacco and alcohol and recreational drugs. Somehow, I was sane and smart enough to know when enough was enough. Most people should be so lucky."
On the following pages, Tom Werman talks us through the most important and memorable records of his career.