The music business is so predictable.

Record executives complain about rampant home-taping; Willie Nelson records a duet with his favorite new artist, and Rolling Stone publisher Jan Wenner has become embroiled in another feud with an industry titan.

But this year’s Wenner War is a doozy.

Wenner is going mano a mano with CBS Records Group President Walter Yetnikoff, who angrily cut off all of CBS’ advertising after the magazine printed an article in its April 10 issue about a new bootleg Bob Dylan album.


At least, that’s the CBS version. The two opposing camps can’t even agree on what triggered the feud. According to Wenner, the bootleg story had “nothing” to do with the ad boycott. Wenner termed CBS’ citing of the Dylan bootleg piece as just a “smoke screen” for a “very inelegant attempt by CBS to control the news and manipulate our editorial policy.”

Wenner claims the controversy centers around a April 24 Rolling Stone report about the record industry’s independent-promotion scandal that charged CBS with blocking a Recording Industry Assn. of America investigation into possible independent-promotion abuses.

“Yetnikoff somehow thinks we shouldn’t cover this story since we’re an industry-supported magazine, which is ridiculous,” Wenner explained. “Frankly, their move is shocking to me, especially coming from a company affiliated with such a respected organization as CBS News.”

However, CBS is sticking to its story. In fact, CBS insisted on terming Rolling Stone’s Dylan-bootleg article a “review,” even though it ran in the magazine’s news section and included a response from the record company.

As CBS corporate spokesman Bob Altschuler put it: “Our decision (to pull advertising) was based entirely on the Bob Dylan bootleg review. They may call it a news story, but it was written as a review. We’re shocked that the review appeared and we take serious objection to anyone that would review a pirated record. We’re doing everything we can to find out who put out the record and we hope they are prosecuted and spend a lot of time in jail.”

Wenner said the CBS ad boycott is “no big deal” to Rolling Stone, noting that record-industry ads in total represent only 1.2% of the magazine’s annual revenues. However, Wenner has responded by refusing to cover any CBS artists. Asked if this ban included frequent Rolling Stone cover boy Bruce Springsteen, Wenner chuckled, “Well, let’s just say that Bruce belongs to all of the people.”

The current issue of Rolling Stone contains an article about a new CBS companywide policy on explicit lyrics. It contends that the company is “apparently encouraging its artists to alter their records rather than have them carry a warning label. . . .” The story quotes from an internal label memo, which is prominently displayed in full in the magazine.

However, Wenner insisted there was no connection between the piece and his skirmish with CBS, saying the issue went to press before he received news of the ad boycott. CBS refused to comment on the memo.