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Doctor Dream Has a Rude Awakening in Shutdown Process

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Play that old Doors’ song one more time for Doctor Dream Records. This really is “The End” for Orange County’s longest-running rock ‘n’ roll record company.

The saga of the label, which was based in Orange for most of its 16-year history, illustrates the pitfalls of the music business on independent and major-label levels.

As an independent, Doctor Dream struggled financially from 1983 through mid-1997 under its founder, David Hayes, while making a creative mark as an outlet for a good chunk of the best alternative rock coming out of Orange County--including strong releases by the Cadillac Tramps, Swamp Zombies, Eggplant, Ann De Jarnett, the Joneses (Doctor Dream’s first full-length album, in 1986) and Joe Wood (as Cisco Poison).

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Then Doctor Dream changed hands and became a major-label subsidiary: Four partners, including the co-managers of the teen-pop faves Hanson and veteran rock producer Howard Benson, ran the label with financing from Mercury Records. Benson said last week that Mercury fronted $260,000 in 1997 to buy Doctor Dream from Hayes, and gave the label an annual budget of $700,000 a year.

The new ownership launched the commercially promising local band Zebrahead with a debut EP in 1998 (Columbia Records already had signed the band for its subsequent full-length album, released later in 1998); it also had high hopes for a 1998 release by the local punk-pop band Welt.

Doctor Dream went forward, readying new albums by the Tiki Tones, Los Infernos and Manic Hispanic for a spring 1999 release. It signed the strong British jump-blues band the Big 6 and courted the label’s best-selling act, Cadillac Tramps, for a possible reunion album.

That all ended in March, when Doctor Dream suddenly was swallowed by corporate financial decisions far removed from its grass-roots field of operation. Seagrams Co. took over Mercury as it greatly expanded its music holdings, then began slashing costs. Doctor Dream, a tiny pawn in the mega-corporate game, was swept off the board.

With revenue cut off, Doctor Dream’s partners shut operations but hoped to persuade Mercury and its new parent, the Universal label, to hand back the label so they could resume running it as an independent or seek funding from another major label.

But Stirling McIlwaine, one of the Hanson managers, said last week that Mercury refused the request and will “foreclose on the asset"--meaning that, after some final paperwork is signed, it will own Doctor Dream’s catalog and take over its current contracts with bands--with the intention of dissolving the label to save money.

“Universal is trying to cut $300 million in overhead, and one of the fastest ways to do that is slash the joint ventures,” McIlwaine said. “We were going to put out six records this year. I don’t know what’s going to happen [to the bands currently on Doctor Dream], but I believe in those bands. I feel horrible at what’s happened. Ultimately, it’s the most unfair to them.”

K.K. Martin Adds Promoter to Tasks

After more than 25 years in the music business, dating back to a brief stint in the band of blues great Albert Collins at age 16, O.C. guitarist K.K. Martin has added entrepreneurship to his repertoire.

Last year, Martin, 42, launched Ranell Records as a platform for his own acoustic release, “Naked Blues,” and for other O.C. artists, including Joey Racano and instrumental surf-rock band the Reventlos.

Now the Costa Mesa resident, who had a short-lived major-label shot in the ‘80s as guitarist for heavy-metal band Shark Island, has branched into concert promotion.

In February, Martin organized the first of what he hopes will be an ongoing series of daylong “Blue-B-Cue” concerts showcasing unheralded, blues-flavored local talent.

Now, he’s back as musical coordinator of an outdoor charity festival at the Wal-Mart store in Laguna Niguel. The Jazz, Blues and Food Festival takes place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on a grassy expanse next to the store at 27470 Alicia Parkway. Admission is $5, with proceeds going to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the YMCA of Laguna Niguel and Children’s Miracle Network, which helps kids whose expensive health-care needs are beyond their families’ reach.

Martin said he decided to turn promoter and record mogul because musicians like himself weren’t getting enough opportunities to showcase their talents at high-profile venues.

“It’s maddening. I hate being a promoter. But it’s happened by default. Some of the promoters in the area have such a ‘tude toward struggling artists. You have to sell a bazillion tickets to play.”

Festival information: (888) 853-8368.

And the Hits Just Keep Coming

Five years after the Offspring’s “Smash” album put the Orange County alterna-rock scene on the national map, local bands’ impact shows no signs of flagging.

Of the top 11 songs on the Billboard magazine Modern Rock Tracks chart for May 15, five are by Orange County acts: Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” is No. 1, No Doubt’s “New,” from the “Go” film soundtrack, is seventh, Sugar Ray’s “Falls Apart” is eighth, “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” by the Offspring is ninth, and “Freak on a Leash,” from Korn, is eleventh. On the Adult Top 40 chart, Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” is No. 1.

On the albums chart, the Offspring’s “Americana” is No. 8 with sales of more than 3 million copies, Korn’s “Follow the Leader” is No. 26 and double platinum, the Korn-led “Family Values Tour ’98" is No. 27 and gold, Sugar Ray’s “14:59" is at 29 and platinum, and Lit’s “A Place in the Sun” is climbing rapidly at No. 67.

For most of these bands, the refrain has gone from “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” to “Baby, You’re a Rich Man Now.”


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