Bob Mercer and Todd Snider: Don’t It Make You Wanna Smile?
On Todd Snider’s latest record, The Storyteller, Snider tells how he temporarily became the lead singer of Memphis country cover band KK Rider back in the early 90’s. Like the other stories on this live album, it’s really funny. This story includes a velvet rope swing, cute waitresses in mini-skirts and a drunk girl in a 38 Special t-shirt. The story also includes the drunk girl’s “old man” in a 38 Special t-shirt (different tour, though) “touching chests” with the bar manager as they argue over her right to swing, oblivious to an impending disaster. All of this is going on while Snider plays rhythm guitar as KK Rider sings Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance.
I won’t spoil the ending for you; this piece is more about the beginning of the story. Explaining why he’s playing rhythm guitar in a country cover band in the first place, Mr. Snider says that he was approached by a record company to see if he would be interested in cutting a record. “Fuck yes I would. Hell yeah!” was his response. And they did. After the album, Songs For The Daily Planet (Snider’s first), was recorded, the record company didn’t want Mr Snider playing around Memphis until the album was released. Snider is like, well, okay but what about food and shelter? The record exec ignores his question and tells Snider that the record will be fantastic. Snider says, great, but what about food, shelter and electricity? The record exec says this album’s going to change your life. So Snider gets the message, thinks about it overnight, then calls back the next day and negotiates the freedom to play in some other band during the interim period. This leads to The KK Rider gig. In the story, the record exec lines get a lot of laughs, but Snider is careful to point out that he loves the guy and says that he had just spoken to him before the show.
The record exec in Snider’s story is Bob Mercer. Besides discovering Todd Snider, Mercer signed the Sex Pistols, Queen, Kate Bush and Olivia Newton-John. Mercer also managed Paul McCartney and Roger Waters. He married Jimmy Buffett’s ex-wife, Margie, who introduced them, leading to Mercer running Margaritaville Records. Mercer’s most significant commercial success was bringing the Now That’s What I Call Music concept to the U.S. I know about Now because those were the first CD’s my kids wanted to purchase years ago. They were not alone, because the series sold almost 80 million copies in the United States with worldwide sales of over 200 million.
Bob Mercer died just over a year ago (May 5, 2010) of lung cancer at age 65. While the flood waters were rising in Nashville last year, Snider was focused on LA, where Mercer was dying. On his website, Snider said:
as my mentor, dementor and stand in father bob mercer
is fighting a battle with lung cancer.
too epic of a person to describe with just the alphabet
and too cool of a person to wanna be described
ill leave it at that.
Mercer’s death came after The Storyteller was recorded but before it was released. It contains this dedication: “This album is dedicated to the glorious living memory of the late great Bob Mercer and his family. All you need is love.”
In a Billboard piece done a couple of weeks after Mercer’s death, Snider said, “I can’t stress enough what a character he was. If I could compare him to anyone, it would be Hunter Thompson. He wasn’t the most artistic music businessperson I ever met; he was the most artistic person I ever met in my life. He was like a father to me. The night I got engaged to my wife, she called her parents. I called Bob.”
Here’s a birthday video Snider made for Mercer a few years before his death:
More from Snider in the Billboard article: “As soon as I went from playing in a bar to someone who had a record contract, everyone I met told me I was getting into a business that was full of sharks and greedy people. I’m not saying those people aren’t around. But I’ve not come across any of them because [Mercer] built a family for me, and I’m honored to be a part of it. At that time, he told me I could make any kind of record I wanted. When I make up songs, I always think: ‘What’s Bob going to think?’ He was usually the first guy I’d sing them for.”
In a separate piece, an interview with Stephen M. Deusner for The9513.com this year, Snider talked about making his next studio record. The Storyteller bought some time, but eventually a record will be made and for only the second time, the record will be made without Bob Mercer. The other record without Mercer was New Connection. Snider says he made it that way “because I was taking dope and partying all the time and got away from everybody except my wife for a couple of years. I didn’t like that record, and I don’t think he did either. He said there were too many love songs on it and I agreed.”
Snider sums up his view about Mercer in the Deusner interview this way: “He was my favorite producer or whatever, I would say he’s the guy who always helped me decide what the fuckin’ point was, if there was one. If we’re smart enough, the point will be nothing.”
I’m not silly enough to suggest a point after that quote. Instead, I’ll just let Snider change over from talking to singing. The last song on The Storyteller is Good Fortune, which includes these lyrics:
people say that life is precious and you have make to make the most of it
but nobody’s proven either thing
when you stand back and you look at the long and the short of it
what else is there to do but sing
may some good fortune come to you
may some good fortune come to you
You can follow Mando Lines on Twitter @mando_lines.