Talking Heads – An Interview with Steve Peer

I was stoked to interview Steve Peer recently.  Steve started life in a host of bands, ending up playing at CGBG’s with TV Toy, alongside The Talking Heads, The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Television, Blondie, and so on.  He was asked to join Bill Nelson’s Red Noise, a band that was 30 years ahead of their time and who influenced musicians such as My Chemical Romance, Prince, and many more.  Steve has a set of fascinating stories about how to work in the music business with transferable lessons for anyone trying to achieve success in any field.  A few stories illustrate the parallel life and business lessons from the full interview:

The Power of Networks

In 1977 Steve wanted to connect with Hilly Kristal, the owner of CBGB’s.  He arrived to the club early, to find the sound engineer cursing about the fact that he had to build a new stage that afternoon.  Steve spent all afternoon helping him build the stage.  In doing so he formed the relationships and credibility to be introduced to Hilly.  I found myself locked in a studio for a day whilst helping a friend record a song for his wedding.  Little did I know that I was sitting alongside Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan.  After a day of shooting the breeze and doing the recordings, we also became friends and did a number of projects together.  The lessons from these two stories are:

  • Do the hard work in order to build a platform of credibility.
  • Build relationships before trying to do the work.
  • Never overlook gatekeepers in a situation of influence.

Steve also became Television’s roadie and guitar tech, giving him even greater access to musical networks and contacts.  We laughed as we discussed that the most important instrument in many bands at the outset is a van, rather than the instruments per se.

Tom Verlaine and the gang in the van

Steve had approached Bill Nelson’s management to secure Bill’s assistance in the production of his band TV Toy.  To his surprise he got a call, asking him to go to the UK to audition for Bill’s new band Red Noise.  After a few hours of rehearsal, Steve was told he could go home.  I can imagine just how gutted he must have been, but he quietly packed up and got back on the plane.  Six months later he got another call asking him to be the drummer for Bill’s UK tour.  Steve assumed that he was not right for the album but was right for the live show.  By not breaking the relationship he got the call.  In his words:

“It’s true.  Be nice to the people on the way up.  Chances are you will meet them again on the way down.”

Steve also commented on the origins of his band TV Toy:

In 1974, as CBGB was just preparing to open its doors, there were few places for an original band to play in New York (and virtually none in New Jersey).  The Electric Circus had closed. The Filmore East had closed. The Mercer Arts Center collapsed.  The original Max’s Kansas City had been dark for nearly a year.  Meanwhile, a band called TV Toy was taking shape in a basement in Dover, New Jersey – a decaying town in the state’s mini-rust-belt just west of Manhattan.

“Back when it was happening I knew I was witnessing authentic rock and roll with a brainy ‘prog’ edge, an ultra-modern post-suburban attitude.  But now what I hear is great musicianship mixed with true passion and commitment. It was, and is, heart-breaking that not enough people ever noticed.  Maybe this compilation can change that.” – Rolling Stone Magazine.

In subsequent interviews, Steve and I have talked about

  • The anatomy of rock bands with transferable lessons for anyone dealing with diverse teams.
  • Dealing with mercurial characters, from geniuses to great pretenders with massive egos.
  • Handling conflict for long term improvements in relationships and performance.
  • Leadership strategies and tactics.

and many more parallels.

We are available for intelligent dialogues over the airwaves on these and other subjects.

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Peter Cook
Peter Cookhttp://www.academy-of-rock.co.uk/
PETER leads Human Dynamics, offering Business and Organisation Development. He also delivers keynotes around the world that blend business intelligence with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock. Author of and contributor to twelve books on business leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham, and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. His blends his three passions are science, business, and music into unique inspiring keynotes based on the art of storytelling. His early life involved leading innovation teams for 18 years to develop life-saving drugs including the first treatments for HIV/AIDS, Herpes and the development of Human Insulin. 18 years in academia teaching MBAs and 18 + years running his businesses. All his life since the age of four playing music. Peter won a prize for his work from Sir Richard Branson after his mother claimed he was a Virgin birth. He now writes for Virgin.com.