The year is 1972. You're a 21-year-old midwestern musician who's just been signed to Columbia Records. You're coming to the company as a special project of its president, Clive Davis -- the man responsible for signing Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana, Chicago, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen. He gives you artistic freedom and the finances to express yourself. You gather the best musicians you can find, assemble a production team attuned to your muse and you record one of the best albums of the year. More than 100,000 copies sold. Regional radio playing your songs.
Welcome to Bill Quateman's world. "It was the dream. To be the Beatles, to be Bob Dylan. And I was living that dream."
Bill Quateman was a singer/songwriter at a time when that was a good thing to be. He had written an album full of music that touched souls and had begun finding himself mentioned in the same breath as the best of the time. He had people at the record company that believed in him because, as he says, 'there is really no way to quantify a song. Mine was the traditional show business story in a lot of ways, which finally in the end means, you have the luck to be where all the pieces are in place. It really is down to belief! And for my first album, I had a lot of people that believed.' People like producers Ken Ascher, known mainly for his keyboard work with John Lennon, James Taylor and Carly Simon, and Robin Geoffrey Cable, who engineered Elton John's first four MCA LPs and produced Queen II. Cable recruited the core of Elton's touring band (Davey Johnstone, Caleb Quaye and Ray Cooper) to play on the album to assist Quateman's touring trio (BQ - guitar and piano; Tom Radtke - drums; Sid Sims - bass).
Quateman responded by delivering an outstanding collection of songs including regional hits 'My Music' and 'Only Love'. Imagine Stephen Stills fronting America with just the right flourishes from The Zombies 'Odyssey and Oracle' and you have the essence of Bill Quateman. Bill Quateman was one of the best releases of 1972. It is music that people still believe in.
"So many people have written to say how much that album means to them. Music transports us over time like a smell--it can transport us like time travel. We have those songs that we loved from one time in our life--from a songwriter or band--|it helps us to remember and relive those moments to some small or great extent. For a lot of people, Bill Quateman was the soundtrack for that period of their lives."
'Come tomorrow, where will I be'
That first line of Bill Quateman foreshadowed events that would completely change his life. While recording his second Columbia LP, 'The Almost Eve of Everything', Quateman's mentor Clive Davis found himself embroiled in a scandal that forced him out as president of Columbia. And when the producers the new regime brought in wanted to turn Quateman into Columbia's answer to Tony Orlando & Dawn, he balked.
"I fell victim to the minions who wanted to make their careers by having somebody make a hit record according to the way they thought it should be. Because of the freedom we had the first time around and mutual respect we earned, it was tough to accept this new staff producer's opinion. So, instead of releasing what, in my opinion, is a really wonderful record, the producer decided to protect his reputation against a possible failure. He pulled the plug on the project and dropped me from the label."
It was five years before a record label was ready to take a chance on him again but by then his once-hot career had cooled. He recorded three critically acclaimed but light-selling albums for RCA and, when his first child was born, Bill Quateman decided to follow in the footsteps of one of his heroes, John Lennon, and retire from music to raise his son. "It was far more fascinating watching him grow than to beat your head against the wall in the music business - a business that had changed quite a bit from when I first got in to it."
So for many years, Bill Quateman became a househusband. Now the single parent of two children, Quateman was content to become the best parent he could be. That was until the birth of the web.
"About a year-and-a-half ago, my brother Neil, who's been on line before there was a line to be on, started getting e-mails from a few rabid BQ fans looking for me and/or the music," Quateman explained. "For years, a number of friends kept asking when I was going to get back to the music. We just started billquateman.com.
"The music summoned me to squire it along and I was happy to oblige. We started selling Bill Quateman online as a way of helping me put my kids through college. That started the ball rolling. The never-released 'The Almost Eve of Everything' will finally be available in mid-November. "We also start performing selected dates later in the fall - really the first time I've played live outside of my son's school in many, many years. And I have a kids movie musical in the works that has had very positive response."
"I've learned we really are in the right place at the right time. There's a great change in the market place and a great change in the way music is bought and sold. And it makes it all possible. There are people having careers on the internet without the benefit of the traditional music machine, people like Andrew Gold and Todd Rundgren. Much is possible that seven or eight years ago could not have been imagined. This is an exciting time."
Now, it could be Bill Quateman's time. Even if you never experienced his music the first time around, you'll find it as satisfying as the crisp ringing of an acoustic guitar--especially that first golden moment -- Bill Quateman.
Look for a review of 'The Almost Eve of Everything' in the November issue of PurePop.