EDITOR: September 31, 1996 marks the 40th anniversary of the 'release' of Peter Bergman's first commercial recording, "Attention Convention" by the Four Candidates, a group of Shaker Heights High School students, on the independent Cleveland, Ohio based "Buddy Records" label. Inspired by the first full television coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions of the 1956 presidential campaign, the future Firesinger, 17 year old Peter Bergman jelled his burgeoning interest in politics and comedy by creating a novelty break-in tape.
ANNOUNCER: There was word on the street that our man Peter Paul Bergman made a record as a school boy back in Shaker Heights, but no one, not even the man himself had one. "I don't have a copy. If I did you could have it." Seems the guy couldn't even give it away. It was time for the Record Detective to crack the knuckles on his calloused disc flipping hands and beat the pavement in search of this thing called "Attention Convention" by the Four Candidates. What follows is this original report filed, ripped from the rusted tea stained typewriter of the Record Detective.
PETER BERGMAN: "That was a parody of the 1956 Democratic Convention, which was done in the style of the cut-up records. There was a very famous one like in 1955 called "The Flying Saucer", where they take snippets from popular songs. I got 3 guys together in Shaker Heights, Jerrad Wininger, Bobby Fisher and Bruce Berger, called ourselves The Four Candidates, and did "Attention Convention" on my Webcor tape recorder. It was played on the air in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, as far as I know, and maybe Detroit. WERE in Cleveland used to be an open radio station. It used to be really cool. "Attention Convention" was a one part record, I don't remember what was on the other side. My guess is that no more then 5,000 were pressed. Bob Fisher is a famous artist now, living in Pennsylvania, and I don't think he has a copy either."
RECORD DETECTIVE: The first piece of this mystery pie was served up from Firesign archivist Michael Packer, wrapped up in a photocopy of a September 1956 article on the record and the teen-aged Four Candidates from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The quartet were pictured with WERE Disc Jockey Carl Reese, who'd played the original tape of "Attention Convention" on the air. It was Reese who put the guys in touch with "Buddy Records", run as a sideline by producer and entrepreneur Bernard Buddy Zelman. It took this Dick a couple of days to track down WERE and, in turn Carl Reese, who was still on the air, now at Cleveland's WRMR-AM. Reese said this guy Buddy Zelman was still around Cleveland, but he didn't know how to find him. Well the phone company paid a few more operators with the quarters I dropped phoning every Zelman in the directory, until one disgruntled relative who preferred to remain nameless reluctantly forked over the number for the man they called Buddy. This was in July of 1995.
BUDDY ZELMAN: "Attention Convention" was sort of a Rush Limbaugh message ahead of it's time. These guys were hysterical. They fired a machine gun in the middle of the political convention of the record, which was hysterical. They were in high school and having a lot of fun. They put it together. I think they were wonderful guys. It was a 45 and they pressed up the records and they ran with them. It isn't like they left any records behind or anything. They were high school kids and were running like the wind. The record was hotter than a pistol. It was the most played record. That thing was blasted. People were calling in like crazy."
RD: This vinyl hound pressed Zelman about the photo in the newspaper article. The group is pictured with DJ Carl Reese who's looking at what appears to be a 10" 78 RPM record, which were still being manufactured at the time.
BZ: "Oh, he probably held the lacquer master. In those days, instead of cutting cassettes, they used to take the master tape and run a 78 sized lacquer to take to radio stations and it was usually played in 33. So what you saw was a lacquer disc cut on a lathe, and that lathe cut it at probably 33 1/3 RPMS. That was the radio station promotion, which they don't allow anymore. They have to have a label now. In those days the kids used to cut a tape in the studio, put it on a lathe, slap a label on it and run it over to a DJ. And that was a DJ's copy, good for about 200 clear plays. You might find something in the radio station library itself. They might have those lacquer masters. They're not real masters. They're like the lacquer thing that's silver plated before it goes to be pressed. They cut some extra ones to give to the disc jockeys, maybe an extra half a dozen or a dozen of them. A lot of records that I had, I can't find and I can't get the masters because we leased them to somebody. Most of these distributors, they'd pick up these old plates that we used for pressings and throw 'em away, re-melt them down. People come over and say, 'Oh, give me a record' until you turn around and don't have one."
RD: Zelman implied that they would cut the master and send them off to a manufacturer to have the mother metal master made for the machine that would actually press the plastic, for the distributors. These plates were not returned by the factory or preserved, but destroyed during the recycling process. The only surviving masters would be the actual original tape recording, dubs, individually cut acetates and the distributed pressed copies of the record itself.
ANNOUNCER: Things weren't adding up. Bergman didn't have it. And neither did Reese or Zelman. 5,000 copies is still 5,000 copies. A year had passed and yet no one had seen or heard a single one. Playing a longshot hunch the Disc Dick did the dialing deal like a roulette wheel and come up in the black with the Shaker Heights Alumni Association, where one Lisa Payne Jones had the goods on at least one Candidate for an interview, Bruce Berger. Berger it turns out, now lives in Palo Alto, CA. She sent a letter to Berger who responded in August 1996 and agreed to talk to our guy.
RD: Do you have a copy of "Attention Convention?"
BRUCE BERGER "I do and I value it highly. The fact that someone other then us even knew about that is amazing to me. I have nothing really exciting to tell about it. We were all friends, although it wasn't as if the four of us kind of hung around together all of the time. It was like a chain. You know? It's like I was a friend of Peter, and I was a friend of the other two. I don't know that Peter was particularly friends actively with the other two. But I guess I was the link there, as I recall. In my opinion Peter was clearly the most creative of the four of us. I think we all contributed to some of the concepts in there, but I would probably characterize him as the creative leader.
"What happened was we were high school kids and we had this idea and we made this recording and put it together on our own tape equipment, amateur tape recorders. We sent it down to one of the principle radio stations in town and one of the DJs down there. He kind of took a liking to it, and the idea that these were local high school kids. I don't remember now whether he played our rudimentary tape on the radio. But he basically said, "Hey this is something that you guys actually ought to produce this as a record and it would sell." We said, "Oh great! That's nice. How do we do that?" He said, "Well I know this guy Buddy Zelman, and I'll talk to him about it." The next thing we knew this guy Zelman is interested in doing it, and he prepared some fairly simple contracts that we had our parents sign. An appointment was made in this recording studio and we went down and did it. A considerable amount of time went by. It seemed like forever, and nothing happened. We thought we were being jerked around. There were all kinds of excuses why this record wasn't coming out. It was in limbo in a sense. I remember going down with Zelman to a some kind of a warehouse where there were cartons of this record that had been printed, but it never got distributed. We subsequently found out it was because it was a copyright issue."
RD: Because it was a "drop-in" record?
RD: Was it ever resolved?
BB: "It wasn't resolved. I think that Zelman must have lost whatever he had invested in this project was totally written off. Nothing was ever heard of it again. I got the impression that Zelman was pretty much an amateur in the business. I didn't think that at first, I had no way of knowing that. But after it all unfolded I just got the impression that he didn't understand that in order to use drop ins from other records, that you had to talk to those people and pay royalties, or whatever, to get the rights. I didn't know that at the time. I was just a kid. I think all of us were in the same boat. Nobody thought about that. It's my impression that Zelman himself didn't. He just went ahead and had the record cut and produced and at some point and maybe it was from people hearing it over the radio and representatives of these other records that were in there said, "What is this? They're using our material.", and then contacting him and saying. "Hey! What are you doing?". You know? He talked to his lawyer and he said, "What are you doing? You can't do that!" It was "Oh shit!", you know, and that's it. It was the end of it.
"I had a lot of friends in Cleveland and elsewhere, continually trying to buy that record, everywhere in town. It was never available. And I think that if it had been sold, then we under our contract would have been entitled to some royalties, or at least a report. And we never got anything except kind of a cursory explanation that "We can't sell it", or something. It was never definitively stated in writing."
RD: Afterwards, Berger mailed a cassette of this elusive recording, a copy of the original contract between Buddy Records and the Four Candidates, along with xeroxes of a photo of the group gathered around a microphone and of Berger's copy of the record. My hands grew sweaty as I placed the tape into the door of my deck. This was it, the wine from the fruit of all my efforts. A two minute blast from a past I never knew. I drank it all in with a gulp of self satisfaction. The parcel prompted me to punch the digits on the landline for more Q & A with Bruce Berger.
RD: I really enjoyed the "Attention Convention" record.
BB: "I'm glad that you did, because when I play it for friends I get this blank look, you know. Even I think it now, to me, it sounds pretty sophomoric."
RD: In the Plain Dealer newspaper article the record is called "Convention Attention".
BB: "Yeah, that was our name, and to this day I think it's a better name, because the whole idea was generated from constantly day after day these conventions being on television, pre-empting "Howdy Doody", "The Lone Ranger" and stuff. And so "Convention Attention" is like everybody is paying attention to this thing, and so this record is following in that vein, "Convention Attention". And Zelman just thought that it was not zingy enough. The funny thing is that in all these years those conventions haven't really changed, its just bullshit, you know.
My impression was that Zelman was a small time guy in the business. It's almost like Groucho Marx's statement about how I wouldn't join a country club that would have me as a member. It's kind of like, what record producer would take on this project with 4 high school kids that made this hokey thing. Ha, ha. That's why when I saw that Peter was on Columbia Records, I said, "Now that's serious!"
ANNOUNCER: Now you might think that's the final folio on Bergman and Buddy records, but the Record Detective managed to set himself up for yet another case. While researching the first vinyl coupling of Proctor and Bergman, P.P. sent him an original handbill from Yale University's production of "Tom Jones" in 1961. Within it was a mention of yet another project Bergman did for Buddy Records.
PETER BERGMAN: "I wrote a song that got released called "Big As A Mountain", that I guess went out on Buddy records also. Jim Faraday was the name of the guy who sang it. He was a local singer from Cleveland. It was about 1958."
ANNOUNCER: So as one mystery is solved, several more remain open for an answer. What was the b-side of "Attention Convention"? What happened to the 5,000 copies that Buddy Zelman showed to Bruce Berger in that warehouse all those years ago? And what about "Big As A Mountain" by Jim Faraday. Certainly, this record could not have suffered a similar fate as the Four Candidates' disc did two years earlier. I'm asking you collectors out there, particularly in the Cleveland area, to keep you eyes peeled for this vinyl junkies slippery Firesign 45 RPM fix.
To be continued.........