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Jerry Heller (Ruthless Records) Interview

Jerry Heller is a record executive from Los Angeles, CA. He started as an agent alongside David Geffen, Tom Ross, and Cara Lewis, when rock & roll had just begun. Jerry stated that “nobody in the business knew how to make any money. we were all a bunch of hippies”. He noted that Bill Graham was the person that taught everyone how to make money in the music business. “(Bill Graham is) the single most important influence of the rock & roll era”. Jerry later hired Irving Azoff to work with him after Irving wrote a letter about his interested in the business. They managed artists such as Jim Duvall & The Gauchos, The Grass Roots, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Jerry then worked for Jerrold Perenchio at Chartwell Artists, managing The Monkees and many other groups such as Andy Williams, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Sérgio Mendes, José Feliciano, and The Byrds. A few years later, Jerry flew to London to sign an unknown Elton John and to set up Elton’s first U.S. tour. Years later, Jerry flew to England again and signed Pink Floyd. Afterwards, Jerry went in business with Don Fishel who represented Ray Charles for 30 years. The partnership was called Heller Fishel and they signed Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Boz Scaggs, Dan Fogelberg, Joan Armatrading, and Electric Light Orchestra. One day, Morey Alexander asked Jerry to check out Macola pressing plant on Santa Monica Blvd. This was the location where records were being independently pressed for Ice T, MC Hammer, World Class Wreckin’ Cru, Timex Social Club, Egyptian Lover, Rodney O & Joe Cooley, and Bobby Jimmy & The Critters. While there, Jerry met Alonzo Williams who helped form World Class Wreckin’ Cru and CIA with Ice Cube and Sir Jinx. Alonzo asked Jerry to meet Eazy-E. Jerry was reluctant and uninterested at the time. Alonzo said that Eazy was persistent about meeting Jerry and promised to pay Alonzo $750 for the introduction. When Jerry met Eazy, he was handed a cassette tape without any explanation. It was the first time Jerry heard Boyz N The Hood and Straight Outta Compton and he was blown away. The very next day, Jerry stopped representing all his clients, started Ruthless Records with Eazy-E, and sought out to find how he could connect middle America to the music. After some research, he found that the surfers at Huntington Beach listened to Guns-N-Roses and would relate to the rebellious music. KDAY was the radio station where hip hop music was first played in Los Angeles. When the DJs Greg Mack, Julio G, and Tony G played NWA, Ruthless Records started receiving order requests for 50,000 units. Later, Eazy discovered Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in Cleveland from the same block that Jerry grew up. Ruthless Records also signed Atban Klann, which later became Black Eyed Peas. Because of all the publicity and success, Compton became the third biggest music city in the world. To date, the five original members of NWA have grossed over $15 billion in sales. Jerry stated “for me they’re (NWA) probably the most important act sociologically that ever came along in our business of music”.

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