Many people don't realize that good salesmanship is just as important for starting a rock band as it is for starting a business. In fact, being good at sales is what helped me get my first instrument and, eventually, launch my music career.

In 1965, inspired by the British Invasion and the arrival of Bob Dylan, I decided it was time to put together my first band at age 13. The only problem was that I didn't own an electric guitar or a amplifier. And my parents pretty much gave me the sense that they weren't buying one for me, either--they were always telling me that they didn't have any money.

Nonetheless, I decided to go for it, borrowing instruments from other kids. I formed a band with some kids in my junior high (we broke up after a day) and another band with some of the kids in my neighborhood (we got kicked out of the school talent show for playing "I Couldn't Get High" by the Fugs--and then we broke up).

I really wanted my own instrument. I decided that there was a need for bass players, since it seemed that everyone played guitar. The one I wanted cost $25 dollars at the pawn shop, but that was more than I could afford.

That's when the Boy Scouts called, asking for fundraising help. Yeah, that's right, I was a Boy Scout. I had dropped out just short of Eagle Scout, because they required a letter from your religious leader vouching for your character. (My family, though Jewish, wasn't religious. My father said he knew plenty of rabbis and could get a letter, no problem. But I thought that felt like a con job. Plus, they had been giving me grief about growing my hair longer.)

But now, the Scouts wanted my help. One thing that most people don't know about the Boy Scouts is that they, like the Girl Scouts, also used to sell cookies. (Now, they sell popcorn.) The year before, I had set the record for cookie sales by selling 110 boxes. So, the scoutmaster called me up to ask if I would sell cookies to help them keep the quota up. I wasn't good enough to be in the Scouts, but they wanted me to sell cookies!

After getting some advice from my dad, I made the scoutmaster a deal: I would sell the cookies if he paid me a commision of 10 cents a box. He agreed, and I got to work selling those cookies.

In the end, I sold 242 boxes, and I was paid $24.20. My dad threw in the other 80 cents (big spender), and I bought my first guitar: a Red Hagstrom bass, which I still own to this day.

I also took something else away from the experience: I actually negotiated a deal. Sure, it wasn't the smoothest delivery--I was a little scared by the possibility of getting turned down. But I made an offer and it was accepted! That skill became very important for me later when I had to cut deals with clubs, record companies, you name it. But, at the time, I was able to focus on my music skills--using my very own, hard-earned bass guitar.

 

 

Published on: Oct 13, 2014