L7: PRETEND WE’RE DEAD
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: L7: PRETEND WE’RE DEAD is finally available. How are you feeling about the project and the reaction to it so far?
DONITA SPARKS: Well, I’m relieved it’s going out into the world because a lot of work went into it, especially from the producers Blue Hats Creative: getting the footage and photos together, interviews with the band members and guest stars, music clearances, etc. This has been years in the making. I’m touched by the reaction to the film by those you have seen it. It hits home with a lot of different people. In the screenings that I’ve attended there’s laughter where there should be, and complete silence during the heavier stuff. Musicians in particular relate to the ride.
Alliance Entertainment’s 661,000-square-foot distribution center in Shepherdsville, KY.
Raise your hand if you predicted the hot recorded music format of this decade would be…the vinyl record. In the U.S. alone, sales of the throwback records have climbed from under a million in 2007 to a whopping 11.9 million in 2015, their highest total since 1988. Aside from the questions this raises about listening habits and technology, here’s one more to consider: Who’s providing all the records? For about 50% of vinyl record sales in the U.S., the answer, at some stage, is Alliance Entertainment. Based in Sunrise, Florida, Alliance is a distributor for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, and vinyl records, as well as musical instruments, pro audio, and a variety of other entertainment products. It’s Alliance’s focus on recorded media, however, that centers it in one of the fastest-changing—and most disrupted—categories of this century. Digital media and streaming services have irrevocably changed the market for CDs and DVDs, yet Alliance has set a blueprint for how a company in this arena remains at the top of its game. It’s currently billed as the nation’s leader in vinyl record sales, and the largest U.S. home entertainment wholesale distributor to mass merchants, internet retailers, and independent stores.
“Technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to home entertainment media,” says Jeff Walker, president and CEO of Alliance Entertainment. “It has put some of our competitors out of business, but has allowed us to grow a brain trust of unmatched industry insiders and given us perspective to innovate and be more forward thinking when new products or opportunities come to us.”
For Walker, who started his career as a music retailer, heading up Alliance Entertainment is the latest link in a chain of moves through the music and entertainment industries. His original music distribution company, Super D, was founded as a side business—but emerged as a powerhouse that acquired all of its competitors: Phantom, MSI, Infinity Resources, and finally, in 2013, Alliance Entertainment, which lived on as the name of the merged company. Under Walker, Alliance would distinguish itself by the “one-stop” nature of its model. While some competitors have made their living on a relatively narrow, curated selection of music and film titles, Alliance carries the entire depth and breadth of its vendor catalogs, stocking a physical inventory of 400,000 titles within its distribution center. It’s a wholesaler to 2,900 customers and ships to 14,500 locations throughout the U.S.—as well as retailers in 76 countries worldwide. In addition, Alliance produces exclusive children’s home entertainment products through a dedicated subsidiary company, NCircle, and a full line of vinyl preservation and care products through a second subsidiary, Vinyl Styl. Its industry-leading AMPED Distribution operation offers physical and digital distribution services for both audio and video.
It’s Alliance’s success in this core category that’s allowed it to diversify, expanding from recorded media into categories as varied as video games, comic books, health and fitness products, and collectibles. With a formidable network of facilities, the company also provides third-party logistics (3PL) for some of the largest retailers in the world. Its inventory control systems, electronic data interchange (EDI), and data warehousing capabilities are also cutting-edge, “allowing us to maximize use of time and minimize costly mistakes,” says Walker. “With our dynamic sales and purchasing teams, even in lean years we have been able to survive and thrive. Our ability to adapt, quickly using state-of-the-art technology to face a changing economy, helps us to serve our ever-expanding customer base. We are the model of a 21st century one-stop distributor.”
For Alliance, the newest piece of the puzzle arrived just this summer with its acquisition of the AN Connect LLC retail music business. In purchasing AN Connect’s business and assets, which include vendor-managed inventory accounts for Walmart and Best Buy, Alliance added to its SKU base a huge assortment of CD, vinyl, DVD, Blu-ray, and electronic products. “With this acquisition, we will likely surpass the threshold of being a billion-dollar company,” says Walker. “We continue to expand our reach and service level domestically and internationally, as the world grows smaller through technological advances. We plan to keep chasing the dream of being the largest one-stop distributor in the world, while supporting our retail partners and allowing them to grow with us.”
(This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Music Trades/www.musictrades.com)
international sensation, steering the band away from their early Space Rock leanings towards an edgy Hard Rock sound. UFO became a force to be reckoned with, but by the end of 1978, he left the band. And to think he was barely into his twenties at this point. Schenker rejoined Scorpions right after leaving UFO, but soon realized he wanted to focus on his own thing. So he left – again – the following year. The Michael Schenker Group was his next project, although he moved away from the commercial sounds of his previous bands and embraced his experimental side. For the next thirty years, he focused on various other projects including a brief reunion with UFO, the McCauley-Schenker Group and other endeavors. By 2008, he was ready to embrace his illustrious Hard Rock past and formed Temple Of Rock. The band has had several line-up changes over the years but the most recent – and best – features Schenker joined by former Scorpions members Herman “ze German” Rarebell (drums) and Francis Bucholz (bass) plus guitarist/keyboardist Wayne Findlay and powerhouse vocalist Doogie White (Tank/La Paz/Rainbow/etc.). While on tour for their excellent 2015 sophomore studio album, Spirit On A Mission, the band was approached about recording their live show using a new technology called 3D Listening. The results can now be heard with the release of On A Mission: Live In Madrid. On this release, you can practically ‘feel’ the atmosphere of the venue even on the normal stereo mix of this recording. There’s even a version of the release that, with the correct audio equipment, will make it seem as if you are there in the audience enjoying Michael and the boys giving it their all on stage. The material during this scorching performance spans Schenker’s entire career including Scorpions, UFO and, of course, Temple Of Rock.
The Detroit Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was unlike anything else happening in the world at the time. New York was certainly tough, but there was an artistic flair that added a touch of respectability to it. The West Coast scene certainly had its moments, although the hippy-dippy flower-power movement took away some of its thunder. But Detroit? It was a hotbed of unbridled energy, attitude, and bravado. While Motown was in many ways the soul of Detroit, the Rock ‘n’ Roll rumble in the streets was loud and often frightening. But it was also invigorating and electrifying. It was raw and pure. It was Garage Rock with the power of Punk and Metal (neither of which were musical genres at the time!) yet it could also be artsy like the East Coast, and hippy-dippy like San Francisco and L.A. It was a melting pot of attitudes and ideas. And it was where the Grande Ballroom was born.
Unlike any venue before or since, the Grande was not just a concert hall – it was a meeting place for creative minds, disenchanted youth and people of all race, class, and creed. It may have promoted shows by local and touring bands, yet it also embraced the sexual revolution, psychedelia, the drug culture, and, most importantly, freedom of expression. The club Detroit bands like MC5, The Stooges, The Frost, The Third Power and SRC were regulars, while The Who, Pink Floyd, B.B. King, Led Zeppelin and many other major bands would always play there while on tour. The Grande became THE venue to play for every major Rock band once they had already conquered the East and/or West Coast. For some, it was even more important! The Grande was the brainchild of Russ Gibb, who some remember as one of the instigators of the ‘Paul Is Dead’ hoax of the late ‘60s (or was it a hoax?). Along with controversial counter-culture figure John Sinclair, they turned an old 1920s dancehall into something truly mind-blowing. Although the Grande shut its doors more than four decades ago, it remains one of Rock’s most iconic venues.
The power and glory of the Grande Ballroom may be part of Detroit’s – and Rock ‘n’ Roll’s – history, yet the larger-than-life venue’s tale remained largely untold. Director Tony D’Annunzio has addressed that situation with Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story. An emotional rollercoaster-ride of a documentary, Louder Than Love opens up the doors of the Grande and allows the main players to tell their story with passion and honesty. This is not just a documentary about a Rock ‘n’ Roll venue; this is a film about how music and art can make a difference in the world. Alongside members of the Grande’s inner circle and Detroit icons (Russ Gibb, John Sinclair, MC5’s Wayne Kramer, Alice Cooper, The Amboy Dukes’ Ted Nugent), there are also interviews with legendary artists like Roger Daltrey (The Who), Lemmy (Hawkwind/Motorhead), B.B. King, Don Was and many others. This is a story that needed to be told and Louder Than Love is a triumph in every way.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with director Tony D’Annunzio and MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer about Louder Than Love and the Detroit Rock ‘n’ Roll scene…