iOS app Android app

Michael Sigman
Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.

Prior to his current activities, Sigman was the president and publisher of LA Weekly, the nation’s largest alternative newsweekly, from 1990-2002. He joined LA Weekly in 1983 as general manager and was named publisher the following year.

Sigman was also the founding publisher of OC Weekly, sister paper to LA Weekly, when it was launched in 1995.

Prior to joining LA Weekly, Sigman was a music journalist, and served as a reporter, then managing editor, then editor-in-chief of Record World Magazine, a leading music industry weekly, from 1971 to 1982.

Michael Sigman graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude, with a BA in Philosophy, from Bucknell University in 1971. He currently serves on several Boards, including InsightLA and Society for Singers, and is Chairman of the Board of the Wright Institute, a non-profit psychoanalytic institute which provides inexpensive long-term psychotherapy to the poor.

Entries by Michael Sigman

Cassandra Wilson Says 'Happy 100th, Lady Day'

(0) Comments | Posted April 7, 2015 | 1:41 PM

Of the many tributes to Billie Holiday's 100th birthday today (April 7), the most compelling I've heard is Cassandra Wilson's Sony Legacy album Coming Forth By Day, a strange, atmospheric brew produced by Nick Launay (whose credits include music by Nick Cave and Arcade Fire) with shimmering string...

Read Post

Bob Durst, Camp Counselor

(0) Comments | Posted March 25, 2015 | 4:03 PM

Like millions of others, I watched Andrew Jarecki's The Jinx to its riveting conclusion -- when Robert Durst, the subject of the six-part HBO documentary, all but outed himself as a serial murderer. It was a conclusion powerful enough to prompt the FBI to arrest Durst on suspicion...

Read Post

My Mind Misremembered, Not Me

(0) Comments | Posted February 7, 2015 | 11:20 AM

It was late on a Friday night in May of '03, just weeks after the U.S. had invaded Iraq. I was on my way from Manhattan out to the Hamptons -- all of them -- in a jitney with a band of (erstwhile frat) brothers.

We were having a...

Read Post

Elvis! 80!

(0) Comments | Posted January 8, 2015 | 1:40 PM

I was once, just once, this close to Elvis Presley, who was born 80 years ago today.

It was June 1972, a heady time to be in the music business, a time when there were still lots of small, independent labels run by colorful -- if sometimes crooked -- characters...

Read Post

'Enjoy Yourself' at 65

(0) Comments | Posted December 31, 2014 | 11:42 AM

New Year's Eve gets a bad rap, but I look forward to it because of a special kinship with a certain song.

The first time I heard "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)" I hadn't been born yet. Neither had the song. We were gestating -- me in my...

Read Post

On Memory, Medication, and Meditation

(5) Comments | Posted December 28, 2014 | 4:11 PM

A few months ago, not for the first time, I forgot something important. My wife suggested I talk to my doctor about my memory.

I got defensive. She had to be wrong.

I was always the guy who remembered everything, from baseball stats to the B-sides of obscure singles...

Read Post

PR Guru Schools Hollywood Moguls on Email Fallout

(0) Comments | Posted December 15, 2014 | 11:21 AM

Last week, hackers published email exchanges between Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal and movie producer Scott Rudin that insulted Hollywood royalty. Angelina Jolie? She's a "minimally talented spoiled brat." Leonardo DiCaprio's behavior? "Despicable." Pascal and Rudin joked that President Obama probably favored such movies...

Read Post

Book Excerpt: Softball, The Music Biz and the Me Decade

(0) Comments | Posted December 12, 2014 | 11:31 AM

(This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.)

Once in a great while, the exploits of a sports team transcend the playing fields to illuminate something profound about a particular time and place.

Consider the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals,...

Read Post

Book Excerpt: Management, and Fun, by Wandering Around

(0) Comments | Posted December 3, 2014 | 11:47 AM

(This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.)

January, 1973.

PARIS, FRANCE U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho sign a cease-fire agreement that, according to President Richard Nixon, "brings peace with honor in Vietnam...

Read Post

Fred Goodman: Songwriter, Singer, Parodist Extraordinaire

(4) Comments | Posted November 24, 2014 | 4:49 PM

On Christmas Day 1994, the veteran singer/songwriter Fred Goodman met his future wife Chris's extended family. When caroling time arrived, Fred, the only Jew in a houseful of Catholics, sat at the piano and led the guests through classic after classic, including all the verses -- in Latin -- of...

Read Post

Torn Between Two Bosses, Not Feeling Like a Fool

(0) Comments | Posted November 19, 2014 | 1:41 PM

(This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.)

Question: What to do when you have two bosses who hate each other so much they automatically disagree about everything and speak to each other only through you?

Answer: You learn to play...

Read Post

The Who's 10th Anniversary, 40 Years Later

(0) Comments | Posted November 12, 2014 | 2:07 PM

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.

In early 1973, shortly after I took over as editor of Record World, a mysterious package from our Latin American Headquarters in Miami -- aka the apartment of our sole employee in that...

Read Post

How to Win Charts and Alienate People

(1) Comments | Posted November 4, 2014 | 10:45 AM

(This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.)

"It's bad enough Beer has an MBA. Why does he have to flaunt that fucking map?" -- Consensus of record company promotion reps, December 1972

In Lenny Beer's first 48 hours as Record...

Read Post

Singles Charts and the Battle for Bullets

(1) Comments | Posted October 27, 2014 | 2:38 PM

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Just Remember: Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.

In the record industry boom of the early 1970s, revenue from album sales was the mother lode. But the most effective way to break a new artist or take an existing...

Read Post

Field Notes From the Music Biz: Life at The Trades

(0) Comments | Posted October 18, 2014 | 12:32 PM

(This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.)

Record World co-owner Sidmore Parnes was a man of his word and a man of few words.

After abruptly firing his editor, Mitchell Fink, in the fall of 1972,...

Read Post

Fleetwood Mac eBook Covers Band's Rich History

(1) Comments | Posted October 12, 2014 | 12:36 PM

Nearly 40 years ago, writer Sam Graham began work on a book about the suddenly very hot rock group Fleetwood Mac. He spoke with each of the five musicians -- Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks -- and accompanied them to some gigs in suburban...

Read Post

Record World Early '70s: Moving Up by Showing Up

(0) Comments | Posted October 8, 2014 | 9:55 PM

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.

On my first day as a 21-year-old assistant editor at the music industry weekly Record World, co-owner Sid Parnes, the man who hired me, was unavailable for orientation.

Sid retained the editor-in-chief title,...

Read Post

The End of the '60s? Where Do I Begin...

(0) Comments | Posted October 1, 2014 | 2:00 PM

(This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.)

It was winter, 1971, my last semester as a philosophy major at Bucknell University. Studying Plato, Kant, Sartre and company had been invaluable for its own sake; that it had taught me to...

Read Post

What Now? Sad Songs, Standards and Sweet Sixteens

(2) Comments | Posted September 24, 2014 | 12:17 PM

(This is the seventh in a series of excerpts from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.)

It was good to be 16. (It was the best of times...)

It was the first week of January 1966, the beginning of the second semester of my...

Read Post

Brooklyn, Blintzes, Baseball and Ballads With Johnny Mercer

(0) Comments | Posted September 17, 2014 | 1:26 PM

This is Part 6 in a series of excerpts from the forthcoming book, Field Notes from a Music Biz Life.

Rae Sigman, Carl's strong-willed mother, was proud of her son's ability to navigate Beethoven sonatas and improvise pop tunes at the piano. But when he turned 21 and declared his intention to make a living as a songwriter, Rae gave him two choices: doctor or lawyer. Blood nauseated him, so dutiful son that he was, he earned a law degree from NYU and passed the New York State Bar Exam.

In lieu of practicing law, Carl practiced songwriting. Before long he'd composed a trunkload of tunes and set out to play them for anyone who'd listen.

Many months of unanswered phone calls, unreturned letters and fruitless meetings followed. Finally, an uncle who owned steam baths in Harlem got Carl an audience with regular patron Ira Gershwin at the master's Upper West Side apartment. Carl played song after song until Gershwin sent him on his way with a polite, "Keep on trying."

Carl got his big break via a meeting with Henry Spitzer at Harms, a leading music publisher. This time, there was no "and then I wrote..." He played only his best tunes. Spitzer liked them well enough to suggest that Carl pair up with a young lyricist he had his eye on: "I can put you with somebody. There's a guy named Johnny Mercer who's going to be on the radio on Monday night. He's going to be singing a song called 'Watch a Darky Dance.' Why don't you listen in, and I'll give you his phone number and you can call him." (It's a measure of historical distance that a song with that title was acceptable fare for a national radio show during the 1930s.)

The day after the radio show, Carl called Johnny, who lived just a few blocks away from the apartment Carl shared with his parents and his younger brother Marty on Crown Street in Brooklyn.

Carl recalled what happened next with characteristic understatement. "Johnny walked over to Crown Street. We talked and I played a few tunes. He sat there like a lyric writer. Then we established a relationship. We wrote a few songs. They weren't very good, but they were professional. I was a beginner at the time, but he liked my melodies, some of them."

Carl and Johnny became fast friends, sharing their enthusiasm for music, movies, baseball and the rich Jewish food Rae served up to Johnny and his wife Ginger.

In his memoir, Johnny remembered Rae as, "[Carl's] little, round attractive mother [who filled me up] with blintzes or chopped liver on rye bread." He added, "After playing softball together in the Brooklyn schoolyards, (Carl and I) would spend long nights writing what seemed to be Isham Jones songs. (Jones led and wrote songs for his own dance band in the pre-swing era.) But I loved Carl's tunes. As it turned out, he was also a great lyric writer, which he later proved."

Johnny wrote the lyrics for "Just Remember," Carl's first published song. Carl remembered it as a flop, but it was in fact recorded by three established acts: BBC Orchestra leader Henry Hall, Henry Jacques and His Correct Dance Tempo Orchestra (he was billed on the HMV label as "Britain's Champion Dancer of 1934-36") and Australian expatriate singer-violinist Brian Lawrance & His Lansdowne Orchestra.

Other 1930s Mercer/Sigman collaborations included "On Our Golden Wedding Day" and "Peek-a Boo To You," recorded in 1938 by Bea Wain with Larry Clinton and his Orchestra and covered by Glenn Miller three years later with Paula Kelly and the Modernaires.

When Johnny moved to Hollywood to become a show biz mega-star, Carl stayed in Brooklyn and continued to write melodies, most of which went nowhere. He knew he had at least one tune with hit potential; all it needed was the right lyric.

On one of Johnny's trips to New York, he and Carl met in the piano room of a publisher's office. Carl recalled, "Johnny liked [the tune] very much, and I mentioned a title -- 'Come Out Of Your Dream And Into My Arms.' That was my little catch phrase. About two minutes later, he suggested, 'Please Come Out Of Your Dream...' About two minutes after that, we finished the lyric, most of which was his. When I left he said, 'Good luck with your song.' I said, 'What do you mean, it's our song.' He replied, 'No, it's your song. It was your title, it's your tune, I just helped you. I had nothing to do with it.' I fought with him, but he insisted, and he wouldn't put his name on the song. He was that kind of man.

"I got it published, and Guy Lombardo introduced it. In those days, that was important. The only reason it didn't make it big was that there was another 'dream' song called 'Darn That Dream' at the same time, and it got smothered. It was the first really noisy song I had in this country." Noisiness, in Carl's parlance, meant action, which in this case included covers by Ruby Newman, Larry Clinton, Ginny Simms, Seger Ellis, and Johnny Messner.

Soon thereafter, Johnny provided Carl with a turning point in his career.

"Johnny said, 'Look, you write great melodies, but you've also got a real flair for lyrics. We need lyric writers. There are fifteen tune writers for every lyric writer. Every band has a couple of guys who can write a couple of tunes a day.' That," Carl recalled, "was one of the great things (Johnny) did for me. He steered me into writing lyrics."


I was between college semesters when Carl arranged for us to meet Johnny for drinks at the swanky Oak Room in the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

I hated swank. I was a late-'60s longhaired rock'n'roll-loving Vietnam-war-protesting pot-smoking semi-hippie. At my parents' insistence, I'd put on my one fancy outfit -- powder blue seersucker sports jacket, blue tie, itchy black pants, off-white shirt, and ugly black shoes -- and hustled over to the Plaza from my summer job as reporter for the trade magazine Record World, whose offices were a few blocks away at 200 West Fifty- Seventh Street.

I'd met plenty of accomplished and famous people, but given what Johnny had done for Carl and the transcendent beauty of his lyrics, this felt like an audience with a deity. Without the love and support of the genius who wrote the lyrics to "Skylark," "Autumn Leaves," and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" I might have grown up in a house full of legal briefs instead of sheet music.

When we arrived, Johnny was already seated and nursing a drink. His slurred greeting was friendly enough when he half-stood to embrace Carl, but my wide smile and outstretched hand were met with a jellyfish handshake, no eye contact and an unintelligible but nasty-toned comment under Johnny's alcoholic breath.

For the next hour, I tried to win him over with small talk, compliments and grins. But he seemed interested only in expressing his contempt for rock'n'roll and the life-style treason of "the hippies." Carl didn't help much. He himself was less than clear about whether I was becoming an upstanding music journalist or a decadent druggie.

We parted with thin smiles and awkward nods. On the train back to Great Neck, Carl explained that Johnny was a wonderful human being but a mean drunk -- and that he frequently offered sincere apologies and gifts after ugly dust-ups with those he cared about.

I wish Carl had told me that before our meeting. But I understood that Johnny's reaction to me was informed by a bitterness that his career had been cut short by longhaired rockers who didn't need songwriters and who cared more about reefers than rhymes.

It's true that Johnny's stardom declined as rock'n'roll ascended, but he remained a Hollywood favorite during the '60s. Two of his most enduring songs -- "Moon River" and "The Days of Wine and Roses" (music by Henry Mancini) -- won consecutive Oscars in 1961 and '62.

For me, the Mercer song that most pierces the heart at this time of year is "Autumn Leaves" (music by Joseph Kosma). Jo Stafford, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and hundreds of other Great American Songbook era singers covered it, as did rocker Manfred Mann at the height of the British Invasion.

The falling leaves
Drift by the window
The autumn leaves
Of red and gold
I see your lips
The summer kisses
The sunburned hands
I used to hold
Since you went away
The days grow long
And soon I'll hear
Old winter's song
But I miss you most of all
My darling
When autumn leaves
Start to fall

Sadly, "Old winter's song" visited Johnny in 1976, so we'll never know whether he would have approved of affectionate covers by Jerry Lee Lewis and Eric Clapton.

I wish I'd met Johnny under happier circumstances. But I've gotten to know the real man in a far more meaningful way through his lyrics and through Carl's stories, which, late at night when the world is quiet, evoke lazy Brooklyn afternoons of fungo on the sandlots and long nights of ardent music-making fueled by blintzes and chopped liver on rye.

Now when I listen to "Just Remember," I can almost grasp what it must have been like for two friends starting out in a music business that would be unrecognizable a few decades...

Read Post