Mention the late Marty Cerf to any well-known US musician or rock journalist active in the early 1970s, and the chances are that their face will light up. But outside those rarefied circles, barely anyone has heard of him. It's a shame, as he was clearly a most immaculately hip individual, as well as a true lover of pop and galvaniser of talent. He edited the mysterious music paper World Countdown in the late 60s, collaborated with Kim Fowley on material for the Seeds, Hunger and others, launched the ace Phonograph Record Magazine in 1970, and - as 'Director Of Creative Services' at UA in the early 70s - championed much interesting music, as well as revolutionising the way that labels interacted with colleges, breaking massive hits such as Don McLean's American Pie, pioneering the art of reissuing back catalogue and amassing a record collection that was the envy of the entire industry. Not bad for a guy still in his early 20s.
From what I can tell, Marty Cerf was born in 1949. He grew up in suburban Canoga Park, California, and was clearly a record nut from an early age, with a particular love of 45s. As a teen he worked in the local music store, Pal Records, and before long had begun working for the enigmatic Royal's World Countdown. A free-form collage of psychedelic art, music reviews, record company press releases and reprinted articles from other sources, Countdown ran from August 1966 to July 1969. Anne Moore, who also worked on it, knew Marty well. "He was an amazing workaholic," she remembers. "He was interested in all of it, from the writing to the layout and final printing. He would even play delivery man at times, going down to the printers and picking up big stacks of copies to deliver around town - to the writers, shops, radio stations and clubs. I remember it was a long, hot drive out to Tujunga to pick up the papers with Marty!" Countdown didn't pay its contributors, but it gave them something better - access to launch parties and gigs galore, allowing them to make important contacts. By the spring of 1969 Marty had become 'General Manager', but when its founder Charles Royal got God and disappeared to Tahiti, the magazine folded.
I don't know precisely what Marty did in the next 12 months, though he spent some of his time working with Kim Fowley. A couple of tracks on Fowley's April 1969 Outrageous LP are credited to the pair (Bubble Gum and Animal Man), as are The Seeds' Wild Blood / Falling Off The Edge Of My Mind 45 (GNP 422) and the title track to Warren Zevon's rare May 1970 debut LP Wanted Dead Or Alive. In addition, he is credited as 'music co-ordinator' on Elfstone's obscure, Fowley-produced LA Teardrops / Beat The Clock 45 (World Pacific 77912), and for 'mastering' on the A-side of Hunger's awesome Colors / Mind Machine 45 (Public! 1001). Music-making wasn't Marty's ambition, though, and - having evidently learnt much from his experiences with Countdown - in September 1970 he launched his very own newspaper, to which he gave the comically literal title of Phonograph Record Magazine. Rather than attempting a Rolling Stone-type amalgam of music, politics, film and more, it limited itself to music, covering acts both hip and unhip with considerable love, depth and care. Ken Barnes, who has gone on to become one of America's best and best-known rock critics, got to know Marty shortly afterwards, and had soon become what he calls PRM's 'typesetter, reviews editor and hanger-on'. "Marty was around 5' 10" in height, skinny, always bubbling over with more ideas than he could spit out (he tended to spit a bit when excited, which was most of the time)," he remembers. "I've always been grateful to Marty, who was pretty much running the entire PRM show at that time, for getting me started." And there were many more like him. "I owe a lot to him," says Lenny Kaye, "since he was the one who assigned me the Legendary Masters Eddie Cochran liner notes, one of my most important early pieces of writing." Another was Greg Shaw, who was soon helping to put together PRM. "Marty and I had an immediate bond because we were both 45s fanatics (as was Greg)," continues Ken, "and I was an obvious admirer of his collection, which was filed by label and took up most of the wall space in his office. Filing by label is a fairly impractical method if you want to find a particular record fast, but Marty could do it because he had a 'phonographic' memory of label numbers."
|Marty Cerf, April 1969|
Here are the first three issues of PRM:
Its publishing schedule was somewhat erratic, however; there seem to have been no issues for November 1970 or January 1971, but two more appeared in February and March 1971:
As of March there seems to have been another hiatus in publication until August. In the interim Marty was appointed 'Director Of Creative Services' at United Artists. This was a nebulous role that involved publicising records, but separately from the label's official promo department. He was swift to capitalise on the emerging progressive rock radio stations, and worked hard to develop contacts with college reps around the country. He was also able to champion the power pop records he personally loved ('I'm in an interesting position, a lucky one for which I'm grateful', he wrote in his 45rpm column in the January 1973 issue. 'If I come across a great single or group, I get to call it to the attention of this here record company called United Artists, who presumably will check it out.') Ken Barnes again: "Marty was responsible for launching UA's Legendary Masters reissue series, which was the first large-scale program to treat rock reissues with the same scholarship and care lavished upon jazz and classical reissues. He could be considered the one figure who inspired the many boxed sets and rock reissues that have flourished since." A famed workaholic, he also continued to work on PRM, and scored the coup of persuading UA to fund it in exchange for plenteous advertising space. It remained independent, however, and never read like a propaganda rag for the label. Greg Shaw was appointed Marty's assistant at UA, and the two of them - together with Ken Barnes and one or two others - put together as many issues of PRM as time and funding permitted.
Back at UA, Marty appointed Ric Fazekas to help him with college promotion. Ric remembers him fondly. "He was a true workaholic, he loved his work and he loved music. His office was absolutely amazing, just wall-to-wall 45s. Brian Wilson used to come over to listen to them with him, maybe during one of Marty's sleep-deprived speed trips. He was very animated and absolutely loved talking to rock critics. He was like the President of the Critics' Union!" Clearly Marty was keen to harmonise his work at UA with PRM. Back to Ken Barnes: "Marty was a visionary, not only with the Legendary Masters concept, but with PRM's unique distribution systems - first, being sponsored by a record label without serving as a tame house organ, then by working out deals with FM rock stations all over the country to cover distribution costs to local record stores in exchange for putting their call letters on the cover and sometimes allowing them a page or two of their own."
|Billboard, 1st January 1972|
As of 1972, PRM was flourishing, though there seem to have been gaps for February and June:
Alongside PRM, in mid-1972 Marty started putting out a mimeographed college newsletter courtesy of UA, entitled Dog Grease (its title being a convoluted pun concerning the Flamin' Groovies):
|Billboard, 27th January 1973|
As 1974 came around, however, things began to change. A new cost-cutting regime at UA was intent on reining in budgets wherever possible, and Marty decided it was time to move on. He took PRM with him, and relaunched it as an independent, but it was a struggle to keep it going. "Creativity and financial discipline are not always paired in people," Ken suggests, "and Marty was pretty disorganized when it came to money. PRM always seemed to be teetering on the brink of insolvency." Greg Shaw took over as editor (with Marty remaining its publisher), but his energies were soon being expended on his own magazine, Who Put The Bomp. PRM continued to appear until the combined issue for May / June 1978, after which it fizzled out. In April 1979 Marty became General Manager of Riva Records and its associated management wing, Gaff Management. Their major artists were Rod Stewart and John Cougar Mellencamp, but Marty departed after only six months. Thereafter his career becomes something of a mystery. "Sadly, a lot of Marty's identity was wrapped up in the mag, and he never managed to segue into anything else of substance," Ken concludes.
Though Marty had an English live-in girlfriend in the early 70s, by general consensus he was gay (if deeply closeted). Suzy Shaw heard from him not long before his death, sometime in the 1990s. "He called out of the blue," she recalls. "I hadn't been able to reach him for ages. I was so happy to hear from him, but he was absolutely deranged, babbling the usual stuff that crazy people babble about - the CIA, the police, the Pope, things like that. I didn't get a word in edgewise. He hung up and vanished again, and I heard later that he died of AIDS. He may have had dementia related to the disease. Heartbreaking. He had been a brilliant man and a good friend."
Though he seems to have achieved all that he had to achieve by his mid-20s, Marty Cerf left a considerable legacy in the form of Phonograph Record Magazine. Copies are rare, but anyone who knows it respects it for its enthusiasm, thoroughness and wit. As Ken summarises: "Marty wasn't the most polished writer or the most grammatically sound editor, but his love of pop music always came across in the many stories and reviews he did for PRM. As an editor, his greatest gift was to let his writers experiment. Just about every music writer of prominence in the 70s appeared in PRM's pages, and the freedom afforded them was a big reason why. (It certainly wasn't the money.) He was an amazing and likably eccentric character in his prime."