Working in record company promotion in the 1970s would have been a dream come true for any music fan. Free concert tickets, albums, and meet-and-greet events were in abundance, even opportunities to hang out with some of the biggest stars of the decade. Dave Morrell lets readers into this world with Horse-Doggin’, the first of a planned series of memoirs chronicling his early days as a promo man.
Horse-Doggin’ reads like a diary, a very personal account of moving from a teenage Beatles collector to working in the Warner/Elektra/Atlantic distribution center in Carlstadt, New Jersey. Eventually promoted top promotion coordinator, he attended innumerable concerts and participated in the business side of the music industry: namely, breaking new artists and boosting record sales. Any music fan who wonders how the business works — or anyone who wants to know what it was like to rub shoulders with John Lennon or Paul Simon — will enjoy Horse-Doggin’.
Morrell’s story begins in 1971, just after high school graduation. Unsure of what to do with his life, he fully immerses himself in his number one passion: music. He amasses an impressive Beatles collection, which through various twists and turns draws Lennon’s attention. This meeting transforms Morrell into a local celebrity, earning him appearances on talk shows to discuss this “new” obsession of collecting rare Beatles records. He even staged his own Beatles collectors convention in his home in 1972. After establishing a mail-order business selling Beatles bootlegs and other rare items, Morrell lands his first music industry job as assistant stock boy in the 8-track department of the WEA warehouse.
Using enthusiastic and informal writing, Morrell leads readers on subsequent adventures that would make any music fan jealous. Examples include attending one of Lennon’s last live concerts, the 1972 One-to-One Benefit; seeing Van Morrison live while sitting next to Simon; and attending the afterparty event, finding himself chatting with Simon, Kurt Vonnegut and Roman Polanski. One night, Morrell saw Led Zeppelin in person at Madison Square Garden; the next day he passed by a music store, where Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were jamming on guitars.
If Horse-Doggin’ was simply about name dropping, however, it would not be as entertaining a book. Instead, Morrell writes not from the perspective of a jaded inside man, but a wide-eyed fan just like his readers. His descriptions of listening to music in his room, trading Beatles bootlegs with friends, and his nervousness upon meeting Lennon for the first time will resonate with anyone. His loose storytelling style resembles a conversation, as if Morrell is sitting in the room regaling listeners with his incredible encounters.
At 101 pages, Horse-Doggin’ is a fast read; if anything, it could be a bit longer, as it ends too abruptly. His planned six-volume Morrell Archives series, however, should contain more details of not only meeting his favorite musicians, but also how the music industry has changed over time. Fans of the film Almost Famous will particularly enjoy this slim volume. A word of caution before reading Morrell’s memoirs: try to contain your envy.