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Started in Los Angeles in 1969, founder and current owner, Sterling Howard, was a young musician playing in local clubs. Realizing there was not a place for bands and musicians to connect, he rented an upstairs office in the famous Whisky a Go-Go in Hollywood. By distributing flyers on the Sunset Strip, he attracted a large number of players. Within weeks, Sterling charged a whopping $5 for membership.
In the first few months, several name groups of the era such as Canned Heat, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap searched for musicians. Todd Rundgren came in seeking a keyboardist and Dr. John dropped in needing a percussionist and fell asleep on the office couch! Blues legend Albert Collins used the service the first of many times. The Beach Boys wanted some brass players and Sterling had no brass players! A new group, Earth, Wind, and Fire was doing a showcase and couldn’t afford to pay the guitarist they needed. And rockabilly great Gene Vincent picked up Billy Zoom (later the guitarist for X).
Within a year the office was moved to a larger location. In the early 1970’s, traveling bands found members as they passed through California. As word spread, groups from other states called for replacements. Full time working Top 40 acts became more popular. Barry White, Alice Cooper, Little Feat, Frank Zappa, The Captain & Tennille, Neil Diamond, Spirit, Steppenwolf, Eric Burdon, The Righteous Brothers, Iron Butterfly and El Chicano all used the service during this time. Ambrosia found drummer Burleigh Drummond, and an unknown by the name of Billy Joel just wanted a piano bar job!
By the late 1970’s the office staff had grown to six, and Sterling opened a branch office near Disneyland. Las Vegas groups like Sha Na Na, The Association, The Lettermen and Helen Reddy imported players. Country artists such as Brenda Lee, Jim Stafford, Louise Mandrell, Freddy Fender, Dorsey Burnette and Poco used the service for road jobs, while disco was king in the local clubs. As new wave rock emerged, Berlin found vocalist Terri Nunn, Terry Bozzio and Missing Persons found keyboardist Chuck Wild and Danny Elfman with Oingo Boingo found trumpeter Dale Turner. And The Runaways located Jackie Foxx as Duran Duran, The Knack, The Motels, and Animotion used fill-in players. Artists as diverse as Al Stewart, Bobby McFerrin, REO Speedwagon, Jan&Dean, Shalamar, Steve Vai, and War also searched as well as Rick Springfield, who formed two complete road bands from Musicians Contact files.
Soon a major change occurred in the way jobs were distributed by the service. Sterling hired a team of technicians to build a custom-made computer connected to seven tape recorders. Now members could call 24 hours, enter a code, and hear recorded job descriptions. It was primitive by today’s standards, but it worked and this was 1983! Jazz names starting using the service. George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Maynard Ferguson, Stanley Clarke, The Crusaders, Hiroshima, and John Klemmer picked up various sidemen. Cruise ship jobs became more popular, hiring a variety of bands. Actor David Hasselhoff needed a sax player and comedian Harvey Mandel hired a back-up group. Also seeking some talent were Nikki Sixx, The New Edition, Billy Preston, Weird Al Yankovic, Tower of Power, Gregg Bissonette, and Klymaxx.
Entering the era of music videos for television, managers viewed pictures of musicians for use in commercials and videos. A production assistant for Madonna came in seeking lipsync performers. Glen Frey, Barry Manilow, Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Boz Scaggs, Tom Waits, Vanessa Williams, Ricky Lee Jones and Robin Zander auditioned players for various roles. By 1988 the "antique" computer in use for five years gave way to the science of voice mail, so a new computer system was put into action. Hard rockers Warrant searched for a new vocalist, Ozzy Osbourne auditioned guitarists and drummers on two different occasions, Lita Ford found a keyboardist, Michael Schenker, Foghat, Stu Hamm, Alcatrazz, and Peter Criss were listed along with Japan’s Loudness and the outrageous Nina Hagen, who hired a synth player. On the other side of the Pacific, jobs arrived from the orient, booking R&B, funk, and soul groups for long term gigs.
By 1995 it was time to upgrade the call-in hotline with an advanced voice mail system. This computer allowed individuals to record a "profile" over the phone; one minute for talking and one minute for a demo. And the list continued: Tiffany assembled a group to tour Europe, Dishwalla searched for a bassist, Prong, Biohazard, and Michael Penn all needed guitarists, the musical Stomp found percussionists and Body Count, Gene Loves Jezebel and Snot hunted for drummers, while John Lydon snagged a keyboardist for a Japanese tour.
So what’s new for the future? After thirty years, there’s a much easier way to gather and distribute job listings from virtually anywhere, and a more efficient method for everyone to connect to each other. It’s already here, you’re on it now, and you know the power of it!