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James Polk: Recipes from the Doctor

By Published: April 13, 2011

Making His Way in the Market

AAJ: When did you start Twink Records?

At the Elephant Room, From left:
Dr. James Polk, Tony Campise, Jeff Lofton, Chris Jones, Butch Miles

JP: 1969, I believe is when I first started. There was a guy here by the name of Bill Josie, who had Sonar Beat Records. He recorded a couple of my songs and he was going to put out a 45, but he died before it got out. His son took over the record company and didn't do much with it. As a matter of fact, I got an email from him a couple of years ago. He's out in San Francisco. They never did much with that 45, but some guy sent me a copy of that from Europe; he found a copy. I don't know how these guys find these things man, but they did. That's kind of the reason why I started Twink Records, because I wasn't getting any label.

There were no major labels down. There was only one big record company down in this part of the country which was Duke-Peacock Records, down in Houston. They were blues, they didn't do any jazz. I knew I didn't stand a snowball chance in the eighties for getting in that record label. I said, "Maybe I should start my own." So I did. Of course, it takes a lot of money breaking for an independent label because this was pre-Internet and pre-everything. You had to have a lot of money to be able to get it. Distribution is still the hardest thing to do. Even now it's still hard, even with the Internet. You got companies set up now that all they do is distribute but is hard to get them. I've got all my CDs listed with and CDBaby and places like that, but, still, if you're not a well-known artist and they're not spinning your CDs on radio or across the country, people just don't know who you are. So chances are you don't get it sold that much.

AAJ: I noticed your two CDs, When the Evening Comes (Twink, 2001) and Go with The Flow (Twink, 2007) both have a different sound.

JP: Yeah. Well, [in When the Evening Comes] I went for more, what they call Smooth jazz. They named it Smooth jazz. I kind of went for that more than traditional straight-ahead jazz simply because it was selling more. And of course, I like the music. I like all forms of music. It comes easy for me to write, it comes easy to play so I decided to put that out. I like it all. Of course, straight-ahead jazz is probably my first love, but I do it all, and I decided to do something like that. No major label has picked me up even to this day so I decided years ago that I would start my own record label, which I did.

Right know we got out about four different CDs on my record label. Years ago, back in the sixties, there were 45 RPMs. A guy called me the other day, well he sent me an email from Germany and they got one of my 45 RPMS over there. I've had guys come over here from Japan. I've had guys come here, right at this same table, from England wanting those 45s. And they're selling big in Europe, but I don't get a dime for them. That's awful, but I called BMI and they said there's nothing that they can do. That's what they told me. A guy just emailed me a couple of weeks ago, and he's doing a compilation CD, and he wanted one of my songs so I said fine. Let's see how that works.

AAJ: I've noticed that musicians in Austin work a lot on a live basis, but it's not so much about recording.

JP: No it's not and that's a shame. It really is, man. It's big money behind putting out CDs, because [if] you think about the amount of money a musician makes for playing a gig, it's nothing like it would be for doing recording CDs. Just to record a thousand CDs it'll cost you a thousand dollars. But those major record labels, when they print, they print fifty thousand, sixty thousand, one hundred thousand at a time, so the small independent label doesn't have the cash flow to be able to do that. That's the hardest part about it. What the independent labels try to do is, if you print up five thousand copies, and you can sell a whole lot of them of the bandstand and places like that, you can recoup some of your money back. But then you gotta get them into the records stores.

There's still a lot of records stores around. It's hard. What you do is put them on those record stores on consignment and they usually don't take more than ten copies at the most. If you sell your CDs for fifteen bucks they are only going to give you maybe ten dollars, if they give you that much. They're gonna sell it for fifteen so they're making five dollars off your record. And most of them won't take them for that because you are unknown, so they're not gonna sell your CDs for 15 bucks. They might put them up and they say, "Well, OK, we'll give you ten dollars apiece for these CDs." Then they sell them for seventeen or eighteen dollars. They tell you they're gonna sell it for ten, which you only get maybe six dollars of that and then they're selling them for seventeen or eighteen bucks. So the money is going to the record store, not to the artist. It's really a tough area to get into. It's really a tough area. Of course, I haven't been doing as much with it lately as I have done in the past but I hope to someday get it going again.

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