I witnessed three drummers flat out refuse Modern Drummer feature interviews because they wouldn’t be cover stories. The drummer with the cover story had his photo on the magazine cover.
Two were jazz drummers. The third was a pop/country drummer who played with a big name in pop music who was years dead.
I understand why the drummers said no, but I thought they were shortsighted. An MD feature interview – with photos – was great publicity, easily parlayed into greater publicity.
During my time as MD‘s managing editor (1980-83), each issue generally had three or four feature stories: three feature drummer interviews, and maybe a feature on a drum company, a cymbal manufacturer, or the history of jazz drumming.
The editorial staff – Features Editor Rick Mattingly, me, and Ron Spagnardi – discussed which drummers would have the cover story each month. Ron Spagnardi had the final word, but I don’t remember us having any line-in-the-sand disagreements.
The key deciding factor, but not the sole factor, was: which drummer would sell the most magazines off newsstands? Modern Drummer depended on newsstand AND subscriber sales. Subscribers paid in advance. Newsstand MD buyers had to be persuaded every month that the current issue was worth whatever it cost at the time.
The calculation was based on experience that started, I think, with MD‘s October/November 1979 special Gene Krupa issue. MD founder/publisher Ron Spagnardi told me at one staff meeting, the Krupa tribute was the lowest selling MD ever. That surprised Ron. He expected, because of who Krupa was, what Krupa meant to all drummers – that drummers would scoop up that issue. They didn’t.
One month MD‘s editorial staff wrestled over two feature interviews as the cover story. One was an outstanding, personal piece on Papa Jo Jones by Chip Stern – who was very close, spent a great deal of time with Papa Jo Jones. The second interview was with Slim Jim Phantom, drummer with a hot, rising band called Stray Cats.
Who was more deserving of the cover? Papa Jo Jones. No question. Who would sell more issues on newsstands? Papa Jo or Slim Jim? If a Papa Jo issue suffered the same fate as the Krupa issue – not many drummers would read it anyway. Whereas, if a Slim Jim cover sold lots of issues – the Papa Jo interview would be in the hands of more drummers!
In the end – for the first time, I think – Ron split the difference, giving Papa Jo 90-percent of the cover with a Slim Jim photo insert on the lower right corner. If memory serves, that cover ended the single drummer photo on MD covers policy. Soon that real estate was used to promote more than one drummer.