They say the heart of rock and roll is still beating/And from what I've seen I believe 'em/Now the old boy may be barely breathing/But the heart of rock and roll is still beating.
When Huey Lewis sang these words in the mid-'80s -- around the time that dinosaurs still roamed the earth -- he wasn't singing about Loveland, Colorado. In another verse, he name-checked all the towns where there's music, real live music, bands with a million styles: D.C., San Antone and the Liberty Town, Boston and Baton Rouge, Tulsa, Austin, Oklahoma City, Seattle, San Francisco. Denver didn't get so much as a nod, and forget our quaint neighbor to the north.
Don't tell that to Morris Beegle, though. As far as he's concerned, Loveland is the heart of rock and roll. And there's no question that Hapi Skratch Entertainment, the company he founded a dozen years ago, is at the heart of local CD production and distribution in Colorado. To date, Hapi Skratch has manufactured over 2,000 titles. Considering how the industry has changed in just the past few years, Hapi Skratch's staying power is impressive, even inspirational.
"It's been all about perseverance and not wanting to quit," Beegle says, sitting in the showroom of his 2,400-square-foot Loveland warehouse. "It's been tough making money and being able to pay the bills. I mean, it's not like I don't have debt. But I know the program I put together has long-term viability for the industry. I think there needs to be guys like me who are here for the independent artist community, so they can come to somebody and learn about all the aspects: Who should we go record with? What's it going to cost? What kind of investment is it going to take us to get from here to here to here? What are the steps that we have to take?"
Beegle is certainly qualified to answer those questions. Prior to founding Hapi Skratch, he attended Atlanta's Music Business Institute, where he studied video and audio production, copyright law and artist management. "My whole reason for going to MBI was to figure out a way to work with my brother," he explains, "and get him a big record deal and be involved with the management side of things."
Still, it would be nearly a decade before Beegle got the chance to work with his brother, Dave, an extraordinarily gifted guitarist and one of the few six-stringers who can legitimately claim to be a peer of Phil Keaggy. After graduation with honors from MBI, an internship with Chrysalis Records and a stint working for Lieberman Enterprises, the country's number-two rackjobber (wholesale middleman), Beegle accepted a field-rep position with the Handleman Company -- the country's number-one rackjobber at the time. After a year in the field, Beegle was promoted to district manager and moved to the West Coast, where he was tasked with overseeing Handleman's retail interests in California, Washington and Hawaii. Along the way, he befriended quite a few people in the recording industry. Those connections generated other career opportunities and ultimately led Beegle to a crossroads.
"I'd been toying around with starting my own independent production company," he recalls. "When I was out in California, I had a lot of buddies at Priority Records. I interviewed with them for their West Coast sales manager, which I had a shot at. It was like, 'Well, am I going to go to work for Priority and work for another big company, or am I going to start my own company and move back to Colorado?"
Beegle chose the latter, and in 1995 launched Hapi Skratch Entertainment with the release of See What I See, from Fourth Estate, a prog-rock group featuring -- you guessed it -- brother Dave.
"That was really the clincher," declares Beegle. "We were like, well, we're going to put this record out and see if we can really make things fly. It still wasn't a good time for instrumental rock. Once Nirvana and Pearl Jam and all that stuff came in '91, '92, all the guitar rock was really put to rest. They [Fourth Estate] put out a killer record; See What I See is still one of the best instrumental records that's out there. But getting any label interest.... Satriani wasn't selling any records then, Eric Johnson wasn't selling records."
The experience was eye-opening, and taught Beegle that not everyone is gonna see what you see. He drives that point home with the groups he works with today. "I try not to promise things that I can't deliver," Beegle says. "Making false promises in this business has turned the business upside down. People think they're going to get a record deal and get famous and make a bunch of money. That stuff just doesn't happen, unless you're one in a million like the Fray. Those guys are one in a million, especially in today's age: They're one of the biggest bands that there is today, and even they can only sell two million records."
But even in this age, Beegle remains a die-hard local-music evangelist. Given how fervently he champions the groups he works with, you'd think he was the one producing the music -- which is just one of the reasons that bands seek out Hapi Skratch. For as many groups as utilize the company's services, though, there are just as many that take their projects out of state. While this frustrates Beegle, he thinks he knows why: Folks are confused about Hapi Skratch.
"People have said Hapi Skratch is just a vanity label," Beegle says. "You know, when I think of a vanity label, I think of an artist starting their own label, and it's all about them, and they fund it."
While Beegle operates three imprints (Big Bender, Avant-Acoustic and Fist) Hapi Skratch is far more than just a production house. In addition to offering manufacturing and distribution, he's set up a vendor network so that bands can take care of all of their merchandising needs in one fell swoop. He's also established a licensing division -- Beegle recently placed five tracks from Immortal Dominion in the film Teeth -- and launched Hapi Skratch Live, which connects bands with corporate events and festival organizers. The ultimate goal of all his efforts is to help independent artists take their craft to the next level.
"Artists pay to be on our label," he acknowledges, "but all they're doing is paying for the services that they'd go pay DiscMaker or whoever else for. The artist has to pay for everything anyway in the long run. If you're on a label, eventually, whatever they put into it, they're going to charge it back to you, plus some. In today's age, a lot of independent labels are becoming a lot more like Hapi Skratch."
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And should any of his acts get the chance to move on to bigger imprints, they'll have Beegle's blessing. "I'm not going to stand in the way," he concludes, "of any opportunity that's greater than what I can provide myself."
Now, that's the heart of rock and roll.
Upbeats and beatdowns: Celebrate the twelfth anniversary of Morris Beegle's Hapi Skratch Entertainment at the Appaloosa Grille this Saturday, April 21, with performances by Porter Hall Tennessee and Clint Clymer, plus members of Oakhurst.
Massive props go out to the Railbenders for being tapped to open the Palamino stage at the inaugural Stagecoach festival (the country answer to Coachella) on Saturday, May 6. To get an idea of how freaking huge this is for Jim Dalton and the boys, take a quick gander at the lineup listed at www.stagecoachfestival.com.