An artist can receive many signs he’s in music-biz trouble. The top one in Eric Hutchinson’s book is subtle: Beware of the overpriced cocktail.
When the Maryland native first flew to Hollywood in 2005 to ink a deal with Maverick, label execs wined and dined him, he recalls, “with a lot of BSing and expensive drinks. They took me out and actually bought me a $60 margarita to show off. And I thought ‘This doesn’t impress me; I don’t know enough about tequila, so the gesture is just wasted.’
“Meanwhile, the company was falling apart … and people were getting fired while I was there in the offices,” he says.
The liquor flow stopped, and so did his hotel tab. Two weeks into recording his debut, the singer and guitarist — who plays San Francisco’s Cafe Du Nord on Sunday — was informed by Maverick that his studio stint was over, his contract would be turned over to parent imprint Warner Bros., and by the way, could he please check out of his hotel as soon as possible?
Several months later, Hutchinson got the final word. Warner wasn’t interested in his quirky mix of folk, pop and Stevie Wonder-smooth soul.
Yet he’s managed a comeback: “Rock & Roll” is a new reggae-tinged iTunes hit, and its parent album, “Sounds Like This,” has, of all things, a WB logo on the cover.
When he was dumped, at first he consoled himself with touring and road-testing new material. Next, he formed his own label, Let’s Break Records, and recorded an album his way, for a nominal $55,000.
“I didn’t have any huge plans,” he says. “I thought ‘Even if nothing else happens with this, just making this record and being happy with it, I feel like I’ve won.’”
Help arrived from an unexpected source — gossipy blogger Perez Hilton, who loved the music so much he posted four songs on his Web site, with direct links to Hutchison’s MySpace page and the iTunes store.
“So it was one-stop shopping, a full-on assault. If you like my music, here’s how you can get it,” says the singer, who rewarded Hilton with a cameo in the “Rock & Roll” video.
As soon as the tracks went up, Hutchinson was flooded with calls from industry folks who’d ignored him for months, Warner execs among them. He chuckles at the irony: “The same guy who wouldn’t take me six months ago is flying me out to L.A. to meet me again. I was pretty angry, to be honest, but my manager said to give everybody a fair shake.”
His logic? “The label wouldn’t possibly sign me, then drop me, twice, would they?”
IF YOU GO
Where: Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (415) 861-5016 or www.cafedunord.com