Written by Joe Scotchie Wednesday, 10 June 2009 10:27
In these parlous times, the print industry has been taking its share of the hit from the economic crunch.
An exception, among others, is Good Times, the biweekly magazine of the Long Island cultural scene, one published by longtime Roslyn resident Rich Branciforte. This summer, Branciforte is celebrating the 40th anniversary of that publication.
A native of Jamaica, Queens and a graduate of both Queens College and the Columbia Business School, Branciforte was working for AT&T in the summer of 1969, when he noticed that the cultural changes taking place around him needed a voice in the media.
With another Golden Age of rock ‘n roll in full swing, nightclubs, music venues, and record stores were all doing a booming business. Clothing styles were changing, also.
And so, the young Branciforte gave up the corporate life to enter the always-risky world of publishing. The bet paid off handsomely. This month, Good Times celebrates its 40th anniversary covering the rock and pop culture scene on Long Island from its offices in a converted two-story home just off Post Avenue, where the magazine set up shop in 2007 after a previous 12-year stint in Westbury.
Branciforte is also conducting a homecoming of sorts, finalizing plans to launch a Queens edition of Good Times this fall or winter - even as much larger publications close up, scale down or worry about staying solvent.
When asked about the secrets to his publication’s longevity, Branciforte said that sticking to Long Island happenings has proved to be a winning hand.
“We still cover the local stuff,” he said. “We cover local bands, local films, theatre, bowling, skateboarding.”
And Long Island itself has remained fertile ground for a vital cultural scene. Branciforte notes that there are over 300 clubs in both Nassau and Suffolk counties and that the island remains a showcase for budding artists. That includes not only clubs, but also the number of top-notch record stores, studios, and the recent rise of Jones Beach as a destination for all the top music acts.
“Anyone who is a musician can find a place to play at a club in Long Island,” Branciforte said.
The anniversary, naturally, is a time of reflection for Branciforte who has had a front row seat to much of the pop music history in the country over the past four decades.
Dubbed the “Jan Wenner of Long Island,” Branciforte related some of the memories, especially from the 1960s and ’70s.
Prominent among them was chronicling the rise of Bruce Springsteen. In 1975, Good Times became only the second publication, after Crawdaddy, to put The Boss on its cover. That year saw the release of Springsteen’s breakout album, Born to Run, one that captured a great deal of national attention, as Springsteen had earlier been knighted the “future of rock ‘n roll” by Jon Landau, a journalist who would later serve as Springsteen’s manager.
With the success of Born to Run, Newsweek magazine now wanted Springsteen on its cover. The editors of Newsweek, as Branciforte remembered it, didn’t care much for the rock scene and knew little about Springsteen. So they contacted Branciforte, who promptly sold them a photo he had of Springsteen in concert, one that had been taken recently in Boston by a 19-year-old employee, Mary Alfieri. All this was part of the famous coup Springsteen pulled off in the fall of 1975 as he also was on the cover of Time the same week the Newsweek cover story came out.
The Springsteen cover was just one of the many memories on Branciforte’s mind these days. He also recalled turning down a job offer from Jimi Hendrix and getting Jerry Garcia’s attention to arrange an interview while the Grateful Dead guitarist was still playing on stage during one of that group’s legendary jam sessions.
“It was a great time to be in the rock ‘n roll business,” Branciforte said of the late 1960s and early ’70s.
A central function of Good Times has been to provide consumer guidance to young people all over the Island. Good Times provided exhaustive listings of local pubs and bars. Music fans, including many hopeful performers, got in the habit of snatching up a copy of Good Times the day it hit the streets.
In addition to catching the Springsteen wave, Good Times kept an eye on numerous other up and coming acts, including the Good Rats, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Leslie West and Long Island’s premier pop icon of that age, Billy Joel. “A number of important bands got their start after we wrote them up and people in the industry read the reviews,” Branciforte observed.
As a result, many of Branciforte’s employees have moved their way up in the rock music industry. Among the writers who apprenticed under Branciforte are David Fricke, now with Rolling Stone; Leonard Maltin, author and movie critic; and Kurt Loder, longtime MTV personality and rock music author. Other staffers have moved on to top jobs at record labels, talent agencies and promotion firms.
Good Times’ enduring success has meant that several generations of Long Islanders have all been part of the Thursday ritual of picking up a free copy of the publication at school, at a record store or other distribution point.
“People read Good Times, and advertise in it, because it is still the ideal vehicle for reaching an audience of Nassau and Suffolk residents who go out and spend money on entertainment, food and drinks, buy musical instruments, and command significant disposable income,” Branciforte said.
For Branciforte, the best memories are yet to come. “The future looks pretty good,” he said, noting that over those 40 years, no less than 87 newspapers have come and gone from the Long Island publishing scene, but that Good Times, with its emphasis on things local, is still going strong.
“I wanted to be part of the rock ‘n roll world and make money at the same time,” Branciforte recalled, taking a break from Good Times’ 40th anniversary preparations this month. ‘Forty years later, here I am still doing what I love. Who else do you know that can say that?”
Branciforte got the journalism bug at Queens College, where he worked alongside student editor - and future legislator — Gary Ackerman. Decades later, Congressman Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) warmly recalls their days and nights putting out the campus paper.
“In college and in business, a great journalist - thorough, thoughtful, and very creative,” Rep. Ackerman recalled. “He was one of the finest editors at Queens College, and charming even way back then. He paid no attention when I would bellow, ‘Don’t call me ‘Chief!’ Rich was a born entrepreneur, and one of the most fun people to hang out with.”