The start of a new year, along with all the “New Year, New You” encouragement, usually leads people into thinking about making changes. One kind of change that’s often considered is a new job or a new occupation – but that can be a pretty scary leap into the unknown, especially when there’s cutbacks and downsizing going on at many formerly prosperous companies.
I thought that it would be interesting to interview someone who made that big leap and had it work out for them. After some asking around, my friend John Cody offered to connect me to Jim Pons, who is a wonderful example of this kind of career transition. Jim is a bass player and vocalist, and was part of three major bands in the 1960s and early 1970s – the Leaves, the Turtles, and the Mothers of Invention. But he quit the music industry in 1973, and embarked on a career in video production with the National Football League, first with the New York Jets team and then with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jim has recently written his autobiography, and generously agreed to be interviewed via email about his experiences in changing careers.
Fiona: Since you’ve had such a varied career, it seems logical to start at the beginning. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jim: I never really had a clear picture of the future – so I never gave any thought to it. I do remember a time when I thought about becoming a bounty hunter. When I learned what a bounty hunter was, I gave up the idea.
Fiona: A lot of people want to be in bands because they don’t want to be trapped in a “regular” job. But bands have to be organized to be successful, or even to function. You’ve been in three bands that all experienced success. From those experiences, what would you say makes a band work or not work as an organization?
Jim: I guess some kind of talent would have to be the first thing you need – then a musical taste that everyone shares. Communication skills are very important, as is a realistic time frame that is accepted by all members. And people should enjoy being with each other. These are a few things that I would look for when starting a band.
Fiona: Some of the readers of this interview may know some of the bands you belonged to, but not others. What song or album by each of those three bands would you recommend to people who want to find out more about that band’s music?
Jim: The Leaves had the original hit recording of Hey Joe, a folk song that became a rock classic played by all the bands in the ‘60s. The Turtles had Happy Together, which is regarded by most musical pundits as one of the top 100 songs of all time. The Mothers of Invention was the product of Frank Zappa who recorded many albums of his own weird, sophisticated, and complex musical imaginings. If I were to recommend one it would be We’re Only In it For The Money.
Fiona: I’m currently reading Harold Bronson’s book about Rhino Records. In the chapter about the Turtles he describes how the Turtles went through eight different managers in their career. What did you learn about effective leadership or management from working with that many different managers?
Jim: I leaned that there is a dark side to what people see on stage. The Turtles went through a series of nightmares with management which resulted in lawsuits, depositions, and lawyer fees that almost consumed us.
Fiona: What triggered your career change into video production? Was it a conscious decision to pursue a career in that specific field?
Jim: Not at all. I decided to move from L.A. to New York because I met a girl that I liked. A job as an office boy for the New York Jets fell into my lap that evolved into assistant equipment manager, then cameraman, and then Film Director. This is described in detail in my forthcoming autobiography entitled Hard Core Love – Sex, Football, and Rock and Roll in the Kingdom of God.
Fiona: For those of us who don’t follow professional football as closely as we probably should, can you explain the video director’s role in the operations of an NFL team? Do you have the same type of work with the Jacksonville team that you did with the New York Jets?
Jim: I filmed all the teams’ practices and games for the coaches to evaluate and grade players’ performances. In addition, I was in charge of exchanging films with other teams for scouting purposes and running the film lab. The job changed from film to video and then non-linear digital imaging during the course of my 27-year career, but the purpose remained the same. I shot one of three cameras during Jaguar games for a few years when I moved to Jacksonville, but did none of the lab work.
Fiona: From the perspective of someone who has worked in both industries, what are the similarities and differences between the professional music industry and the professional sports industry?
Jim: It’s all show business. I was in front of the cameras in one career and behind them in the other.
Fiona: Were there skills or knowledge that you gained from being a musician that you were able to apply to your work in video production?
Jim: Hmmm. I can’t say that there were. People skills maybe. Those are always important in any endeavor.
Fiona: When you changed careers, did you even encounter any problems with perceptions of you or your work because of what you used to do? (e.g. the assumption that musicians are flaky and unreliable).
Jim: On the contrary. Most people are intrigued and want to hear about being a rock musician. The same is true about rock musicians. They all want to hear about Joe Namath and Peyton Manning.
Fiona: Do you have any regrets about making the career change from music to video production?
Fiona: Has your spiritual journey affected the work you’ve chosen to do in your career(s), or your choices of the places or organizations that you’ve worked?
Jim: I wouldn’t say so consciously. Although I do believe a higher power than Jim Pons has directed my path.
Fiona: Because the labor market is so volatile right now, people who would like to change to a different career or job might be afraid to make that change, because they don’t want to lose whatever security or stability they currently have. From your perspective as someone who made a major career change, what advice would you have for someone in that situation?
Jim: I’m sorry to disappoint anyone but the world is so different now I can hardly make that observation. I left a rock band that had seen its better days and was content to take a job in Manhattan for $115 a week. I’m not sure that can be considered a major career change. I could still suggest following your heart. That has always worked for me.
I’ll post the link to Jim’s autobiography when it’s available – I’m sure it’s going to be a fascinating read. Thanks again to Jim for his insights, and to John for making the interview possible.