There are many ways to market albums and many ways to develop audiences for new recording artist. Phil Thomas Katt, however, may go down in history as the only musician to get his start on the telephone.
Katt's new Mystery Records cassette, "Nine Lives" has garnered a significant response since it hit local record stores last month.In the first two weeks of its release, he sold nearly 150 albums over the telephone - pretty remarkable when you realize Katt didn't have to make a single call. He let his answering machine do all the work.
Two years ago, the budding composer and guitarist bought a telephone answering machine and took the opportunity to use his growing repertoire of original songs as background music for his messages.
It wasn't long, however, before Katt grew tired of standard answering machine etiquette. With the help of a modest home recording studio, he began producing creative, down right crazy, messages to entertain callers.
Katt soon realized his friends weren't the only ones intrigued by his new hobby.
"Somehow I developed a following through word of mouth," he recalls. "I'm sure some of my friends told their friends to call for a laugh."
"But, some of the earlier calls were from telephone solicitors. I suspect these people went home and told their kids. Then their kids and their kids' friends called."
Katt has essentially become a modern-day folk hero, and he owes it all to the phone company. Hundreds of calls from Pensacola, Mobile, AL, Baton Rouge, LA, - even California - keep the Katt Line, as he calls it, literally ringing off the hook seven days a week. Eventually a seperate telephone number for personal calls became necessary.
To keep his audience happy while maintaining some sense of sanity, the former weekend disc jockey resorted to formatting his answering machine similar to a radio station.
"I run new messages different hours of the day on the weekends," he says. "The rest of the time I have rotated oldies. I even have a request day. People just say: "Play the Twilight Zone (message);' or, 'Play Twist and Shout."
"I tabulate the results on a little note pad when I go back and listen to the calls. Then I play whichever one has the most (votes) on Thursday."
Katt also instituted a Weekend Overnight program on Saturday nights.
"This is a three-minute message that I do all sorts of things on, whatever tickels my fancy," he quips. "I really have a lot of fun with it."
Obvisously, the audience is also having fun, and the Katt Line's following continues to grow.
Last Valentine's Day, for instance, Katt received 3,000 calls when he featured dedications from listeners. A Mobile radio station even got in on the act. Two announcers from WABB-FM called the Katt Line on the air one afternoon and later featured Katt's specially-produced response.
All this attention encouraged Katt to release a 13-song cassette of original material this summer. Composing, after all, is his first love.
"I started writing songs before I actually started playing music," he admits. "In order to present my songs to the public, I had to learn to play. Guitar is really my instrument now."
Katt toured throughout the Southeast with several show bands. Most of his time, though, was devoted to solo work in the recording studio.
"I didn't really want to go into the clubs," he says. Not that I don't like performing - I just don't particularly like playing all top 40. I have more fun in the studio doing my own thing."
The musician received some local radio airplay when he released the single "Hypontized" a few years ago. That song is also featured on his new album, "Nine Lives." "It features a variety of music," he says. "There's a little bit of rock and roll, a little bit of easy listening, a touch of country and some 50's and 60's sounding stuff. The album covers a lot of changes in my style. But then again, I don't think I'll ever confine myself to any one type of music. In my opinion, all music is beautiful."
"Nine Lives", also features narratives between songs reminiscent of the artist's answering machine productions, making the album a treat for those who regularly call (850) 453-KATT for a Katt Line fix.
The cassette is currently available at most Pensacola area record stores with the prices varying from one retailer to the next. Katt makes special promotional appearances at record stores and skating rinks to help promote the album.
"Of course, I'd like to attract the attention of a national record label," says the musician. "If not, at least I'm having a good time."
If nothing else, Katt's answering machine fans should enjoy meeting the mysterious voice that entertains them with music, media spoofs, practical jokes and a sincere message for his callers to "Keep In Touch."