THREE: A Bite of the Big Apple
“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” –Willa Cather
The final recording session for the Nighthawks occurred in 1961 at the Norman Petty Studio where studio bass player George Atwood joined Bob, Mike and me to record “Cry Baby” and “Talk, Talk,” both written by me. Law school bound, Bob and Mike’s enthusiasm for rock ‘n roll was waning, but mine more inspired than ever. Petty landed a record deal for me as a solo artist with Manhattan-based Warwick Records headed by Morty Craft, a record producer previously employed by record labels MGM, Mercury, and ABC-Paramount. Prior to its bankruptcy in early 1962, Warwick was a subsidiary of movie production company Seven Arts Productions (The Misfits, Gigot, Lolita, Is Paris Burning?), which in 1967 bought controlling interest in Warner Bros. Pictures from Jack Warner for $32 million renaming the company Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Just two years later in 1969, Kinney National Services, Inc., headed by Steven J. Ross, purchased Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, sold off all non-entertainment assets in 1971, and renamed the company Warner Communications, Inc. The new company attained stellar success through its various divisions—Warner Bros. Pictures (A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry, Deliverance, The Exorcist, Blazing Saddles, and Superman among others), Warner Music Group (record labels Warner Bros., Reprise, Atlantic, Atco, Elektra, Asylum and many others), print publications (DC Comics and Mad magazine), video games (Atari), and cable television (Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment including MTV, Nickelodeon, and The Movie Channel). In 1989 Warner Communications, Inc. merged with Time, Inc. to form Time Warner, Inc., creating at the time the world’s largest media and entertainment conglomerate. This corporate history coincidentally links my sixteen-year employment with Warner Bros. Records (1984 to 1999) and my 1961 recording contract with Warwick Records.
En route to Paris to connect with Bob Venable and our friend Kenny Wagner for a seven-week European odyssey in the summer of 1961, I met with Morty Craft in Manhattan on June 20th to request strings be added to the two songs Warwick would release as a 45-rpm single. Jimmy Gilmer had described Morty as a sleazy-looking man with an amazingly beautiful wife who at times sat quietly in a corner of his office doing her nails. Morty fielded several telephone calls during our meeting while various employees frenetically and repeatedly entered and exited his office. His communication was simple and direct—loud yelling sprinkled with the most vulgar expletives imaginable. Morty agreed to the string session and in answer to my question regarding would oversee it, he replied, “You will. An arranger will be there but you make sure you get what you want.”
The recording took place on June 21st at Bell Sound Studios located a half block west of Broadway at 237 West 54th Street, where Buddy Holly had recorded “True Love Ways,” “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and “Raining In My Heart.” The excitement of suddenly and unexpectedly producing a string overdub session at the well-known Manhattan recording studio created my own nirvana experience similarly expressed in the song “Walking In Memphis”—“W. C. Handy won’t you look down over me” (Buddy Holly won’t you look down over me), and “Walking with my feet 10 feet off of Beale” (Walking with my feet 10 feet off of Broadway).
Norman and his wife, Vi, arrived in Manhattan the following day when the three of us flew to London on Air India with flight attendants wearing traditional East Indian attire while serving East Indian-influenced cuisine. Petty met with his London sub-publisher who obtained two English cover records of “Cry Baby”—Ian Vent produced by Charles Blackwell and released on Columbia Records in 1962, and Mal Ryder produced by Peter Sullivan and released on UK Decca in 1963, although neither achieved commercial success. Other than the brief trip to New York City in the summer of 1958 and two days in 1955 with my parents and sister in Chicago, this was the first time my horizon had stretched past Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The unique dialect of English spoken in West Texas rendered me incapable of understanding much that was said by many Londoners and all that was said by one hotel employee with a heavy cockney accent.
When moving to Manhattan to work for Petty in February 1964, I sold my Corvette Stingray to Jimmy Gilmer, transferred ownership of my rental property to my dad, and emptied my bank account of its $5,000 (about $39,000 in 2016). In addition to $75 per week salary, Petty provided living accommodation at the company apartment in the Hemisphere House, 60 West 57th Street, #12F located on the southeast corner of West 57th Street and Avenue of Americas (a street most New Yorkers still refer to as Sixth Avenue). A few days after arriving, I delivered nearly all of my clothing to a laundry/dry cleaners housed in the Hemisphere House where it all vanished in an overnight burglary. An insurance settlement paid but a small fraction of the replacement cost causing me to think, “Welcome to the Big City, Texas boy.” Petty recommended a discount store in lower Manhattan frequented by many rock ‘n roll artists where I bought a black suit and a gray suit that were unusually tailored and way cool.
On Petty’s advice that I wouldn’t need, or even want, an automobile in Manhattan, I sold the Stingray, and for the first time since I began driving 10 years earlier at age 14, I didn’t have wheels. Feeling miserably stranded by the limitations of public transportation, I purchased a blue, 1964 Yamaha YDS-2 motorcycle—the start of a wild, sometimes frightening, adventure on the streets of Manhattan. Cab drivers seemed to hate motorcycles as evidenced by some cabbies going out of their way to hassle motorcycle riders—possibly from resentment that a motorcycle could wind its way through traffic jams while cabbies sat stuck. Only a few weeks after buying the Yamaha it was stolen from the Hemisphere House parking garage. Again, I thought, “Welcome to the Big City, Texas boy.”
Culture shock was rife—vagrants lying on sidewalks and sleeping in doorways evoking scenes from the movie Midnight Cowboy; hamburgers served with no lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, mustard, and mayonnaise unless specifically ordered; a maître d’ ignoring customers who addressed him politely, but granting his immediate attention if spoken to with authority bordering on rudeness; and the realization that the principal impediment to reasonably navigate one’s daily routine was the existence of the exceedingly large number of people who at the same time were navigating their own daily routines. Experiments show if rats are crowded too closely together for too long they will begin killing one another. Okay then, “Welcome to New Rat City, Texas boy.”
I settled into my first music business job by calling people at record companies who had influence regarding the songs recorded by their artists. I worked from Petty’s one-room office at 50 West 57th Street, #711, a building housing several haberdasheries and other small businesses. Petty had established relationships with a few record company executives and didn’t need my help with them, so to plow new ground I cold-called anyone I thought could possibly be of value. Petty’s credentials as producer of Buddy Holly opened several doors, but once inside I had nothing worthwhile to sell. Petty’s recordings were mostly limited to local Texas-New Mexico artists and nothing of special merit was forthcoming. But I did have the good fortune of meeting Doc Pomus, writer of several hits including “Youngblood” by the Coasters, “Save the Last Dance for Me” by the Drifters, “Lonely Avenue” by Ray Charles, and both “Little Sister” and “Suspicion” by Elvis Presley. Doc was a big deal in New York City music circles. He wore leg braces due to the crippling polio he suffered as a youngster, and on weekdays his publisher, Hill & Range, provided an inexpensive, but decent, midtown hotel room on the west side of Manhattan where Doc held court conducting his business affairs, social life and co-writing songs. He helped me complete “Little Business Man,” a mediocre song I’d almost finished, but even his prodigious talent couldn’t rescue it. Doc was a sweet man, a really good soul. I was proud to have collaborated with him, but Petty refused to pay the cost of making a demo recording even though as publisher he owned rights to 50% of any income earned. A few days later I wrote a song with greater potential, but again Petty refused to pay for recording a demo. I paid $20 for one hour of studio time in the smallest room at Associated Studios on 7th Avenue where I played piano, rhythm guitar, drums, and stand-up acoustic bass to create a basic rhythm track. Then I sang the vocal and vocal harmony for the demo recording of “Good Lovin’s So Hard To Find.” Petty recorded the song with The Cinders, an Amarillo band that included singer/songwriter John David Souther.
The story of my employment with Norman Petty would not be complete without the inclusion of two unusual events. Shortly after my arrival in Manhattan, Petty introduced me to a microphone distributor named Steve and after Petty returned to Clovis he invited me to dinner. When I asked why a microphone distributor was inviting me to dinner Petty replied, “Probably just being friendly.” We met at a Greenwich Village restaurant and during dinner Steve mentioned he had some outtakes of comedian Jonathan Winters and invited me to hear them. After listening for nearly an hour to the insane, out-of-control genius of this iconic comic at Steve’s chic Village apartment, I gradually realized that each time Steve changed to the next recording and sat back down on the couch, he would sit a bit closer to me. As we belly-laughed at the craziness of Jonathan Winters I gave little thought to my accruing perception until the astonishing realization that Steve was rubbing himself in a most inappropriate manner. Never had a man put the make on me and Steve’s intentions were unmistakable by the full-fledged dimensions of his behavior.
“Steve, I’ll be going now.”
“Wait, Eddie, let me show you my bedroom. It’s got a Murphy bed.”
My quick exit was likely the first time I ever encountered the concept of a New York second, and the next day without specifically describing what had happened, I told Petty that Steve had acted strangely. From Petty’s surprised reaction I assumed he didn’t know Steve was gay.
The other unusual event occurred when I moved to Hollywood in 1968 to launch and manage the west coast office for United Artists Music. In search of a house to lease for my family (my wife and our year-old son, Marc), a realtor located a beautiful home in the hills of Studio City near Mulholland Drive owned by a gay man embarking on a year-long stay in Europe. But he had an obsessive concern about the care of his home, especially its pristine white carpets, and would not lease to anyone with children. Disregarding such basic facts, the realtor made an appointment hoping that after meeting us the owner would like us well enough to make an exception for our one child.
“Where do you work?” the owner asked.
“United Artists’ music publishing company.”
“How did you get into the music business?”
“Through Norman Petty. I’m originally from Amarillo, Texas and I have recorded at his studio and worked for him in New York.”
“I know Norman Petty.”
“Yes, Norman Petty from Clovis, New Mexico—producer of Buddy Holly.”
“How do you know him?”
“I see him every year at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.”
I was amazed, and intrigued by the casual, matter-of-fact nature of his statement. Having known Petty for 10 years, spent hours at his Clovis recording studio, and worked for him in New York for about nine months, I’d never heard him mention the Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami Beach, or Florida—ever. The owner made other comments regarding Petty that clearly affirmed mistaken identity was not feasible. I have no idea what the scene was at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel during those years, but this homeowner made emphatic statements about Petty’s annual presence at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.
Jimmy Gilmer lived in the apartment at Petty’s Clovis studio for a few years and knew Petty far better than I did. When asked if Petty had ever mentioned Miami Beach or the Fontainebleau Hotel, Jimmy replied in the negative while seeming a bit surprised by the substance of my question. I told him about the microphone distributor and the homeowner in Studio City, but it seemed Jimmy found these stories difficult to believe, and I’m not sure he did. But all of this is of little consequence other than the intriguing notion that Norman Petty, who was an overtly religious, married man, may have been gay, and if so, many of the singers, musicians, and songwriters who frequented his Clovis recording studio would be astonished by any such truth.
During the few months I worked for Petty we seldom communicated, but when we did it usually pertained to something minor—whether or not the light fixture he ordered had arrived, etc.—rather than substantive matters relating to the music business. When he and Vi visited Manhattan, not only did we share the company apartment, but I also was required to accompany Vi on her shopping expeditions. She was a nice lady, but I loathed shopping with her. Petty landed a recording contract for me with United Artists Records and soon Murray Deutch, head of United Artists Music, hinted his intention to hire me as a song-plugger and a songwriter. But by the fall of that year the job had not materialized and I’d become discouraged regarding future prospects with Petty. I returned to Amarillo to ponder my next move and shortly thereafter Murray Deutch called. “What are you doing in Amarillo? I want you to work for United Artists.” It was the beginning of a seven-year stint with U. A. music—three years in Manhattan and four as head of the west coast office in Hollywood—and the serious beginning of my professional music business education and experience.
A FEW BIG BITES
Jimmy Gilmer (Gilby) and I first met in about 1950 at ages nine or ten when we were fourth graders. After high school we each spent time at Norman Petty’s recording studio where as vocalist for the Fireballs, a rock band known for their instrumental chart records “Torquay” and “Bulldog,” Gilby recorded “Sugar Shack,” a #1 pop hit and the top-selling U.S. single in 1963, and “Bottle of Wine,” a Top Ten hit in 1967. Like his persona, Gilby’s vocal ability is richly blessed with colorful personality.
Petty and the Fireballs equally shared the expense of a company apartment in Manhattan, which Petty claimed was a cost-savings measure for the band’s visits there although the band visited just once, and Jimmy only twice, during the nine months I lived there. It’s possible that Petty was unfairly diverting some of the band’s royalties to his own benefit—a possibility difficult to dismiss given Gilby’s stated reason for one of his visits: “mainly to reap some of benefit from what I’m being charged.”
One evening while Gilby watched TV, I was doing laundry by making trips back and forth to the laundry room in the basement of the Hemisphere House. The building’s 24-hour security, consisting of doorman and front desk clerk, provided confidence enough to leave the apartment’s front door slightly ajar during each trip. Believing I had returned from one such trip but hearing no sound of my presence, Gilby called out my name. Hearing no response he looked toward the front door where he saw a shadow dart across the wall of the entry way. Running into the hallway, he caught a brief glimpse of a figure disappearing around a hallway corner. Gilby gave chase, and after rounding the same corner noticed the door to the building stairwell slowly closing. As he began running down the stairs the quick-paced footsteps echoing from below validated his pursuit.
The stairwell consisted of four stair segments per building floor, which Gilby raced down as quickly as possible—round and round, down and down in a spiral-like, hot pursuit of the intruder. After several flights the echoing footsteps ceased, causing Gilby to assume the intruder had made his exit. Gilby ran full speed ahead until unexpectedly on a landing just below a small, black man with knife in hand menacingly taunted, “Come on man. Come on.” In what most likely was an intuitive reaction, Gilby continued running as hard and as fast as he possibly could. He did, however, change the direction in which he traveled—taking upward flight even more quickly than he had descended.
After reaching our apartment and finding I hadn’t returned, Gilby ran next door to apartment #12E, the wildly decorated residence (red carpet, black furniture, leopard-skin wallpaper) of neighbor Mark H, a 20-year-old playboy whose parents lived in Monaco and often visited Manhattan where Mark’s dad managed his import-export business from an Empire State Building office. The company supposedly employed Mark, although I was aware of nothing this handsome young man had ever ventured other than dealing drugs, getting stoned and frequently entertaining beautiful young ladies at his racy apartment. Living in Philadelphia with his family until age 12 and then in Monaco, Mark was fluent in both French and English. I’ve not known anyone who lived a more avid “playboy” lifestyle than what Mark managed in 1964.
Mark’s response to Gilby’s story about an intruder was to arm Gilby with a large butcher knife (supposedly for Gilby’s protection) and instructed him to hurry to the lobby and report the intruder to the front desk clerk. Meanwhile, Mark called the front desk to report an intruder in the building—an intruder wielding a knife. When Gilby exited the elevator with butcher knife in hand, he was wrestled to the floor and disarmed by the front desk clerk and doorman who believed he was the intruder. They would have none of Gilby’s claim that he was chasing an intruder and was the guest of a Hemisphere House resident. Mark’s arrival in the lobby released Gilby from custody and ended an event that had uniquely introduced Gilby to some Big Apple insanity and our crazy playboy neighbor. “Welcome to the Big Apple, Texas boy.”
Mark was enamored by a foolhardy prank he engaged in from his 12th-floor apartment. He would tie a cherry bomb to one end of a very long piece of string and with the explosive unlit would lower it to the middle of a window several floors below. After tying the end of the string to something in his apartment, possibly a piece of furniture, he would pull the cherry bomb back inside his apartment, light it, and drop it out of the window. The cherry bomb, attached securely to the string, would fall back down to its previously determined position where its explosion would completely annihilate the window below with alarming force. It’s likely that Mark never considered the potential for physical and/or psychological injury to the residents below, and after the destruction of a second window directly below his apartment, the Hemisphere House management gave notice that police would be summoned should such event reoccur.
Mark sold pot to his girlfriend’s music business acquaintances, including the FGG production team—Bobby Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richie Gottehrer. Bobby and Jerry had been Brooklyn friends before landing in Tin Pan Alley in search of success as songwriters, recording artists, and record producers. Later they hooked up with Richie from the Bronx and produced the #1 Billboard pop hit “Hang On Sloopy” by the McCoys, and “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels, which spent three weeks at #1 in Billboard. In an attempt to establish themselves as recording artists they wrote, sang, and produced the #11 Billboard pop hit “I Want Candy” using the name The Strangeloves released by Bang Records in 1965. The group name was adopted from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove and they concocted alias personas of Niles, Giles, and Miles Strange, the supposed sons of a wealthy Australian sheep farmer.
A press release announced the first American tour and the group’s arrival from Australia at an area airport via their own private business jet at a time when a private jet plane was a rarity with the first business jet, Lockheed’s 1329 Jetstar, having entered service only three years earlier in 1961. The music press and others turned out for the band’s arrival, which FGG had ingeniously devised by renting a private jet to simply taxi The Strangeloves across the airport tarmac from the plane’s hanger to the waiting press. It was a grand creative scheme concocted by three young hustlers having too much fun.
The Strangeloves were booked for a concert at the new aluminum-topped dome in Virginia Beach and Mark, their pot supplier, was invited to accompany them. Mark in turn invited Gilby and me to join him and Girard, Mark’s friend visiting from France. We headed out in two cars—one driven by the Strangeloves and the other by Girard, who spoke little English. A Delaware State Trooper stopped Girard for speeding and escorted both cars to the courtroom of a county judge, who imposed a heavy fine for driving 90 in a 60 mph zone. During the stop made by the state trooper and the court preceding some entertaining comedy was created by Girard pretending he spoke no English and Mark pretending he spoke no French.
When we exited our cars to enter the courtroom, Bobby Feldman asked Gilby to hold a grocery bag that Bobby didn’t want to leave in the car. Gilby happily obliged and held the grocery bag for the duration of the court appearance. Back at our cars Gilby returned the bag to Feldman and asked what it contained. Opening the bag Feldman revealed two large packages of pot. Gilby hadn’t planned to stand before a county judge on that particular day—especially not with a grocery bag full of pot in his possession.
At the concert venue we learned that a car wreck had caused the opening act, The Tams, who were on the charts with “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am),” to cancel their appearance. Gilby accepted FGG’s offer to open the show with two songs, and I accepted Gilby’s offer to join the backup band on piano. I wasn’t a talented pianist and had little natural or experiential musical ability that is the stock in trade of professional musicians. Given some time I could learn most any song, but might find it impossible to know a particular chord on the fly as a song proceeds in real-time. Shortly before our stage call I was mentally reviewing the chord structure of the two songs, “Sugar Shack” and “Bottle of Wine,” when Gilby anxiously asked, “Eddie, what are the words to the second verse of ‘Sugar Shack’?” My chord review was dashed by Gilby’s lyric crisis as we panicked to remember the words of Gilby’s hit song. Fortunately, lyrics were remembered just as we made our stage entrance, but my own dilemma endured.
At the Virginia Beach venue a grand piano was positioned at the front edge of a curved stage where teenagers had gathered so closely between the first row of seats and the edge of the stage that from the piano bench I could have easily reached out and touched some of them. “Bottle of Wine” went well, but there was a chord in “Sugar Shack” I wasn’t sure of, so each time I needed to play that chord I continued my rhythmic body motion and broad smile with great confidence but simply did not strike the piano keys. To those youngsters near enough to hear the sound of the acoustic grand piano above the blare of the drums, amplified bass, electric guitars and vocal, it was obvious I was not playing during brief sections of the song. Some classic expressions of bewilderment greeted my bizarre performance. At times during my music career I’ve been asked if I’m a musician, to which I usually reply that one is not truly a musician until one is referred to as a musician by an accomplished musician. As yet, no accomplished musician has ever referred to me in such manner, and my piano performance that evening is good evidence such recognition has not been unjustly withheld.
One Saturday afternoon in 1965 Jerry Goldstein, Richie Gottehrer and one of their friends dropped by to visit at my Greenwich Village apartment at 350 Bleecker Street. While Jerry and I listened to a record at one end of the living room, Richie and their friend sat on a couch at the other end. During a telephone call their friend was engaged in, strange sounds began emerging from him.
“Jerry, is something wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Jerry replied as we continued listening to the record.
Soon we realized their friend was crying and Jerry suggested we turn the volume down to learn what was happening. Emotional sobs punctuated their friend’s dialogue—a dialogue delivered slowly and earnestly into the phone as each word was emphatically emphasized.
“The last time I saw Marie she was waving me goodbye… with hurry-home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eyes…Marie is only six years old so information please…help me get in touch with her in Memphis, Tennessee.”
Their friend was outlandishly entertaining us with his creative rendering to the telephone operator of Chuck Berry lyrics to “Memphis, Tennessee.” And this was my unforgettable introduction to Seymour Stein.
Steve Kurutz, All Music Guide: [excerpt only]
Stein's start in the record business is as odd as the man himself. In the '50s the young Brooklyn boy showed up at the Billboard offices with a strange request. Stein's hobby was the charts, and he asked permission to make a hand copy of every chart dating back to his birth year. Stein's diligence impressed the industry people who came into the Billboard offices, and by the age of 16, after working as a chart compiler for Billboard, the young boy was working for Syd Nathan at King Records in Cincinnati. The time spent with the notoriously shrewd Nathan was to serve Stein well as he formed his own label, Sire, in 1966 after working as an administrator for Leiber and Stoller's failed Red Bird label.
Stein is credited as having brought the British group Fleetwood Mac to America, as well as the Climax Blues Band, and Focus. Always known for his great ability to see talent, Stein was one of the only major record heads to recognize the validity and significance of punk and new wave music, signing the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. In the early '80s, Stein made the biggest signing of his career when, recovering from open-heart surgery in a hospital bed, he signed a young Madonna after hearing a rough demo version of "Everybody."
Seymour Stein is also credited with signing the Pretenders, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, Ice-T, the Undertones, and Echo & the Bunnymen. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 14, 2005, under the lifetime-achievement category.
Each time a song that I wrote, produced or on which I was the main recording artist was released on a 45-rpm single, I framed it and hung it on the wall. Jerry Goldstein was curious about the 30 or so framed records serving as a decorative border just below the ceiling of my living room wall.
“What are those records?”
“They’re singles released of songs I’ve written or recorded.”
“Which ones have been hits?”
“None of them.”
“Which have been on the charts?”
“Have you earned royalties from them?”
“Man, can’t you take a hint?”
During the time I worked for United Artists in New York from 1965 through 1967, Joe Ende was comptroller, and later vice president and treasurer, of United Artists Motion Pictures. His office was on a top floor of the United Artists Corp. building at 729 7th Avenue, but he often visited the record company and music publishing executives on the sixth floor where my office was located. During that time I was in my mid-20s and Joe Ende was probably fifty-something. His persona was gruff and all business but underneath that hard outer shell was a good-humored, caring person. Being responsible for the company’s finances is a tough job and a hard outer shell avails conveyance to company employees the seriousness of financial matters.
By the start of 1965, I no longer lived in the Hemisphere House next door to Mark, the playboy, and we rarely communicated. For a short period of time in either 1966 or 1967 Mark’s girlfriend worked in Joe Ende’s office. After she was fired Mark called to divulge he’d hired someone to confront Joe Ende in retaliation for him having been rude to his girlfriend, and then firing her. He claimed he’d hired a thug to “take care of” Ende’s the following evening as Ende exited the United Artists building. With cupped hands the thug would hit Ende on the sides of his head with enough force to burst his eardrums. I was stunned.
“Mark, you’ll be in a lot of trouble if you do this.”
“No one will know I’m involved.”
“That won’t matter.”
“It will when I report you to the police.”
“You wouldn’t do that.”
“Oh yes I would.”
I considered warning Joe Ende about Mark’s plan, but decided to wait until the following morning to speak to Mark again. I didn’t know if he had actually concocted some crazy battery plan or if this was just a spoiled-rotten, worthless rich brat blowing smoke. I soon learned it was the latter and that conversation was the last time we would ever communicate. Years later, I learned he married his girlfriend and that drug use had ruined their minds. It was a sad ending for a young man who had been offered, but ignored, every opportunity for a prosperous, productive life.
One of my duties at United Artists Music in New York was listening to songs from unknown songwriters. Songwriters Paul Leka and Shelly Pinz showed up unannounced on day in 1967 and played three songs: “I Need Someone (The Painter),” “Pink Lemonade,” and “Green Tambourine.” I liked all three, but Paul insisted on a monetary advance against future royalties of $100 for each song (over $700 in 2016) and 50% of publishing ownership. At that time the most common publisher’s advance to an unknown songwriter was about $50 with the publisher retaining 100% of the publisher’s share of ownership.
The income of a song is divided 50-50 between the music publisher and the songwriter(s) and if a writer obtains 50% of the music publisher’s share, the writer would receive 75% of total income—50% for the writer’s share plus 25% from half of the music publisher’s 50% share. Paul’s request would mean that he and Shelly would own 75% of all future income from the songs and that United Artists Music would own only 25%. It was an over-the-top request being made of a major music publisher by unknown songwriters.
But I liked the songs a lot and pitched the deal to my boss, Murray Deutch, who after strong initial resistance eventually, at my urging, accepted the deal. Paul and Shelly agreed to sign the contracts the following day but Paul called the next morning to say he’d played “Green Tambourine” for someone at Kama Sutra Records and they offered him the opportunity to produce his song with their new group The Lemon Pipers if he signed a contract giving Kama Sutra’s music publishing company 100% of the publishing rights for the song. United Artists Music had a contract with Kama Sutra that gave United Artists Music 50% ownership of all songs published by Kama Sutra, which meant Paul could give Kama Sutra 100% publishing ownership of “Green Tambourine” and United Artists would automatically own 50%. We all agreed to this arrangement and I arranged for a $200 advance for Paul and Shelly for the other two songs. Paul’s production of “Green Tambourine” with the Lemon Pipers was a #1 Billboard pop hit in February 1968. Later he produced successful albums by Harry Chapin, REO Speedwagon, Gloria Gaynor, and others.
To create demo recordings of the other two Leka/Pinz songs I used The Music Asylum, a vocal group brought to my attention by a young man named Stu. The group consisted of Stu along with Steve and Eric Nathanson, two brothers from Brooklyn who, in addition to singing, drove taxis and sold pot. The Music Asylum reminded me of the vocal group The Association, and Stu agreed they would learn the two songs for the demo recording session, and soon thereafter United Artists Records decided to release the Music Asylum’s recording of “I Need Someone (The Painter)” as a single. I used the same musicians who performed on most of the demos I produced for United Artists: Frank Owens – piano, Hugh McCracken – electric guitar, Bobby Gregg – drums, and Joe Macho – bass. Frank, Bobby and Joe were famous for many records they played on, including Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. In 1965 Pierre Mahue of Joy Records introduced me to New Jersey guitarist Hugh McCracken, and I was the second producer (after Pierre) to use him on a recording session. Hugh became a famous New York session player who performed on recordings by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Jefferson Airplane, B.B. King, The Grateful Dead, and others.
Before the recording session with the Music Asylum, Steve and Eric made the claim that Stu was not actually one of the singers on the original recording Stu had played for me and that he was no longer a member of the group, although they had agreed to direct 10% of their earnings to him as a finder’s fee. Later Stu confirmed the brothers’ story and said he’d reluctantly accepted their offer.
While I was working in the studio to complete the final elements of the Music Asylum record Steve and Eric called requesting an urgent meeting to amend their contract with United Artists Records. The day prior to this conversation a known mob associate had demanded the brothers meet him at a Brooklyn bar—a meeting Steve and Eric wished not to attend, but knew they must. When Steve entered the bar two guys grabbed him and delivered a hard punch to his stomach, while Eric was thrown across the bar with a gun held to his head. “Stu will be part of the United Artists contract and will get a third of all the money,” a gangster emphatically ordered. As Steve gasped for breath and Eric feared for his life, a final demand was made. “Stu’s only participation is financial.” In other words, Stu’s finder’s fee had been unilaterally renegotiated from 10% back to one-third and this new “agreement” was consummated by the brothers being physically roughed up and threatened with serious bodily harm if the mobster’s demands were not met. By the demeanor of the Nathansons at our urgent meeting I could only believe their wild story was true. It was apparent they were still shaken by the encounter.
The contract was amended and Stu signed the new agreement. Unfortunately for all concerned (gangsters included), the Music Asylum record received no airplay and therefore no financial success. Later, songwriter Scott English and I wrote “Lavender Popcorn,” which I recorded with The Music Asylum just prior to my move to Hollywood—a move that ended my association with The Music Asylum and all the craziness of the Nathanson brothers.
Later on, after Bob Reno, Paul Leka’s contact at Kama Sutra Records, was hired by Mercury Records, he employed Leka to record four of his songs with singer Gary DeCarlo for Mercury’s Fontana label. When Reno heard the recordings he believed all four could be hits and not wanting to use any of the four recordings as a B-side, he sent Leka back into the studio to record one. Because the recording budget had been spent, Reno asked Leka to create something on the cheap. Using just one hour of studio recording time Leka played piano, created a bass line on piano and, with the help of the engineer, created a physical tape loop from a previously recorded drum track. He added Gary DeCarlo’s vocals to complete the recording of a song Leka had previously written with DeCarlo and Dale Frasheur in the early 1960s when all three were members of a band in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Eventually, Reno decided this throwaway “B-side” was actually the hit and released it on Mercury’s Fontana label under the group name Steam becasue DeCarlo’s viewed the recording with such disdain he wanted no association with it. Famously, it attained #1 for two weeks on Billboard’s Pop Chart in December 1969 and eventually sold over 6.5 million records. Frequent use by Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust initiated a journey that eventually made the song an intrinsic piece of Americana often heard at sporting and political events: “Na, na, na, na . . . na, na, na, na . . . hey, hey . . . Goodbye.”
During the 1960s it was difficult for an unknown songwriter to be heard by anyone at a major music publisher, but I would listen to anyone. Often the receptionist at United Artists Music would say, “Eddie, someone’s here with a song,” and on Thursday, October 5, 1967 it was a young black kid who someone at Atlantic Records had rejected.
“They told me my song was just a lot of noise.”
After listening to his cassette I suggested, “They’re right, it’s mostly noise.”
“I know I can do something.”
“Do you play guitar?”
“Do you play piano?”
“Well how can I hear your song?”
“I don’t know, but I can really sing.”
“Well then, sing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sing your song for me.”
“Just start singing right now?”
“That’s right. Just sing your song.”
He sang “We Must Have Love,” a song he’d written. It was a soulful ballad and the skinny young man sang his heart out. When he sang the chorus he dropped to his knees and lifted his arms to the heavens as in some spiritual testimony. He was awesome.
Bobby Lee Fears lived in Atlanta, Georgia and for monetary reasons needed to return home the next day. He sang his song again so I could write a chord chart and then called my musicians—Frank Owens, piano; Hugh McCracken, guitar; Bobby Gregg, drums; and Joe Macho, electric bass. I booked their earliest availability of 1:30 p.m. the following day as well as Associated Recording Studio on 7th Avenue, next door to the United Artists building.
To me, the demo was magical, with a compelling vocal from a young man who showed great promise as a soul singer. I played it for Leonard Korobkin, previously an attorney at United Artists, who had joined the prestigious music business law firm of Marshall & Vigoda—Paul Marshall and Johan Vigoda. I asked Len to play the demo for Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, who upon hearing it speculated it had been recorded in Muscle Shoals, Memphis or somewhere “down South.” He had difficulty believing it was recorded in Manhattan and suggested Len play it for Bert Berns at Bang Records, a company co-owned by Berns and the owners of Atlantic Records. In fact, the company’s name was derived from the letters of the first names of Bert Berns and the Atlantic Records owners Ahmet Ertegun, Neshui Ertegun, and Jerry (Gerald) Wexler. Bert Berns was a soulful man, a soulful songwriter, a talented record producer, and amazing talent scout whose young record company was off to a dazzling start—“Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond, “Hang On Sloopy” by the McCoys, “I Want Candy” by the Strangeloves, and “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. Len Korobkin played the recording for Bert, who reacted by having Len prepare a production agreement stipulating I would produce an album and supply the services of Bobby Lee Fears. Bert said, “Tell Eddie to book time at Talentmasters (Bert’s recording studio at 126 West 42nd Street) and start recording.”
Len began preparing the contract and I told Bobby Lee to make arrangements to be in New York in January or February. All of this occurred in late November and early December of 1967, and here’s a transcription of the letter from attorney Leonard Korobkin to Bert Berns, which accompanied the proposed contracts between Bobby Lee Fears, Eddie Reeves, and Bang Records.
MARSHALL & VIGODA
COUNSELORS AT LAW
PAUL G. MARSHALL 130 WEST 57TH STREET
JOHANAN VIGODA NEW YORK, N. Y. 10019
MONTE L. MORRIS
INA LEA MEIBACH
LEONARD KOROBKIN CABLE ADDRESS
---------- MARSHALLAW NEW YORK
EVE M. PREMINGER
JUDSON 2 – 1122
December 4, 1967
Mr. Bert Berns
New York, N.Y.
RE: EDDIE REEVES – BOBBY LEE FEARS
I enclose herewith for your review a copy of the proposed production agreement between Bang Records and the above regarding the recording services of Bobby Lee Fears together with the guarantee of performance by the artist and a split publishing agreement between Plato Music, Inc. and Web IV Music, Inc. regarding original compositions initially recorded under the production deal.
After you have reviewed these agreements, please contact me. If these agreements are satisfactory as drafted, I will cause Reeves, the artist, and Plato Music to execute all of them and then forward the contracts to you for signature.
I wish you and Eddie the best luck with this artist and hope that this transaction is just the start of many between the two of you.
Best personal regards.
LK / ri
CC: Edward Reeves
Plato Music, Inc. was a planned subsidiary of United Artists Music.
I’d never met Bert Berns but had seen his photo in Billboard Magazine. A few days before leaving for Amarillo to spend Christmas holidays with my parents, I saw Bert enter the drug store in the 1650 Broadway building, which along with the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway were the two most famous music buildings in what was previously known as Tin Pan Alley. I followed Bert into the drug store and introduced myself. He encouraged me to begin recording Bobby Lee as soon as possible.
“Shouldn’t I wait until our agreement is signed?”
“Whatever you’re comfortable with is okay with me. You can start recording now or wait until the contract’s signed.”
The informality of Bert Bern’s business manner impressed me and bolstered my confidence regarding this impending business association. We wished each other a happy holiday and said goodbye. Not until my return from the holidays the first week of January did I learn the tragic news that Bert Berns, age 38, had died of a heart attack on December 30, 1967.
Len played the Bobby Lee Fears recording for Mississippi record producer Huey Meaux, who was excited about Bobby Lee. But Huey wanted to be the producer and offered me a small percentage as a finder’s fee, which I reluctantly accepted. I was in the process of moving to Hollywood to establish and manage a west coast music publishing office for United Artists Music and was excited to be leaving New York City for a life in California where the social consciousness was more similar to the Texas culture I knew. For me, New York had been a foreign country—a cultural language seemingly beyond my ability to ever master in addition to a social and business culture into which I could not easily assimilate. I was looking westward during January and February of 1968 when the Huey Meaux deal came together, and I had begun having some serious reservations about working with Bobby Lee when during his January visit I discovered he was carrying a gun. He claimed to be a numbers runner in Atlanta and that the gun was necessary for protection. During the short duration of our association his daughter had died in an automobile accident, his wife left him, and he was running numbers in Atlanta. All this dampened my enthusiasm during a time that I was contemplating the next chapter of my music business adventure—one that included Hollywood and not Bobby Lee Fears.
As though bad luck had not raised its ugly head enough regarding Bobby Lee Fears, the next unfortunate event was Huey Meaux being sent to prison for violation of the Mann Act, a law prohibiting an adult from transporting a minor across a state line for immoral purposes. Huey’s friend Shelby Singleton managed his business affairs during his absence and Len Korobkin negotiated a release from contract for Bobby Lee. After moving to Hollywood I spoke to Bobby Lee for the last time shortly after he was released from prison. He was still pursuing a recording career, but I had no interest in being involved. I disliked turning away from a talented singer, but it takes much more than talent for long-term success in the music business.
The demo recording of “We Must Have Love” is soulful and entertaining, and I’ve enjoyed it many times over the years. Sometimes I listen to refresh my senses after some browbeating by the overly slick, manufactured music renderings that so often flood pop music. At times I need to experience something down-to-earth with unpretentious emotion shot straight from the heart of a vibrant human being, and for me, the Bobby Lee recording fulfills that desire. It’s a feel-good experience to hear Bobby Lee wail as Hugh McCracken’s guitar groove floats along a Steve-Cropper river of country-soul guitar.
One morning in London while cooking soft-boiled eggs and listening to Bobby Lee wail his declaration that “We Must Have Love,” I discovered that eggs dropped into boiling water at the start of this recording and left until the end of it will be perfectly soft-boiled. You can try it by locating Bobby Lee’s recording on YouTube or on the music page at eddiereevesmusic.com/music.
Prior to our brief association Bobby Lee participated in the fairly obscure musical group the Fabulous Dinos (along with his second cousin Hezekiah Sheffield) from 1962 to 1964 for record labels Saber, Musicor and King. He was also one of the lead singers of the Ohio Players in 1968 and 1969 performing on their “Observations In Time” album but prior to the group’s notable success from about 1972 to 1978. As a solo artist he recorded as Bobby Brown for the Verve label in 1968 (an alias possibly necessary to prohibit conflict with his Ohio Players commitment), Bobby Dixon for ABC Probe Records in 1970 (after the Ohio Players broke up for the second time), and Bobby Lee Fears for the Forward label in 1971 and Bell Records in 1972. Unfortunately, none of these efforts gained commercial success and listening to them I’ve not heard a better vocal than his effort on “We Must Have Love.” Bobby Lee passed away in about 2003.
In addition to these several straight-forward career efforts, Bobby Lee had a brief but uniquely entertaining relationship with Lester Maddox, former governor of Georgia—an entertaining paradox outlined by these old postings from the web.
Lester Maddox achieved national notoriety in 1964 when he drove African Americans from his restaurant in defiance of federal civil-rights legislation and then closed the establishment rather than desegregate it. Elected (1966) governor as an avowed segregationist with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, he was unable to stem the tide of integration. Although prevented by the state constitution from succeeding himself as governor, he was subsequently elected lieutenant governor (1971–75). He lost the 1974 primary election for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Lester Maddox is the most colorful man to ever occupy Georgia’s governorship. He rode his bicycle backwards, toured Georgia with a black man he had pardoned [Bobby Lee Fears] in a stage act known as “The Governor and the Dishwasher,” and was an all-around unique man.
With his political career over and with massive debts stemming from his 1974 gubernatorial bid, Maddox began a short-lived nightclub comedy career in 1977 with an African-American, Bobby Lee Sears [Fears], who had worked as a busboy in his restaurant. Sears had served time in prison for a drug offense before Maddox, as Lieutenant Governor, was able to obtain a pardon. Calling their act "The Governor and the Dishwasher," the duo performed comedy bits built around musical numbers with Maddox on harmonica and Sears on guitar.
GREENWICH VILLAGE GLUE BLUES
Totally disregarding the strict rules of the rooming house, Sally Byrd would sneak out after hours and crawl through an opening in a fence created by a loose plank so we could romp around Austin late at night. Mostly we spent time with her friends Christiane and Mac Price, a married couple who had met in Paris, France during Mac’s military service there. Christiane was a beautiful blue-eyed blonde—a bit of a French Julie Christie. The four of us had great fun hanging out and on a couple of trips to the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo. Houston was Sally’s hometown but her fluency in French from several summers spent in France helped forge her entertaining French alter ego Elise du Chatelet. Sally was also a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde and any man who saw the four of us likely regarded Mac and me as fortunate fellows. But when the lack of romantic attraction ended my time with Sally, it also ended my relationship with Christiane and Mac.
After the end of my third, and last, year of university attendance in May 1962, I worked for my dad in his retail lumber, residential construction, rental property, and land development businesses in Amarillo. Until early in 1964 I continued making trips to Clovis to play Norman Petty songs I had written—several that he recorded with local bands, but with no commercial success.
Josie Harper, Petty’s representative in Manhattan, was a likable, funny, vibrant young lady with a Carol Burnett-like personality. Her connections with many New York music business folks allowed Petty’s interests to be well-represent until her tragic death from a brain aneurysm in December 1963. It was a great loss for Petty and for everyone who knew Josie. We were shocked and saddened to lose Josie, who was only in her early 30s. Norman traveled to New York to attend to the issues regarding Josie’s death, and after he’d been there a few days I called to ask about his plans for representation in New York. He didn’t know, and I asked that I be considered. It didn’t feel as though the words conveying my suggestion to Petty were actually spoken by, but instead seemed to be something magically flowing from me and floating through the air as though I had no control of my utterance. It was a surreal experience. In February 1964 I ended my participation in my dad’s businesses and began working as Petty’s New York representative.
Here’s the verbatim transcription of a letter I received from Josie Harper in the fall of 1961, just after Warwick Records released “Cry Baby.”
From: JO HARPER September 8th
Hi You with the Montovani Strings going! Hope you have the records by now. I couldn’t send them Special because I couldn’t make the post office before it closed…so I hope you go them quickly anyhoo! I saw the sleeve and it’s really fine! I’m trying to con some out of Lois [of Warwick Records] so I can send you one. Norman will have them soon.
I took your record over to Bruno…who took your pictures and he is thinking of when Jimmy’s record comes out…he will put both your pictures and records and sleeves out in the glass case in front. How about that!?
Everybody is flipping over CRY, BABY and I hope that’s the side because it really grabs me.
Can you be sure that Austin is bombarded with your records? I used to be real in with a d.j. there but he came on like bad news and turned into a prof at the U. So be sure that you get the records all over and check all the record stores. If they don’t have them let me know who the distrib is and I’ll get Lois on him. ‘Course I don’t know when you’ll have time to study but you’ll sure have a swingin’ record! Ha! I know NEP [Norman Petty] will do their number all over N.M. and West Texas so we don’t have to worry about that area. And remember what Morty said about getting listings anywhere…that’s all he said he would need. So we can do our part while he’s swinging elsewhere with other territories.
So leave me know already Lover on what is happening down there and I shall keep you posted on this scene.
Josie (handwritten signature)
50 West 57th Street, Room 711
New York 19, N. Y.
During the 1963 Christmas holidays, and only a few weeks prior to the start of my music business adventure in Manhattan, hometown friend, and University of Mississippi student, John Blackburn introduced me to the music of little known folk singer Bob Dylan. While playing Dylan’s second album Freewheelin’ on a small stereo in the kitchen of his parents’ home, John stood with both feet in the kitchen sink while loudly and enthusiastically proclaiming Dylan’s greatness. His novel behavior served to leave no doubt regarding his admiration for this new folk singer, but so captivating were John’s antics that I directed little attention to Dylan other than to think his singing sounded like that of an elderly man. Had I been familiar with the sound and style of the great American folk hero Woody Guthrie, I would surely have thought Dylan was his protégé. John insisted I take the record to absorb and understand an artist bound for greatness. Years later, in March 2006 John added details regarding his discovery. His sister Lynne had purchased Dylan’s first album (released in 1962) because Dylan’s photo on the album cover reminded her of John. Having an unenthusiastic response to Dylan’s recordings, she gave the album to John.
My own careful listen to Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album (originally released May 27, 1963) soon revealed the artist’s creative talents, and the vocalization previously perceived as unpleasing soon melded into a soundscape shaped by the poet’s genius. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” was the immediate favorite, but the entire album was captivating. Realizing it was Dylan’s second album I quickly purchased the first one simply titled, Bob Dylan. Soon my performance repertoire included “Song to Woody,” “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” “House of the Rising Sun,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
Somewhere along the way I learned Christiane and Mac had divorced and she had moved to Manhattan. When I arrived in February 1964 I realized that of the millions of people living there she was the only person I knew. After locating Christiane we discovered a shared interest in Dylan leading us to attended several shows during that spring and summer at the Gaslight Café located at 116 MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, where the artist often appeared. The influence of Dylan’s music along with my move from Texas to New York City rendered a talking-blues piece sometime in 1964.
Greenwich Village Glue Blues
Well I left Texas the Lone Star state
Just a country boy lookin’ for a break
I headed out east for Manhattan Island
I was a happy man, my face was smilin’
Gonna meet Bob Die-land, learn his style and
Sing at the Bitter End.
Well it turned out to be a normal trip
And on the way I heard some lip
I heard comments and I heard pleas
'Bout what people thought this country needs
I found out what this country needs
Is more people that know
What this country needs.
When I arrived in New York town
I didn’t walk up and down and look around
I went downtown, way downtown
Where I heard some sounds
But I wasn’t surprised at what I found
I found Bob Die-land wasn’t around
Besides they said his name was Dylan
And I could take his place if I was willin’
In the folk song race
That’s first place.
I sang, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”
I sang “Mr. Tambourine Man” that night
I sang “I Shall Be Free Number 10”
They said come on man do it again
At the Bitter End, but then
Dylan came in
Hung over and hung up
And that was my bitter end.
So I drove uptown to 45th Street
Where the Peppermint Twist is neat
I walked right in so I could see
I saw ninety-nine wig-hats starring at me
And ninety-nine Italians in a race
Seeing which one could make his face
Look most like he owned the place.
It was a close race.
But it’s Greenwich Village where I’d rather be
It’s one place where everybody’s free
Guess that’s where I’ll always stay
Ramble at night and sleep all day.
I couldn’t leave again if I tried to
Guess I’ve got the Greenwich Village blues
And the Green….wich Village glue….on my shoes.
©1965 United Artists Music Co.
One evening at the Gaslight after Dylan performed a guest set of two or three songs, Christiane wanted to meet him. The “backstage” area at the Gaslight was simply behind a curtain strung across the room dividing it into two parts. The larger part seated 40 or 50 patrons and a stage riser that could accommodate no more than three or four performers. The smaller part of the divided room served as the backstage area that also included a separate long, narrow dressing room. In keeping with the club’s casual atmosphere the curtain was partially opened at the end of each show, and when Christiane and I stepped into the backstage area we found Dylan standing there wearing a dark leather jacket. Christiane introduced herself and delivered to Dylan a special rave review of Dylan. As I have noted, Christiane was a beautiful young lady and her attractiveness combined with soft-spoken French accent would readily attract the attention of most any man—Dylan included on this particular occasion.
The artist countered Christiane’s rave by offering to perform a song he claimed to have just completed. Her excited affirmation prompted Dylan to borrow the guitar of a young man standing nearby. Then Dylan produced from his coat pocket a yellow, legal-sized writing paper completely filled with typewritten words. Noting he had not yet committed his lyrics to memory, he asked Christiane to hold the lyric sheet. He propped one foot on the cross support bar of a barstool so that his thigh could support the guitar and began performing his newly written song that began, “Hey, Mr. Tambourine man play a song for me….” Christiane and I were mesmerized—in part because Bob Dylan had granted us a private performance, but mostly due to the merits of the song he had crafted. After his performance we raved about his song and said goodbye.
Given Christiane’s magnetic attractiveness, Dylan could hardly have known I was present, even though only the three of us were there. The owner of the guitar stood motionless a few feet away leaning toward us to listen, but not daring to take even one step in our direction. His body language seemed to affirm that the borrowing of his guitar had not necessarily extended an invitation to Dylan’s private performance. This was the first of a few interactions I would have with genius songwriter/recording artist Bob Dylan.
Not long after the engaging evening at the Gaslight Café, Mac Price visited Christiane hoping to rekindle their relationship. I liked Mac a lot—much more than the other guys Christiane dated—and wished they’d reunite, but that didn’t happen. During Mac’s visit we all drove to New Haven to see Dylan perform at Yale University but the concert was sold out. Christiane used her considerable charm to convince the young man at the ticket office to allow us (for a handsome monetary payment) to occupy the organ bench permanently affixed in the center of the hall very near the stage. During the break between two songs, we were ushered to the front of the auditorium, made our way past those seated in the row where the organ bench was located, and conspicuously positioned ourselves directly in front of Dylan. Surely he recognized the beautiful French girl for whom he so recently had performed at the Gaslight Café.
Norman Petty had just completed producing an album with well-known folk singer Carolyn Hester, who coincidently was sister to Dean Hester, one of my frat brothers at the University of Texas. Petty asked that I contact Carolyn at her apartment in Greenwich Village to obtain her approval of the album cover. I called and introduced myself as Petty’s representative and a friend of her brother. Carolyn suggested I join her the following evening at the Gaslight Café where she would be performing.
Three years earlier Carolyn had met a young, unknown folk singer in Greenwich Village whom she invited to play harmonica on her third album—her debut recording session for Columbia Records produced by famous music figure John Hammond on September 29, 1961. The session also served as a chance meeting of Hammond and Carolyn’s harp player, Bob Dylan, who one month later Hammond signed to a five-year contract with Columbia Records.
I arrived at the Gaslight Café an hour early to hang out with Carolyn and show her the album cover of That’s My Song (Dot Records DLP 3604). The club entrance opened to a small room where admission was collected and the walls were covered with photographs of folk singers who had performed there. When I entered the room was empty save one guy looking at some of the photos—a guy I immediately recognized as Bob Dylan.
He turned only his head toward me. “What did you say?”
“I said, ‘Hi’.”
Then gradually he turned his entire body toward me. “Do you think you know who I am?”
“Yes, you’re Bob Dylan.”
Then stepping close to me with his face only inches from my face he asked, “Man, do you really know who I am? Do you think you really know?”
My mind raced to conjure possibilities that could compel Dylan to offer such reply—the possibility he was having some deep philosophical rumination, or was high on something, or simply did not want to be bothered. Having read press articles about this new folk-hero/genius songwriter, and having been completely surprised by his animosity to my friendly greeting, I responded in the most honest manner possible.
“Yes, you’re really Robert Zimmerman.”
Now I don’t know what he was thinking, but after my response Dylan moved his face about an inch from my face so that our noses almost touched and began to yell with such energy that salvia lubricating his harsh words anointed my face. In an instinctive defensive reaction when one’s physical space is inordinately invaded by another person, I brought my hand to Dylan’s chest to push him away. He quickly responded by knocking my hand away as he continued to yell. The commotion drew a club employee to the small room. “Hey you guys, take it outside.” At that, Dylan departed and I asked if Carolyn was there.
“What was all the yelling about?”
“I don’t know. It began when I said hello to Dylan.”
The club employee shook his head. “Sometimes Dylan gets a little weird. Carolyn’s in the back.”
It seemed that Carolyn liked the album cover and after visiting a while I left so she could prepare for her performance. Backstage after the show I invited Carolyn to dinner and she suggested the Limelighter on 7th Avenue, but wanted to check first with Bob. Only then did I realized that Dylan, or whomever he was presuming to be that evening, was sitting at the other end of the long, narrow dressing room. Although I couldn’t hear their conversation I could read Dylan’s lips when he looked toward me while replying to Carolyn, “He can’t go.” She returned and asked, “What’s going on?” “Don’t worry about it. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
During these early months in New York I met Robin McBride, who worked for Columbia Records. As a music publisher my job was to contact the A&R (artist and repertoire) folks at record companies to let them hear the songs Petty published and the recordings he produced with new artists. Even though Robin worked in A&R administration for Columbia, a job involving recording budgets and business issues related to the recording process, he was one of my A&R calls. Robin didn’t have the authority to sign a new artist and had no direct opportunity to insure a song was recorded, but in my attempt to use all possible means to make inroads at Columbia I called him from time to time. Somewhere along the way Robin met Christiane and fell madly in love. Learning she was an avid Bob Dylan fan he invited Christiane and me to meet him at his office at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 1964. Christiane declined, but after Robin’s continued insistence I finally persuaded her to accompany me.
Robin greeted us at his office, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” Soon he led us to Columbia Records’ recording Studio A control room, where record producer Tom Wilson and recording engineer Roy Halle—both soon-to-be-famous music figures—were busy recording Bob Dylan’s fourth Columbia album Another Side of Dylan. Dylan stood only a few feet from us on the other side of the control room glass window in a small area enclosed on three sides by large sound baffles within the large recording room. He had an acoustic guitar and harmonica in a harmonica rack so he could simultaneously play both instruments. An old upright piano was positioned near him and along the far wall of the large recording room a few friends sat on the floor drinking wine from bottles covered by paper sacks (possibly to obviate corporate policy forbidding alcohol consumption in the recording studio). Later I learned one of those friends was Ramblin’ Jack Elliott who sang harmony on the chorus of “Mr. Tambourine Man” that evening, although it is not the initial version released on Dylan’s fifth album Bringing It All Back Home. Robin McBride left us with Wilson and Halle, and Dylan and friends for about an hour of a recording session that’s documented to have lasted six.
Neither Christiane nor I are certain which songs were recorded during our stay, since eventually we were so familiar with all the songs on Another Side of Dylan that our memories have been fogged. But I do know we heard the recording of at least three songs and I know Dylan played piano—either between takes or on a song recorded during our visit. Christiane believes we observed Dylan recording “My Back Pages” but the song log from this session as noted in Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions by author Clinton Heylin documents this song as the last to be recorded that evening. Heylin states: “While polishing off a couple of bottles of Beaujolais, Dylan cut his fourth Columbia album in one all night session.” If this is true, then “My Back Pages” would have been recorded long after Christiane and I departed. I do know Dylan did only two complete takes of a ballad and the only ballad for which there are two complete takes during the early part of this recording session is “Ballad In Plain D.” After the first take, which seemed to be a good one, producer Tom Wilson asked Dylan to do another. Dylan asked why and Wilson explained his reason after which Dylan replied, “Okay, but this is the last one.” It demonstrated who was ultimately in control of the session, but it also showed that Dylan was willing to cooperate with his producer to some reasonable extent. Other than Tom Wilson, Roy Halle, Dylan and his few friends, Christiane and I were the only others present during the early part of this recording session. We were surprised and excited to be there.
On April 4, 2006 Christiane wrote to me.
“What lives in MY memory is a transcendent evening when we both saw Dylan record some songs that were destined to become classics, although NOTHING can top the private performance of "Mr. Tambourine Man," and the fact we were probably the first two people in the world to hear him singing it after he composed it.”
Christiane and I were transfixed as we listened to Dylan’s performances. And as we sat a few feet away directly in his view, I wondered if he recognized the beautiful blonde French girl for whom he recently performed “Mr. Tambourine Man” backstage at the Gaslight Café, and whom he possibly had seen make a tardy entrance and be seated directly in front of him at the Yale concert. I also wondered if he recognized the young, skinny kid who accompanied her those evenings—the same kid confronted at the Gaslight Café when he extended an invitation for the kid not to join him and Carolyn Hester for dinner. Surely these events were so obscure in Dylan’s world that each evaporated before it could be forgotten while all loom so large in mine that 40-something years later I write them herein. Oh what varied cloth the same threads can sew.
From Wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Wilson_(producer) – excerpt only
Thomas Blanchard Wilson Jr. aka Tom Wilson (March 25, 1931 – September 6, 1978) was an American record producer best known for his work in the 1960s with Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Velvet Underground. Wilson was born in 1931 and grew up in Waco, Texas. While attending Fisk University in Nashville he was invited to Harvard University where he became involved with the Harvard New Jazz Society and radio station WHRB. On graduating from Harvard, he borrowed $900 to set up Transition Records that released albums by Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor. For about eleven years beginning in 1957 he worked for a succession of record companies—United Artists, Savoy, Columbia, and finally MGM / Verve.
Wilson was staff producer at Columbia producing three seminal Bob Dylan albums—“The Times They Are a-Changin’,” “Another Side of Dylan,” and “Bringing It All Back Home,” along with the 1965 trend-setting single “Like a Rolling Stone” and four tracks on the 1963 “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album. At Columbia Wilson also produced Simon & Garfunkel’s 1964 debut album “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” that included the single “The Sounds of Silence.” Inspired by the huge success of The Byrds folk-rock version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Wilson took the duo's original acoustic track and, without Simon or Garfunkel's knowledge, overdubbed electric instruments, turning the track into a #1 pop hit, helping to launch the folk-rock genre. Simon and Garfunkel, who had already split, re-united after the hit and went on to greater success.
At Verve Records Wilson signed and produced the Mothers of Invention; The Velvet Underground featuring Lou reed, John Cale, and Nico; The Blues Project featuring Al Kooper; and the Soft Machine.
Tom Wilson died of a heart attack at age 47 at his home in Los Angeles.
Like many who met Christiane Price, Tom Wilson was quite taken with her. After the Dylan session, I called Tom hoping for an appointment to play songs. Most probably Christiane deserves credit for Tom granting me access, a suspicion born of Tom’s continual reference to her at each meeting. On occasion, Christiane and I would visit Small’s Paradise in Harlem to hear some great jazz, and one evening Tom happened to be there. He was all over Christiane and tried every ploy to get a date, but even though he was an intelligent, good-looking man, he failed to attract Christiane’s interest.
Eventually, I played “Greenwich Village Glue Blues” for Tom and although he claimed to like it, he didn’t have an artist who could record it. Folk music ruled Greenwich Village during those days with many clubs featuring folk music. One night each week, usually on Mondays, some had a “hoot night” where anyone could sing a song or two, and because my song contains a reference to the Bitter End it was unavoidable that I perform it at this famous Village venue. Sometime in 1964 I did just that—showed up at the Bitter End with my Martin D-18, signed up as a performer, listened to mostly horrific singers performing mostly dreadful songs for nearly two hours until I finally delivered my only public performance of “Greenwich Village Glue Blues.” My performance attracted an impromptu conga performance by a black guy who laughed repeatedly during the song and on one occasion threw his hands up in the air as he belly laughed with great exuberance while others in the audience seemed to share his enthusiasm. Later I recorded the song for United Artists Records, but the producer assigned hadn’t the faintest clue how to record talking blues. The absence of spontaneous musical expression from young, emotionally vibrant musicians (and producer) resulted in a ludicrous metronomic nightmare born of straightjacketed ineptitude.
Later, Tom Wilson left Columbia to join MGM Records, where he recorded two of my songs, “My Kinda Guy” and “Hurtin’ All Over,” with Canadian girls’ trio, The Willows. Well-known jazz saxophonist Benny Golsen, who previously performed with Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and others, provided musical arrangements designed to create a Motown-like recording à la the Supremes. The effort fell far short, although the record did reach #15 on the Canadian pop charts—my first chart record though earning negligible royalties.
Years later in about 1975 while heading Chappell Music’s Hollywood office, I met Carole Bayer Sager, an exclusive songwriter for the company. This beautiful, intelligent, and talented songwriter won an Academy Award in 1981 for “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” a Grammy in 1987 for “That’s What Friends Are For,” and two Golden Globes. Among her songwriting successes are “Nobody Does It Better,” “When I Need You,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” and “A Groovy Kind of Love.” Carole had meaningful connections with many important music business folks and introduced me to Bette Midler. One evening at the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard where I was attending the Hollywood coming-out show of some new recording artist, Bette entered the theatre alone and searched the crowd for someone she knew to join. “Hey, Eddie,” she hollered as she headed for my table where my friends were greatly impressed. Bette was unpretentious and charming, had a witty sense of humor, and was a lot of fun.
Carole Bayer Sager also introduced me to her New York high school friend, Carole Pincus, who after moving to Hollywood and with Carole’s help had landed a job screening songs for a successful Hollywood record producer. After Carole Pincus married and later divorced A&M Records’ promotion executive Harold Childs, she retained her married name. About a year or so after I’d met Carole Childs, and for reasons unknown to me, she was fired by the record producer although he chose not to personally deliver the unpleasant news. He delegated the unpleasant task to Carole Bayer Sager who also had no desire to deliver such bad news to her good friend. The buck was passed to me and I rejected her magnanimous offer, but after some extreme persuasion I reluctantly agreed to inform Carole Childs she’d been fired. It was an awful evening and the greatest source of Carole’s pain was the unwillingness of the producer to personally speak to her. But Carole was a survivor, and with Carole Bayer Sager in her corner she soon landed an A&R job at a major record company—a position of much greater importance than she previously held.
When I left the music business and moved to Texas in 1980 I lost touch with Carole Childs, but after I joined Warner Bros. Records in Nashville in 1984 we renewed our friendship by communicating a time or two each year. During one call Carole was in a state of great excitement and had no time to talk. She was headed to Moscow and promised to call to share some exciting news when she returned. But the news arrived sooner than that—news that she and Bob Dylan had become an item. At the invitation of Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Dylan accompanied by Carole traveled to Moscow for the International Poetry Festival where he performed three songs on July 25, 1985.
Here’s an excerpt from Robert Hilburn’s 1992 interview with Dylan in which Carole Childs is referenced.
Source: Los Angeles Times Magazine
Date: 9 February 1992
Author: Robert Hilburn
Dylan Now [excerpt only]
“When the band members retire to their bunks in the back of the bus, Dylan begins to loosen up a bit. Still, with no Arnie to make the revelations, Dylan keeps the veil tightly drawn around his personal life. Any talk about his former, 13-year marriage to Sara Lowndes, or their four now-grown children is strictly off-limits. So is his longstanding relationship with Carole Childs, an Elektra Records artists and repertoire executive.”
Sometime in the early 1990s Carole visited Nashville hoping to convince Allen Reynolds, producer of Garth Brooks, to produce a project. Spending an afternoon visiting antique store with Carole provided an opportunity to share my Bob Dylan stories. At the time Carole and Dylan still had a personal relationship and her reaction to my stories (or more accurately, her non-reaction) clearly communicated complete lack of appreciation for them. My attempt failed to entertain Carole that afternoon—a failure possibly rooted in the human capacity to sometimes overinflate self-importance—a human condition that surely applies to me. It was my final communication with Carole and the end of a friendship.
But Carole Childs’ relationship with Bob Dylan had delivered my Dylan stories full circle: a kitchen sink in Amarillo, Texas; relocation to New York City and a talking blues song; Gaslight Café private performance and Yale concert; Columbia Studio A and #15 on Canadian record chart; and friendships with Carole Bayer Sager and Carole Childs disappearing on an afternoon of antique shopping while my Dylan stories filled some time and space. But maybe this story has not yet ended. What if by some dubious quirk of fate Dylan and I meet once again? If so, I hope he won’t yell at me. And for my part, I will merely ask in the most polite manner possible, “Bob, do you know who you really are? Do you really know?”
Besides they said his name was Dylan
And I could take his place if I was willin’
In the folk-song race.
That’s first place!
THE ITALIAN STALLION
While working for United Artists Music in Manhattan from early 1965 to early 1968, I was fortunate to experience some of the human elements associated with the United Artists Motion Pictures corporate headquarters at 729 7th Avenue. The building was of a dying breed where the elevators had elevator operators and the placement of long distance telephone calls required the assistance of a telephone switchboard operator. One could not work in this building without becoming acquainted on a first-name basis with most of the telephone and elevator operators. Today automation has ended these, sometimes warm, sometimes less than warm, entertaining relationships.
Bob Selig and I shared a small office tucked into a corner of the sixth floor and only accessible by walking through the copyright management department. A Boston native, Bob was musically educated but had little understanding of pop songwriting, and with few exceptions his inventive melodies were laboriously complicated. Heavy smoking by both of us caused a lingering haze to constantly permeate our small out-of-the-way office where an air conditioner filled the bottom half of the lone window while the upper half framed a dead-end, brick-wall view of an adjacent building. An upright piano, one wooden chair, a white laminate desktop with accompanying desk chair, and some audio equipment on a shelf below the window completed the furnishings. These few things filled this small office where Bob and I took turns playing the piano and sitting at the desk.
Most of Bob’s time was spent writing songs, but I had the additional duties of song plugger, meaning I made appointments with record producers and people at record companies in an attempt to obtain recordings of the latest songs owned by United Artists Music. Later I was assigned the additional task of calling radio music directors in the southern and southwestern areas of the country to promote airplay of the company’s songs recently released, including songs from United Artists Pictures. Much stressful compromise was required regarding Bob’s need to play piano and my need to make business telephone calls.
For lunch we often ordered tuna fish sandwiches delivered from a local sandwich shop and sometimes enjoyed dessert of authentic New York cheesecake from Jack Dempsey’s restaurant on Broadway between 49th and 50th Streets, where on occasion I saw the famous boxing champion, “The Manassa Mauler” as he was known, visiting with his customers. A few times he graciously extended his restaurateur respects to me.
Songwriter (Gaetano Daniel) Danny DiMinno was a regular visitor to our small office. Dean Martin’s 1957 hit “Return To Me” is Danny’s most successful song, which has also been recorded by Chris Isaak, Bob Dylan, Marty Robbins, the McGuire Sisters, and Connie Francis. The Dylan version appears in the 1999 HBO television series The Sopranos and is included in the 2001 soundtrack recording. The Dean Martin recording appears in the 1996 movie Striptease starring Demi Moore and Burt Reynolds, the 1997 movie Donnie Brasco starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, and in the romantic comedy Return To Me directed and co-written by Bonnie Hunt in 2000. Unfortunately, the prominent use of Danny’s song in television and motion pictures occurred after his death in 1991.
Danny’s close, personal relationship with Murray Deutch, head of U.A. Music, developed in an unusual way. Murray’s twin brother Irving was also in the music business, and sometimes Irving had problems with loan sharks. Danny told me about a time when Irving failed to made a loan payment as promised causing two “goons” (enforcers for the mob) to appear at the music company where both Irving and Murray were employed. The “goons” were there to execute an order to “throw Irving out the window.” Back in the days when the windows of hi-rise office buildings actually opened not all “suicides” seemingly committed by jumping from a building’s upper floor were actually “suicides.” The two “goons” entered what they believed was Irving’s office, grabbed the guy sitting at his desk, and were dragging him toward a window just as Danny happened to walk by. Danny knew the enforcers who had mistakenly grabbed Murray instead of Irving and Danny was able to extract Murray from their grasp by explaining the mistake. Murray credited Danny with saving his life and from that day forward Danny enjoyed special status and privilege wherever Murray was employed.
Often referring to himself as the “Italian stallion,” Danny had free rein at the United Artists building on 7th Avenue. He chased after every young lady in the building, and to hear him describe his escapades was to learn of his unequivocal successes. To hear the same stories second-hand from the ladies of the building was to learn Danny’s claims were not exaggerated. On a few occasions he entered our office and commanded, “Out. Come back in thirty minutes.” As we departed Danny would enter with some young lady he later described as a songwriter or a singer. Sometimes we’d return to find a damp area on the carpet. Danny was something else.
A producer for United Artists Records accepted $1,500 (over $11,500 in 2016) in exchange for his promise to record three songs owned by the business partner of a mobster. The producer recorded only two songs, and when repeatedly asked about the third song he replied with a string of various excuses. Soon word came from a reliable source that the producer’s legs would be broken. Danny was summoned to make peace while the producer hid out in a New Jersey motel. The resolution reached was that the producer would record the third song and return the $1,500. One song recorded and $1,500 refunded equals two legs not broken. There’s a price for everything in the Big Apple.
Born in the Bronx, NY on June 20, 1911, Danny was in his mid-50s during this time while Bob and I were in our early 20s. Sometimes Danny aimed his caustic sense of humor at Bob accusing him of listening to his own songs at night while “snapping his rubber band.” Although Danny was a colorful character, he was also a quite serious man. The hours he spent in our office forged a relationship between Danny and me similar to that of an uncle and kid nephew. I produced demo recordings for several of Danny’s songs and he generously praised my work. As our friendship grew more comfortable it eventually allowed me to ask Danny about the wild stories circulating among some United Artists employees. For three or four hours early one afternoon in either 1966 or 1967 and for an additional hour or two the following morning, Danny recounted some of his life’s adventures.
In 1929 when Danny was 18 years old, he and a friend were walking along a street on the lower east side of Manhattan where a cigarette truck was parked while the driver made a delivery. Noticing the unattended truck, Danny’s friend suggested they steal some cigarettes to which Danny countered, “Let’s steal the truck”—and they did. After hiding the truck a few days, they contacted the “right guys” who bought the stolen goods, and this event was the beginning of a hijacking career and connection with the New York mob for Danny DiMinno.
So numerous were hijackings during those days that one shoe company shipped shoes for the right foot in one truck and shoes for the left in another on a different day to discourage hijackers from seizing a truckload of shoes fitting only one foot. When Danny hijacked one of these trucks he retaliated by burning the truck and its contents.
Danny was bribing two cops who patrolled the area of his hijacking operation, but eventually Danny’s notoriety created more anxiety than the two cops were willing to tolerate. Always carrying two guns—one on his person and one on the seat of the vehicle he was driving—Danny was stopped one night just after a hijacking by the two cops. Danny sensed something was very wrong as they approached with weapons drawn, ordered him to carefully hand over his gun and to slowly exit the hijacked truck. Danny believed he was a dead man—that the cops would kill him, collect the reward being offered, and completely be absolved of any known criminal culpability.
Danny surrendered the gun he carried on him, but exited the truck rapidly firing the other—killing one cop and seriously wounding the other. The charge of capital murder of a law officer carried with it the certainty of the death penalty (by electrocution), but through mob connections a judge was bribed and Danny received a sentence of life imprisonment. After serving prison time from 1929 until 1945, he and many inmates were released at the end of World War II as a result of the social and political euphoria generated by the U.S. having won the war. During the war years he’d volunteered for each military suicide mission offered to prison inmates, but cop killers were not eligible.
Danny made three escape attempts during his 16 years in prison. In one, he escaped from his cell, put pepper on his shoes so dogs couldn’t easily track him, and hid inside a prison boiler room smokestack not in use during the summer months. He took oranges and chocolate for nourishment and knew if not discovered within three days the search would end and provide him an opportunity to scale the prison wall at nighttime when there was a lower risk of triggering alerts. On the third day, a prison official walked into the base of the smokestack, looked up and called out, “Danny, come on down.”
The second escape attempt called for inmates to wreck the prison bus transporting them, free themselves with a handcuff key they had obtained, and make their getaway amid the confusion created. The bus was wrecked, but the escape attempt failed.
Danny supplied the greatest detail about his final attempt. He spoke about the extent that animalistic instincts are amplified when one is confined for months or years, and how a man begins to think and behave differently—a caged animal mentality born of primal thought wherein escape is all that matters. Other animalistic instincts also abound. One morning as Danny walked by the prison kitchen he observed an inmate “having his way” with a piece of raw liver. Danny yelled, “Hey, that’s my dinner” and without missing a “beat” the inmate countered, “I know.”
One time as Danny passed by the prison workshop, he noticed an inmate sawing a piece of pipe with a hacksaw—something that would easily gain one’s attention in prison. Later at recreation Danny asked a workshop inmate if he could smuggle a hacksaw blade out of the workshop, but learned that hacksaws are checked out and no one is allowed to leave the workshop until each blade is accounted for. Danny spent the next few days obsessing about a hacksaw blade and his caged-animal instinct queried, “What happens when a hacksaw blade is broken?” The inmate explained that a broken blade would be broken into one-inch pieces and turned in before a new blade was issued.
Again, Danny credited his primal, caged-animal thought process with his next idea. He urged the workshop inmate to break a blade as often as possible and to smuggle out one of the one-inch pieces each time. By whatever means at his disposal, Danny was able to gain the inmate’s cooperation and over the next two and a half years collected enough one-inch pieces of hacksaw blade to collectively and successfully represent a broken blade—enough pieces to enable the workshop inmate to obtain an unaccounted-for blade smuggled out of the workshop. Patience, cleverness, inmate cooperation, time, and “animalistic” instinct were the ingredients of Danny’s success.
With the newfound blade Danny and his cellmate cut their cell bars but left them in place. However, one serious obstacle remained. The route of their escape was through the kitchen galley where it would be necessary to cut through a heavy mesh screen, and the significant time required was the Achilles heel of their plan. A key to the galley door would greatly increase their chance of success, and Danny discovered that two inmates actually had a copy of this key. He did all that was possible to obtain it, even offering to trade the hacksaw blade, but his efforts failed. Danny knew an escape attempt by two prisoners had a much greater chance of success than an attempt by four, but eventually his only option was to surrender the hacksaw blade and hazard the riskier option.
Executions were scheduled for midnight, and the extreme draw of electrical current at the exact moment the switch was thrown caused prison lights to dim, which signaled inmates of the exact moment of the grim event. Such exacting communication greatly increased inmate anxiety that sometimes fostered near riotous conditions. To avoid this, prison officials instituted a “lights out” policy requiring prison lights be turned off from about an hour before until an hour after the execution. In order to take advantage of prison darkness Danny and his partners planned their escape during an execution—the second of two planned on successive nights.
Not long after the execution on the first night, Danny heard sirens and the commotion of prison guards and immediately realized the other two inmates wanted no part of a four-inmate escape and had exited one night earlier than planned. Their escape was successful, and one inmate was never captured. Years later, Danny saw him at a racetrack and called him a “rat fink,” but that was the total extent of Danny’s revenge professing he would have done nothing to jeopardize the man’s freedom—“rat fink” or not.
After Danny’s release from prison in 1945 he claimed to be “bag man” for world figure Bernard Baruch—a job that sometimes required he personally transport large sums of cash to and from various locations throughout the world.
Bernard Mannes Baruch (August, 1870 – June 20, 1965) was an American financier, stock market and commodities speculator, statesman, and presidential adviser. After his success in business, he devoted his time toward advising a range of American presidents including Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy on economic matters for over 40 years; this is why Baruch was highly regarded as an elder statesman. Described as a man of immense charm who enjoyed a larger-than-life reputation that matched his considerable fortune, he is remembered as one of the most powerful men of the early 20th century.
Danny told me he had written his life’s story but wouldn’t allow it to be published while his wife Virginia, or “Jinny” as he called her, was living. Danny was a tough guy who showed up one day with a cast on his hand claiming to have broken it hitting some guy who’d “gotten out of line” at Jilly’s Saloon, a lounge at 256 West 52nd Street, which in addition to being frequented by Danny was a favorite Manhattan watering hole of Frank Sinatra, a close friend to owner Jilly Rizzo. A sometime bit part actor, Jilly appeared in movies (The Manchurian Candidate, Tony Rome, Cannonball Run II, Year of the Dragon and others) and in television (Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Kojak, and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Frank Sinatra).
Here’s an entertainment news blurb that references Danny.
March 1, 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen…Sonny King
After 50 years of lounge triumphs, Rat Pack adventures and music that comes from the heart, the King of Vegas is back.
NOTHING BUT A SALOON SINGER
It's hanging up on the wall, just off to the right of a piece of the stage from the original lounge at the Sands—just a slab of sheet music in a frame. The song: "I Don't Wanna Go Home." It's Sonny King's theme song.
The song was written by a guy named Danny DiMinno. The first time King met him was while he was doing a gig at a prison; DiMinno was serving 16 years for murder. Outside the brick and bars, DiMinno was known as one of Vic Damone's chief songwriters, penning a few hits for the crooner. King was at the prison to pay him back for his hard work. (Damone was supposed to do the gig but feared playing a prison might tarnish his reputation.) After the show, King and DiMinno sat down.
"He said to me, 'Take this as a compliment: You're nothing but a saloon singer.'“ It might have sounded harsh, but King took it to heart. All the greats were nothing but saloon singers, too: Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby. "A saloon singer was someone who could tell you a story and put their heart and soul into it," King says. "They could tell you a story and be poetic."
After their conversation, DiMinno promised to write a song for King. "Most guys when they say that don't really do it, but he did.” He came up with "I Don't Wanna Go Home," the tale of a nightclub singer who never wanted to leave the stage. It fit perfectly.
But it seems Danny DiMinno’s reality differs greatly from the story he wove. According to documents from the archives of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Gaetano Daniel DiMinno, Wilbur Kennedy, John Davern, John Doe (possibly an unnamed, unapprehended suspect), and Richard Roe shot and killed George Probeck during the commission of an armed robbery of Century Circuit, Inc. in Huntington, New York on September 24, 1932. Charged with murder in the 1st degree, Danny was tried on October 28, 1932 and on October 31, 1932 received a sentence of 12 to 22 years in prison. On November 3, 1932 Danny entered Sing Sing State Prison, famous for “Old Sparky,” the electric chair where a total of 614 men and women were executed including the controversial execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for the crime of espionage. On February 17, 1933 Danny was transferred to Attica State Prison, well known for its 1971 riot, and on July 9, 1935 transferred to Auburn State Prison, site of the first execution by electric chair ever implemented (1890).
The Officer Down Memorial Page (http://www.odmp.org/officer/17082-town-constable-george-probeck) states that Constable George Probeck, age 40, was shot and killed when he attempted to stop a robbery at the Huntington Movie Theater. Constable Probeck, who had served as Huntington Town Constable for five years, was in the theater watching a movie with his wife and daughter, when three men entered and attempted to rob the cashier. Constable Probeck left his seat and approached the cashier's booth in an attempt to arrest the suspects. One suspect opened fire with a .32 caliber handgun, striking Constable Probeck in the chest. All three suspects then fled the scene. Constable Probeck was taken to a local hospital where he later died of his wound. One suspect was captured later that day by a Huntington Special Constable, and the other two suspects were captured a week later in Maryland. The suspect who fired the shots was convicted of murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison, while the other two suspects were found not guilty and released.
It’s impossible to square these documented facts with Danny’s colorful story, but the lenses of fact and fiction have little merit when assessing entertainment value. And there are those who believe songwriters, authors, story tellers and liars share something in common—the more creative the imagination, the more entertaining the story.
After moving to Hollywood in 1968 my three years of almost daily contact with Danny ended. On occasion I saw him but briefly during visits to New York while still working for United Artists Music until the end of 1971. Danny died in a New York hospital on December 26, 1991 at the age of 80. His best-known song, “Return to Me,” can often be heard in Italian restaurants, and whenever I hear it I think back to the days of the “Italian stallion.”