In the Mix #10: Part Two with Jane Risdon

Morris Levy (Jesse Coffey)

The Goodfellas do just fine

Last month I wrote about the ‘movers and shakers’ within the music and entertainment business and I thought I’d continue that theme this month. In my article I mentioned British music managers who changed the music industry and the way venues paid artists.
There were some amazing characters who ran, and some are still running, the music companies and movie studios over in Hollywood and elsewhere. Their stories are legendary too and many books have been written about their activities and I have never heard of anyone being sued for defamation or libel.
The music business is full of such characters and the stories about then seem unbelievable at first, especially if you are new to the business-side of music, but later as time progresses it all begins to make sense. It’s worrying, but when you have to do business with them on behalf of your artist there often isn’t any choice.
One company attorney we were negotiating a recording contract with – in Hollywood – suggested we read several books about the guys who ran the company before signing with them – great advice we soon discovered.
What we learned worried the heck out of us but when we looked around at other companies the same could’ve been said about many of them too. So, what to do? Give up on the whole deal or try and make a good deal – sorry if I sound like a Brexit negotiator here – the choices were somewhat limited back in the day; and who is to say it is not like that now.
Armed with the information gained from reading and talking to others we had to negotiate with some very ‘interesting’ people and it was quite an experience. But, as I said last month, there are people who are legends in this business who managed to build their artists’ careers and remain on the right side of the Law – just. Then there are those running mega companies in the USA who ‘took’ the 5th Amendment in order to ‘remain silent’ and not ‘incriminate themselves’ – that serious!
Silent about what you might well ask. Well, let’s go back a while and think how the business was run in the early days when there weren’t any guidelines or norms laid down and in some cases gangsters got in on the act. It is widely taken as a given that Frank Sinatra owed his success initially to ‘The Mob,’ and a lot of his income went right into their coffers – all his working career. In fact quite a few of the Italian ‘crooners’ were in hock to these guys as well.
Frank had his ‘Bobby-soxers’ who used to turn up at gigs en-masse and scream for him. Paid for no doubt by those wanting to push his record sales and appearance fees. His mob masters were believed to own and run Las Vegas – somewhere everyone wanted to headline and have a residency due to the huge earnings generated by the performers back then – and still are if you look into it. In fact Las Vegas is fascinating – from the Mormons to the Mafia – you couldn’t make it up.
Our experiences with some of the characters we worked with back in the day – not mentioned here by the way – were just totally ‘out there,’ and even now my husband and I have to pinch ourselves when thinking about them and some of the goings on connected with them, when we were on tour especially. We witnessed first-hand the power of the mere mention of a name when a radio station wasn’t playing ball, or how male pests were dealt with when harassing our female artists – all done away from prying eyes, but still shocking to discover someone had been ‘warned off.’ We had muscle with us on the tours, though they were not obvious until needed.
By the time we were getting records released and had acts on tour and vying for radio and video channel airtime, the Payola and Cut-Out Scandals of the late 1970s was over. At least, we were told they were. But I do recall a few very odd conversations prior to live radio station interviews (personal appearances) by some of our musicians, and the record company radio liaison guys who travelled with us, involving exotic holidays and new office computers. We were plugging the record and hoping the song would get into their charts, so the record labels had to be ‘nice’ to the radio DJs and station staff.
We and our artists were just being our usual polite co-operative English selves, and being gracious to whomever we were told to be nice to. It took a while for the penny to drop and to find out the station was being ‘persuaded,’ with ‘incentives,’ to play the record at peak times unbeknownst to us. Money never changed hands like in the old days and we were never involved in any shenanigans. We found out much later when it was too late. Shocked and horrified we complained only to be told that this was the way business was done – everybody – meaning record companies – was doing it. And of course, we realised it was true – we’d read the books.
I am sure that one day I might write ‘our’ story about life on the road and with our artists, but until then if you are really interested in finding out more about the characters I mentioned, do please find these books – well worth reading:
Look up:
Irving Azoff/Morris Levy and MCA for details of what became known as ‘the Cut-out’ scandal involving record companies and organised crime figures in the music business in the USA.
Stiffed,’ by author William Knoedelseder is a great book to begin with – available on Amazon:
‘’A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia.” The HarperCollins book was published despite efforts by former MCA Music topper Irving Azoff to head off publication.
‘The Hit Men,’ by Fredric Dannen, which blows the lid off the pop business – also available on Amazon.
“Copiously researched and documented, Hit Men is the highly controversial portrait of the pop music industry in all its wild, ruthless glory: the insatiable greed and ambition; the enormous egos; the fierce struggles for profits and power; the vendettas, rivalries, shakedowns, and payoffs. Chronicling the evolution of America’s largest music labels from the Tin Pan Alley days to the present day, Fredric Dannen examines in depth the often venal, sometimes illegal dealings among the assorted hustlers and kingpins who rule over this multi-billion-dollar business.”
The information referred to in this article is in the public domain.
Jane Risdon:
Author blog:
Jane is co-author of Only One Woman with Christina Jones and countless short stories. She also writes mostly crime/thrillers and is working on a series featuring former MI5 Officer, Lavinia Birdsong, in Ms Birdsong Investigates. She’s contributed to 15 anthologies, numerous online magazine articles and newsletters. Her background is in the International Music Business as an artist manager: managing singers, songwriters, musicians, actors, as well as record producers, and has facilitated the use of her artist’s and songwriter’s music on TV and Movie soundtracks. She is married to a musician.


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