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David Wolfert (2012)
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Jean Beauvoir (2010)
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Kenny Kerner (2010)
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Eric Singer (2010)
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Ace Frehley (2009)
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Bruce Kulick (2009)
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Stan Penridge (2000)
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Bob Ezrin (1998)
Former KOL webmaster Michael Brandvold grills the legendary producer regarding his work with KISS

1970s Party, Casablanca Style

By Tim McPhate

Casablanca Records. It was the 1970s. It was a party every day. And then some. The legendary record label was the vision of Neil Bogart, a man of many talents and a man possessing a vivacious personality. Casablanca rode the wave of the decade to the top through triumphs, failures, cash-flow problems, and gold and platinum albums -- all to a backdrop of an era fueled by lavish excess, great music and creativity. Lest we forget, it was also the label that took a chance on four makeup-wearing and leather-clad men from New York.

Though a consummate leader and ultimate iconic industry figure, Bogart didn't do it all alone. Enter Larry Harris, his cousin and the man who traveled westward with him to get Casablanca off the ground and running, and who ultimately assumed the title of senior vice president and managing director for the company. Harris shares with us his insight on Neil Bogart and how he got his start at Casablanca, the importance of radio and television for KISS, Angel, a Rush in Canada, what really broke KISS in Detroit Rock City, as well as stories about artists pissing out of windows, hanging with fugitives, and doing lines of white powder over clown-white faces. After all, it was the 1970s.

So discard the MP3 player and smartphone, fire up some KISS vinyl and take a journey back to the '70s with Larry Harris, author of And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records.

KissFAQ: Congratulations on the book. It's a fantastic read. When did you come up with the idea for a Casablanca-themed book?
Larry Harris: The idea for the book came 12 years ago. People would always ask me about stories from the "Casablanca days." So that was one of the ideas behind writing the book, and everyone whose read it so far has had positive comments.

KF: Curt Gooch and Jeff Suhs are well-known in the KISS community. What roles did Curt and Jeff play in this particular book?
LH: Curt and Jeff sent me a picture that Lydia [Criss] wanted to use in Sealed With A KISS and asked me who the people were. And they got my name from Ken Sharp [coauthor of KISS: Behind The Mask]. So it's kind of a little incestuous thing (laughs). I told them, by they way, I've got this manuscript that I've done. I just need someone to give it a little color and to help make sure all my dates are right and my research is right. And they said, "Sure we'll do it."

KF: There is another book that details Neil and Casablanca, 1990's Hit Men by Frederic Dannen. You claim this book contains some factual errors and inaccuracies. What about their claim that Neil Bogart didn't have an "ear" for music?
LH: Aside from other things he lied about in the book... It was all a hatchet job he was doing on everybody. And he called Neil Bogart's wife, Joyce, and told her he was writing this really cool book about Neil. And she called me and said, "Cooperate with him." And he lied, it was all done under these tacky circumstances. How can anybody call Neil somebody who didn't have an ear for music? I mean forget about the Casablanca stuff, [at Buddah Records] we had Genesis, we had Gladys Knight, Charlie Daniels' first record, we had the Lovin' Spoonful, Brewer & Shipley, Lou Christie, the Brooklyn Bridge, Bill Withers... Curtis Mayfield with "Superfly" -- one of the biggest records of the decade. So many people that he found and he signed and he helped them put their records together. How can you say Neil didn't have an ear? The day that I read that book I was livid.

KF: Neil Bogart essentially gave you your start in the industry, and he was a mentor to you in many ways. Can you sum up how much he meant to your career?
LH: Without Neil, I wouldn't have been in the record business, there's no two ways about it. Neil was my cousin and my parents went to a wedding one night and came back after they saw Neil's mom. I had just got out of school and was looking for a job and his mom said to call his son. I called him and went to Buddah Records where he was the president -- the youngest president ever in the music business at a major label, to this day. So I met with Neil and got hired.

KF: That was the label with the room that had the purple wallpaper, right?
LH: Yes, purple. The most disgusting purple you've ever seen! A funny story about that building. The Isley Brothers were one of the bands on Buddah and their office at that time was the floor above ours. And sometimes when I'd look out the window of my office when I was on the phone, they'd be peeing out their window. That was the '70s.

KF: Lucky you, you ended up meeting your wife through Casablanca? Are you still married?
LH: Yes, and we've been married for 34 years. Neil threw the wedding for us and it was very nice.

KF: You describe Casablanca as being the "1970s." That's the exact atmosphere I picked up from this book -- through all of the stories, the artists and characters, this book has a 1970s feel to it. But, let me ask you this, what if Neil Bogart starts Casablanca in 1983 rather than 1973?
LH: Look into the crystal ball? I tell you the difference would have been, which I talk about in the book, Neil would have embraced MTV and had a whole division just for them. He would have himself gotten involved.

Of course, we had videos before anyone else did. On our Web site for the book, we have new rare videos of not only KISS, but also Angel, Cher and Donna Summer. There's going to be more. Every week we are going to be adding more videos. We did a lot of video stuff that nobody was doing in those days. We of course also had a film division, which made it better for us since we had access to some really great directors and things.

We would have been on top of MTV like a wet blanket.

KF: Radio played a different role in the 1970s and was a much different ballgame than it is today. How crucial was radio to a label's success in those days, and how important was it to build relationships with station DJs and program directors?
LH: It was of the utmost importance. It was more important for groups like KISS than it was for the disco stuff because we had all the clubs playing music for us. We took advantage of that with making posters, coasters, ashtrays, cups and we gave them to the discos for free and they had advertising on them. But for KISS, we used television as much as we could too. We got them on the "The Paul Lynde Show," Dick Clark's stuff, Mike Douglas. We got KISS as much attention as we could on television. Bill Aucoin and Joyce also videotaped KISS -- whenever KISS rehearsed from day one they always rehearsed in front of video cameras. Which is why Gene became so good in front of a camera. Because he was doing it every day. And radio didn't embrace KISS at first. At all. There was no radio station that really loved this band. Not one. We got a little airplay out of WNEW in New York because they were good friends of ours.

I talk a little in the book about how I broke KISS in Detroit, which became their biggest market. I came to Detroit and talked to Mark Parenteau, the music director of WABX in Detroit, and he was on the air. I walked in with a new KISS album and we wound up doing lines of blow on it while he was telling me how he'll never play this band because they wear makeup and he likes Aerosmith better. And I made him a deal. I said, "Look, Casablanca will pay for a concert that you can pick all the artists on the bill, except KISS has got to be one of the artists. And I'll pay all the costs, you don't pay a penny. Even for the other artists coming in, I will pay.

The gig was Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, KISS, and Aerosmith. This was something by the way that Jeff and Curt didn't know about because it was never billed anywhere. So it doesn't show up in KISS Alive Forever. The deal I had with the radio station, I said, "I just need two minutes. If within two minutes KISS does not make the audience go crazy, then you can forget about ever playing them. But if they do, you have to play them like they are the second coming." And Mark agreed to the deal.

So, the show goes on and Seger and Nugent were really good. The audience is going crazy. We are in the audience and the place is jammed. When KISS goes onstage, the first two minutes you could have dropped a pin and hear it fall. These kids didn't know what was going on in front of them. They saw these four guys with the makeup and the stage set -- it was just unbelievable. They were so in awe. The minute Gene spit fire, the place erupted into craziness. And Mark Parenteau looked at me and said, "You win." (laughs) That's what broke KISS in Detroit.

KF: What were the label's biggest successes in terms of sales?
LH: The biggest seller was probably the Village People. The biggest single album, initial sales-wise, not catalog, was this disco record called Santa Esmerelda featuring a disco version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." Donna Summer and KISS probably both sold similar amounts of albums. KISS had more albums because we made them put an album out every six months. Of course, they didn't want to because they were on the road and they didn't have time to write. And that's one of the reasons -- aside from the fact that we had no money -- that we came out with [i]Alive![/i], which is the album that broke them. We didn't really have enough money to put them back in the studio. We had already recorded a lot of the stuff so that was mostly done, we just had to fix it up with Eddie Kramer.

KISS didn't have any new songs at that point so we decided we needed another KISS album to keep the doors open because it would always generate some money. Even though at that point they hadn't sold more than 200,000 records. [i]Alive![/i] came out and just exploded overnight. Thank God for that.

KF: Can you recount the interesting tale that almost resulted in Casablanca signing Rush?
LH: Ira Blacker, who was the first booking agent for KISS, left ATI and was starting his own agency. His first client was Rush. So he called me because I worked closely with him in the beginning with KISS and he said, "I've got this band in Canada that I would like you to see." And I felt obligated, he was a friend.

I go up to Canada to Toronto and go to this little funky club and meet Ira. These guys go onstage and start playing. The music was okay, but I couldn't get past Geddy Lee's nose. I said, "I have KISS, these are not the best-looking guys in rock and roll and they wear makeup." I also had probably the best-looking guys in rock and roll with Angel. I mean, white Angel outfits and a guy with a name like Punky Meadows. How better can you get than a name like Punky for a rock group (laughs)?

To be fair to myself, Rush did not play any of their later hits. They didn't excite me. I spoke to Ira about it years later and he said, "Larry, I never blamed you for not signing the band." He eventually got them signed to Mercury Records, which was good for Mercury.

KF: Would a group like Rush have worked on Casablanca?
LH: I don't know. You know, one of the reasons we signed Angel was we thought them going out with KISS would be a great show. Angel opening up with their white outfits and angelic sound, and then KISS comes on with their black outfits and everything else. We thought that would be great. And Gene was actually friends with Greg Giuffria of Angel, so we thought "No problem."

Well we were having a bit of an argument with KISS at that point and they said, "No, we're not going to take Angel. We're taking this group Rush." Which was probably also a favor to Ira Blacker. So maybe if KISS was still pissed off at us and we had Rush, they wouldn't have taken them. So you never know. I believe in fate and that was the fate of the way it had to fall in.

KF: You describe the "Johnny Carson The Tonight Show" double album as being a "fiasco," but it also helped the label too?
LH: The album was a total failure. We did ship 750,000 units and we took back a million. But because we had just left Warner Bros. and we had no money of our own, we used the album as a wedge with independent distributors that had to distribute us now to give us advances against the Johnny Carson album, because he was huge in those days. Everybody thought it was going to be this huge album.

We got the advances, which kept us open long enough to do "Alive!," to sign Donna Summer, and to have Parliament [Funkadelic] become a hit. And Donna, KISS and Parliament happened almost all at the same time, within the same two-four month period. We couldn't get enough credit from the pressing plants to press enough records fast enough because we were so broke. But luckily we eventually did. If it wasn't for the Johnny Carson album, we would have been out of business.

KF: It seemed there were constant cash-flow problems with the label, especially in the early days. Neil really went to every expense, including trips to Las Vegas, to keep the label alive, didn't he?
LH: Yes, we were always having cash-flow problems. Neil was an inveterate gambler. And I am not saying he gambled away the money. In Vegas, Neil wouldn't play slot machines or black jack, he would only play baccarat. But Neil was a big gambler on everything in life. I mean, he gambled on KISS. We gambled our entire lives on KISS. And it paid off. But it was never enough for Neil. Any time we did have money, we made the company bigger. Or we spent more money on an artist to make their career bigger. We kept growing and growing and growing and growing. We were kind of like on a roller coaster that we felt wasn't going to stop.

KF: You say label staff members were in "awe" of Neil and his spirit. What was it about his personality that motivated people? Was it because he offered them C-notes?
LH: (Laughs) Well, $100 was a lot of money in those days. Neil was dynamic, he was almost mesmerizing. His eyes were kind of hypnotic at times. And he had an enthusiasm that he could spread to other people really well. I've met people who have maybe met him once or had dinner with him once, and 20 years later they say, "Oh yeah, I was really good friends with Neil Bogart." And I'm thinking, "Yeah, you were with him for three hours, but okay." And that's the effect he had on people. A very positive guy, he kept everything on a positive level.

KF: In the book, you describe him possessing an ability to make people who were meeting him for the first time feel very comfortable.
LH: Absolutely. He was one of those guys with that had kind of personality. And he looked like Richard Simmons (laughs).

KF: Disco was a beyond huge in the late '70s, and Casablanca ultimately became known as the "disco label." When disco was starting to wane in popularity, did the label have a sense that the window was closing on the genre?
LH: Well, I don't think disco really ever ended. It stopped being as big as it was. But there are dance clubs that are very popular and very successful today. The problem with disco was that it became sounding too much like it itself. So instead of there being experimentation, there were the same beats and so forth. And the over-saturation of things like [i]Saturday Night Fever[/i], which spawned so many disco hits. It started getting too homogenous.

But a lot of our guys were pretty creative. A guy like Alec Costandinos probably put out 12 or 15 albums with us, and people to this day talk about how incredible they were. We had Paul Jabara, who won an Academy Award for the song "Last Dance" from the movie [i]Thank God It's Friday[/i], who died a long time ago. And yet he's still considered as almost a disco icon.

The big push on it became less popular. You know there was a period where even big rock bands weren't going into the big stadiums anymore. Even KISS for a long time wasn't doing arenas because they couldn't fill them. I think genres of music have their ups and downs. So I don't think disco ever died, it became less popular with the masses.

KF: There will never be another Studio 54, right?
LH: No, because there are no more quaaludes (laughs). You have to keep in mind is that it was the 1970s. It was a different period. One of the big things is the pill was widely available and that freed women up to be a lot freer and more sexual. The people who were gay were coming out of the closet. They never came out of the closet before. But it started in the 1970s, really. Everybody was changing and part of it was probably reaction from the Vietnam War, the Beatles breaking up -- there were tons of different influences.

KF: At a certain point, Neil Bogart was beginning to have bigger aspirations, setting his sights on being big in the Hollywood/film industry. Did the label become almost an afterthought?
LH: No, it wasn't an afterthought but I think the ability to become famous got in the way. You know fame is handled by people differently. With some people it reacts very positively, and some people it reacts very negatively.

Neil wanted to be famous. He started out as a singer and he had a hit record when he was 16. And he used to dance and perform up in the Catskill Mountains up in New York. So Neil always wanted to be famous.

At one point this got to his head so much that about 65 percent of our publicity department, which was quite large, was just working on Neil's publicity and not the company's. So it got out of hand. Ego is a tough thing to play with.

KF: You say you felt a sense of betrayal when you became the fall guy after having to let some Casablanca staffers go in 1979? Was this one of the first moments when you realized you wanted to leave?
LH: I never wanted to leave the label. I mean, we started it together. In the book, I talk about the first day we moved out to Los Angeles. I was staying with Neil for the first month at his house in Bel-Air because I hadn't found a place yet. We didn't have any furniture so we were sleeping on the floor because the furniture still hadn't come from New York. And a friend of ours, a disc jockey named Allison Steele, called and said, "Can I come over and visit? I'm in town." She was from New York also. We said, "Sure." And she brought two friends with her. One was David Janssen, who was the star of "The Fugitive," which was like the biggest television show ever at that point. And David Jannsen and I and Neil were sitting on the floor smoking a joint together (laughs). I was actually sitting and smoking a joint with a fugitive! You know, I didn't want to leave that kind of life. It was incredible. So, no I didn't want to leave. I never planned to leave. Things just started developing and I saw changes happening with Neil.

KF: How dead on was Neil's postscript of Casablanca as being a "profitless prosperity"? What ultimately did the label in, and did the excess really outweigh the success?
LH: What killed Casablanca was that a couple of guys who started a record label -- although Neil had a lot more experience than I did -- never thought the ride was going to end. It got to the point where we were so successful, we had more gold and platinum albums than Warner Bros., Columbia and Capitol put together.

The thing that broke our back was the four KISS solo albums. I mean keep in mind, we were also riding high with the movies with "Midnight Express," which won an Academy Award. We were doing really well but losing that much money on those four albums at one time...Polygram cracked down on us. They owned half the company and they distributed our product. And then disco started to fail. The Village People stopped selling. And they did the world's worst disco movie ever, "Can't Stop The Music," what a piece of crap (laughs). And that hurt them drastically. We had hit our high I think. We had already come out with Robin Williams' album, which was great. It sold a couple million copies. But we were starting to go down hill.

KF: What about Robin Williams and Casablanca?
LH: Robin was brilliant. In the book I talk about how I saw "Mork & Mindy" on TV one night and called Robin's manager, who was an old friend of mine, and made a deal with him on the phone. But Robin, like if I would go see Robin perform...he was so afraid. It was like a bird with a cat next to him. He was always paranoid, he was doing a lot of blow at the time. He and John Belushi were very close and they did a lot of drugs together.

KF: And we know what happened to Belushi.
LH: It could have almost happened to Robin, I guess. You know, I've worked with a lot of comedians, and he was one of the most brilliant comedians. Here's another funny story about Rodney Dangerfield. Rodney was out with one of my friends at an airport and Rodney opens a jar of Noxzema and does a couple hits of blow and closes the jar. And my friend says, "Rodney, you can't take that on the plane with us." And Rodney looks at him, "They can't arrest me, I'm Rodney Dangerfield." (laughs)

KF: Looking back at the Casablanca roster, which act that seemed to have the best opportunity were you most disappointed never made it?
LH: The Hudson Brothers. They had a TV show ["The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show"] in the '70s and that's what killed them. They were very talented. In fact, Mark Hudson today writes for Aerosmith, I mean he's huge when it comes to being a composer. The Hudson Brothers were great, they were fun and they were really good musicians.

The problem was when they were 20 years old, the guy who was producing "The Sonny & Cher Show," which was like the biggest show on television, came to them and said, "I want to do a TV show with you guys." And how do you say no? And the TV show put them in this teeny-bopper bag that they could never get out of.

KF: What act were you most surprised made it?
LH: (Pauses) I know this is a KISS site. Not that I am surprised that KISS had some success, but I am surprised that they are still successful.

KF: Is it hard to believe that 35 years later, the KISS machine still rolls on?
LH: I am real surprised. I mean, how many bands have lasted this long? What, the Rolling Stones, you can name them on one hand... maybe the Eagles?

KF: Aerosmith, AC/DC.
LH: It's a handful of bands who have lasted this long that can do what they are doing -- play arenas and sell them out. And a lot of it has to do with luck. But I think a lot of it has to do with the early years and Gene Simmons being in the corner listening to us doing the business "stuff." We would be doing the planning, the marketing, the promotion, and advertising. Gene, he would absorb it all. And I think he absorbed it between listening to Neil, Bill Aucoin, Howard Marks and Carl Glickman, who were both brilliant when it came to money.

The reason Marks and Glickman came in was because, although KISS was selling out arenas and stuff, they were losing money. And as good a manager as Bill was, he wasn't good at figuring out how to "make it pay." So they brought Marks and Glickman in and and the first thing Glickman did was put each guy on an allowance and until they each had $10 million in the bank he wouldn't let them get off the allowance. So he was really watching out for them. But again, a lot of it is Gene absorbed everything these really smart guys were doing and he used it later.

KF: Speaking of KISS, how about some KISS-related questions?
LH: Sure. I was going to speak to Ace about performing somewhere but I'll do that later. Go ahead (laughs).

KF: Could a group like KISS have the same impact if they were just starting out today in the age of the Internet, paparazzi and digital downloading?
LH: No, I don't think they would be outrageous enough today.

KF: In the book you acknowledge how, for the time, KISS was outrageous and something no one had seen before.
LH: Right. Now you have people putting spikes through their bodies and doing all sorts of things (laughs). KISS was outrageous. But so was Parliament Funkadelic. Parliament for the urban market were as outrageous, if not more outrageous-looking. They wore diapers onstage. They had a spaceship [the Mothership] that was like 400 feet in diameter. I mean they were pretty outrageous too and they did great.

But I don't think these days, with everything people have seen and the access people have to the Internet, which gives people so much more. I mean when KISS came out, we had, what, maybe four or five TV stations in major cities? I have 150 on my satellite dish (laughs). Things have changed so much. Would they be successful? I don't know. Radio wouldn't be there to really help them because radio has fallen apart basically. MTV isn't there, they don't play videos to speak of anymore. Where would they have gotten the exposure? Where would it have been able to spread?

KF: And the mystique aspect? With the paparazzi these days, they'd kill the mystique immediately.
LH: Oh yes, there would be no mystique. Nobody saw their faces for years. Although we do talk in the book about how [i]Creem[/i] magazine snapped a shot of them without the makeup. But you're right. The paparazzi would catch them somewhere.

KF: After you first saw KISS perform at the Henry LeTang School of Dance in 1973, were you convinced they would be superstars?
LH: Superstars? I didn't know about superstars. At that point and time, I was just doing promotion and my job wasn't to critique the acts we were coming out with. My job was to get them marketed and played. So, as far as I was concerned, whether it was KISS -- or it didn't matter who it was -- my job was to get it played. LeTang wasn't much of an audience, there were only like 5 people there. But once I saw the reaction from an audience, I knew they'd be big.

KF: Straight question: If KISS drops the makeup as Warner Bros. requested in early 1974, do they still become as successful?
LH: No. Not at all. It was part of the whole thing. It couldn't be separated.

KF: Fans like to talk about this hypothetical because we all love the music. But KISS' success was the result of the entire package, including the makeup.
LH: It was part of the package. It was part of the show. It's what got people interested. Although people hated the makeup, it's what got people interested. And once they saw them, they never forgot them.

KF: The production team of Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise was fired prior to "Dressed To Kill," an album ultimately produced by Neil Bogart. Could Neil have been a successful record producer if he decided to go down that road?
LH: Yes. Neil also produced the Robin Williams album ["Reality...What A Concept"], which was a huge record. He picked a lot of Donna Summer's songs, and he would take finished songs and pick them apart and say, "No, the bridge should be here and the chorus should be there." He'd change them around and they would become hit records. Neil could definitely have been a big producer.

KF: Of course, not many are aware of Neil's career as an artist. Can you shed any light on material such as "March The Sixth" and "The Theory of Love," and the so-called Neil "Bobby" Scott's "Greatest Hits" LP?
LH: Well, it was Neil Scott. "Bobby" was his hit song. Yes, I talk in the book about the first time I heard the song "Bobby." Neil was probably 16, so I was 12 or something. And it was also the first time I met Neil. But I played that record to death because I knew somebody who was actually a relative who put out a record. I never met anybody who put out a record before.

KF: The print media was crucial to KISS' success in the 1970s and you detail how you cultivated those relationships and how you got positive coverage from magazines. On that note, nothing really materialized with KISS in terms of "Rolling Stone" magazine. There always seemed to be an unfavorable relationship between the band and the publication with poor album reviews and hardly any positive coverage. Turns out in the book we find Neil Bogart did not get along with Jann Wenner. Is this a coincidence?
LH: I don't know if it's coincidence, but "Rolling Stone" NEVER covered any of our artists. Even the ones who were "'Rolling Stone'-respectable" artists like Steve Goodman, who we had at Buddah Records. Neil and Jann didn't like each other. I don't know why. I never asked Neil, "How come you guys hate each other?" It just didn't come up in conversation. If Neil didn't like him, I didn't like him.

You know, "Rolling Stone" was out of San Francisco. And we always had trouble in San Francisco. KISS could not get arrested until much later in their career. Bill Graham, who controlled San Francisco in those days, didn't like them. And he would never book KISS. We tried and tried. KSAN radio -- the big FM station in San Francisco -- as good as I was with the AOR rock radio stations, I could never get KSAN to play KISS. I had to surround them with San Jose and other markets to get anything going there. San Francisco, in general, was really tough for us. And maybe because "Rolling Stone" liked the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane... it was kind of like they looked down on KISS.

KF: You know, they are still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
LH: Yes, and they are nominated this year. But look at all the bands that have made it in that shouldn't have before them. I mean they should have been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 10 years ago. But I did speak to a friend of mine recently, who I won't tell you his name, but he is on the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And he tells me there is no way KISS isn't going to make it in this year.

KF: The fan community has been debating whether or not they'll get in.
LH: This guy says there is no way it's NOT going to happen. He says it would be a "major embarrassment" for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year for it not to happen. And you're the first person I've told this to.

KF: Very cool. Of course, the interesting thing is that the band has been more or less indifferent about it in recent years. But I think deep down Paul and Gene want this honor.
LH: Oh, of course, they want it. They've been indifferent about it because they didn't want it to seem like it was a slap in their face. It's just like anything else. You watch an awards show and an artist doesn't win a GRAMMY or an Oscar and they go, "Well, it's okay." But deep down inside, they're going, "Motherf***er" (laughs).

KF: "Beth" is a controversial song in the KISS world. Some band members love it, some don't. Some fans love it, some don't. Did "Beth" save KISS in 1976?
LH: No. I don't think it saved KISS. They were selling millions of records before "Beth" came out. But what I think it did was open KISS up to a whole other market that never heard them. I was actually at the local Wal-Mart yesterday for the new KISS album release. And there was a guy who was 40 years old who had a hand full of KISS CDs. And I said, "You're a big KISS fan?" And he's like, "Yes, I am huge fan. I am replacing all my old ones that got ruined. But I couldn't find [i]Alive![/i]" And he was telling me his least-favorite KISS song of all-time is "Beth."

KF: Which of the makeup-era Top 10 singles would you say had a bigger impact for KISS: "Beth" or "I Was Made For Lovin' You"?
LH: I think "Beth" had the bigger impact because it shocked everybody. "I Was Made For Lovin' You," that's the one that people say, "They went disco." I mean I like the song a lot personally, but I think for their fan base it hurt them. Where "Beth," I don't think really hurt them. I think it brought women into KISS. Where it was mostly young guys, but I think women started feeling a whole different thing for this group because of "Beth."

KF: Neil Bogart didn't like "Beth" because of the name, what was his reaction once it took off?
LH: He didn't like the song because he had just gotten divorced from his first wife Beth. And he thought the band was making fun of him in light of his divorce. In front of everybody the first day we heard [[i]Destroyer[/i]], he actually said, "This song will never get on radio, I'm going to bury it and put it on the B-side of 'Detroit Rock City''s 45." But Neil, if nothing else, was pragmatic and it was a big hit record and he loved it because it was that.

KF: The fans love these albums, but what was the ultimate effect of the KISS solo albums on Casablanca?
LH: The four KISS solo albums, from day one, I knew were going to f*** up the company. Because I was the one who had to do all the sales projections. We really didn't want to put out those albums. But we had no choice. It was Howard Marks and Bill Aucoin coming in and saying, "Look the band is going to break up and the only way we think we can keep them together for now is to have each of them do a solo album."

And we said, "Each of them do a solo album? Well, that's a half-million dollars an album to record each one!" And the contract called for a half-million dollars for each album to advertise, so there's $1 million there for each album. That doesn't include the pressing costs, that doesn't include the promotion. So you're talking about a $1.5 million, $2 million for each album by the time we were done. Maybe more actually with the pressing costs, because it cost a little over a dollar each to press them.

But rather than the group break up, we talked ourselves into believing -- well Neil did -- that this was going to be a good thing. Because that's what he was -- he was always positive and didn't want to ever hear anything negative. So not only did he talk himself into believing this was going to be good, but he decided that he was going to be so behind it that he was going to spend MORE than the half-million dollars per album for advertising that we were contracted to spend.

And the only one that became a hit was Ace's album.

KF: In hindsight, it's hard to fathom that they weren't a huge success as the band was at the height of their popularity in 1978?
LH: I just think the fans went, "What the f***? They're doing solo albums?" I don't think the fans, as much as they loved them, were ready for it. And also, some of the albums didn't sound like KISS!

KF: You really never address it in the book, but did Casablanca ever see a dime from the KISS merchandising operation?
LH: No, but I did get a free pinball machine! Neil got one, and [vice president of promotion] Bruce Bird got one -- the three of us. And it was a very nice gift and we were all thrilled with it.

KF: Do you still have it?
LH: No I don't (laughs). I sold it years ago. I used it so much, it was pretty worn out. I used to get unbelievable scores on it. I'd play that, three or four hours a day. I'd be playing it in the middle of the night and my wife would be yelling at me. I had a good time with it but I moved into a smaller house years later and there was really no room for it. But we never saw any money from the merchandising. And a lot of the ideas were ours, in the initial days. We never saw any money from their gigs either, and yet we payed for all their early gigs. You know in this day and age, what's happening now with Live Nation where money from record sales and gigs and merchandise are all combined I think is a much better idea. But still the record companies these days aren't spending the money they should. They pay $200,000 to $300,000 to do a record, and they'll spend $20,000 trying to market it and give up. That wasn't us.

KF: You talk about some interesting encounters with Bill Warlow and "Billboard" magazine throughout the book. Which KISS albums did you "fix" on the charts?
LH: Every one of them.

KF: Come on. Even "Love Gun," which reached No. 4?
LH: In the very beginning, the first couple of albums, I didn't have the clout over at Billboard. But once I got that in and had the power, I got the old albums put on the chart as selling really well as catalog. At one point, I think there were four KISS albums on the Top 100. And no group, except maybe the Beatles, had done that. Sorry to say, all of the ones while I was at Casablanca.

KF: And what about the singles? Same thing with singles?
LH: Absolutely.

KF: What about a song like "Hard Luck Woman," which was a Top 40 hit?
LH: It was probably really a Top 70 hit, but we made it a Top 40 hit.

KF: I am going to name the original KISS members. Give me the first thing that pops into your head. Paul Stanley?
LH: Very reserved.

KF: Gene Simmons?
LH: Sneaky, but I also need to say not loyal.

KF: Interesting. Can you elaborate? Are you talking about Gene's ego, and him seemingly always looking out for his own interests?
LH: I think it's both. I asked Gene to do the foreword for the book and he said he would. He said, "Send me a couple of drafts." And I did. And then I later tried to get a hold of him and said I need to know about the foreword because of the publisher. And he said, "Oh, my publisher said I couldn't do it." And I thought to myself, "That is such bulls***." It's a foreword, you're talking about a page or two. It's not like you're writing the book with me. And I just felt with everything I did for them, and I did it for myself too, I am not saying I didn't benefit by it. But I put my heart and soul into them, and they knew it.

And every disc jockey who was alive in those days that knows what happened, they will tell you that without Casablanca KISS wouldn't have happened. If it was another record company, they would have been dropped after the first two records. You know, he could have done a foreword for me. It would have cost him what, maybe a half-hour?

KF: Ace Frehley?
LH: Fun to be around.

KF: You know Ace recently released a new album and he's three years sober, which is great for him.
LH: Absolutely. I looked at Amazon and it was No. 1 on their rock chart.

KF: Peter Criss?
LH: I liked Peter a lot. But I would have to describe him as most of the time... he seemed confused.

KF: When was the last time you listened to a KISS album? And what are some of your favorite songs?
LH: I listen to KISS all the time. I love a lot of it. "Strutter," "Deuce" -- I lived with this stuff constantly. I still like "Beth." I love "Rock And Roll All Nite" -- obviously I named the book after it.

KF: Through all the years, the 289 albums and more than 140 artists, what is the Casablanca Records legacy? LH: Well, Casablanca lasted, as far as I am concerned, from 1974-1980. After that, it was Polygram. I wasn't there, nobody who started the company was there. The legacy seems to be that everybody who works in the music business today says, "I wish I was there then."

Then, the music business was fun, it was creative. It was shoot from the hip. It was exciting. There were entrepreneurs. Now it's lawyers, it's accountants. It's always the bottom line. Even if a record is starting to break, if the guy on top says, "No you can't spend any more money on it," you can't spend any more money on it. And everything you do, you have to get approval. They are too afraid to sign a band and make a mistake, than sign a band and take a chance on somebody who might be big.

KF: Gongs, drugs, sex, Mercedes-Benzes for the employees, lavish expense accounts, setting furniture on fire, the mafia -- the Casablanca story would make a great motion picture, would it not?
LH: There's a really good chance. I am starting to get some feels out in Hollywood about a movie. There are a few things happening on that front.

KF: What would Neil Bogart think of KISS partnering with Wal-Mart for an exclusive album in 2009? Something tells me he'd be all for it.
LH: Absolutely, he would have loved it. We would have pulled our pants down to be in Wal-Mart as an exclusive... literally (laughs).

For more information on And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records, visit www.casablancabook.com.

October 9, 2009

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