Casablanca and Warner Bros.: "That's All Folks!"
KISS in 1975
Aucoin: KISS went to L.A. to play a big opening night for Casablanca. Neil had rented the ballroom at the Century Plaza and put on this big, spectacular evening.
Holmes: We had the decoration of Casablanca. We had gambling. We had this guy at the front playing the piano in a white suit from Casablanca. All of the employees were dressed in the Casablanca gear. Neil actually wore Bogart’s jacket. We were all dressed up as people out of the movie. We were able to do that because Warner Bros. owned Casablanca and they had all the props that we could use, all the clothes and stuff that we wore were from wardrobe for Casablanca.
Nancy Sain (National Pop Promotion): I actually ended up going to the debut party at Century Plaza and that was before I went to work for Neil. That was the first time I saw KISS. I loved it. I wanted to go work for Casablanca. I thought it was fabulous. It wasn’t their audience or their venue but it wasn’t meant to be. It was about debuting the label.
Aucoin: When KISS played…first of all they were nervous, they really weren’t up to doing something like that at that moment in their lives. They were still developing, basically. It didn’t come across very well. Plus, it was way too loud. It wasn’t a great night, let’s put it that way.
Holmes: The reaction was kind of skeptical because they were different. The younger kids loved them. They grew up into being the fans.
Bobbi Cowan (Director of Publicity): Before joining Casablanca, I worked for Gibson and Stromberg. We handled the party Neil gave to launch KISS. The press hated the band. Everybody was having such a good time but the bottom line was Neil really hoped that they would just take off for the moon and it didn’t quite happen that way. Joyce (Bogart-Trabulus) worked her ass off with Bill Aucoin and Neil spent money like water. He bought all the ads and he made it look like they were an amazing smash hit of an act whether they were or they weren’t. That was his philosophy. Spend money like it’s happening and people will believe it.
Aucoin: At this point, we had already recorded the album, KISS (1974). It was ready to go and a secret memo gets distributed at Warners saying, “We really believe in Neil Bogart but we don’t think KISS is the type of artist that will make it so let’s just let this go by the wayside and we’ll certainly work on some of the other artists that Neil will sign”. Neil, who was a great schmoozer (you couldn’t help but love him, he had that kind of personality), had gotten to meet as many people as he could at Warners and someone slipped him the memo. Well, that was the beginning of the end.
Holmes: I guess we were a year into the deal. It just wasn’t working. Neil was a very aggressive guy. We would go to Warner Bros. and we’d say, “Here’s our product and we’re putting it out next week”. That’s how we were used to doing things at Buddah because we were independent. It didn’t go that way at Warner Bros. They’d say, “We love it. That’s terrific. We have to put it into our release schedule”. At the time, Warner Bros. was a big company so if we came with something in June, we might not be in the release schedule until September. That just wasn’t working. Neil would argue with everybody about the product.
Sain: Warners went into the deal with him because he had such a good reputation of being able to pick hits. That was good. Neil didn’t have any problems with the guys at the top. They were all on the same playing field. What became a problem was that this was his life and he had to go at corporate speed through the Warner machine. That did not work for him on many levels, cashflow-wise, etc. Warner Bros. was a corporation and there was a corporate attitude. They were not self-starters as a rule and they did what they were told.
Holmes: Mo Ostin, who’s a wonderful guy, gave us the deal. I bump into him every now and then and we always talk about this, about how Neil had come to him and said this is not working. Mo was saying that the executives at the company were having a fit. Neil had talked about possibly getting out of the deal. Mo had advanced us a lot of money to come out to Los Angeles and we owed them this money. They worked out a deal where Neil would pay them back “x” amount of dollars a month until the debt was paid.
Aucoin: Neil left Warners, basically wondering what he was going to do. He mortgaged his house. He went to independent distributors, which he knew very well when he was at Buddha, and they all agreed to put money up. That’s how the company survived. Otherwise it would have ended right there.
Randee Goldman (Executive Assistant): I remember thinking, I just got this great job and now I’m going to lose it!