Call for Book Reviewers and Bloggers


Casablanca's First Solo Success

Bookmark and Share
In Donna Summer, Casablanca found its first solo success.Love to Love You Baby (1975) went gold, the single reached #2 on the pop charts, and Donna Summer was just about everywhere: Soul Train, The Mike Douglas Show, American Bandstand, even singing a line of her hit single in German on the latter program. Neil Bogart created a larger-than-life persona for Summer, who relocated from Germany to the United States after a lengthy hiatus from her home country. Susan Munao, Joyce Bogart-Trabulus and Cecil Holmes supported Summer on the road and behind the scenes as she adjusted—quickly—to stardom and her new role as “The First Lady of Love”. While not entirely comfortable with the image foisted upon her, Summer nevertheless was the consummate professional and pointedly incorporated more songs into her act that revealed her exceptional range.

The Moroder-Bellotte-Summer triumvirate merged the worlds of pop, R&B, and disco and created an appealing and accessible new sound for the dance floor. Casablanca distributed a handful of albums on Moroder’s Oasis imprint, including Trouble Maker (1976) by Roberta Kelly and Moroder’s own Knights in White Satin(1976), which contained the infectious “I Wanna Funk with You Tonite”. When Summer’s follow-up albums A Love Trilogy (1976) and Four Seasons of Love (1976) were awarded gold albums, Neil Bogart wasted no time in capitalizing on the sound behind Summer’s success. He enlisted a team devoted strictly to promoting records in the clubs. What other label with groups like KISS and Parliament was doing that in 1976?

Nancy Sain (National Pop Promotion: Along with my regular work, I started promoting the clubs. Neil didn’t have anybody doing it but I was out and about. I loved to dance. That’s how I met Marc Paul Simon. I introduced Marc to Neil. Of course there are probably eight people that say the same thing. He was just blown away by Neil and Neil really appreciated how Marc worked hard and really added a lot to the company. I know Marc got hired after I left. I remember him being a contractor along with Michele Hart. They were a phenomenal marketing team.

Michele Hart-Winer (Director of Special Projects):  Marc was my best friend. We had grown up together. I started at Provocative Promotions. That was his company. Provocative Promotions was probably—now this is my perspective—it was the first promotion company to do promotion through the clubs that really did it professionally. We worked with the record pools of all the various cities in the country and with the key DJs.

Holmes: Marc ended up being VP of Special Projects and took care of the clubs. Our success in the gay community really came from what Marc did. A lot of it had to do with the relationships Marc set up.

Hart-Winer: My department at Casablanca was called Special Projects because Marc didn’t want to say “Disco Promotions”. We took the artists on the road and we set up the promotions that they did in cities. It wasn’t just getting the music played. We worked the artists too.

Smith: Everything in life is about creating relationships. I always did my best to create a relationship with anybody I had to call. First of all, I was in a power position and it became increasingly moreso because you were somebody that could give them something, so I created my relationships and most of the time I didn’t have to do anything because the music spoke for itself. The calls were always, “So where on your list is this song going to be this week?” I would ask them, “Well what’s above it?” I would have real conversations, cajoling, begging, pleading, threatening—“You need to move it to another position!” That’s what promotion people do. In those days, you could buy your way into anything. With disco DJs it was tougher because they were autonomous but they were dependent in certain ways.

Hart-Winer: It was most rewarding when I would get the numbers that I wanted on the charts for the records that I really thought should be there or getting numbers for records that I personally didn’t like but I had to work and we did it. I had great relationships with the DJs. They didn’t know how to take me at first because I was the first woman doing it.

Wheeler: As people on the road for that company, we weren’t expected to rent cars and drive around and try to find clubs. The focus was get in there, do your job, get it done, get out, get to the next city. So many times we had drivers to take us. We would route our trips and do 18 stops in a night, from record stores all day to clubs all night until four in the morning. We’d be jumping on the six, seven o’clock plane the next day to the next city and this was just to get the records out there. It was pre-street promotion. I would call it what “touch marketing” is today: get them in the hands. I think that era of time really was very in the forefront of what mass-touch marketing is considered today, which is what Starbucks uses. If you can’t taste the coffee, you can’t sell the product. It’s the same thing with Casablanca: if your people aren’t out there in the clubs making this happen, we can’t sell our music. Campaigns were eight to 12 weeks. It was very short-lived. We’d go out with one main record and maybe have a couple of little white labels or an acetate of something that was coming that you would give to a couple of specialpeople, like five or six in the country and let them make everyone else want it. It was a true street campaign.

Summer: In the beginning, when it was contained and everybody was in the main building, it was really like being in a family and everybody was on fire. They were on fire with the love of what they were doing and the hope of success. They were on fire with the knowledge that they were doing something that might last longer than just a few weeks. Everybody just poured themselves into what was going on. They kind of didn’t want to leave each other because they felt like if they left, the magic would go.

Christian John Wikane is a NYC-based journalist and music essayist. He's a Contributing Editor for PopMatters, where he's interviewed artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Janelle Monae. For the past three years, he's penned liner notes for more than 100 CD re-issues by legends of R&B, rock, pop, dance, and jazz. Since 2008, he's produced and hosted Three of Hearts: A Benefit for The Family Center at Joe's Pub. He is the author of the five-part oral history Casablanca Records: Play It Again (PopMatters, 2009). Follow him on Twitter @CJWikaneNYC. 

Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Win a 15-CD Pack of Brazilian Music CDs from Six Degrees Records! in PopMatters Contests on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 All rights reserved.™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.