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Signing Spree

Tom Moulton

Tom Moulton

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Signing Spree
With disco moving well beyond its underground roots and beginning to saturate radio, television, advertising, and film, Casablanca directed much of its focus towards signing producers and developing artists who could satiate the public’s appetite for the 4/4 beat. The company’s stable of disco auteurs churned out a cavalcade of projects under their own names, through studio aliases, soundtrack scores and, of course, with the label’s key artists.

Tom Moulton, who mixed and produced a number of the era’s most timeless tracks (“Disco Inferno” by the Trammps, “More, More, More” by Andrea True Connection, and most of the Salsoul label’s output, to name a very few), remembers the stipulations of his contract. “I had to put an album out with my name on it. I couldn’t really work for anybody else. The Trammps and Grace Jones were the only two outside acts I could keep. I signed exclusively because Neil Bogart didn’t want me working for anybody else. I regretted it after I did it because I could only do three albums a year and by April, I had all the albums done”. He teamed up with People’s Choice (he mixed their “Do It Anyway You Wanna” in 1975 for PIR) for their self-titled release in 1980 while releasing a pair of heralded LPs in 1979 for the group Loose Change and his own TJM album (featuring Ron Tyson of the Salsoul act, Love Committee).

In contrast to Moulton’s orientation towards R&B-based dance music, Bob Esty scored a number of the label’s more pop-based disco productions. He was introduced to Casablanca through his friend Paul Jabara. Esty helped orchestrate and conduct Jabara’s irreverent version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and co-wrote much of Jabara’s Casablanca debut, Shut Out (1977). In the summer of 1977, Esty collaborated with Jabara on arranging and writing (though he is not credited) “Last Dance” for Donna Summer, a year before the song appeared in the movie Thank God It’s Friday (1978), where two more of Esty’s collaborations with Jabara were featured (“Trapped in a Stairway” and “Disco Queen”). Giorgio Moroder then enlisted Esty to arrange three-fourths of Summer’s Once Upon a Time (1977) album before granting him co-production on Roberta Kelly’s “gospel-disco” album, Gettin’ the Spirit (1978). Later that year, Neil Bogart teamed Esty with D.C. LaRue, Brooklyn Dreams, and Cher in the studio.

Tom Moulton

Romeo and Juliet by Alec R. Costandinos

Meanwhile, the European side of the Casablanca roster multiplied when producer Alec R. Costandinos brought his orchestral-disco projects to the label. Prior to Casablanca, Costandinos wrote “Love in C Minor” by Cerrone, foreshadowing his repertoire of side-long epics. He billed his first project for Casablanca as Love & Kisses (1977), with the infamous cover photo of a woman’s shirt being ripped to shreds. The album’s pair of mini-masterpieces, “Accidental Lover” and “I Found Love (Now That I Found You)”, introduced his signature sound: staccato strings, marathon explorations of love, a choir of female songbirds intoning the rather uncomplicated lyrics, and a male voice (sometimes Costandinos himself) taking the lead. His output for Casablanca included more than a dozen releases, among the most notable Romeo & Juliet (1978), a trio of Love & Kisses albums (including the theme to Thank God It’s Friday), and Sphinx (1977), which recounted the crucifixion of Christ.

Between Costandinos and Giorgio Moroder, who continued working with Munich Machine and Donna Summer after releasing his groundbreaking From Here to Eternity (1977) album within months of Love & Kisses, Casablanca cornered the market on Eurodisco.

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Moulton: Alec’s claim to fame was producing all the Demis Roussos records. I was with Billboard too so I met him when I’d go to MIDEM. He was just getting involved with Love & Kisses. He did it at Trident Studio. I went over to Paris a couple of times to visit him. It was wonderful. He’s such an incredibly nice man, very talented. That’s where I met a fellow named Raymond Donnez. He’s a Frenchman who did a lot of arrangements for Alec. When he came out with his album, he switched his name around and called himself “Don Ray”.

Leroy Gomez (Santa Esmeralda): Alec goes back to the disco days in Paris. Alec Costandinos, Don Ray, it was a community in the studio. We were all in and out of the studio together. I’d worked on another project with Alec before the disco heyday. We’ve been friends ever since.

Smith: Alec R. Costandinos was just this handsome man and his wife was wonderful. When you meet gentle souls, they stay in your heart and your mind forever. He was one of them. He was just most beautiful human being you’d want to meet and I’m a bitch, so for me to say those kinds of things about people, you got to believe it’s true.

Gomez: He’s an all-around talent. He doesn’t only write, he can produce, he plays the piano. He’s more of a producer-artist than a performing artist: writing words and melodies, going into the studio to find the right people to get the sound in those days. He was very good at doing that.

Smith: His music was journey music. Dramatic journey music: “I’m going to take you some place and I’m going to give you a beginning, middle and an end and you are never going to forget this”.

Wheeler: He was the king of journeys. You could go on a journey with an album. He’s one of my favorite producers of that time. I actually got to work with him on a couple of records. He was just a genuine man, a lovely person. There’s a little special place in my heart for Latin music and it probably came out of that. He pulled in all these amazing Latin sounds to dance music and created some of, in my opinion, the most wonderful songs. He could really take you somewhere, from one song to the other. Giorgio Moroder was very much the same in that respect, just the continuous flow.

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. 

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