Part Three

Pushing the Envelope, 1977-1978

by Christian John Wikane

18 August 2009


Behind the Munich Machine

Giorgio Moroder and Chris Bennett

Giorgio Moroder and Chris Bennett

Behind the Munich Machine

Chris Bennett (Munich Machine): Giorgio might not like me saying it, but he was a brilliant producer. He really had his pulse on what the public liked.  He really did revolutionize recording and film music. Pete Bellotte was brilliant. He always stayed under the radar but he was very much a partner to Giorgio in those days.

Gomez: I went to the Greek Theater to see Donna Summer play one night and this was when I was in the process of seeing who I was going to take for arrangers and all of that. I bumped into Giorgio Moroder. He goes, “Leroy, here’s my card. Call me in the beginning of the week. I’d really like to talk to you”. I take the card and give it to my management and they go, “No you don’t want to go with Giorgio. We’re going to do it this way”. Now talk about stumbling.

Bennett: Giorgio was notorious for calling you at 9:30 p.m., when your bed was starting to look good, and say, “Now I need you to come in! We’re going to do like a whole album tonight”. I was young and frisky and it was the best experience you could have.

Frank DiMino (Angel): Giorgio’s willing to take chances. He makes it comfortable enough where you don’t feel pressure.

Bennett: We did Munich Machine and we did his only duet album. Love’s In You, Love’s in Me (1978). It’s got a couple of cool tracks on it. We had some fun doing it and the photo session was with Harry Langdon. Some of the stuff I have a little trouble listening to because I sound like I’m about 12. Giorgio had his formula and it worked and he had his muse in Donna. She was just such a huge talent. It was her time. I was young and I don’t think really ready for what was put in my lap. It was wonderful. Now, I’ve pretty much found my niche as a jazz singer but I look back at that as such an incredible experience.

Donna Summer: Giorgio’s strength was his music. That was his absolute strength and his vision. We had great regard for each other’s talent. Something that people don’t know about Giorgio is that he has an incredible arsenal of songs that no one has probably ever heard that are brilliant. He has chosen to use what he considers the most commercial of the commercial stuff. Giorgio is and remains a very brilliant composer and he doesn’t take himself too seriously although he’s qualified to do anything. He’s Italian and he has joie de vivre – to use a French expression – he knows how to live.  More than even his music, his art of living is wonderful. He’s an artist at living.

Bennett: He’s from that little part of the world where they speak German, Italian, and Swiss. He’s a really good observer of people. He’s almost a voyeur and I mean that in the kindest way. That’s what made him a great producer because he really could see what was happening and what people wanted to hear. I’d see him very intensely just go into the studio—synthesizers were new then—and he had that four on the floor thing going. Nobody had done that before.

Giorgio Moroder - In the Studio/Interview (1979)

Casablanca continued its signing spree with two American acts that gave a face to disco in contrast to studio outfits whose members shifted with each project.  D.C. LaRue and Pattie Brooks were already established in the industry by the time they got to Casablanca. LaRue had released two albums on Pyramid Records that were conceptual masterworks about the social mores of clubland, Cathedrals (1976) and The Tea Dance (1977) while Brooks was an in-demand session vocalist who’d worked with Diana Ross, Donna Summer, and Ann-Margaret.

D.C. LaRue: Morris Levy owned my record company, Pyramid. He called me up to his office and said, “I’m not going to head a record company anymore. It’s going to be a production company”. He said, “Where do you want to go?” I was friendly with Ray Caviano at T.K. and I was friendly with Marc Simon who worked at Casablanca. They loved my music after two albums. I said, “I’ll be with Casablanca”. It went exactly like this: Morris picked up the phone and called Neil Bogart that minute. He said, “Neil I’m sitting here with D.C. LaRue. We’re turning Pyramid Records into a production company. He just told me he’d love to be on Casablanca”. Neil Bogart said, “Send him out. We’ll put him on the soundtrack to Thank God It’s Friday”. That was on a Tuesday and that Thursday I was on an airplane to work with Bob Esty to put two songs in Thank God It’s Friday.

Hart-Winer: Neil wanted a male artist really bad. He had the female and he had the band but he needed a white male artist. He wanted like a Leo Sayer and he thought D.C. was it but it just didn’t click. At that time, Bob was kind of a golden haired boy at Casablanca so Neil trusted him.

Bob Esty: They teamed me up with D.C. LaRue right after I came back from Germany and I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know his songs because I didn’t hang out in discos really. I heard Cathedrals and I thought it was interesting. I loved his being a conceptualist. The oddness of his albums is very interesting to me. They’re not straight ahead commercial. I don’t know how ultimately successful we were together but I was kind of inspired – not by his singing – but by his concept of what the song was about. We looked pretty much alike at the time. We could have been brothers but we had such a different energy.

LaRue: I had a New York City mystique that nobody could figure out. Nobody told me what to do or how to do it except Esty. He was very difficult but the label never A&R’d me or told me how much money to spend. It was just an ideal situation. I went into record Forces of the Night (1979) and I didn’t have a budget. It was like spend whatever you want to spend. I’d never heard of that.

Pattie Brooks: I didn’t know anything about disco. That was completely foreign to me because in L.A., I was doing Top Ten R&B, pop and jazz. A disco record? I said, “Well what’s that?” All the guys that danced with Ann-Margaret knew about the discos. I was still trying to grapple with that whole thing of what it was. I got signed, they put “After Dark” out and it began to go crazy up the dance charts. I went to my first disco club and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. They had me up on a catwalk and the guy said, “Just lip-synch to the song. When we point to you, the spotlight will hit you”. There were tons of guys there, just all over the place. They were just in heaven and so I went, “So this is disco” (laughs). It was so much fun.

Rodriguez: Pattie Brooks was a dear friend. I love Pattie. Everybody in the company loved her. They loved to see her win. They’d go out of their way for Pattie.

Hart-Winer: Marc Simon took on Pattie Brooks as a project with our department. He almost took a managerial interest in her. He had Paul Jabara put together this show for her at The Backlot. Simon Soussan and Marc did the music. Paul Jabara wrote a special song for her for that. They got costumers in. It was an amazing night.

Brooks: Marc Simon really took me under his wing because they kind of gave him carte blanche with the disco scene. He began to create the act and we went to New York. My sets were flown there and I did a show at Flamingos. I was taken into Studio 54. I didn’t know I was going to be apart of history.

Hart-Winer: When the soundtrack for Thank God It’s Friday first came out, the one that was moving up the disco charts was Pattie’s song. That was just not greeted warmly by the powers that be. Donna was the star. I think that they could have broken Pattie but not on the same package as Donna. If she’d had another vehicle at a different time, I don’t think it would have been an issue but it was the same vehicle and we just couldn’t do that.

Brooks: They had Bunny Sigler produce Party Girl (1979). They were trying to funk it up a little. They were trying to take me in a different direction and they didn’t know really what they were doing. They weren’t letting me have a free hand in choosing the right producers and the writers for me. That’s what made it hard for my career—not having any control. They didn’t get to know the artist to see all they could do. I also had written some songs and one was recorded on one of my albums, “Come Fly With Me Let’s Do It Again”.

Wheeler: Pattie Brooks—what a talented, talented woman and a lovely person. She had a huge record and then from there, where did it go? In hindsight, they weren’t working her. We tried. We worked hard on it. I don’t know what it was. The music business is funny, some people make it and some people don’t. There’s no reason why.

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