Part Five: Defining the Legacy

[20 August 2009]

By Christian John Wikane

PopMatters Contributing Editor

Closing up the Casbah

It all seemed to come undone at once. Neil Bogart sold the remaining 50 percent of Casablanca to PolyGram. While it was a lucrative deal, Bogart relinquished the kind of creativity that he’d used to build a wholly unique and successful record company. After his relationship with PolyGram became strained, he left in February 1980 and started a new label, Boardwalk.

PolyGram dissolved Casablanca’s staff and many artists either fled from the new regime or were dropped altogether. Following number one hits by Lipps, Inc. (“Funkytown”) and Captain & Tennille (“Do That to Me One More Time”), a few more singles by the Four Tops, Pure Prairie League, and Dr. Hook kept the Casablanca imprint in circulation through 1982. Russ Regan, who had helmed the Casablanca-distributed Parachute label between 1977-1979, later led Casablanca back to the top of the charts with the blockbuster Flashdance (1983) soundtrack before the label ceased releasing original product in 1986 (Animotion, Strange Behavior). Despite intermittent success, Casablanca was never the same without Neil Bogart.

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Cecil Holmes (Partner/Senior Vice President): When you get these companies, they always tell you, “You’ll be able to run this and you’ll be able to do exactly what you please.” Those were suits. Our success was that we were able to do what we wanted to do. All they knew was the bottom line. No way would they have let us spend the money on Donna Summer and KISS. They would see the figures and say, “This guy spends too much money,” but then there was one guy who would always say, “Yeah but we’ll get him or we’ll control him.” Eventually, they figured that we were spending too much money and they weren’t making the money that they wanted to make. When it was just us, we didn’t care if we had a lot of money in the bank as long as everybody was taken care of at the company. Believe me, we were. I was paid very well. All the top executives were paid very well with very big bonuses. The money always went back into the company. It wasn’t until we got older and that we started to think, “Maybe we should start thinking about our future”.

Bill Aucoin (Manager, KISS): It was a payday for everyone and we understood that. PolyGram didn’t have much of a choice. They had to negotiate with us. We made an incredible deal with PolyGram for KISS. From that point of view, it was good for KISS. It was right after Dynasty (1979). We made a terrific contract with PolyGram. Donna decided not to and she kind of fought to get off the label and she did.

Donna Summer: I was one of the people that were selling mega-records at the time but I wasn’t being compensated for them. Let’s put it like this, my original contract was not up to par and so there was a deficiency in what I should have been making. I was making the money for them, millions of dollars, which I wasn’t seeing. At some point, I got a lawyer and started to investigate what was going on and it wasn’t pretty.

Holmes: It just got to a point where Neil felt uncomfortable being with PolyGram. He wasn’t able to do the things he wanted to do. Casablanca was his company but PolyGram owned it. They started to put restraints on him, moreso financially whereas with Warner Bros. the main issue was we were just too aggressive.

Frank DiMino (Angel): I remember our last meeting with Neil, which was a good healthy meeting. He apologized for a lot of the stuff that he didn’t do that he knew he should have done but couldn’t and explained to us a lot of the reasons. It was a really good conversation and we felt like everything was going to get back on track. Unfortunately it didn’t.

Bob Esty: When Casablanca was sold to PolyGram and Neil left the label, I just figured what’s the point? I didn’t like their business and I knew that there was a big backlash going on.

Dennis Wheeler (Promotion Manager, Special Projects): The music changed. The company was swallowed up. If it wasn’t sold it could have gone on and on for years. PolyGram bought it for the catalog… and then it was dismantled. A lot of people were let go, I happened to be one of the last. The reason for that was because “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. was being promoted at the time and basically we were told that, “Your job is safe. Keep working it.” The second week that it went number one, and crossed to the Top 40 chart, I got my pink slip like an hour after the charts came in.

Michele Hart-Winer (Director of Special Projects): Bruce Bird (who replaced Neil as President) and Larry Harris (Senior Vice President/Managing Director) were still there. I had been working with them. They wanted me to stay. I stayed but I couldn’t do disco anymore. I was in radio. That was awful. I did not like radio. We had “Funkytown” with my buddy Steve Greenberg and that crossed-over but that’s when they were starting to bury disco. They were putting trucks over disco records. There was that huge backlash. Neil already had Boardwalk going. They kept me because I was a good promotion person, if I do say so myself, and I had good rapport but radio was a world I didn’t know very well, honestly. They knew that I didn’t know what I was doing and it was really uncomfortable. When I just kept at it and started to talk to these people, I said, “I can’t do this everyday. It’s awful.”

Worthy Patterson (Vice President, Sales and Promotion): PolyGram started putting PolyGram people in. They turned a very successful record label into a logo. Forget it. It was a waste of time after that. That’s the attitude of those people—they think they can do anything. Little did they know that the name of the game is relationships. We were able to do what we needed to do to break records. No one ever, ever in the whole time I was in business there, ever asked you what the price of anything was. We were mavericks, which is why they kicked us out.

D.C. LaRue: PolyGram ripped everything out from the bare walls and painted everything white with Formica tables and chrome legs. I walked into Neil Bogart’s office and what was an enchanting step into the past, into a movie set (you expected Ingrid Bergman to walk out of the office), it was a white room and Bruce Bird sitting behind a desk and nobody there. The offices were totally empty.

Phyllis Chotin (Vice President, Creative Services): PolyGram came out and was inventorying everything. I remember being around for when the cars all got picked up, all the leased cars. When everybody was gone, I was still there and one of my staff was still there. I remember they offered me a job to stay. My assistant at the time was a single mother and I asked them, “If I leave, will you put her in that job?” They said yes so that’s when I left. I think it was March of ‘81. I started my own thing then.

Pattie Brooks: All of the artists, I can’t even tell you how many have gone through that where they were dropped in the middle of their project because of changeover. It was a mess.

David Castle: When a deal like that ends, so does the money so I had to really quickly rearrange my life. When you go from an experience like being with Casablanca and touring and being on TV shows and being on the charts and then falling off into the black hole of space, it’s a whole other reality so it took me some time to adjust everything that I had experienced.

Bruce Sudano (Brooklyn Dreams): I think that we had a three-album deal for Casablanca and we did those three albums. At the end of that time, the deal was over, Neil had left and Bruce Bird was running the company. It was not what it was. We kind of had our shot and never really broke out and it just dissolved.

DiMino: We owed one more album to Casablanca. We were looking for a producer. I had been talking to Jack Douglas. I knew Jack from Eddie Leonetti who did our White Hot (1977) and Sinful (1979) albums. PolyGram said, “We’re not going to pay that much for a producer,” but Jack Douglas is a name producer so it’s not going to be as cheap as someone who doesn’t have a name. Now we find ourselves negotiating on an album that we thought was the last thing that we would have to do. We said, “Why don’t you just let us out of the deal?” We thought we’ll get out of the deal and we can go to Neil at Boardwalk. They said, “No we’re not going to let you out of the deal. We want the record.” It was one of those classic stalemates going back and forth where the only one who suffers is the band. We’re in a state of limbo. Time passes. It’s one of those classic endings where neither side is giving in. The communication just wasn’t working. Every step along the way, it just wasn’t working. Why not just cut us loose? I can never figure out the deal with record companies. I guess they have some sort of idea of what they want to do but I never can figure it out.

Aucoin: KISS was burnt out. The Elder (1980) was a great moment of no one wanting to do anything. Ace didn’t want to be with them and Gene and Paul really didn’t feel like they wanted to go back into the studio and have to write an album when they really weren’t prepared. It wasn’t a very good time. It was an album that had to be delivered to the record label. It’s a good example of, “You gotta deliver an album, you’re gonna get paid so much, the record company wants it, you have to do it, you have to deliver it by a certain time.” In those days, we were bound by that. If I had my druthers and I could go back in time, I’d say, “I’m sorry but you’re not getting an album until they actually do a really good tune.” They were lucky that they had such a brilliant producer to make an album happen otherwise it wouldn’t have been an album at all. Of course PolyGram hated the album. When we had our meeting with PolyGram to play it, they said, “We’ll give you the money to do another album.” At that point, there was no way that was going to happen. We just said “no” and I knew there was no way they were going to get back into the studio. It was hard enough just to get through The Elder.

Chris Bennett: Keb’ Mo’, who has gone on to have a big career as a blues singer (he’s won several Grammys), we got to be friends and I produced his first album when he was Kevin Moore from Compton. Because of the publishing deal I had with Casablanca, I had some money and I took the demos I did of Keb’ Mo’ to this guy named Steve Badelli and he said, “Oh you should take it next door to Chocolate City.” I walked out of there with an $80,000 record deal, which was big money in those days. We produced a really beautiful album called Rainmaker (1980). My boyfriend at the time was this guy Brian Avnet, who used to manage Manhattan Transfer and now he manages Josh Groban and a bunch of other people. I had him help me and we went in with Kevin Moore. I’ll never forget Russ Regan said, “I don’t really hear any hits.” I remember looking over and seeing a big old crocodile tear run down Kevin’s face. They didn’t really do anything with it. Bless his heart, he just kept at it. He sold cars. He fixed computers. I’d call him once in awhile and say, “If I had your talent, I wouldn’t be fixing any damn cars.” He went down to New Orleans and learned the blues. He’s a full-blown blues singer. He’s still a great pop singer/songwriter. Rainmaker still had some classic songs on it. We got the top people in town on that. None of us made any money.

LaRue: The guy who had just taken over PolyGram in New York City came from a real rock/folk background and he hated disco. When I recorded Star, Baby (1981), I was trying to make a transition. There was no record company when that came out. I had one more recording to do and I was with Morris Levy. He called up this guy and we were on a speaker-phone. Morris said, “I’m sitting here with D.C. LaRue. He’s got one more album to do for Casablanca,” and the guy said, “Tell that faggot we don’t want him on the label anymore.” Morris said, “D.C. ‘s here. He can hear you.” The guy said, “I don’t give a fuck. Tell the faggot we don’t want him with the record company anymore. Disco’s over.” Nobody could get a deal. It was such a nightmare. All the fucking records I sold and nobody wanted to pick up the phone. It was so depressing. I don’t even know how I managed to live through it. I had to have been a very strong human being.

Dancing the Last Dance

Paul Jabara

Paul Jabara

Dancing the Last Dance

In the post-Neil Bogart phase of Casablanca, many artists and executives fell out of favor with PolyGram and were dropped, fired, or neglected. However, a far more insidious and terminal development was underway, something that would extinguish the carefree spirit of the ‘70s and claim the lives of many who danced to the beat of Casablanca: AIDS. Two of the label’s most beloved figures, Marc Paul Simon (VP of Special Projects) and Paul Jabara, were among the casualties.

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Wheeler: Unfortunately it was just something that blind-sided all of humanity. It wasn’t a pretty time. The people that you should be talking to on this interview aren’t here to tell the story.

Tom Moulton: I think when you’re a teenager and you’re only in your early 20s, it’s amazing how you feel indestructible. When all these kids started dying, it really started bothering me and that’s why I even stopped going to the clubs. I said, “I can’t stand this anymore.”

Joe Klein(Freelance Producer, Radio and Television Commercials): I saw Marc Simon in West Hollywood at the Mayfair Market on Santa Monica Blvd. It must have been months before he passed away. He looked like a skeleton. It was so bizarre. This was back in the days where unless you were directly involved with the scene, the whole term “AIDS” was just barely getting out there. That was like a jolt. It was really disconcerting. This is a guy that would get up on his marble table and just start dancing.

Bobbi Cowan (Director of Publicity): It’s a shame Marc Simon isn’t around. Marc Paul Simon was awesome in those days. We stayed friends until he died. He even came to Maui to visit me. Just a lovely guy. He was one of the first to get sick because he was so out there, in the life.

Ruben Rodriguez(National Promotion and Marketing Director): Had Marc lived, God knows what he would have done. He was just amazing.

Esty: Paul Jabara? What he was, was a Lebanese-American who could sell anything and he did. He was very tenacious.

Paul Jabara

Paul Jabara

Randee Goldman (Executive Assistant): Paul would do anything to get into Neil’s office. He was the funniest guy in the world. I thought he was going to tap dance outside the office. He probably did tap dance outside the office. I was very saddened by his passing and went to his funeral. I loved Paul. He was amazing. He was so funny.

Nellie Prestwood (Publicity): Paul was incredible! Paul was a riot. He was just a sweet, loving, caring soul. He was like a gift because he wasn’t bitter. He was just so talented. Paul had so much talent that I just didn’t think he had enough outlets! He was kind, generous, giving, loving.

Chotin: Paul was the greatest, most fun guy. He and I went away one long weekend to this spa in Ojai and we roomed together. We were just like girlfriends. He was so talented. I don’t think there was a bad thought in his head. I remember one time having Donna and Paul and Brooklyn Dreams over at my house. We were all just singing and here’s all these great singers. We were taping it and there’s my reedy little voice! We were all drinking wine and having fun. Pauly was a delight.

Esty: We wrote a song called “Trapped in a Stairway”. Now, no one ever writes that song. It was all because Paul knew he was going to have a big number in Thank God It’s Friday while he was trapped in a stairway. The director said musical numbers in movies couldn’t last more than two minutes. As a result, he didn’t get a chance to do his number but it was played over the scene.

Hart-Winer: He just wanted to be Barbra Streisand. He just thought she was the best thing. He used to take her songs and go entertain for her people. He wanted to be a star. I think he was before his time, honestly. I think he could do it today. “One man ain’t enough.” God bless him.

Marc Nathan (National and Regional Promotion): We lost him far too early in the game. I thought Paul Jabara was a brilliant, brilliant talent. I got to tell ya, I danced to “Shut Out/Heaven Is a Disco” almost every night for about a year at the clubs here in LA. I have such great memories of that.

LaRue: He was very important with the label and everyone loved him. He was a very likable guy. Outrageous, likable, funny, and delightful to be with, a real party guy.  When I arrived out there, he considered me a tad of a threat, even though I wasn’t. I remember we had dinner at Roy’s and he cornered me in the men’s room and said, “What are you doing here?” It was like, “You just came in from New York City and you’re going to take over the label?” Of course it was not anything like that. We were never really close but we got along. I think after awhile he realized that I was never a threat to him.

Arnie Smith (National Director of Disco Promotion): I loved him to death, God rest his soul. One of my jobs, per Marc Simon, was to control Paul because he was a neurotic artist. I could tell Paul, “Shut the fuck up, Paul”, when nobody else could do that to him. He was just a majorly talented person. His talent was spread out so he never got the notoriety. Paul was just so talented and so neurotic. Whenever I was with him, it was like being with a three-year old, trying to keep them in check and in control. If I could have put one of those baby harnesses on him, I would have. Paul and I went back further than anybody else but I just loved him.

Paul Jabara

Paul Jabara

Moulton: He kept saying, “I hope you’re not wondering about me”. I said, “What is there to wonder?” He was just so flamboyant and out there. It was unbelievable. When I first met him, he said, “People are always staring at my crotch”. I said, “Why? Your face looks decent”. He thought I was being smart. I just didn’t get it. Then of course he proceeded to tell me. I never met anybody like that in my life (laughs). He was a damn good songwriter. The people who really knew him, loved him. They really did. I never met anybody who was so flamboyant. I still think of him once in awhile. He was really a piece of work. The thing I realized afterwards, that I liked about him, he was what he was—“either you like me or you don’t but how you feel about me isn’t going to affect what I feel”. I think somebody like that gives a lot of people encouragement to push on, even though there are obstacles. Hey, push on anyway! I think a lot of people learned from him about that. I really believe that. He was just so outgoing. He would say anything any time. He was just an amazing character.

Brooks: He would do things that were so crazy I can’t even tell you. He was so obnoxious at times. We did American Bandstand and we did an old song called “Take Good Care of My Baby” and he did it disco. I did the duet with him. Paul was just as crazy as he could be! Sometimes when you get people who are just so full of creativity, they’re just out of their heads because they have so many things going on. They’re just zany. They get depressed. He was just all over the place but the energy was there and he could make you laugh. He was really talented.

Esty: Paul went to Puerto Rico and literally locked Donna in the bathroom and forced her to consider doing a demo for “Last Dance”. Of course he calls me and I go to his house and we work out the whole thing, top to bottom. I decided to do the ballad and then into the up-tempo and go back to the ballad. What we wanted to do in the song was have it played as the last song every night. We figured they’d like to announce last call during the ballad in the beginning and then they would say five minutes during the second ballad. We worked it all out. Neil Bogart thought it was a hit so he got me – this is before I signed with him – to do the whole thing on Paul Jabara’s recommendation. We went in first and did a piano-vocal demo with Donna where I played the whole thing top to bottom and she sang it top to bottom. Literally, the whole thing.

Summer: Paul was an absolute genius and a madman rolled into a very crazy body. He was a very funny human being with a hysterical sense of humor, a very complicated human being. He was like a big baby in a man’s body. He was probably older than me but I think he was always like my baby brother. He would call me at five in the morning and go, “Donn-yahhh”. Some lover had sparred him and he was ready to commit suicide. He was incredibly talented. I would say he poured a lot himself into me and into my life. He was in love with me as a performer and he wanted to write songs to fit me. He was very inspired. I would spend a lot of time with him and another friend of ours, Bruce Roberts, and we would hang out and play songs to each other and write. We had a breakfast club. Paul, Bruce, myself, and a couple of other friends of ours would meet for breakfast and we’d just shoot the breeze and then go off and write. We were very close. It was tough when he passed away. Paul was a dear friend and a brother and influenced – greatly—the outcome of my career.

Applauding the Ringmaster

Neil Bogart

Neil Bogart

Applauding the Ringmaster

Before Paul Jabara and Marc Paul Simon passed away, they suffered a great loss along with many of their friends and colleagues – the death of Neil Bogart. In 1982, 39-year-old Neil Bogart, a father and husband, lost his battle with cancer. For an individual with such vision and foresight about the marketing and making of music to die so young remains a tragic loss that cannot be adequately quantified. Simply, Neil Bogart believed in taking chances with new ideas and, in the process, introduced legendary musical acts to the world and made millions of lives a little more colorful.

His legacy lives on not only through the music of Casablanca but also through the Bogart Pediatric Cancer Research Program, a non-profit founded in 1984 by Joyce Bogart-Trabulus and songwriter Carole Bayer Sager. Based at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the organization has helped fund a number of programs to support research for leukemia, cancer, and AIDS since its inception 25 years ago, giving children the same kind of hope and inspiration that guided Neil Bogart throughout his lifetime.

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Leroy Gomez (Santa Esmeralda): When Neil died, nobody could fill his shoes.

Brooks: When I saw him for the last time, he came up to me and gave me a hug. At the time, I was just signed to Bob and Jerry Greenberg over at Atlantic Records. He was telling them, “Oh you have a great artist here. Just keep with her”.

Brett Hudson (The Hudson Brothers): The last time I saw Neil, he invited my brothers and I to a party that he had. We sat for about 45 minutes or an hour, me and my two brothers, and we just talked and had a few drinks and laughs. We hugged goodbye and said let’s get together. That was the last time I saw him, at that party.

Hart-Winer: I bumped into him, I think at the Palm Restaurant, sometime before he passed away. He was kind of going there to make everybody know that he was still okay. The face of him was to make the world think everything was alright because he was keeping the label together so that it would be worth something.

Rodriguez: I loved that man dearly and I know that he loved and admired me. God bless him.

Summer: Neil’s passing was very painful. I sang at his funeral but it was an extremely difficult moment for me. He was my Clive Davis. I couldn’t see myself without him as part of my life because he was so in the making of it. It was a very tough time for me. Very tough, very lost.

Holmes: I never had a last conversation with him. It was really tough. I remember going to the wake, sitting there, and all of his kids, who adored me (I was their Uncle Cecil), they would come up to me and they would ask me about their dad. It was really a hard time. I really loved the guy. He was the one that really made my career. He gave me an opportunity where nobody else would. I always felt like he was a brother to me. We’d get up in the mornings and go run together. I was older than him but he felt like a big brother because he really looked out for me.

Klein: He was, without a doubt, the PT Barnum of the record business. He really was.

Aucoin: Neil would shake your hand and say yes to something and you knew it was written in stone. It wasn’t like the lawyers were going to come in and change it. There are very few people today, or even then, that you could say that about. Plus, he had a thirst for life, he loved people, he loved artists. He was there for every artist. He would go to shows. To get the president of a label out today, good luck. That was a time and place where we all enjoyed being together. We loved the artists. We loved what was going on in the industry.

Brooks: Well he was the boss! He was really like a risk taker. He’s a gambler. He went out there and he was on a roll.

Joe “Bean” Esposito (Brooklyn Dreams): He was a wound-up guy. Very animated. I could tell he was very smart. I know this guy was a real risk taker. I admired the guy because he put everything out there and he became very, very successful.

Prestwood; I was fascinated with Neil because he was such a talented man. He just had an ear for things that were amazing. He did something that was phenomenal.

Hart-Winer: He was just this cherub! He was adorable. He was so happy and smiling and he had so much energy. I thought he was really charming.

Gregory Johnson (Cameo): Neil Bogart was a very jovial guy. He was always laughing. He seemed pretty cool.

Goldman: Neil was the perpetual dreamer and he was also somebody that made things happen and made things come true. I don’t think that there’s anything like him that happened again. It was pretty awe-inspiring, that’s all I can say. After working for him, I didn’t want to work in the industry anymore. It wasn’t fun anymore. I really had fun going to work. I always had the most respect for this man and he was my mentor. I will say that until the day I die.

Summer: Neil was a maverick and he was very much a Renaissance Man. He was somebody who could take a lot of foreign objects and make them work together. He was like a magnetic comet moving through a sphere of space, attaching and drawing everything to himself that came near him. You didn’t want to leave him. He was just magnetic. You loved him. He was, for me, a mentor, he was a big brother, he was a protector, he was an educator, he was my parent when I needed him.

Larry Blackmon (Cameo): He was a maverick, a renegade. He was a solid ears music man in the business. I never got to go to his house and experience his little disco room but I had a great deal of respect for anyone that was able to have what it took during those days to build anything.

Tomi Jenkins (Cameo): I would say he was a maverick. He was one of the most innovative men. He was a music guy, just a guy who loved music, who was supportive of musicians and the music that they made. That was Neil, man

Bob Perry (Independent Promotion, Southeast): Neil was a brilliant record man. He had a great ear and he had lots of friends. I would promote his stuff when I was working for other labels because I just wanted to and I’d stay in touch with him. He was a great record man. He was a great guy who kept his word. In my little corner, when I was 27 years old getting ten grand from Neil, that was pretty damn amazing.

Rob Gold (Director of Marketing): When he interviewed me for the gig he paced back and forth behind his desk like a caged tiger. He was a genius but also, in my opinion, there’s a cycle of genius close to insane and he was some of both. If Neil were around today, believe me he’d been one of the first to tie in gaming and the Internet to whatever he was promoting. I am proud of my association with Casablanca and Neil Bogart.

Cowan: He was a genius. I always admired him. He was a very wise man. He was a philosopher. He once said to me at one of the first meetings that I had with him around the time that Casablanca opened thief first office across the street from my office at Gibson & Stromberg, “The most revolutionary thing a person can do is change their mind”. I never forgot that.

David Hodo(Village People “Construction Worker”): He was an extremely likeable person, enthusiastic nearly to a fault, but he was Casablanca. I studied him closely, as I do anyone I respect, and learned a lot from him.

Ray D’Ariano(Director of East Coast Artist Relations): Neil Bogart was Casablanca, in my opinion. He was a great human being and he was the record guy of all time, in my opinion. There was a magazine back in the day and on the cover they called him the “Sultan of Sell”. He was like Walt Disney, Vince McMahon, George Lucas, Ringling Brothers. The music business never saw anything like him before. His way of thinking and his way of doing things was beyond their comprehension. They didn’t know what he was doing. They would never sign KISS. They would never sign Parliament-Funkadelic. They would never hire a nighttime promotion staff to go to discos because they wouldn’t even know about the discos!

Nathan: He was a pioneer. He was a brilliant guy. He was the epitome of a snakeoil salesman. He could sell sand in a desert. He created illusion. He was an amazing character.

Hudson: What I learned from Neil Bogart was the art of the pitch and sell the sizzle not the steak. That’s what he did. Neil’s attitude was, “I’ll get you there but your talent has to sustain you.”

Moulton: I think Neil, God rest his soul, was the person that most people feel was the person or the label that really got behind disco, even though he had KISS and Cameo. He was the one that really brought it to the foreground, considering that a few years earlier he thought it sucked. I gave him credit because I knew how much he disliked it then.

Chotin: He had his hand on what was coming in the music scene. He was just ahead of the game. I think that’s what made it so special.

Artie Wayne: People, as we grow older, should let go of negative things in our lives. My relationship with Neil was for so long and so productive and at one point or another, lucrative, even though we ended up on bad terms. In retrospect, those 24 or 25 years that I dealt with the guy are more important than a half-hour.

DiMino: He was easy to deal with and you just felt that he understood what you were trying to do. He was one of those guys that brought stuff out in you as well. He was able to get into that discussion with you, be part of it, and bring up ideas as well.

Goldman: He was an amazing, creative entrepreneur in the greatest sense. He’d come up with ideas that would just blow me away. I remember just being enamored by him. He was my mentor.

Rodriguez: There was an amazing energy and excitement about Neil Bogart. Neil surrounded himself with the best. If he knew that there was a particular individual who was the best, then whatever cost it took to get that individual, he was going to get him or her. He assembled an incredible team of people.

Nancy Sain (National Pop Promotion): Neil had magic and he spread it around. It was contagious. Knowledge is power and Neil gave me knowledge.

Jean Millington (Fanny): He was quite personable and charismatic. He was always very pleasant and on the upside and very hopeful speaking about the band, what’s going to happen.

Sudano: My fondest memory of Neil is just a picture of him in the office standing up just excited. Neil’s vision and energy, passion and belief and can-do spirit are what I remember about Neil. He just didn’t see “no” and in spite of whatever the odds were, he just saw the finish line and the victory and had no fear. When he couldn’t make payroll, he still kept up appearances. It was all or nothing for Neil. We’ve missed that since he’s been gone, trying to find that somebody who believes that much.

Summer: To this day, Bruce and I will be doing something and we’ll look at each other, something will become difficult and we don’t know how to get around it, and we’ll look at each other and go, “What would Neil do?” We still do it at this age of our lives. I would say that Neil has left an incredible legacy in us that’s intrinsic that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

What is the Legacy?

Neil Bogart

Neil Bogart

What is the Legacy?

Though Tommy Mottola resuscitated the Casablanca logo in recent years, and has released albums by Lindsey Lohan, Mika, and Ryan Leslie, the present-day Casablanca is related to the Neil Bogart-era in name only. The years 1974-1980, when Casablanca and its artists ascended to the world stage, are the soundtrack to Casablanca’s true legacy. What is that legacy? A maverick company? Landmark music? Bigger than life? All of the above and so much more.

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Holmes: The legacy? It’s hard for me to put that in words. I wish I could. It was a wonderful company and a wonderful place to be. It will live on. The lore of it will always be around.

Jenkins: I would say that Casablanca’s legacy, to me, will be forever rooted in a label that took a chance on diverse music and was run by a guy who took chances. It was reflected in the whole way the label was run. There’ll never be another Casablanca Records. That, to me, that’s the legacy. They did things their own way. It was run by music people.  It was the perfect label. I can’t think of any label that could have been better for us to be at during that time in our career where we needed a label that was just like us, that was different, that took chances, that was eclectic, that was out there. It was unique for its time and times were unique even back then. It was perfect, man, it was perfect.

Millington: Even the name Casablanca, what does it conjure up? Nightclubs and intrigue!

Gomez: Casablanca gave you the freedom to be you. They let a lot of people do things that a lot of record companies wouldn’t do. I don’t think on another label the Village People would have had the success that they had. There were no barriers. Neil would actually try out all of his stuff with his entourage. He would have a party and then throw things on. If he thought it was taking off with his entourage, he knew that he was in the right direction. His entourage had their fingers on the pulse of the music.

Hodo: My fondest memory about our years with Casablanca was the circus of characters that Neil Bogart had turned into the top label of its time. We loved everyone in the company.  I think Casablanca’s legacy is one that will never be repeated. That is unless another Neil Bogart comes along. It was the label of its time.

Aucoin: It was the kind of company that always glorified the artist, really cared about the artist. It wasn’t just craziness all the time. It was a lot of work but a lot of good people.

Esposito: It shows me that when you believe in something, no matter what anybody says, you got to follow your beliefs because they did things that everybody thought wasn’t possible. They had some great talent. They created something that no other record company had. It was a great time. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’m glad I was there to be part of it.

Blackmon: Casablanca was left of center, for sure. All I know is that you can count on half of one hand the companies at that time that had that the courage to do what Neil Bogart did.

Summer: I think Casablanca’s greatest legacy may not be one that the world recognizes. I think its emotional legacy lives on in the people that were on Casablanca.

Prestwood: I think that Casablanca will be known for being one of the most creative environments as well as having talented people that worked in the industry. I really do believe that. I believe that Casablanca was a record company where we built talent. The amazing thing about it is that we passed it on. We didn’t just do things for ourselves there, we gave back to others. It was so full of love. That’s one of the main things that I would say about it. It was a company that was so full of love, where everyone respected one another and we were all on equal footing. There was none of the stuff you would find in other environments. It’s one of the most talented and creative companies that ever existed. Along with all the other things that they may say about it… it was basically just a place where you walked through the door and you felt something special in that place. When you came into that place, you were in a whole other environment, a whole other dimension. It had a dimension of its own. The talent and the people that it brought together were just phenomenal.

Jim Watson (National Promotions Coordinator): The people I worked with were the best and we pretty much all cared very much for each other. I wish those days had never ended. We were a family. When you bring good people together with a man at the helm with the vision and drive all of those that are lucky enough to be in the boat make the vessel sail even without any wind.

Esty: It was like being thrown into another world and I had no fear. In the end, I just plowed on and did it. I had never taken an orchestration class or an engineering class or anything like that. I’d write these parts and then just play them. We had great musicians and singers.

Nathan: It was certainly a real pioneer in the area of dance music. KISS aside, and KISS had an amazing run, the legacy that Casablanca left on the dance floor certainly can’t be denied.

Bennett: With the advent of the Internet, I realize how many people really enjoyed that music more than I knew. I think people need to dance again. Human beings need to dance and sing. We just sit in front of our damn computers now. Everybody’s miserable and afraid. It’s this collective consciousness of fear. The music needs to get joyful again.

Tom Nikosey (Designer): I would say the legacy of Casablanca was maybe the intro of disco on a national and international scale. Disco took its roots from all kinds of things. I think it became an entity in itself in the music industry. Casablanca really did it or at least they started it big time. Disco didn’t last a whole long time. The true hard rock and rollers and the jazz artists, they were thumbs-down on disco because it was mass-produced music or manufactured music. Now it has its place in music history and it’s kind of cool. It’s fun. It harkens back to a better time, to be honest with you.

Patterson: It was one of a kind. It was loose and everybody was into getting it done.

Chotin: It was an opportunity to work for a man who had foresight and was really ahead of the time and would allow you to think outside the box. I know that’s kind of a cliché. It taught me to trust my instincts on things. It taught me how to integrate different skills, different aspects of business.

Castle: A lot of great music and a lot of great memories. A lot of really fine people who were executives and creative people that had a certain magic that they contributed to the industry at that point in time. The legacy is all the great music that came from the label, the art direction, the time itself-that era was what was captured. The art reflects the lifestyle of the time. I think that says a lot, a lot for Neil Bogart and a lot for Russ Regan, both great guys.

Perry: Casablanca was a family. It was a great family. We went out there, we did the job, I did the job. I never got called out because my expense account was too fucking high. We cared about each other. We took that label from nothing to the legacy it is now.

Hart-Winer: It was true entertainment. It was music, visual. It was this magical slice of time that produced so much happiness. It introduced everybody who worked there to think outside the norm and not in any perverse, weird way. Look at the possibilities. Look at what can be done. It doesn’t hurt to be outrageous sometimes.

Worrell: I used to get sick of hearing “Flash Light” because they’d play it all the time. I thank God for the hit but then every time you’d turn the radio on, there’s “Flash Light”. Even to this day, friends in Los Angeles, they’ll call and say, “Guess what’s on the radio? They’re playing ‘Flash Light’. They pumpin’ you up man.”

Brooks: People still call me and say, “‘After Dark’ is on!” They’re still playing it. We had a great run. All the artists I can say were really talented. Whether we got the chance to really grow was the question. It was such a happy time that will live forever. When anybody plays any of the material, from that time, it was a happy time and people were in love the music. They were in love with each other.

Sudano: The label defined that era in that moment in time. It was a great time because it was a lot of fun but at the same time it’s kind of like the shooting star that goes up so fast and it just blows up. There were a lot of people who went down—it was the same thing in the ‘60s—but we have the remnants of a great memory and great music.

Moroder: I’m thankful to Neil Bogart and the crew of Casablanca first, for giving me a chance to release my first product in the USA and then, sticking with me for a long time.

Hudson: They made some really good music, first and foremost, with a stable of unique – if you look at that roster, the talent was very diverse but there was a common thread in it and you know what it was? We were all natural performers, from Donna to KISS to Angel to my brothers and I to Parliament. The legacy is really good music and really good live performers. Neil was the utmost believer in getting your butt out there onstage. When Neil saw my brothers and I perform for the first time, he came backstage and he said, these are the kind of acts I should sign all the time. Whatever you did, blew me away. The legacy would be the music and the performers, when all is said and done, and Neil being a renegade. The guy broke the glass ceiling at the time.

LaRue: There’s a lot of fucking landmark music that came from Casablanca. It changed the music of the world. It simply did. Everything since has been affected by the music that was made at Casablanca during those four or five years.

Rodriguez: When I think about Casablanca, I think about all the creativity, I think about uniqueness. I think about thinking outside of the box. I think about the fun we had doing it. I also think about the fact that it prepared me. It continued to open my mind and open me up so that anything is possible. To be timeless, you have to be open. That experience of openness and dreaming and thinking of the possibilities, that really came from Casablanca.

D’Ariano: It’s the disco label of all time, of eternity. It was the apogee of disco. If that music is out of vogue at the moment, grab a hold of The Casablanca Records Story (1994) box set and throw that stuff on in your car and crank it up. It’s like listening to the Benny Goodman Band or the early Elvis records. It’s just classic music of an era. Neil was the greatest promoter in the history of the music business but if it wasn’t in the grooves, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s a combination of great music and the great promotion of it.

Wayne: The legacy is that there are people who know what the public wants, likes, and will buy. There aren’t that many people anymore because a lot of people who once had that power have either died or lost interest in continuing.

Klein: Casablanca Record and Filmworks was a one of a kind label thanks in such a major way to Neil Bogart and his P.T. Barnum ways. Advertising played a much bigger role in the marketing of their music than any other label’s marketing. All the other labels would rely on pay-for-play whereas Neil really integrated commercials. Neil used the commercials with this whole bigger than life sound that we got with Ernie Anderson to really make the label have a presence that was major. He was a combination of a huge record company, a television network, and a movie studio all in one. Neil really understood the importance of marketing and specifically using commercials to give his label the presence of a real major entertainment entity. He did it very successfully. I owe a big part of my career to him and to that label.

Wheeler: Casablanca was a time and place. I don’t think Casablanca will ever really work as a brand again. I think that’s one label that should have been put to bed when it was over. What happened during the times of Casablanca and through the dance music era, it taught many people from that era of time how to hear a hit and know when the public is just going to jump. What it taught you was to be so tuned into the streets that you could recognize a trend before it happened and you’ll find in the history of the music business that many people that came out of the disco era actually had very successful careers working street music, whatever trend was coming, you could feel it, you knew it.

Smith: Casablanca has left the worldwide public a legacy of music that will never ever again be matched or topped for what it represented, what it gave, the happiness and joy and yet there’s still so much of it that people don’t know about. People’s love and commitment will never be matched. They were absolutely glory days. I love music and there hasn’t been anything like it since.

Rodriguez: To me the legacy is the spirit of not being afraid to open up a new chapter in music. The legacy, we will talk about the music, we will talk about the artists, but also the legacy is in the people that were part of that movement – Neil Bogart, Bruce Bird, Jheryl Busby, Ruben Rodriguez, Larry Harris, Cecil Holmes. The legacy that the people involved with the music were just as creative as the artists. I think that was one hell of a combination. The artists were encouraged to do their thing. We always wanted to do something different and unique, like our artists. Look at the label – the way it was done, the colors. That’s classic. It’s a gorgeous piece of art. You go back even to the days when radio spots were on Casablanca, Neil had one particular voice at the time where you would hear the voice of Casablanca. The imaging was a very key factor. To be special in the marketplace, to dare to be different, to be excited about it—that, to me, is the legacy. At Casablanca, we didn’t just come to work, we’d come to make a difference. The same thing held true for Casablanca, the label. It came to make a difference.

Goldman: It was a bevy of ideas that had no bottom and no ceiling. In terms of painting the building, Neil always made sure it was shocking pink.

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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