Music

Curatorial Casablanca

Christian John Wikane

You know KISS and Donna Summer but what about Platypus and Gloria Scott? Herewith, a guide to underappreciated gems from the Casablanca catalog.

Gloria Scott may be less known to listeners than Donna Summer but she is a pivotal figure in the story of Casablanca nonetheless. Smoke and Platypus did not scale the charts the way Cameo and Parliament did but their music is still among the funkiest of the era. The discography of Casablanca, and all of its subsidiary labels, boasts a wealth of acts that may not have conquered the airwaves to the same degree as the label's most successful artists but whose music is well worth rediscovering.

Universal Music acquired the rights to the Casablanca catalog when Seagram bought PolyGram in 1999. Because Universal has scantly capitalized on the considerable legacy of music Casablanca left behind, acts like 7th Wonder and Loose Change are virtually unknown to younger generations. Bruce Sudano, whose albums with Brooklyn Dreams have yet to be properly re-released, characterizes the disconnect the current day owners of the catalog have with the music, "You have people who are working catalog who have no sense of the history. Everybody that knew anything has long ago been fired or dismissed. They have somebody in there now for whom it's just a catalog number and a name. There's no attachment to anything".

Ever since Universal's acquisition of PolyGram, only the albums by the most popular acts – Donna Summer, KISS, Cameo, Village People, and Parliament – have been properly remastered. For a brief period in the early-'90s, PolyGram re-issued a small portion of the Casablanca catalog in tandem with the release of The Casablanca Records Story (1994) four-CD box set. The focus of the set was on disco and funk – no KISS, no Angel – and disregarded the earlier pop hits by Hudson Brothers, Fanny, and Bill Amesbury (whose "Virginia (Touch Me Like You Do)" was Casablanca's first single). David Castle, whose own catalog is unavailable digitally or on CD, rightly assesses, "There's a market out there for all these records but it's not been confronted by the label". In the mean time, Casablanca's vault remains on lockdown and the masters gather dust.

Curatorial Casablanca offers a sampling of artists who recorded for Casablanca and its subsidiary labels during Neil Bogart's tenure. These songs demand your attention and hopefully individuals with the power and good sense to re-release them will take note. If YouTube hits are any indication, the demand for these rare gems is substantial. Some were previously available on CD -- albeit pricey, sublicensed import releases that are long out of print – and a few you can currently find on MP3 retail sites but most have never seen the light of day since their release more than 30 years ago. Take a stroll through the Casbah and hear what you've been missing…

 

Gloria Scott: "What Am I Gonna Do" (What Am I Gonna Do, 1974)

Sly Stone and Ike and Tina Turner were just a couple of the artists Gloria Scott had worked with by the time she met Barry White in the early '70s. While Scott brought White an arsenal of songs that she had written, White wanted to match the Port Arthur native with other material and signed her to his production company directly. The title track of Scott's What Am I Gonna Do is an infectious White production and Scott's soulful, understated performance stands as the most sophisticated of the early Casablanca sides.

According to catalog numbers, What Am I Gonna Do was Casablanca's second release, sandwiched between the debuts of KISS and Parliament. Despite the label's best efforts, the album lived a short shelf life. Gloria Scott released a non-album single later in 1975, "Just As Long As We're Together", that fared well on the R&B and disco charts but ultimately did not lead to a second full-length release. Bob Perry, who handled independent promotion for Casablanca in the Southeast and currently owns Blue Note Records (not to be confused with the jazz label), says Scott's sole album for Casablanca trades upward of $200. "That's become a very big Northern Soul record," he says. "I deal with records all day and I haven't seen that record in ten years. It's highly sought after by collectors. It didn't really sell to begin with so there's really not a lot of copies out there." Due to a flurry of interest overseas and in the states, Reel Music re-released What Am I Gonna Do in June 2009.

 

Greg Perry: "Come on Down" (One for the Road, 1975)

One for the Road is arguably the greatest lost album of the 1970s. Sweeping strings, a driving rhythm section, and Greg Perry's impassioned vocals create a peerless and potent 35 minutes of soul. Neil Bogart and Cecil Holmes knew Perry from his days writing scores of hits for Freda Payne, Chairmen of the Board, and Honey Cone on Holland-Dozier-Holland's Invictus/Hot Wax label, which Buddah distributed while Bogart presided at Buddah. Shortly after Casablanca launched, Perry signed with the label and released One for the Road.

Listening to a track like "Come on Down", it's understandable why the label thought it had an unqualified hit. H.B. Barnum's string arrangement is a dramatic prelude to Perry's aching vocal. Celestial background vocals (by Perry, his wife Edna Wright, and brother Dennis Perry), contrast subtly with Perry's plea. "Get your head out of the clouds," he cries, "Get your feet back on the ground." Regrettably, One for the Road did not become the commercial success it certainly warranted. "It was a great disappointment," Cecil Holmes says now, "because I always thought that was a great album. It never became what I thought it was going to become. We had good airplay with it. It just never took off. I don't understand why." Nevertheless, One for the Road stayed in circulation among soul music aficionados over the years and the Soul Brother company based out of London re-released One for the Road in 2000. The CD now sells for more than three figures on auction sites. Do yourself a favor and find a copy.

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