My diaries, six lines per day and one old volume of which I re-read each morning to remind myself how life changes over the years, are great memory jerkers, and an entry from today in 1989 concerns Morris Levy and Roulette Records in New York. Part of my large spectrum of responsibilities when running the oddly titled Strategic Marketing Division of EMI was to always be on the lookout for repertoire and labels that might be up for sale or licence. Having failed to persuade my bosses that £4M was a good price to pay for Pye Records, and then watched Castle probably make that much in a year through reissues, when Roulette came on the market for the world outside America we all decided to go for it. It was a strange conglomerate of labels, from the original Roulette label with its wonderful jazz library, not to mention Frankie Lymon and Tommy James, to TK with KC!
I won’t bore you with the business side of things, but I was in New York with my legal colleague Gareth and one of his staff, Claire, to go through the papers and hopefully uncover what we might be buying and whether the contracts were all valid – all fairly mundane stuff. The afternoon was much more exciting as we were to go to a Brooklyn warehouse and actually see the master tapes…seeing being believing. We were allocated a car and driver and told quite explicitly not to get out of the car until the driver had opened the entrance to the warehouse, and similarly on our return.
We got the deal, and subsequently returned to New York to take Mr Levy and his sidemen to a fine dinner at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel and have my one and only opportunity to meet this extraordinary man in the flesh. This was the man who, when confronted by Frankie Lymon’s wife demanding the since his death she should be receiving royalties from his recordings, magicked up three more ladies who said they too had been married to him and would they all like to fight it out between them! (No money ever changed hands!). This is the Morris Levy whose catchphrase was ‘nickels and dimes’, and he did pretty well on them. This was the Morris Levy who when asked by Tommy James when he was going to receive any royalty money, is said to have replied “Royalty, you want royalty, go to London!”
A few blocks away from the Roulette legal offices was Allan Klein’s corner suite on 5th Avenue. This is the man who managed the Rolling Stones post Andrew Loog Oldham and The Beatles post Brian Epstein, as well as Phil Spector and the affairs of the late Sam Cooke. This is the man whose office commanded the most magnificent views of the Hudson and/or East rivers, yet chose to site his desk right in the corner looking away form the windows. I was there on more than one occasion when he toyed with EMI through me, offering the possibility that we might be able to release Sam’s catalogue and the Stones’ then unreleased “Beggar’s Banquet” movie. Who was I kidding?
But I met them both, two legendary names to add to my memory bank! Allan Klein with John and Yoko