Wednesday, December 9, 2009


by Michaelangelo Matos/A.V. Club
December 8, 2009
Pictured: Larry Harris and Gene
backstage, 1975.
Larry Harris broke into the record business in 1971 when his cousin, Buddah Records bigwig Neil Bogart, gave him a shot at local radio promotion—Harris became Bogart’s right-hand man. He moved with Bogart from New York to Los Angeles in 1973 to co-found the legendary Casablanca Records, which later expanded to include a movie company that produced The Deep, Midnight Express, and Thank God It’s Friday, the lattermost essentially a 90-minute ad for the record label. Casablanca at its height hardly needed the exposure: Its signings included Kiss, Parliament, Donna Summer, Cher, and The Village People, as well as the early comedy records of Robin Williams. Casablanca was also notoriously profligate, spending lavishly and doing whatever it took to appear luxuriantly successful—something that was seldom the case on paper. The company typified late-’70s excess: drugs, especially cocaine and Quaaludes, proliferated. Employees were having sex on desktops (sometimes with help from the musicians), when Bogart wasn’t setting fire to them. And until co-owner and distributor PolyGram stepped in to put the overspending to a halt, free-flowing finances were the order of the day.

All this is detailed in no-holds-barred fashion in Harris’ new memoir, And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records, co-written with Curt Gooch and Jeff Suhs. The most dirt-filled music book since Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt, And Party Every Day is always entertaining and frequently jaw-dropping, from Harris’ description of acting as runner for an enormous amount of cocaine for Curtis Mayfield and several female hotel guests during the Buddah days to tales of calling his own positions on the Billboard charts. The A.V. Club spoke with Harris over lunch at a deli in midtown Manhattan about Gene Simmons’ business acumen, George Clinton’s drug habits, wet T-shirt contests, and much, much more.

The A.V. Club: Leaving aside the obvious question of your age, if we were conducting this interview in 1978, how would it be different?

Larry Harris: Well, Casablanca would be riding the wave, especially in 1978. Disco was king. Kiss was still huge—they’re pretty big now, but not huge like they were. And I’d probably be slurring on Quaaludes.
AVC: Was this book the first time you’d attempted to tell this story?
LH: When anybody new I met found out that I was running Casablanca, they’d always say, “How was it?” I would tell them little bits and pieces of the story, and they’d inevitably say, “You should write a book.” Then one day, about 12 years ago, I started stream-of-consciousness just writing, from the beginning. Then I put it away, took it out, put it away. I’d tell other people stories, and then I’d remember stories I’d forgotten about. Since the book was written, a lot of people I used to work with call up and say, “Hey, you didn’t have this story in.”
I sent it to some publishers, and they said “No.” Then I got a call from Lydia Criss, [Kiss drummer] Peter Criss’ wife, who’d written a book three years ago called Sealed With A Kiss. It’s this six-pound, 1,500 pictures, unbelievable book. There were a couple pictures they didn’t know the people in. So her co-writers [Gooch and Suhs] got in contact with me. I said, “By the way, I’ve got a book I wrote.” Doesn’t everybody? I sent them my draft, and asked if they wanted to work on it with me. Even after they touched it up a little, still—nobody. We talked to people who were 22—never heard of Casablanca, never heard of Donna Summer. Then this guy at Backbeat Books, Mike Edison. Of all the artists we had, he was a Parliament fan. That’s how we got the deal.
AVC: The book is obviously Kiss-heavy. Was that because of your co-authors?
LH: They didn’t change anything. What they did for me is a lot of research. I didn’t remember the dates. I didn’t know if it was May 15 or April 3. I mean, I knew what year it was, but I don’t remember that after 30 years. They tightened up a few places. They interviewed a few people that we put into the book. They got me to do interviews with some of the people I worked with, which I hadn’t done. I always felt it should be like a fly on the wall. Even though I was involved with all this stuff, it was kind of surrealistic. I speak to Gene Simmons, or I did, every six months, until he promised he would do the foreword, and then he backed out.
AVC: Did he read what you’d written about him as unflattering?
LH: I didn’t think I said anything unflattering about them, really. We chose the chapters we sent him very carefully. He said his publisher wouldn’t let him do it. I told that to [former Kiss manager] Bill Aucoin, and Aucoin said, “That’s bullshit.” I told that to [former Kiss manager] Joyce Biawitz, who also said, “That’s ridiculous. He’s writing two pages? Why would his fucking publisher care?” And I did speak to Paul [Stanley]. He was on a friend of mine’s radio show promoting his artwork; he’s an artist now. My friend said, “Oh, we have a call from a listener.” I got on and said, “I took you to a Who show in 1973.” The Who is my favorite band. The show was at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and that’s where I decided, and where we all decided, that they should be breaking guitars. When I first saw Kiss, they were pretty unable to move around. They were in black leather; Ace [Frehley] and Paul and probably Gene weren’t used to wearing platforms all the time. Early pictures of them, they wore regular street shoes. At some point, even when they were out of makeup, they wore the platforms just so they could be larger than life.

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