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"An entertaining collection of anecdotes about an uproariously unsavory subculture of egomaniacs, sybarites, goniffs, and music lovers... Mr. Dannen has a knack for the telling quote and a healthy appetite for the juicy story."
—ROBERT CHRISTGAU, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"Anyone with more than a passing interest in the inner workings of the [music] industry will be enthralled by the juicy tales [Dannen] has to tell." —THE NEW YORK TIMES
"A knowing and unsentimental glimpse into the inner workings of the music business... Dannen got the inside story, and he got it right."
—LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“A sobering, blunt and unusually well-observed depiction of the sometimes sordid inner working of the music business.”
Almost since its inception, Jazz has had a long association with the criminal underworld and its vices.
Bars, Gin Joints, Speakeasies, private parties, hotel and casino lounges - wherever “live” Jazz was performed, there usually was a corollary with some form of gangland activity.
Not surprisingly then, when Jazz made its way into the recording studio, the record business, and the world of music publishing, not surprisingly, the organized crime did, too.
While “Hit records,” per se, are fairly rare in the Jazz lexicon, the substrata and substructures connected with the record and music publishing business that author Fredric Dannen describes in the following “Lullaby of Gangland” chapter were also very commonplace in many phases of the Jazz World in general.
And while the number of “hit records” from the Jazz idiom might pale in comparison with those from popular music and rock ‘n roll, the corruption associated with funding radio airplay the later certainly played a role in curtailing what opportunities there were to feature Jazz on the air as the following dialogue will no doubt confirm.
"Do you think without payola that a lot of this so-called junk music, rock and roll stuff, which appeals to teenagers would not be played?" one congressman demanded of a disc jockey.
"Never get on the air," came the solemn reply.
Copiously researched and documented, Fredric Dannen’s Hit Men [New York: Vintage, 1991] is a highly controversial portrait of the pop music industry in all its wild, ruthless glory: the insatiable greed and ambition; the enormous egos; the fierce struggles for profits and power; the vendettas, rivalries, shakedowns, and payoffs. Chronicling the evolution of America's largest music labels from the Tin Pan Alley days to the present day, Fredric Dannen examines in depth the often venal, sometimes illegal dealings among the assorted hustlers and kingpins who rule over this multi-billion-dollar business.
Lullaby of Gangland - Part 2
"Payola" is a word the record industry has bestowed on the English language. The term's familiarity has led to a common perception — unfortunately true — that the business is full of sharpies and opportunists and crooks. But as crimes go, payola is no big deal if the government's enforcement effort is an indication. After Freed's commercial bribery bust in I960 and congressional hearings on payola the same year, Congress passed a statute making payola a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum fine of $10,000 and one year in prison. To date, no one has ever served a day in jail on payola charges. The law is hardly a strong deterrent. [The FCC weakened the statute even further in 1979 by ruling that “social exchanges between friends are not payola.” This loophole makes the statute virtually unenforceable.]
Worse, the 1960 statute unwittingly laid the groundwork for the "new" payola of the Network. Because disc jockeys had proven so easy to bribe in the fifties, the selection of records at a station was passed to the higher level of program director. This meant, of course, that a bribe-giver needed to seduce only one person rather than several to have a station locked up.
Even the commercial bribery laws were fairly toothless; Morris Levy was probably right when he said that Freed would have beaten the charges had he been less belligerent. The legions of radio people and record executives called before the congressional payola hearings of 1960 made a mockery of the law's ambiguity. Unless it could be shown that they took money to play specific records, there was no illegality. So no one disputed receiving cash and gifts, just what the boodle was for. It magically turned into thank-you money. Thanks for giving my little ol' record a spin, pal—even though I never asked you to.
The men who presided over the hearings were not bowled over by the logic of this explanation. It drove some of them to sarcasm. One congressman demanded of a record executive, "Is it not a fact that these payments were payola up until the time that this investigation started? Then suddenly they became appreciation payments or listening fees or something else?"
Rock historians like to gripe that the hearings were an attack on rock and roll. Maybe they were. But the congressmen heard expert testimony that payola could be traced back at least to 1947, when the record business began to take off. It even existed in the Big Band era. "It was customary for the song plugger to walk up to a [band leader] and slip him an envelope with some money in it," one witness testified. No doubt some politicians believed that were it not for payola, radio would be playing Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore instead of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. "Do you think without payola that a lot of this so-called junk music, rock and roll stuff, which appeals to teenagers would not be played?" one congressman demanded of a disc jockey. "Never get on the air," came the solemn reply.
The committee called to the stand a Boston disc jockey named Joe Smith. He wasn't much at the time, but Smith would go on to become the president of three big labels: Warner Bros., Elektra/ Asylum, and, in 1986, Capitol-EMI. Smith never showed much talent for business—in his last two years at Elektra, the once-booming label lost $27 million—but he sure was funny. He turned up on daises year after year as the industry's favorite roastmaster, its Don Rickles. (He once introduced Seymour Stein, president of Sire Records, as "the man who is to the record industry what surfing is to the state of Kansas.") In 1960 it was Joe Smith who got roasted, by Representative Walter Rogers of Texas.
Rogers: Well now, you got a note that says "thank you" and it had a check with it for $175. . . .
Smith: I accepted it as a gift, and why they sent it to me, I cannot tell you, sir. . . .
Rogers: Did you report it as earned income?
Smith: Yes, sir.
Rogers: If it was a gift, you did not have to report it as income. The government owes you some money. ...
Smith: Sir, I want no more truck with the government after today, I assure you, sir.
Smith was small potatoes, however. The committee was more interested in Richard Wagstaff Clark, better known as Dick Clark, the host of ABC-TV's American Bandstand. It was impossible not to compare him with Alan Freed, if only because both men played a seminal role in bringing rock music to white teenagers. Since Freed's last radio job in New York was at WABC, he and Dick Clark had worked for the same parent company. However, as one congressman pointed out to Clark, "ABC fired him and retained you."
Dick Clark and Alan Freed were different sorts. Freed was rumpled, loud, and a drunkard. Clark was the All-American Boy.
In fact, ABC picked Clark for Bandstand in 1956 because of his clean image; a drunk driving charge had forced the resignation of the original host. But if you placed their outside interests side by side, Clark and Freed began to look more alike. Clark had a piece of so many companies that could profit from his television program—thirty-three in all—that the committee had to draw a diagram to keep track of them. He had interests in music publishers, record-pressing plants, and an artist-management firm. He had equity in three Philadelphia record companies. He had a third of a toy company that made a stuffed cat with a 45 rpm (the "Platter-Puss"). George Goldner gave him copyrights. Coronation Music assigned him the rights to "Sixteen Candles," a rock classic. He managed Duane Eddy and played his songs endlessly on Bandstand. He accepted a fur coat, necklace, and ring for his wife. He invested $175 in one record label and made back more than $30,000.
In the end, the committee chairman pronounced Clark "a fine young man." He was allowed to divest his companies and walk away. By the eighties, Dick Clark was still host of American Bandstand, as well as The $25,000 Pyramid, and TV's Bloopers and Practical jokes. He owned one of the biggest independent production companies in Hollywood. He had a Rolls-Royce, a Mercedes, a Jaguar, and a house in Malibu. Forbes put his net worth at $180 million.
Morris Levy, for his part, was not asked to testify before Congress. One hot topic of the 1960 hearings concerned Roulette Records, however. The previous May a disc jockey convention was held at the Americana Hotel in Miami Beach, drawing over two thousand industry people. The biggest event was an all-night barbecue hosted by Roulette, featuring Count Basie. Roulette spent more than $15,000 on the bash, half of it for bourbon (two thousand bottles' worth, according to hotel ledger books). Basie started swinging at midnight and didn't stop until dawn, at which point Roulette served breakfast. The event became known as the three B's, for bar, barbecue, and breakfast. A Miami News headline on May 31, 1959, read FOR DEEJAYS: BABES, BOOZE AND BRIBES.
Morris was not a man deterred by stern laws, let alone feeble ones like the payola statute. His contempt for authority had begun as a child. When he recorded Frankie Lymon's "I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent"—and substituted his name for Lymon's as author—there was irony at play, because he was a juvenile delinquent. All his frustration exploded in one incident at school — an event, he later said, that "changed my whole life."
"I was very bright. I could get an 'A' in any subject I wanted to, without working at it. I really could. Read a history book at the beginning of the term, take the test, and get an 'A.'
"But I had this one teacher, she had no business teaching school. Miss Clare. We had her for homeroom. Must have been seventy-five years old, never got fucked in her life, probably. And she hated me. One day she gave us a math test, and everybody failed it very bad, except for me and another person. She says to the class, you're not gonna do homeroom this period, you're gonna do math because of the poor showing. So my hand shot right up, and I says. What about those who passed the test? She looks at me and says, Levy, you're a troublemaker. I'm gonna get you out of this classroom if I have to take your family off home relief.
"And I got up — I was a big kid — took her wig off her head, poured an inkwell on her bald head, and put her wig back on her fucking head. Walked out of school and said, Fuck school. Never really went back to school after that there. I was sentenced for eight years to [reform school] by the children's court. And when we got the [welfare] check on the first of the month, I used to mail it back to the state, or the city, or whoever the fuck it was. That's what a teacher can do to you. This bitch had no fucking humanity."
Miss Clare had said the wrong thing. Morris was painfully embarrassed to be on Board of Child Welfare, though he was more than eligible. His father and oldest brother had died of pneumonia when he was a baby. After his middle brother, Irving, joined the navy, he lived alone with his mother in a Bronx tenement. She worked as a house cleaner and suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes, and lockjaw so severe that her front teeth had to be knocked out so she could take food. "Every sickness in the world just came at once on this lady," Morris sighed.
Morris made up for his childhood poverty but never shook the law of the street and the arrogance it entailed. He saw nothing wrong, for example, in putting his name on other people's songs so that he could get writer's as well as publisher's royalties. When Ritchie Cordell wrote "It's Only Love" for Tommy James and the Shondells, Roulette's biggest act of the sixties, "Morris," he said, "gave me back the demo bent in half and told me if his name wasn't on it, the song didn't come out."
Morris was not alone in believing this was his right. "He's entitled to everything," said Hy Weiss, who grew up with Morris in the East Bronx and became a fellow rock and roll pioneer as founder of the Old Town label. "What were these bums off the street?" Nor did Weiss see anything wrong with the practice of giving an artist a Cadillac instead of his royalties. "So what, that's what they wanted. You had to have credit to buy the Cadillac."
No performer, however big, was sacrosanct to Morris Levy. John Lennon found this out. Lennon's last album with the Beatles, Abbey Road, included his song "Come Together," which sounded similar to Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me," a Levy copyright. Morris sued, but backed off when Lennon proposed a settlement. His next solo album would be a compendium of oldies, including three songs Levy owned. Recording began in late 1973, but the project stalled. Morris interpreted the delay as a breach of settlement. He had dinner with Lennon, who promised to complete the oldies album. Morris let Lennon rehearse at Sunnyview, his farm in upstate New York, and took him and his eleven-year-old son, Julian, to Disney World. He asked Lennon if he could borrow the unedited tape of the songs he intended for the album —just for listening. Morris then released the songs as a TV mailorder album, Roots. More litigation followed, but Lennon prevailed, and Roots was withdrawn.
Morris is also listed with Frankie Lymon as author of the hit "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" and other songs he did not write. Sued for back royalties in 1984 by Lymon's widow, Emira Eagle, Morris was pressed to explain under oath how he helped write the tune. "You get together, you get a beat going, and you put the music and words together," he testified. "I think I would be misleading you if I said I wrote songs, per se, like Chopin."
Whether or not Morris took advantage of artists, he never allowed others to take advantage of him. "If you screw him," said one former friend, "he'll always get revenge." Morris was known to administer his own brand of frontier justice. "Given where we came from," said Hy Weiss, "we were capable of a lot of things." For his part, Weiss claimed he once hung a man out a window to settle a business dispute. Another time, Weiss said, he and Morris drove to Rockaway, New York, with a baseball bat, "to bust up a plant that was bootlegging us."
Morris could become violent if provoked, as he demonstrated on the night of February 26, 1975. He, Father Louis Gigante (the Chin's brother, a Bronx priest), Roulette employee Nathan McCalla, and a woman friend of Levy's, identified as Chrissie, were leaving Jimmy Weston's, a Manhattan jazz club. Three strangers approached Chrissie, and one made a flirtatious remark. Morris took offense, and a fight ensued. Two of the men turned out to be plainclothes police detectives. McCalla held the hands of Lieutenant Charles Heinz while Morris punched him in the face, costing him his left eye. Morris and McCalla were indicted for assault, but the case was inexplicably dropped before coming to trial. Heinz brought a civil suit, which was settled out of court. "Morris told me, Louie, I didn't know the cop was hurt," Father Gigante said, years later. "I just fought him."
Nate McCalla was commonly thought to have been Morris's "enforcer" until he disappeared in the late seventies. He was found murdered in 1980. A former army paratrooper, McCalla stood over 6' and weighed 250 pounds. Morris was so fond of Nate that he gave him his own record label, Calla, which recorded soul singers Bettye Lavette and J. J. Jackson. Morris also gave him a music publishing company that McCalla, a black man from Harlem, called JAMF — for Jive-Ass Mother Fucker.
"If I was going to describe Nate, I'd recall the song 'Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,' " said an attorney who did legal work for McCalla. "He had hands like baseball gloves. But he was as gentle as a Great Dane." Most of the time, that is. Once, in the mid-seventies, McCalla went to Skippy White's, a record store in Boston, to collect a delinquent debt. Said an eyewitness, "Nate had a medieval mace and chain, and was slinging it against his hand. He said, 'Where's the boss?' The boss immediately wrote a check."
Though it is not known why McCalla was killed, Washington, D.C., homicide detectives think they have some clues. In 1977 a rock concert was held at the Take It Easy Ranch on Maryland's eastern shore. The concert was sponsored by Washington disc jockey Bob "Nighthawk" Terry, but law officers believe the Genovese family had a financial interest. According to a police report, tickets were counterfeited by two men, Theodore Brown and Howard McNair, and the concert lost money. Brown and McNair were shot dead. Terry vanished, and his body has never been found. McCalla, who was traced to the scene of the concert by the FBI, disappeared soon afterward.
In 1980 McCalla turned up in a rented house in Fort Lauderdale, dead of a gunshot wound in the back of his head, which had literally exploded. Police found him slumped in a lounge chair in front of a switched-on television. The rear door was ajar and keys were in the lock. McCalla had been dead for at least a week and was badly decomposed, a process that had accelerated because someone had sealed the windows and turned on the heater. No suspects were apprehended. Just before the murder, a neighbor saw a bearded, heavyset white stranger pull up to McCalla's house in a Blazer truck. Beyond which, deponent knoweth not.
On October 29, 197?, the music division of the United Jewish Appeal feted Morris Levy as man of the year. The testimonial banquet was held at the New York Hilton, and thirteen hundred people turned out to shower love on the man they knew as Moishe. The crowd was a Who's Who of the record business. The guests dined on sliced steak and listened to the bands of Harry James and Tito Puente. They sang "Hatikvah" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." There was dancing. A row of saxophonists did synchronized swan dips; a soprano warbled "I Don't Want to Walk Without You, Baby." Speeches were made. "This man is beautiful," gushed UJA official Herb Goldfarb, introducing Morris. Father Gigante hugged Morris and described him as "a diamond in the rough." There was more music. A calf wearing a garland of flowers was wheeled onto the dance floor in a wooden crib. It began to moo plaintively.
"Jesus Christ!" It was Joe Smith, the former disc jockey from Boston who had become the industry's favorite emcee. He was then head of Elektra Records. "I'm the president of a big record company. I'm supposed to follow a cow, for Christ's sake. The priest [Gigante] comes on with that mi corazon crap, and now I gotta follow a cow, too."
Morris had personally requested that Smith do the roasting. Smith looked out over the dais he was to introduce and saw most of the surviving characters of Morris's generation and a few of their widows.
"The thought of coming up to honor Morris Levy," Smith began, "and to introduce and say something complimentary about this crowd up here tonight, is the most difficult assignment I've ever faced. , . . They have different styles, they have different personalities, they have different approaches to the business. But two things all of these ladies and gentlemen on the dais have in common: They cheated everybody every time they could. And they are the biggest pain in the ass people to be around. ... I would tell you that with this group of cutthroats on this dais, every one of you would be safer in Central Park tonight than you are in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel."
This got a tremendous laugh, but Smith seemed dismayed.
"Morris is not laughing too hard," he said, "so I think I'll move onward and not stay into that too long."
"Bye, Joey!" cried a voice from the dais.
"That's it, huh?" Smith replied. "I said either tonight I'm a hit, or tomorrow morning, I get hit, one or the other."
"You asked for it!"
Smith turned his attention to Hy Weiss, Morris's old neighborhood pal, who was in the back row. "Sorry about the seating arrangements," he said. "Hymie was assigned not to the table, but to room 328, where he's gonna line up the hookers for the party afterwards." There was laughter and applause. "I must tell you that Hymie Weiss, in addition to being a leader in the record business, invented the famous fifty-dollar handshake with disc jockeys. And, as always, tonight he said hello and gave me fifty. And I told him, I haven't been on the air for fifteen years, for Christ's sake."
(Weiss never denied the "handshake"; he was proud of it. He later bragged, "I was the payola king of New York. Payola was the greatest thing in the world. You didn't have to go out to dinner with someone and kiss their ass. Just pay them, here's the money, play the record, f*** you")
Smith continued introducing the dais. "Art Talmadge is the president of Musicor. Began his career with Mercury Records in 1947, where he learned to skim cash, moved on to [United Artists], where he did it good to them. They found out where the leak was. . . .
"Now, one of the biggies enters in here. Cy Leslie, chairman of the board of Pickwick. Great rip-off organization. It'll repackage this dinner tonight and sell it.
"Another representative of a great tradition and a name in the industry is Elliot Blaine. ... He and his brother Jerry . . . formed Cosnat Distributing and Jubilee Records back in 1947 and introduced the four bookkeeping system—with four separate sets of books. . . . And it took those guys ten years to find out they were screwing each other, with the distributing and Jubilee. . . .
"Mike Stewart, president of United Artists Records, a former actor — bad actor. Found four dummies from Canada, the Four Lads, milked them for everything they were worth. And he now sits with a big house in Beverly Hills, and they're working an Italian wedding in the Village tonight. ..."
Smith saved Morris for last. "I take this opportunity to extend my own personal best wishes to Moishe, a man I've known for many years, admired, and enjoyed. And I just got word from two of his friends on the West Coast that my wife and two children have been released!"
The laughter was uproarious.
In 1988, fifteen years after the UJA dinner, Moishe Levy was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to commit extortion. The music industry did not turn its back on him. Before his sentencing, Morris requested and received testimonial letters from the heads of the six largest record companies to present to his parole board and the presiding judge, Stanley Brotman. Bruce Repetto, the assistant U.S. Attorney from Newark who had nailed Morris, countered the letters with allegations, not brought out at the trial itself, that Roulette had been a way station for heroin trafficking. Brotman overlooked the drug allegations but still gave Morris ten years.
The case had begun innocently enough. In 1984 MCA decided to unload 4.7 million cutouts—discontinued albums—including past hits by Elton John, the Who, Neil Diamond, and Olivia Newton-John. Morris had been, in his day, the biggest-ever wholesaler of cutouts. MCA asked $1.25 million for the shipment, which came to sixty trailer-truckloads. Morris signed the purchase order and helped arrange for the records to go to John LaMonte, who was in the cutout business with a company called Out of the Past, based in Philadelphia. LaMonte, incidentally, was a convicted record counterfeiter.
On the surface, it looked like a simple deal, but it wasn't. A number of alleged mafiosi, including Morris's old pal Gaetano "the Big Guy" Vastola, all converged on the deal, expecting to make a "whack-up," or killing, of in some cases a hundred grand apiece. So they said, anyway, in conversations secretly monitored by the FBI. It was never clear how they would have made this whack-up, since the deal went sour. And when it did, violence and an extortion plot followed.
Though a roughneck with no evident musical ability, Vastola had a number of years' experience in the music business. This was due in part to his association with Morris. Back in the fifties, Vastola often hung around Alan Freed's office at the Brill Building, possibly keeping an eye on him for Morris. Vastola managed a few early rock groups, including the Cleftones, and apparently had an interest in Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. And he was an owner of Queens Booking, a big agency mostly for black acts in the sixties. One Queens Booking client whom Vastola also set up with a horse farm was Sammy Davis, Jr.
Under normal circumstances, Morris's dealings with Vastola might never have come to the attention of the FBI. But he was unlucky. Other members of Vastola's crew got involved with drugs and gambling, and the FBI won court approval to eavesdrop on the suspects' conversations. As the reels started turning on FBI tape recorders, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark grew curious about this MCA cutout deal.
Morris was also unlucky in the choice of John LaMonte to receive the cutouts. LaMonte turned out to be a deadbeat. His refusal to pay Morris back for the records — he said they were all schlock and not the ones he ordered — ruined everybody's plans. There would be no whack-up at all unless LaMonte could be persuaded to pay.
Vastola, who had joined Morris in picking LaMonte to get the records, was furious.
"Moishe, Moishe," the FBI heard him say, "you knew this guy was a c***sucker before you made the deal, didn't you?"
"That's right," Morris agreed.
"Why did you make the deal with him?"
Because, Morris explained, he had believed LaMonte was "a controllable ***ksucker."
Vastola, the man who "could tear a human being apart with his hands," was beginning to sweat. Evidently, he had to answer to higher powers in the mob hierarchy. On the phone with his cousin Sonny Brocco, a fellow conspirator, he fretted about "what they're doing to me . . . including the Chin."
He saw only one way out. "Sonny," Vastola said, "I don't like the way this thing is going with this kid [LaMonte], I'm telling you now. . . . I'm gonna put him in a f**kin' hospital. I'm not even going to talk to him. I don't like this motherf**ker, what he's doing. ... I mean, what are they making, a a**hole out of me, or what?"
Morris was angry, too. "Go out to that place, take over the kid's business," he proposed.
"I'm ready to go over there and break his a**," Vastola said.
On May 18, 1985, Vastola confronted LaMonte in the parking lot of a New Jersey motel and punched him in the face. LaMonte's left eye socket was fractured in three places, and his face had to be reconstructed with wire. True to his word, the Big Guy had put him in the hospital.
But LaMonte still would not pay.
Relations between Morris and Vastola became strained. The two men and another conspirator, Lew Saka, met at Roulette Records on September 23, 1985, to try to sort out the mess they were in. FBI video cameras and bugs preserved the meeting for posterity.
Saka, for one, could not believe LaMonte's nerve. "He still has the balls not to come up with the money like he was supposed to," Saka clucked. "He busted his jaw, he broke it. ..."
Morris was convinced that LaMonte would not pay because he had a side deal with Vastola's cousin. Sonny Brocco.
"As far as I'm concerned," Morris said, "the one that f**ked us with him is Sonny Brocco. I say that flat out, too. What do you think of that? Because he was the one who sat in that f**king chair at the first f**king meeting last year, looking to him what to say. And that's the first time this kid [LaMonte] ever got up on his a** and got enough nerve to even talk back."
"Sonny Brocco's dying," Vastola said.
"F**k him!" Morris said.
"I went to see him at the hospital in isolation."
"What's he done, nice things for people, Sonny Brocco?" Morris demanded.
"A lot of people are dying. Let me tell you something about me. If a guy's a c**ksucker in his life, when he dies he don't become a saint."
Matters went downhill from there, and Morris finally felt it necessary to call a mediator. The man he phoned was Dominick "Baldy Dom" Canterino, the Chin's chauffeur and right-hand man.
"I'm sorry to do this to you, pal," Morris said.
Vastola began to muse aloud about the prospect of jail. He had done time twice already — for extortion. It seemed to be one of his sidelines.
"We're gonna wind up in the joint," Vastola said. "Me, I know definitely."
"I'm hotter than all of youse," Morris replied. "They'd love to get me. You know that." The government had been after him, he said, for twenty-five years.
When he arrived and took his place at the meeting, Baldy Dom was treated with deference. He listened to Vastola and Levy relate their problems with John LaMonte and then asked the obvious question: "Who gave him the records?"
There was a pause.
"The original deal?" said Morris.
"Yeah," said Canterino.
Somehow it seemed prudent to blame alleged West Coast mob figure Sal Pisello, yet another party to the transaction.
"The original deal was finally closed with Sal and him," Morris said. "Sal closed the deal with him. The deal was blown up and I said f**k it all. . . ."
"He says get rid of it," Vastola nodded.
"Sal closed the deal," Morris repeated.
"Right," agreed Lew Saka.
"Sal closed the deal with him and now we all have to live with it," Morris said. "The truth's the truth. Sal did close the deal with him."
Despite such blatantly incriminating conversations, Morris had been predicting for over a year that he would win his case. He seemed genuinely shocked to have lost it. It had been his plan, after he was acquitted, to sell Roulette and his farm and move to Australia. He remained free on bail, pending an appeal he would ultimately lose, and became gravely ill with cancer of the liver. In the meantime, he did sell all his music holdings, at long last, for more than $55 million.
"The music business was a beautiful business," he said, adding that he, Morris Levy, was the last of a breed. "The government will finish burying me off. The government don't like the mavericks and impresarios. It used to be Horatio Alger stories, now they want no-talent bums. Stick your head up above the crowd, you get it chopped off."
Morris may have been right about the government "burying" him: He died on May 21, 1990, never having served a day of his sentence. But he was wrong about being the last of a breed. If the label bosses of today are not quite as intimidating as he was, it isn't for lack of trying. Morris's more genteel contemporaries of the fifties, whose careers preceded rock and roll, are the real vanished race. When Morris formed Roulette, for example, a man of dignity and charm named Goddard Lieberson was in command of CBS Records. He was not a Damon Runyon character, not even remotely. Though his legacy would be felt at CBS Records well into the Yetnikoff era, his approach to the business would not.”