Al talks about record company executives Morris Levy, Art Talmadge and George Goldner.
Column: The Other Side of the CD
by Al Santiago
I worked for both Morris, or Moishe as he was called by his friends, and for Art. I was with Morris in 1966 at Tico-Roulette after I sold him my Alegre label, and was with Art in 1967 with his Musicor label. Tito Rodriguez had to move to P.R. and I took his position as A&R and staff producer of Latin products at Musicor. Art was always a gentleman and a man of his word, as Moishe was also, but Art knew how to save a buck. Morris and Art were not producers, and, with one exception, I never saw them in the studio. One afternoon I was recording Orquesta Broadway at Grove Studios, which was located in the Musicor Building on 54th Street (55th?) off Broadway. In the middle of the session, Art uncharacteristically dropped in. I thought he just wanted to talk about last month’s budget on my expense account. I couldn’t believe it! Here I was working against the clock to avoid Local 802’s overtime rules and he was interrupting me. For the benefit of the company, my departmental budget, and the studio costs on this session, I told him politely, “Mr. Talmadge, please leave the studio, I’m working.” He was somewhat surprised, but he left. He later told me that I was right, and he apologized. I told myself, “Alright, a man like this I can work for.”
At my interview for the position he had asked me if I would accept less than the salary I was requesting. I said no, and he reluctantly said O.K. I understood he was trying to save a buck and didn’t let it bother me. After I recorded Orchestra Broadway, Kako, Mark Weinstein, Dioris Valladares, Bobby Capo with Tito Puente and others, he suggested (again to save bucks) that I come up with some creative ideas on how to utilize previously recorded tapes. I did, and that’s how Tito Rodriguez’s Instrumentals a là Tito was created, as well as Big Band Latino. I doused the vocal track and overdubbed the excellent trumpet playing of Tito’s musical director and straw boss, Victor Paz. Tito called me and threatened to sue me, but it never happened. In 1967, Art told me he wanted me to go to P.R. and record La Playa Sextette, which we later released as The Sound of La Playa with a very appropriate cover shot of the Atlantic Ocean off Miramar (I think).
My trip to Puerto Rico had another purpose, much more economical than the first. This was to close down the Musicor office in P.R., ship everything back to New York, including the piano, and, also, to fire the P.R. Musicor representative. The last chore I found the most difficult. How was I to meet this young man and ask for his help in closing the office, shipping the contents, putting me in contact with the musicians, the leader, a rehearsal place and the studio, and then fire him? I overcame this by telling him my mission upfront, and he agreed to stay on another week anyway.
Eventually, Art asked me if I would consider working part-time and I finally got tired of his Jack Benny ways and turned him down. I do thank him for the opportunity to see and touch the original sound reproducing configuration, the cylinder. The Musicor staff was invited to a company luncheon at Art’s Westchester County mansion. The luncheon also included, to our surprise, a think tank on how to increase sales. Anyway, he had a large collection of musical cylinders, which I enjoyed. We took a group picture on his lawn, which I still have.
Moishe was a very youthful and modern executive. He usually did not wear a necktie or a jacket. I was working into the a.m.’s one morning preparing some instrument tracks in the studio for La Lupe or Celia Cruz (I forget which, this was in 1966). The tracks were needed for South American television to be used as background on some television lip synching. When I finished, it was so late (5:45 a.m.) I decided to go straight to the office and not go home. After breakfast, I’m entering the Roulette Building on West 52nd and Broadway when I hear see or six rough looking men wearing blood stained white shirts but in a jolly mood. Moishe was among them. In fact, it was obvious that he was in charge. I later learned what had happened. Some employees were stealing LPs from the warehouse in New Jersey. When Moishe heard of this, he did not call the police. What he did was call some family acquaintances and go to Jersey to stop the thievery.
Moishe was a man of connections. I told him that one of our best singers was in Lexington, Kentucky, in rehab, and that we should look forward to signing him. After asking me Ismael Rivera’s name, he picked up the phone and spoke to I don’t know whom. He then told me, “I want you to go to Kentucky and pick him up.” I was to take along a letter stating that Tico was signing him to a recording contract and that he would be earning money. I wanted to pick up Maelo, but I had my evening commitments at Casalegre where I was buying, supervising, and checking things out. Mike Amadeo was managing the store and he did a great job. Moishe then decided to send our public relations man, an ex-beer salesman from Cuba, to pick up Maelo. When they returned, I was told that the public relations man, who was deaf in one ear, would be producing Maelo. I correctly concluded that Maelo did not know my pivotal role in his release and new contract. He may have died never knowing.
The rookie record producer was a liar, in addition to other things, and via one of his many lies, he persuaded Moishe to fire me. A few days later Moishe offered to finance a new record company in which we were to be partners. I reluctantly declined. The “so-called” producer ended up with his own distributorship on 10th Avenue. He subsequently made a deal with Mr. Talmadge at Musicor and signed a license agreement to release all Latino Musicor material on his own label. What annoyed me was that he omitted my producer credits on the backliner notes very often.
George Goldner, an excellent record producer, died in a friend’s house after complaining about heart pains during his last recording session. He refused to go to the E.R. because he lacked medical insurance. George founded Tico and produced Macho, the Titos and Joe Loco among others. He eventually sold Tico to Morris. Later he also founded Gone and Cotique. I admired his talents and one day I inadvertently dropped in on a Gilberto y Su Sextet recording session. I did not know what George looked like, but I was impressed at this non-Hispanic calling the shots and, obviously, the producer. We were introduced and we were sincerely pleased to meet. Henry Alvarez was singing lead and asked George if it would be alright if I would go into the recording area and help them with some cues that they were having difficulty with. George o.k.’d it, and I was, of course, flattered and pitched in. Later, George and I and a few of his highly placed record business exec friends went to lunch at a nearby Jewish deli. George and I were familiar with each other’s backgrounds and hit it off.
Some short time later, George told me he wanted to record Johnny Colon for his Cotique label, but that he knew I had Johnny under contract. Not having the bucks at that time to record Johnny, I told both George and Johnny that I would not hold Johnny back and gave them a release from the contract. The album was very successful and titled Boogaloo Blues. Johnny was playing trombone at that time; this was before he switched to piano and vocals. I visited Johnny a few years ago at his East Harlem School of Music and he cracked us up with his Al Santiago anecdote. He remembered (although I didn’t, but I don’t doubt it either) that a rule of the Tropicana Club in the Bronx was that gentlemen were to wear ties. Carlos Ortiz, the owner and then middleweight boxing champ of the world got very annoyed at me when I showed up with a tie, but no shirt and insisted on being let in.
I have enjoyed writing for the Descarga Newsletter so much that I am expanding my output and am already halfway through my first book. It will be about my producing days at Alegre, Tico, Musicor, Mañana, Fania, etc., up to and including my current label, Mucho. It will be about my Casalegre Music store days, about my associates, about the Chack-a-ñu-ñu Boys, the newsletter and up to my current school psychologist gig. It will be about the Alegre All-Stars, Machito, Tito Puente, Charlie Palmieri, Louie Ramirez, Kako, Tito Rodriguez, Ray Santos, arrangers, musicians, and even singers, although, as I have said many times, “I could do without them.” Some exceptions to that statement are Chivirico, Cheo, Yayo, El Gran Fellove and Charles Aznavour.
Fortunately, I already have a publisher. I’m not definite on the book title yet...maybe (1) Alegre, or (2) Chack-a-ñu-ñu, or (3) Pre-Salsa plus, or (4) Latin Music New York (1948 to 1996), or (5) ?
I look forward to suggestions for the book title and also to receiving Al Santiago anecdotes from whomever might remember one. Eddie Palmieri likes to tell the story of once when we were standing by the entrance to the office at the Colgate Gardens (circa 1964). Eddie was facing the outside of the office and I was facing towards the inside of the office. A young man came up behind me with a ten or twenty dollar bill and said, “Can you break this?” Without turning around, I took the bill from over my shoulder, tore it in half, and returned it, again without looking and apparently without any care that the guy might bop me. Eddie later told me the guy was stunned and turned and walked away shaking his head.
Willie Colon tells the story of when an assistant D.A. wanted me to testify before a grand jury regarding a so-called Mafia hit that I had actually witnessed on a side street next to a mid-Broadway Latino bar and restaurant. Willie went with me dressed in a dark navy blue or black suit, white business shirt and tie to represent me. I introduced Willie as my lawyer and he was accepted as such, even though he was about seventeen years old.
Please write to me:
c/o Mucho Music, Inc
181 South Riverside Avenue
Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520
Any suggestions or constructive criticism for “The Other Side of the C.D.” would be very welcomed. Praise is good, too. Thank you.