June 5, 2010
In 1963, when the first hit I produced, “Meet Me At Midnight Mary” was going up the charts, every songplugger I knew was pitching me Tunes to get on the next date. When it was Bob Reno’s turn, who was working at George Paxton music, he came in to see me empty handed and admitted that he didn’t have any songs that he felt was right, which immediately impressed me.
After that incident I was eager to hear anything he wanted to play me. He turned out to be one of the good guys in the “neighborhood” (The Brill Building). He was always looking out for me and all of his friends. When the Duprees (“You Belong To Me”) broke up, Bob Reno brought Ron Dante (“The Archies), Jerry Keller (“Here Comes Summer”), and me to his boss, George Paxton to do a record under their name.
Nothing happened with the track, but it gave me a chance to see how Coed records worked and how Adam Wade and the Crests were made. Bob loved a master I produced and brought it in to his boss, who bought it and put it out under the name Terry Boyd. Even though Bob knew it was me singing with a fake English accent, he never busted me.
Producer/ songwriter, and Felix the Cat cartoonist, Don Oriolo fondly remembers, “I was 16 years old and writing songs for my band in NJ and everyone seemed to like them….so I figured how hard could it be to get them published. Ahh, the naiveté of youth. I banged on door after door, publisher after publisher waiting at the Chock full of Nuts on Broadway between appointments. Just when I was about to give up I entered the offices of Coed records… “Hi, my name’s Don Oriolo, I’m a song writer and I have some great songs I’d like to get published.” Within a few minutes, the receptionist said, “go in, Mr. Reno will see you.” Wow….I couldn’t believe it…. Bob told me to play my best five songs. 10 songs later he stopped me, and said. “Not bad…you have a lot of talent.” I was bolstered by these words of confidence coming from an obvious professional. We talked for a while and Bob gave me lots of good advice. He asked me if I was sure that music was the profession I wanted to follow for my whole life, or was it nothing more than a hobby. Of course I said it was what I wanted to do, and to this day it still is what defines my life.” The next time I did some business with Bob was when he and my pal Neil Bogart were at Cameo Parkway, Neil running the record company, and Bob the publishing. They bought a master Mark Barkan (“She’s A Fool”, “Pretty Flamingo”) and I wrote, sang, and produced, “The Subway Train That Came To Life” and released it under the name The Third Rail”.
Once again the record wasn’t a hit but it allowed me to see how Neil Bogart operated up close. Although Cameo was having #1 hits like “96Tears” by Question Mark and the Mysterians, the company was in deep financial trouble. Every day Reno would tell me another horror story about how Cameo was imploding…driving down it’s stock every day.
As soon as I got any information about the company, I’d pass it along to my partner Kelli Ross’ father Irving Green, who owned Mercury and Smash Records. He quickly bought and sold shares in Cameo before the company was forced to stop publicly trading and made a killing! He was so grateful; he made a substantial (silent) investment in our company, which allowed Kelli and me to move from a two room office in the Brill Building, to a six room suite at 1650 Broadway, which once housed Aldon Music and later Koppleman and Rubin.
I arranged a meeting with Mr. Green, Neil Bogart, Bob Reno in hopes they’d make a deal, unfortunately Kama Sutra moved a little faster and brought the dynamic duo into their fold. It wasn’t long before Bob was dissatisfied with the treatment and compensation he was getting for bringing producer Paul Leka and The Lemon Pipers “Green Tambourine” in, and discovering “Melanie”(“Brand New Key”), so I set up another meeting with Irving Green. This time they worked out a deal and Bob was brought in to run Mercury’s publishing company MRC, which had just been a holding company up until then.
Producer, manager Joel Diamond who’s being considered to replace Simon Cowell on “American Idol”, recalls, “Bob Reno was by far the pivotal factor in my life for any success I am enjoying and have enjoyed for the past 30 years in the music business. When I was still selling insurance in Passaic, NJ and singing at the Holiday Inn in Wayne, NJ on the weekends at weddings and bar mitzvahs, it was Bob Reno who solely believed in me and allowed me to head up a music publishing company which by all rights had no business doing. I had met Bob through a chain of events and it was Bob who called me one day to meet with him and said, “Joel, you are the least qualified to succeed me as the head of MRC Music (Mercury Record Corporation) but I truly believe that you have the most potential of anybody I have met, including all the experienced and well seasoned music publishers.”
“Bob gave me the opportunity and there was no way I would let him down. I assembled a group of writers and artists who went on to extremely successful careers not to mention my #2 person in charge and my assistant, Tommy Motolla, who later became CEO of Columbia Records.”
Don Oriolo continues, “I signed as a writer for Bob at MRC music, his was one of the brightest people I’ve ever met. His letter writing skills where second to none, and I feel during those days at MRC and Mercury listening to him negotiate and dictate letters helped hone my business skills that help carry me through to this day. Bob was a great judge of talent, songs and people.”
Singer/ songwriter Scott English (“Mandy”, “Bend me, Shape Me”) says, “BOB RENO WAS A GENTLEMAN’S GENTLEMAN, ALWAYS READY TO HELP A FRIEND IN NEED. BOB WAS THE HEAD OF MILLS MUSIC WHEN WE MET, THAT WAS NEXT DOOR TO MY OFFICE AT CLAUS OGERMAN’S HELIOS MUSIC ON THE 6TH FLOOR OF THE BRILL BUILDING . WHEN BOB TOOK OVER THE TOP SPOT IN THE NEW YORK OFFICE OF MERCURY RECORDS, I FOUND A GREAT R&B GROUP CALLED THE MARVELLES, AND WITH OUT EVEN HEARING THEM BOB GAVE STUDIO TIME IN AT MERCURY PLUS A RECORD DEAL!,
Producer/manager Barry Oslander remembers, “Bob was good to many record biz pros of today giving them their first start and knowing from his talent of knowing talent they would all make it in the Record and entertainment biz. He did this with me, by taking me from being a recording engineer at Mercury Records to what I always wanted to do, become a producer. In addition to having an incredible ear for a finished record, it always amazes me how well Bob Reno is able to match up artists with producers and the right piece of material.”
Oslander continues, “One of Bob’s great creative talents is the ability to hear a hit song no matter how it’s presented to him, guitar/voice, piano voice or a full band playing the song.” Then Bob suggests to Barry to record Black Comedienne “Moms” Mabley, on a cover of Dion’s, “Abraham, Martin, And John”, which goes straight up the charts!”
Joel Diamond smiles and adds, “I was working late in my office at MRC Music when one of the engineers from the recording studio upstairs came in and said that Paul Leka wanted to see me in the studio immediately. Paul was not only a great songwriter, he also had an illustrious career as a producer that included The Lemon Pipers, Harry Chapin, and REO Speedwagon.
Upon entering the studio it looked like a gathering of everybody who had been left in the building that night including the janitors plus stragglers just walking by the building who were recruited to sing. Paul put me in front of the mike along with probably 40 other people, he taught us his new song, and we all just started singing the chorus to “Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye” Bob sure did know a hit song no matter what bag it was in. He went from Moms Mabley to Na, Na just weeks apart.”
Artie jumps back in the conversation, “One day while I’m visiting Bob in his new office, my friend Lou Reizner, who runs the Mercury office in London gives him a call. Bob puts me on the speaker as Lou tells us about a two album deal that Mercury can get for only $30,000 if they act fast and guarantee a US Release. The artist is David Bowie, and the first album is called “Space Oddity”.
Bob isn’t familiar with Bowie, but I am. I loved “Love You ‘Til Tuesday”” from his Deram album. As Lou continues to talk I put my thumbs up and without blinking an eye Bob says, “OK, You got a deal!” Maybe it’s just a sidebar to Rock and Roll History, but a negotiation I’m proud to have had a hand, or should I say a thumb in!
Bob Reno comes over frequently for dinner, and my wife Sheilah loves to cook for such an appreciative guest. He’s is also one of first people to encourage us to use our psychic abilities. It isn’t long before we’re answering all sorts of seemingly unrelated questions that Bob says helps him understand his complex life as well as make business decisions.
About six months later Sheilah and I get divorced and I move to Hollywood. I lose touch with Bob, while I’m on the West Coast running Irving – Almo music, and he’s back in New York, starting up Midland International Records. The last time I see Bob is at the airport in Nice, after the MIDEM convention in the south of France. I’ve never seen Bob this excited before! He slips a cassette into his player and plays formy partner Lou Reizner and I, a record he just leased for the U.S. “Fly, Robin, Fly”, by the Silver Convention. It’s one of those times when you know you’ve heard a #1 record! We wish Bob luck, and then we run to catch our plane.”
*From my forthcoming book, “I Did It For A Song” Copyright 2010 by Artie Wayne http://artiewayne.wordpress.com/about-artie-wayne/
Special thanks to Lauren Reno for the pictures, Joel Diamond, Don Oriolo helping to put this article together.
To reach Joel Diamond http://joeldiamond.com
For Don Oriolo http://felixthecat.com
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