I WAS THE “HOUSE NEGRO” FOR WB FILMS DURING THE BLAXPLOITATION ERA!
February 25, 2010
“It seems Like Warner Brothers Music is celebrating a victory, or facing a new crisis every day. After spearheading a campaign that results in over a 100 cover records on, “The Summer Knows”, from “The Summer Of ‘42’, I’m asked to be consultant for a new project and find a Black composer, for another Blaxpoitation film, “Cleopatra Jones”.
Again I agree to act as the “house negro” and do the film for a screen credit and no money, which Warner Brothers Music President Ed Silvers agrees to, as long as the film company picks up my expenses. I just look on it as an opportunity get my foot in the door and work with artists and producers I might not otherwise meet. After seeing the Max Julian film, in my head I keep hearing the intro to the O’Jays, “Backstabbers” which is written and arranged by my Philadelphia pal, Thom Bell. The introduction is good enough to be a movie theme itself!
The writer and director, Max Julian lights up when he hears my suggestion, and when I play the short passage, so does Bill Tenant the producer, and Larry Marks, current head of the film department. They want me to bring Thom Bell to Hollywood; I think it’s going to be a sure thing. By the time he gets out here they’ve already changed their mind.
It doesn’t take me long to find out these people don’t know what they’re doing. I throw my hands up in disgust and walk away from this extremely stressful situation. A few weeks later the producers call me up and apologize for making things difficult and tell me they’d like to hire Thom, after all.
I tell them it’s too late; he has three records in the top 20, and has made other commitments. They beg me to help them find someone fast so the picture can be released on schedule. I tell them I’ll help them out if they listen seriously to my suggestions. They tell me that veteran composer, Dominic Frontiere, has finished the score and all they need now is the title song.
I tell them I can not only get Joe Simon to write the title song to the film film, but also get a few potential hit singles by other hit artists from the label to include in the film and soundtrack. I also propose that WB records get the album rights to the singles, while the artist’s original label gets the rights to the singles, which they will promote as usual..
WB records goes along with this unique marketing concept in an effort to get into the very lucrative, but closed, R&B market.
The next morning I meet with Roy and Julie Riffkind, who own the small successful Spring records, they’re riding high on the R&B charts with Joe Simon (“The Chokin’ Kind”, “Drownin’ In The Sea Of Love”) who would be a perfect candidate to score, “Cleopatra Jones”. While I’m in their office they play me a new single they’re putting out by Millie Jackson, “Hurt So Good”, which I think would be great for the film. I tell them the unique idea I had, that WB Records has already agreed to, and they say that it could work for them as well.
I tell Warner Brothers Films that Joe Simon is able to write, produce and record, “The Theme from Cleopatra Jones”, next week which thrills them. When a letter of intent is drawn, I talk to Joe Simon and tell him about the film and the idea I had for a sweeping theme like the intro to the “Backstabbers”.
Joe gets it completely, and when I go back to NY for the session, I’m totally blown away by the funky, yet majestic track he’s recorded. When he starts to put the vocal on, Joe realizes that he hasn’t written the lyric to the second verse.
He seems stumped as where go with the lyric and for the lack of time says he’ll just repeat the first verse. I tell him he can’t do that the record could be a classic. Then I scratch out a lyric that he loves and records on the spot.
After the session, Joe comes over, thanks me and says he wants me to have a piece of the writers share for my contribution to the song. I thank him and say that it wasn’t my intention to muscle in, but I’ll happily accept his generosity.
It’s another story, however, when I get back to Hollywood. Ed is happy that the recording came out so well, but freaks out on me when he finds out that I’m a co-writer on the song. He says, “I don’t believe you took advantage of the situation and forced your way into a piece of the writers share. Are you a professional manager or a writer?” I don’t say anything, but go back to office and quietly fume.
I should’ve known something was wrong when I’m not invited to screening of, “Cleopatra Jones”. When I go to see the film at a local theater, I hear the theme I played a part in“Theme From Cleopatra Jones” but wasn’t allowed to take credit for, I hear Millie Jackson’s “Hurt So Good”, which is already racing up the charts, but when the film is over, my name is missing as musical consultant!
I’m absolutely livid, but when I confront Ed in my “Superfly” hat, he says he’s sorry, but he can’t do anything about it. I should talk to the producers. He refuses to do anything to help me in my unpaid extra curricular activity as a highly effective musical consultant, and wants me to return to just plugging songs at the company…Yeah…Right!”
(TO BE CONTINUED)
FOR THE STORY BEHIND THE WARNER BROTHERS FILM “COME BACK CHARLESTON BLUE”, CHECK OUT “DRIVIN’ AROUND WITH QUINCY JONES” https://artiewayne.wordpress.com/2007/06/14/driving-around-with-quincy-jones/
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