By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
That last record would put Casablanca on the music map. “I remember sitting with Neil at our first office,” Harris says, “and we were talking dance music. Trudy brought us those three Moroder albums, and even then we didn’t choose Donna as the hit!”
But then Bogart threw a big party at a rented house on Sunset, where, according to Harris, he accidentally invented the 12-inch mix: “I don’t remember the occasion — although we never really needed an excuse to party — but, as usual, there was no shortage of drink, weed, coke and the like. At some point, someone bumped into a turntable, bouncing the needle back to the beginning of the track and turning a four-minute song into an eight-minute song. Everyone loved the experiment. I don’t know why, but they clearly did. The record was ‘Love to Love You Baby.’ ”
The next day Bogart called Moroder in Munich and requested an extended mix of the sexy jam, prolonging Summer’s orgasmic throes to a disco-friendly duration. “We started noticing a lot of club play out of Miami,” explains Harris, “and then, of course, once we saw the writing on the wall, we took advantage of that.”
While Summer was becoming the world’s first disco diva, Bogart’s long-term gamble on KISS started to pay off, with the one-two punch of massive hit record Alive! and the single “Beth.” Another of their long-shot acts, Parliament, was about to become a funk powerhouse with Mothership Connection. Overnight, Casablanca was so successful they were running out of credit with the record plants to meet the retailer and customer demand.
If Bogart took to success and its excesses as if he had been preparing for it all his life, it was because he had. Suddenly, it was the Bicentennial and the label he had conjured out of thin air had the country’s top disco, rock and funk acts. Bogart and his operation ran on a steady diet of office sex, pot deliveries, ’ludes and the decade’s favorite wacky dust. “I don’t believe we at Casablanca did more drugs than people at any other company,” Harris writes. “The difference was that at Casablanca, the executives, not just the employees, did the drugs.”
From his new Sunset Strip headquarters, Bogart started to dream up a vast entertainment conglomerate, involving movies, television, books and even an art gallery set up for Summer’s husband. The Casablanca movie division, headed by Peter Guber in partnership with Columbia, was involved in the production and distribution of The Deep, Midnight Express and Foxes.
Casablanca’s high point was 1977, thanks to the box-office success of The Deep, continued hits by Summer and KISS (though both acts were always trying to leave the label for more conventional operations), and Meco’s “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” (from subsidiary Millennium), which became the biggest-selling instrumental in music-biz history.
Flush with success, Bogart began signing acts, especially disco, at an alarming rate. Most of them were either busts or one-hit wonders — those are the ubiquitous Casablanca 12-inches clogging 50 cent bins at every used-record store around the world.
One exception was a peculiar act Bogart and Harris signed in 1977. Two Frenchmen came to their Sunset office with an album of disco-soul; they wanted to release it through Casablanca. Their concept was a combination of KISS and Donna Summer: a theatrical act involving costumes and characters, with a strong disco beat and black vocals.
“All that stuck in my head,” writes Harris, was the list of characters the Frenchmen described: “guys dressed in leather, a construction worker, a cop, and some cowboys and Indians.”
Harris was initially skeptical about this Village People project (“These guys weren’t cops or cowboys any more than George Clinton was an outer-space pimp”), but Casablanca released their album and the group became another megastar international franchise.
“For some strange reason, though,” laughs Harris today, “it took forever for people to figure out that the Village People were gay. The gay community did right away, but the straight community and the radio stations didn’t.”
Casablanca continued to grow, and the bizarre behavior increased. Bogart appeared as a comic book character in Marvel’s “Dazzler,” and insisted upon doing some embarrassing TV promos for KISS albums, in a tux (they endure on YouTube). Eventually he had to sell part of the company to European conglomerate PolyGram; the deal made him and Harris very wealthy but subject to oversight.
While Bogart amused himself with philanthropy and fund-raisers for politicians, Harris continued to party at Studio 54, where he would fly in order to entertain the record-charts editor for Billboard magazine. The book contains detailed evidence of the chaotic manipulation of the music charts in the wild days before computer scanning. This fell mostly under Harris’ purview, and he offers fascinating insight on what these legendary “promo men” did back in the day. “How many people were doing blow and how many were being blown?” he writes. “The race was too close to call.”