Little David Records

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Little David Records
Little David Records logo.jpg
Parent company Atlantic Records
Founded 1969
Founder Flip Wilson and Monte Kay
Defunct 1980
Status Defunct (folded into Eardrum Records)
Distributor(s) Independent (1970–1971)
Atlantic Records (1971–1974)
Warner Bros. Records (1974–1975)
Atlantic Records (1975–1980)
Genre Comedy albums, jazz, soft rock
Country of origin United States

Little David Records was a record label started in 1969 by up-and-coming comedian Flip Wilson and his manager, veteran jazz producer Monte Kay. The label focused mainly on comedy albums, with some jazz and soft rock releases. Little David was independently distributed for its first year but was picked up by Atlantic Records for most of its existence, except for a year under Warner Bros. Records.

The label's logo depicted biblical David wielding a sling, ready to fight Goliath.[1]

The small label produced two Grammy Award-winning comedy albums, and five Gold records to become highly profitable. Kay and Wilson parted ways in 1977. The label was sold to comedian George Carlin, who folded the catalog into Eardrum Records in the 1980s.[2]

Founding[edit]

Comedian Flip Wilson hired Monte Kay as his manager in 1963 when Wilson was 30 and Kay was 39. Kay was known for founding the jazz club Birdland in 1949. He had been producing jazz records, and managing jazz musicians ever since. Kay booked Wilson at comedy clubs in New York City and Los Angeles, and in 1965 he arranged for Wilson to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.[3] Wilson had already released a few comedy albums, the last two with Atlantic Records, but he was interested in taking greater control.[4] In 1969, Kay and Wilson co-founded Little David Records to release new albums, starting with The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress (named for a comedy line spoken by Wilson's character Geraldine[5]), and to sign other comedians and musicians. Released in February 1970, The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress won the 1970 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording at the 13th Annual Grammy Awards held in March 1971.[6][7] The album was certified Gold on July 22, 1970.[8]

The name "Little David" referred to Wilson's son David,[2] who was named for the biblical David, the giantkiller. Wilson had been using a reference to David and Goliath for a couple of years in his comedy routines, jokingly describing the ancient David as "Little David", a pop singer and a teen heartthrob.[9] The Little David label releases featured a logo capturing a moment in the Bible story: David winding up with his sling to make the fatal blow. Kay's daughter said years later that the logo fit Kay very well because he "loved to help people who he thought were outside the mainstream."[10] A pink background was used on some label series; green on others.[1]

Kay and Wilson put together a television special in 1969, called The Flip Wilson Special. The special led to NBC signing Wilson to a comedy and variety series called The Flip Wilson Show.[11] Kay served as executive producer on the popular show, which rated #2 in its time slot for two of its four years.[12]

Also in 1970, Kay and Wilson met comedian George Carlin in the course of Carlin appearing on The Flip Wilson Show. Carlin was subsequently hired to write for the show, and then he was signed to Little David. The label recorded Carlin's live performances at Washington DC's The Cellar Door over two nights in July 1971—this collection was released as FM & AM in January 1972.[13] The album won the 1972 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording at the 15th Annual Grammy Awards held in March 1973,[14] and its sales were strong.[15] Eight months after its release, the album was certified Gold.[8][16] Carlin also changed his artist management to Little David general manager Jack Lewis, who matched Carlin's wild personality.[17]

Initially, the label was distributed over a network of independent labels. In December 1971, Atlantic Records signed a distribution deal with Little David. The artist roster at that time consisted of comedians Wilson and Carlin, and singers Kenny Rankin and Daniel Cassidy.[18] Rankin and Cassidy first met at Phoenix House, a drug rehabilitation community in Manhattan. Cassidy had been a copy writer and seaman but learned to play guitar while staying at Phoenix House.[19]

The staff at the label was kept small, with only three executives on board by 1972. Co-founder Wilson did not work in the office because of his performance schedule. The executives running Little David were Monte Kay as president, Jack Lewis as general manager, and Robert Hurwitz who worked out of a New York office to cover the East Coast, as well as serving as the label's liaison to Atlantic Records. Joni Juster covered label promotion liaison duties, and Evelyn Levin managed Kay's artist management business.[19]

Success[edit]

The success of The Flip Wilson Show made fortunes for Wilson and Kay. The comedy records released by Little David cost little to make, sold very well, and made the label quite profitable.[20] In early 1972, Kay bought Motown executive Berry Gordy's Hollywood mansion and threw a large party for Little David Records. Stevie Wonder, Noel Redding and Jackie DeShannon played for the guests who included the Rolling Stones, singer Helen Reddy and Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun.[19] Reddy had just recorded the song "Peaceful", written by Rankin.

In 1972, Kay signed comedians Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber. Burns was an early partner of Carlin; both Burns and Schreiber had previously partnered in the comedy troupe The Second City.[19] The Burns & Schreiber team was revived and the two recorded two albums. Their first album Pure B.S.! was held back until June 1973 because Little David wanted first to capitalize on President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal which was a major news story. Burns, Schreiber and other comics taped the The Watergate Comedy Hour on May 8, 1973, in front of a studio audience. Atlantic Records registered their disapproval of the album one week later, but it was quickly picked up by Capitol Records who produced a first pressing of 100,000 copies at the end of May, labeled as Hidden Records.[21] By mid-July, the Watergate album had reached #66 on the Billboard Hot 100.[22] Eventually, Atlantic relented, and Little David taped another performance of The Watergate Comedy Hour with only slight differences from the earlier one. The second performance was released by Little David in 1975, but it was after Nixon resigned the presidency in August 1974, and the story was no longer topical.[1]

In mid-June 1972, Cassidy appeared on The Tonight Show with Carlin, during a week in which Johnny Carson was on vacation, and Wilson was guest-hosting the show. Cassidy also opened for Carlin on some tour dates.[19] Cassidy's music career never took off, however, and he left show business to establish an Irish studies program at New College of California.[23] Otherwise, the artists on the label's roster generally helped each other achieve success. Rankin appeared with Carlin on The Tonight Show in June 1972, and he toured with Carlin as his opening act.

In 1973, young "jazz comedian" Franklyn Ajaye appeared on The Flip Wilson Show. Eventually Ajaye was signed to the label and he recorded his third album, Don't Smoke Dope, Fry Your Hair, in 1977. Ajaye served as Rankin's opening act during periods when Carlin was not touring.[17] At Little David, Ajaye had almost no interaction with label mate Carlin; Ajaye said that the most he spoke with Carlin was during the few days when Carlin was filming his part for the 1976 film Car Wash, in which Ajaye starred but made less money than Carlin.[24]

In October 1974, Warner Bros. Records (a division of Warner Music Group) announced that they would be distributing Little David's releases, taking over from Atlantic.[25] Warner took out a full page advertisement in Billboard magazine; the ad quoted the Bible passage 2 Samuel 6:5 which described David playing various musical instruments in praise. The Modern Jazz Quartet had recently been signed to Little David, and their new album was to be distributed by Warner, along with a new album by Rankin.[26] Atlantic struck a new deal in August 1975, restoring their earlier distribution arrangement.[27]

In 1976, Kay signed jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley.[28] Adderley recorded just one album for Little David, released as Hummin '​ in 1976. As well, the tune "Hummin '​" was released as a 45 rpm single, with "The Traveller" on the B-side.[29]

Final years[edit]

Wilson was wealthy by 1974 when The Flip Wilson Show stopped airing after four seasons. He retired out of the public eye for a few years, recording in 1975 a serious political song released as his first single titled "Berries in Salinas", which presented views in support of migrant farm workers' rights.[30]

After a few years, Wilson began to suspect Kay of mismanaging his money. In April 1977, Wilson entered the modest two-story Little David offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and poured gallons of white paint on the carpet and furniture in five rooms.[31][32] Kay and Wilson hired attorneys to dissolve the partnership, a process which took many months because of the complexity of the contracts and holdings.[32]

Meanwhile, Carlin's album Toledo Window Box was certified Gold in May 1977, two-and-a-half years after it was released.[8] This was Carlin's fourth Gold record in a row, and his last with Little David.[33] He released a "Best of" album in 1979, called Indecent Exposure.

Carlin recorded and released 1981's A Place for My Stuff under Atlantic Records, not Little David. He partnered with Jerry Hamza to form the custom label Eardrum Records as a subdivision of Atlantic. Carlin on Campus was released on Eardrum in 1984. Hamza and Carlin then bought the entire Little David catalog so they could reissue Carlin's earlier albums.[34]

Legacy[edit]

Kay said in 1972 that he thought Laugh-In comedienne Lily Tomlin was signed quickly by Polydor Records because Polydor wanted to emulate the Gold record success of Little David's first album: Wilson's The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress.[19] Tomlin's album This Is a Recording took the Best Comedy Recording Grammy in 1972.

Kay died in 1988,[12] and Wilson in 1998.[35] In 1999 under the direction of Carlin and Hamza, Atlantic released six of Carlin's albums, plus some previously unreleased material, in a box set titled The Little David Years (1971–1977). In the early 2000s, Carlin contacted Rankin to sell him back the masters to his Little David albums. Rather than charging a high price as was music industry practice, Carlin charged Rankin only one dollar.[36] Carlin died in June 2008, and Rankin died one year later.

Albums[edit]

Sortable table
Label number[1] Album name Artist Release date Gold certification date[8] Awards
LD 1000 The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress Flip Wilson 1970 July 22, 1970 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording
LD 1001 Geraldine/Don't Fight the Feeling Flip Wilson 1972
LD 1002 Dan Cassidy Dan Cassidy 1972
LD 1003 Like a Seed Kenny Rankin 1972
LD 1004 Class Clown George Carlin 1973 June 13, 1973
LD 1005 Occupation: Foole George Carlin 1973 December 27, 1976
LD 1006 Pure B.S.! Burns & Schreiber 1973
LD 1007 Wide Wide World of War The Committee 1973
LD 1008 An Evening with Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo George Carlin 1975
LD 1009 Inside Kenny Rankin 1975
LD 1010 The Watergate Comedy Hour Burns & Schreiber 1975
LD 1011 Don't Smoke Dope, Fry Your Hair Franklyn Ajaye 1977
LD 1012 Hummin' Nat Adderley and the Basic Black Band 1977
LD 1013 The Kenny Rankin Album Kenny Rankin 1977
LD 1075 On the Road George Carlin 1977
LD 1076 Indecent Exposure: Some of the Best of George Carlin George Carlin 1979
LD 1079 An Evening with Two Grand Pianos Hank Jones & John Lewis 1980
LD 2000 The Flip Wilson Show Flip Wilson 1970
LD 3000 Silver Morning Kenny Rankin 1974
LD 3001 In Memoriam Modern Jazz Quartet 1974
LD 3003 Toledo Window Box George Carlin 1974 May 17, 1977
LD 7214 FM & AM George Carlin 1972 September 27, 1972 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Eyries, Patrice; Edwards, David; Callahan, Mike (September 21, 2005). "Little David Album Discography". Both Sides Now. Retrieved May 25, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Little David Records". Discogs. Retrieved May 25, 2014. 
  3. ^ Otfinoski, Steven (2010). African Americans in the Performing Arts. Infobase. p. 260. ISBN 9781438128559. 
  4. ^ Tafoya, Eddie M. (2011). Icons of African American Comedy. Greenwood Icons. ABC-CLIO. p. 105. ISBN 9780313380853. 
  5. ^ Tafoya 2011, p. 101
  6. ^ "King Record; Aretha, Dionne, Flip Wilson, B. B. King Win Grammys". Jet (Johnson Publishing) 40 (2): 55. April 8, 1971. ISSN 0021-5996. 
  7. ^ Sullivan, James (2010). Seven Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin. Da Capo Press. p. 114. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Searchable Database". RIAA Gold and Platinum Searchable Database. RIAA. Retrieved May 25, 2014. 
  9. ^ Pierce, Ponchitta (April 1968). "All Flip Over Flip – Sharp comic takes humor seriously". Ebony (Johnson Publishing) 23 (6): 68. ISSN 0012-9011. 
  10. ^ Sullivan 2010, p. 115.
  11. ^ Cook, Kevin (2013). Flip: The Inside Story of TV's First Black Superstar. Penguin. p. 75. ISBN 9781101606087. 
  12. ^ a b "Monte Kay Dies at 63; Founder of Nightclubs". The New York Times. May 28, 1988. 
  13. ^ Sullivan 2010, p. 122.
  14. ^ "Past Winners Search". Grammy.com. The Recording Academy. 2014. Retrieved May 25, 2014. 
  15. ^ Sullivan 2010, p. 129.
  16. ^ Sullivan 2010, p. 125.
  17. ^ a b Sullivan 2010, p. 158.
  18. ^ "Atlantic Bags L'il David Label". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 83 (51): 14. December 18, 1971. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Tube Exposure Keys Success For Little David Comedy LP's". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 84 (27): 3, 10. July 1, 1972. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  20. ^ Sullivan 2010, p. 142.
  21. ^ "'Watergate' Gets Shuffle But Ends Up as Capitol LP". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 85 (22): 76. June 2, 1973. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  22. ^ "Chartalk". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 85 (28): 61. July 14, 1973. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  23. ^ Sullivan 2010, pp. 139–140.
  24. ^ Sullivan 2010, p. 172.
  25. ^ "WB Grabs Little David". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 86 (40): 84. October 5, 1974. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  26. ^ "Advertisement". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 86 (43): 75. October 26, 1974. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  27. ^ "Distrib Resumes". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 87 (32): 4. August 9, 1975. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  28. ^ "New York Beat". Jet (Johnson Publishing) 50 (16): 63. July 8, 1976. ISSN 0021-5996. 
  29. ^ Nielsen, Ole J. (1980). Erik Raben, ed. Jazz Records, 1942–80. 1: A–Ba. Stainless/Wintermoon. p. 46. ISBN 9788788043068. 
  30. ^ "Flip Gets Serious". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 87 (24): 4. June 14, 1975. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  31. ^ "Flip Has New Booking Agent In Wake Of Feud With Ex-Manager". Jet (Johnson Publishing) 52 (24): 61. September 1, 1977. ISSN 0021-5996. 
  32. ^ a b Lucas, Bob (February 9, 1978). "Flip Talks About Flap Over His Loves And Career". Jet (Johnson Publishing) 53 (21): 22–23. ISSN 0021-5996. 
  33. ^ Sullivan 2010, p. 160.
  34. ^ Sullivan 2010, p. 191.
  35. ^ Helligar, Jeremy (December 14, 1998). "Drag King". People. 
  36. ^ Mergner, Lee (January 29, 2010). "Much of Kenny Rankin Catalog to be Reissued – Sly Dog label to release late singer-guitarist's music through Mack Avenue Records". JazzTimes.