Roulette Records is an American record label founded in late 1956 by George Goldner, Joe Kolsky, Morris Levy and Phil Khals, with creative control given to producers and songwriters Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. Levy was appointed director.
The label had known ties to New York mobsters. Levy ran the label with an iron fist. In 1958, Roost Records was purchased. Goldner subsequently bowed out of his partnership interest in Roulette and, to cover his gambling debts, sold his record labels Tico, Rama, Gee, and, years later, End and Gone, to Levy, who grouped them into Roulette. Peretti and Creatore later left Roulette Records and worked as freelance producers for RCA Records throughout the 1960s. They co-founded Avco Records in 1969. In 1971, Roulette took over the catalog of Jubilee Records.
During the late 1950s, Roulette scored hits by Buddy Knox, Jimmy Bowen, the Playmates, Jimmie Rodgers, and Ronnie Hawkins as well as releasing albums by Pearl Bailey, Dinah Washington, and Count Basie.
During the early 1960s, Roulette issued a number of hits connected to the twist dance craze, most notably by releasing "Peppermint Twist" by Joey Dee and the Starliters. They also released a rare album of "twist songs" by Bill Haley & His Comets, Twistin' Knights at the Roundtable. Other major 1960s hits for the label include "Two Faces Have I" by Lou Christie. A group of United States Marines called the Essex recorded the hit "Easier Said Than Done" while based at Camp Lejeune in the 1960s. In 1964, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay first recorded together on Roulette while in the nine-member Au Go Go Singers, house band for the Cafe Au Go Go in New York.
In the UK, Roulette's records were issued on the EMI Columbia label. In April 1965, the British music magazine NME reported that Roulette had agreed to offer a sponsored show to the UK pirate radio station Radio Caroline. The hour-long show, recorded in the U.S. by DJ Jack Spector, was to be broadcast five evenings a week. The contract covered a two-year period and was worth over £10,000 to the station.
According to Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells, whose "Hanky Panky", "I Think We're Alone Now", "Mirage", "Mony Mony", "Crimson and Clover", and many others were released during his time at the label, Roulette was a front business for the Genovese crime family. James estimates that the label kept $30 million to $40 million of the group's royalties but afforded it total artistic freedom, whereas another label would have tampered with its formula and might have dropped the group early on.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Roulette was one of the major distributors, handling records for many major firms.
Levy was the key financial backer for the rap music label Sugar Hill Records, which was founded in 1974 by the husband-and-wife team Joe and Sylvia Robinson. Sugar Hill released the first Top 40 rap single, "Rapper's Delight," in 1979. In the early 1980s, the Robinsons bought Levy out.
In 1981, Henry Stone turned to Levy to help prevent the demise of TK Records, so they set up Sunnyview Records under the Roulette umbrella. In 1986, Levy was exposed and convicted for extorting money from an FBI informant, John LaMonte. Levy was tried and convicted on charges of extortion but died in Ghent, New York, before serving any time in prison. In 1989, Roulette Records was sold to a consortium of EMI and Rhino Records, which later were acquired by The WEA Group (Warner/Elektra/Atlantic). Warner Music Group now has worldwide rights to the Roulette catalogue as a result of acquiring Parlophone in 2013. EMI has the global rights to the jazz catalogue and the "Roulette" name.
Following the acquisition, Rhino and EMI began issuing large royalty checks to former Roulette artists. Tommy James recalled that his checks were in amounts in six or seven digits. Roulette was notorious for not paying royalties to its artists, who had to rely on their gigs for their income.
Until 2013, EMI used the Roulette name for the reissue of old Roulette label material. In the United States, Blue Note Records handled the Roulette jazz catalogue for release on the Roulette Jazz label until 2013. It was one of the units of the Parlophone Label Group that Universal Music was required to sell to Warner Music to comply with international regulators.
Roulette Records artists
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- The Roulette Story, iTunes Store
- Warner Music Group Completes Acquisition of Parlophone Label Group