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The luckiest man in the world

April 23, 2010
My first record deal was with Moonglow records. This label was owned by Ray Maxwell and the one meaningful act on the label was, The Righteous Brothers.
We all know about the  successful career of the fantastic duo, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield but at this time I am more interested in the back story of how it all happened and the importance of Ray Maxwell in the equation. Ray was born Rene Jan van Hoogten in Belgium and was naturally soft-spoken and easy-going. These are not the usual attributes of a record label owner and Ray didn’t start out to be in the record business. During the second world war he was in the merchant marines and through a mishap he became stranded in the United States and had to wait it out so he could return to Belgium. While he was waiting he became a record collector of American music. Ray’s taste was eclectic to say the least, he liked everything but he had the ability to recognize a song or a record that had the possibility of reaching the masses. He brought back to Belgium a healthy stack of current hits being played on U.S. radio. American music has always had a universal attraction due to the fact that we have a diversity of racial groups adding spice to the current trends. In the forties and early fifties before it was called R and B or rhythm and blues and way before it was referred to as Soul  it was called race music. I never could understand what the heck race music was unless it had something to do with The Kentucky Derby or the Indianapolis Five Hundred, anyway Rene or Ray as I knew him was a fan of black music and as he was soon to discover so were the rest of the Belgians. He was inundated with requests to put his 45′s in jukeboxes so everyone could enjoy our infectious sounds. Ray got the idea to import records from the U.S. and distribute them all over Belgium. This was the start of his first fortune as he became the largest distributor of imported product almost immediately. Again he had an idea, ” Why can’t I make and release my own product on my own label?”. Well anyone who knows anything about the record business knows that,  that idea usually ends up in disaster but that didn’t deter Ray. The first problem was that there were no recording artists up to the quality of ours in America but that didn’t deter Ray. He found an accordion player named Rocco Granata who sang in Italian. Perfect for the Belgian market. This was no problem proved by the fact that Marina initially was number one all over Europe and has sold many millions of records. One would think that the success of that record would have either made him, “The king of Italy”, or “The king of Belgium” but that was not Ray, he left that to his brothers and came to America. New York to be exact where he hooked up with a street guy/songwriter named Morty Craft. I know they say that opposites attract but this was highly suspect from the get go. This was no deterrent for Ray as he went forward  releasing a record on a song written by Morty and a group known as The Willows.

As should have been expected the record was a hit but nothing compared to the cover version by The Diamonds and since Ray published the song it was a win win for him. Well certainly now since he had a presence as a record co. owner and a publisher of hit songs he would settle in and continue on in New York City. Not Ray, he folded up and moved to sunny California. Everybody knows that Hollywood is where you go to seek your fortune in the entertainment business. It didn’t matter that success was achieved at every stop he was, California Dreamin’ . The move was a little difficult since Ray had a wife and two children and schools were a high priority but Hollywood had many choices and some very beautiful neighborhoods so Ray chose Anaheim because nothing says the record business like Anaheim. One day while immersing himself in the day-to-day activities of a record executive by going to the market to buy food for the family he heard some sound coming from a p.a. system so he followed the sound to a local neighborhood and a garage where a four man vocal group was practicing. After Ray made contact he found out that the four guys were known as The Paramours.

Of course the shortest distance to a hit group is found by driving around Anaheim until you find some guys sing in a garage. Makes sense to me. As it turned out The Paramours had a record deal with Mercury Records but that did not slow Ray down. He bought out their contract and proceeded to put them on his new co. Moonglow Records. Even though Ray’s track record for producing hit product was well-known, certainly this time he was off the mark nothing could justify making this decision. Nothing except the fact that an unknown guy named Bill Medley was one of the four Paramours and Ray got it loud and clear. So Ray proceeded to record and release product on his new-found group. I’m sure he was reflecting on The Willows and how The Diamonds cover was a much bigger record. Now he had his own Diamonds. It wasn’t very long before that dream came crashing down. All the time and energy was going down the drain and nothing was accomplished because Bill went to Ray and told him that he didn’t want to sing with The Paramours. Oh the horror!! The investment. The move to California for nothing. What to do now? This is not the usual Maxwell luck. Bill had an alternate plan, He wanted to sing with this short blonde guy named Bobby Hatfield. As I said earlier Ray was not very excitable so he took it in stride and moved his energies to the new project, The Righteous Brothers! We all know the results of that. I can remember the day Ray called me and my partner at the time Hal Tennant into his office to play the new Righteous Brothers record. I thought he had the record on the wrong speed , I mean the Brothers were “Little latin Lupe Lu” not ” Lovin feelin”. Needless to say, now “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling”, is my favorite record of all time. Ray got it!!!!!
I came to Moonglow as an artist. My friend and partner Hal Tennant and I had been recording for some time and we came to know Phil Yeend who owned a recording studio in Hollywood called Conway Recorders. Phil had a relationship with Ray because the Brothers did some recording at Conway. Hal and I came up with a song and the three of us formed a group called The Sun-Set. Phil pitched the song to Ray, we made the deal and the three of us were off to seek our fortune in the record business. I had made several recordings before but never had a deal of my own so this was big. We were in the height of the Beatles invasion of American Radio so our record was in that style of aggressive rock and we did get some success in Europe through the distributorship that Ray still had with his brothers but we didn’t get much attention in America but Ray took a liking to me and offered me a job as a promotion man and staff producer. Moonglow had recently signed a group out of Fresno California called The Cindermen. These guys really could have made it big. They had a charismatic lead singer and genuine virtuosity in the band. They played regularly in Balboa Ca., which is a beach city and they used to draw a large crowd for a band with no hits. At this time I as working at Lockheed  in the computer programming department where we were working on the development of  the SST. The contract eventually went to Boeing. Even though I had a degree in mathematics I always wanted to do something more artistically challenging so I took this opportunity much to the chagrin of my wife who had just given birth to our second child but my wife has the enviable ability to say,”let’s see what happens”, so the transition was easy and off I was to learn about promotion and production. Fist we needed product so Ray decided to record me on one of my tunes entitled, “It brings on the pain”, I know this could have been about doing strenuous exercise or sadomasochism but it was about some sophomoric feeling of unresolved love encounter.The record wasn’t bad but it didn’t have the necessary ingredients of  a hit. At the same time I produced a record by The Cindermen called ,“Don’t do it some more (cause it hurts so good)”. The title was clever and there was some controversy about whether it was dirty or not so it had a little something going for it. I did get a little play on my record and I was on the local television shows but I was able to get The Cindermen record on KRLA one of the biggest AM radio stations in a major market. I can only attribute my success in getting the record on to sheer ignorance as I was unaware that airplay in a major market is completely impossible. I worked the record until we bubbled under the hot 100 but I was unable to get it on the charts. We didn’t spend any money for advertising but we’re talking about Ray Maxwell here and stuff like ads in the trades or local promo guys never entered the equation of whether it was a hit or not. You just put it out and collected the money. Just the fact that some nincompoop could get a record on in L.A. tells us that the Ray touch was still in tact. During the time I worked at Moonglow I had the opportunity to meet a number of people who went on to make their mark in life. my friend and partner Hal Tennant became a founding member of The Preachers who were not only on Moonglow but included another friend of mine, Rudy Garza. I first met Rudy when I was a freshman in college and have remained friends with him ever since. His unique sense of humor sets him apart from any other songwriter that I have ever come across. “Movie Stars Come From Mars” is the cleanest title that comes to mind but the dirty ones are hysterical. He graduated with a degree in Physics. Hal’s degree is in animal husbandry, I don’t know what that is but I’m sure it’s not what you’re thinking. I made many recordings with Hal and his guitar was raw and tasty. During the time I was traveling up and down the coast promoting records I had the chance to meet Rick Scarry (a relative of the children’s author) who was an on air DJ in Oxnard California. He was broadcasting out of a trailer  in a dusty lot but it was a radio station and radio is and was king. He was cordial to me, he didn’t invite me into the trailer and he didn’t play my record but I kept in touch with him and eventually he was DJing at KMET a really big station in Los Angeles. I still have a KMET hat which is enshrined in my sons bedroom. Rick is now an accomplished actor with many major film credits. We see each other often and we have many mutual friends.
Many people came through the doors of Moonglow Records not the least was a songwriting team from the San Fernando Valley. These two guy split the chore of writing, one wrote lyrics the other the music. I have to emphasize something that I learned from these two and that is that a song is a song is a song. Believe me neither one of these guys could sing but Ray had the ability to hear through anything. He recorded several of their songs. The lyricist was Paul Robin and the melody writer was Jeff Wayne. Jeff went on to not only produce David Essex( Rock On) but arguably the most successful musical adaptation of a movie, of all time. Jeff Wayne’s War of the world is performed all over the world and has sold millions of records. Would that have happened without Ray giving Paul and Jeff a start and encouraging them? I don’t know but I do know that no one else would give them the time of day. Paul and I have remained friends to this day and we have collaborated on many pieces of material throughout the years.Which brings me to the last release I had on Moonglow. This was an idea I had while trying to think of something commercial. At this time many of the groups had names like, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Thirteenth Floor Elevators so I knew that it was important to choose a name that would attract attention so I considered, Captain Crap and The Electric Balogna Sandwich but I eventually settled on Daddy Dewdrop and The Sugarplum Sassafras Bubble Gum Band. O f course there never was a band but I liked the name. Lori Barth, who was a friend of The Cindermen designed a multi colored flyer so now all I needed was a record. I recorded a specialty piece of material somewhere between Ray Stevens and One few over the coocoo’s nest, called, “She didn’t have to tell me”. Nothing became of the record but the important thing was that Ray got it just as he got it with Paul and Jeff  and who knows, if Jeff and I had continued releasing records with Ray whether our future success would have been with Moonglow. Around this time Ray became interested in horse breeding and lost interest in his record company. Jeff moved to England and I signed with Four Star Music so both of us severed ties with Ray. I can’t answer for Jeff but in my case the positive impression left on me by Ray Maxwell will stay with me forever. Ray knew that there is something special in everyone, all you have to do is wait for it.

11 comments

  1. Fascinating stuff Dick. Learned quite a few things I’ve never known before….I think it’s time to start the complete autobiography. The trailer in the dusty river bed was oh,so long ago….but it was the beginning of a great friendship. The Dew lives.


  2. Dick: I think it’s a bit more than ‘luck’ for you! You don’t last this long in your business without talent…and I have heard some amazingly cool songs come from your world!

    Thanks for the music over the years!

    Barry


  3. What an interesting story. OK, write the book!!
    I have always been in awe of your talent. Not only as a musician but also as an actor. You deserve the best. I love you my cousin.


    • Thanks Joanne, Tell anyone you know about the blog I’m sure they’ll find something to enjoy reading. Ti voglio bene il cugino Riccardo


  4. Thanks for the mention Dick. It’s been years since I’ve seen my name in print, and that was a case of mistaken identity. Some music historian thought Jeff Wayne and I were in the Preachers because we wrote a song they recorded.
    I liked Ray. He brought the “everyday man” to the record business. If he liked it, it stood to reason, that the record buying public would like it too!


  5. I’ve told that story about you and me sitting in Ray’s office hearing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” for the first time. No doubt you recall that the production costs on that recording were somewhere around $50,000 which was HUGE back then. Needless to say Ray wanted some reassurance that his money was well spent. My reaction was the same as yours, in my mind I thought – “That’s not Little Latin Lupe Lu. What has he done to The Righteous Brothers?” We left Ray’s office in perfect agreement – it was a dog.

    Footnote: You are probably aware that BMI ranked that song the number one most played of the 20th century.


  6. Hello Dick

    I recently interviewed Sam Sinopoli, the drummer from The Cinderman. Details and pics have been posted on my blogsite. You may be interested!


  7. Dick
    I lived through all these years with you, before and now after. It is a great trip
    Rudy


  8. [...] early years at Ray Maxwell´s Moonglow label can be found at the blog of Rhythm & Blus legend Daddy Dewdrop. Ray Maxwell seems to have been an exceptionally cool guy for a record label owner. A record [...]


  9. Rene Van Hoogten was my great uncle. I can remember going to his house as child. He is the reason my grandfather and Father moved to the U.S. Interesting story I never really knew much other than our family was in the record business. Thanks for the story’

    Jason Van Hoogten


  10. Ran into this site and I found many memories flooding back. I was just a young boy when I worked with Ray and Phil Yeend at R.J. Recorders on Selma Ave. I will always remember and love your mom, Rose, who tutored me, and gave me first dog “Duke” , a wonderful German Shepherd.The days of Earl Palmer, Sharkey Hall,, Shelly Mann (And the Mannhole), Wally Heider, Sunset Sound, Revell’s Restaraunt ……….. Amazing days, how the industry has changed. Wishing you all the best, Steve.



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