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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hanna-Barbera Records: The Other Side of Bedrock



As a Shakespearian-trained lion might say, it's an undeniable fact - indubitable, even. Hanna-Barbera Records produced several collectible albums and 45's featuring an eclectic cast of cartoon characters - everybody from the Flintstones to the Jetsons, from Yogi Bear and Jonny Quest to Super Snooper and Atom Ant. Many of these albums, in near-mint condition, can sell for over $100 to an animation collector.

Yet between 1965 and 1967, Hanna-Barbera expanded from the cartoon-music world into the pop music world, producing a series of garage records, soul tracks, pop ballads and funky instrumentals. No, Josie and the Pussycats never recorded for Hanna-Barbera Records (they worked with Capitol), but the Five Americans of "Western Union" fame did. The Archies never recorded for Hanna-Barbera (Don Kirshner had them under contract with his label), but HBR did release garage records by the Chocolate Watchband and the 13th Floor Elevators. One of HBR's records caused a lawsuit between the band's manager and a radio station; another title was yanked off the market a week after it was pressed, due to a contract dispute. There's even a rumor that Frank Zappa himself produced a Hanna-Barbera B-side.

Before all these records came out, Hanna-Barbera was a successful Hollywood animation studio, producing such classic programs as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear and Jonny Quest. They also had several tie-in records with these shows, albums that were released through Colpix Records, the music company of Columbia Pictures.

In February 1965, Hanna-Barbera announced they were forming their own independent record company, with plans to distribute $1.98 LP's and 29-cent 45's featuring their cartoon characters. The announcement, made at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) convention, introduced the label's new chief of operations, Don Bohanan, who joked that he had hired Fred Flintstone as sales director, Yogi Bear as national promotion director, and Magilla Gorilla as production manager.

A week later, Bohanan hired Larry Goldberg as HBR's Western regional sales manager, with an eye toward augmenting HBR's music roster with pop music acts. Anihanbar, a BMI publishing company, was also created for pop music licensing, and Hanna-Barbera provided stores with the company's first non-cartoon album, the soundtrack to the beach-and-bikini Raquel Welch film A Swingin' Summer (HBR 8500 mono, HBR 9500 stereo).

Meanwhile, Larry Goldberg looked for new pop and rock talent for HBR's roster. At that same time, singer-songwriter Danny Hutton and his record-promoting friend, Kim Fowley, were looking for a label. "I auditioned for Hanna-Barbera," said Hutton. "Kim Fowley introduced me to Larry Goldberg, and they used me as an audition to find out who Larry Goldberg could bring in. They gave me some lyrics to sing, I went into another room and wrote a melody in about 15 minutes and played it for them. Originally I was signed as an A&R guy, the young Turk on the street who could go out and scout for acts."

"Danny had written this song, 'Roses and Rainbows,'" said Kim Fowley, "and I had played Roses and Rainbows for people, and one day I played it for Larry Goldberg. Larry brought it to Tom Ayers, who was the producer of 'Hot Pastrami' by the Dartells, another group who would join Hanna-Barbera later. Danny Hutton was to be an artist there - the first artist, because before then it was cartoon records and soundtracks."

Danny Hutton signed with Hanna-Barbera as a studio singer, and did vocals on two HBR studio singles, "Big Bright Eyes" by the Bats (HBR 445) and "Do The Bomp" by the Bompers (HBR 441), the latter a co-production with Coca-Cola and KFWB for the radio station's teen-oriented Bomp Club. "Another song I wrote, 'Roses and Rainbows,' was supposed to be performed by one of these studio groups," said Hutton. "I've always considered myself a writer-producer who would sing if someone needed a background harmony or doubled voice, I wasn't one of those guys who went to all the clubs with my guitar. But Tom Ayres told me they were going to make me an artist."

Tom Ayers brought his Dartells to HBR 1965, and although the Dartells had only one release with HBR, "Clap Your Hands" (HBR 457), Ayers would remain with the company, helping with artists and repertoire. It was Ayers who thought Danny Hutton's song "Roses and Rainbows" could be a hit, and Hutton's single was augmented with studio orchestration.

"Roses and Rainbows" was a big hit on the West Coast, and enough stations played it to push the song up to #73 in Billboard. But the song's success was clouded by the machinations of the record company owning nearly all the rights to the song. Larry Goldberg received a writer's credit on "Roses and Rainbows," despite never penning a single lyric. Anihanbar Music owned the publishing rights, which they purchased from Kim Fowley. Even the B-side of "Roses and Rainbows" was "Monster Shindig," a track found on a Hanna-Barbera cartoon album.

"The problem was that Hanna-Barbera had to own everything," said Fowley, "and I owned the publishing on 'Roses and Rainbows.' So they were very clever - instead of saying to me, 'finally your friendship and your investment and time and money in Danny is paying off, we're going to make him a star,' instead they told me I failed as a producer, that I had him on two previous labels and that he failed twice, and to let him go. They gave me $150 for my publishing claim. I was 25 years old then - the older version of me would have called up Danny and worked together to ask for a great amount of money. But back then, I took the $150 and walked away."

Hanna-Barbera's primary goal, however, was not to simply break Hutton as a performer - they wanted to put a harmony duo on the pop charts. The harmony duo of Pebbles and Bamm Bamm. Yes, THAT Pebbles and Bamm Bamm. During the Flintstones' sixth-season premiere episode, "No Biz Like Show Biz," the animated moppets develop a singing ability, enough to have their own Bedrock Top 40 hit. While the episode did feature several renditions of Pebbles and Bamm Bamm warbling "Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In)," an uncredited Danny Hutton was briefly featured in the episode singing "Roses and Rainbows", as was another HBR group, The Creations IV, with a few bars of "Dance in the Sand" (HBR 440).

By the end of November, Hutton had enough of HBR, and a lawyer helped extricate the singer from the HBR contract. But even after Hutton left, HBR squeezed one more single out of him. "When I was doing one of the sessions as the Bompers, they needed another song, so I wrote a song right in the studio, 'Big Bright Eyes,' it was just me and a guitar. I recorded it as a demo. I left HBR and went to MGM Records, and all of a sudden in Billboard they have a review of 'Big Bright Eyes' - HBR took the demo, got the same arrangers and orchestra for 'Roses and Rainbows,' overdubbed all the instruments onto my demo, and released it."

Hanna-Barbera's other homegrown act, a garage-rock trio called the Guilloteens, already proved their mettle as one of Memphis' top rock bands (with no less than Elvis Presley calling them his favorite band). The Guilloteens moved to Los Angeles, and eventually impressed Phil Spector enough that the producer wanted to give the Guilloteens' most popular song, "I Don't Believe," the full Wall of Sound treatment. "We had six drummers on Spector's demo for 'I Don't Believe,'" said Guilloteens guitarist Louis Paul. "That track was absolutely incredible. The 12-string intro was totally Phil Spector's idea, originally our song was in the key of A, he told us to go to B minor and do some string rolls. But Phil spent more time in the studio with the Righteous Brothers, and we were next on the list - but during that period of time, our manager sold us to Hanna-Barbera."

Suddenly the Guilloteens were no longer recording at A&M's 24-track recording studio. "We walked into H&R Sudios and cut 'I Don't Believe' cold," said Louis Paul. "We did it live, the producer stuck mikes on the floor. H&R Studios had a little 8-track channel board and two Scullys sitting side by side, that was the studio. If you needed a vocal overdub, they ran the band track to the second machine while you sang. We didn't get that shot, they took us to some little bitty cheap studio, and the track was released in two days."

Despite the rushed production, "I Don't Believe" became a major hit in the Guilloteens' Memphis hometown, and appeared on several regional playlists. The group eventually released some more sides with HBR, until infighting and financial difficulties forced Paul to quit the band. "Hanna-Barbera did spend some money on us," said Paul. "They bought two pages in Billboard, one page was us, one page was Danny Hutton. I called Hanna-Barbera a few years back, but nobody there even remembered the Guilloteens. Believe it or not, 'I Don't Believe' is still a big hit in the Czech Republic, the last time I got my BMI royalty readout, the song is still being played there."

While their homegrown acts could only generate regional hits, HBR was much more successful by licensing tracks. When a five-piece rock combo from Oklahoma, the Five Americans, tore up the Dallas/Fort Worth area with their pre-psychedelic recording of "I See The Light," selling 8,000 copies of the 45 through a small regional label owned by their manager, John Abdnor, HBR took notice. "In 1965 we released 'I See The Light' regionally," said the Five Americans' Mike Rabon. "Because it received a lot of attention in Texas, Okahoma and Louisiana, it got noticed by Hanna-Barbera, and they picked up our distributorship."

"I See The Light" became HBR's first Top 40 hit, peaking at #26 in the early spring of 1966, and spurring HBR to release the Five Americans' debut album (HBR 8503 mono, 9503 stereo). "We did the cover for our album on Hanna-Barbera's lot," said Rabon, "with photographs of us jumping on a trampoline. They did the album cover there, they did the designing and all that."

"Tom Ayers was Hanna-Barbera's PR guy," said John Burrill, another member of the Five Americans. "Ayers was the sweetest guy. He took us to see groups like the Electric Flag in Malibu. It was a strange transition for us - we were wearing sharkskin suits and were very manicured musicians, and when we got to Los Angeles and started playing the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, three weeks later we're in bucksins and beads."

After the success of "I See The Light," HBR released another Five Americans track, "Evol - Not Love," and the track received substantial airplay. Meanwhile, in the Five Americans' Dallas home base, a controversy brewed. Despite reports of strong sales in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, the song was inexplicably missing from local radio station KLIF's playlists, who claimed their produced music survey was "the most accurate popular music survey in America."

Abdnor sued KLIF, claiming that KLIF's music survey was not as accurate as advertised, and that the unlisted "Evol - Not Love" had outsold half the songs on KLIF's survey - essentially charging KLIF with restraint of trade. During the trial, KLIF's general manager had referred to "Evol - Not Love" as a "mediocre effort," and that KLIF reserved the right to not add any song or artist who appeared on any of their competing Dallas-Fort Worth stations, including KBOX or WFAA. Eventually KLIF changed the language describing their music surveys, but by that time "Evol - Not Love" was off the charts - and within a few months, off of Hanna-Barbera completely, as Abdnor took his small Abnak label to the national level.

Jimmy Rabbitt was the music director for KLIF during this time period. "The program director told me not to play 'Evol - Not Love' until it got really big. So we didn't play it. We got sued for not playing the Five Americans, and it went to court, and it was in court for two weeks - I had to testify, and I remember that they made us change the description of our survey, because we really didn't reflect the sales. And at the end of the lawsuit, I got fired from the station - and went to work for Abnak Records as their national promotions man."

Meanwhile, Hanna-Barbera increased their licensing program, picking up masters from regional hits for national distribution, and providing the illusion of a fully-stocked label. "The Fife Piper," an instrumental regional hit for a West Virginia flute-fronted band, the Dynatones, was picked up from tiny St. Clair Records, and became a moderate hit (HBR 494). From Panorama Records in the Pacific Northwest, HBR picked up The Dimensions, a garage band from South Seattle with "She's Boss" (HBR 477). A reciprocal agreement with Pye Records in England gave HBR Murray's Monkeys (HBR 469), as well as Laurie Johnson's soundtrack to the TV series The Avengers (HBR 8506 mono, 9506 stereo). Other pickups included Fort Worth's Charles Christy; Detroit's Robbie & Robyn, and two R&B artists from Nashville, Art Grayson and Earl Gaines.

In 1955, Earl Gaines was the lead vocalist on Louis Brooks and His Hi-Toppers' soul hit "It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)," but by 1966 Gaines was part of the Hanna-Barbera roster. His first single for HBR, "The Best of Luck To You" (HBR 481), was a strong soul hit in the autumn of 1966 (albeit credited to "Earl Gains"). Gaines had one more single and an album licensed through HBR, but there were problems between HBR and Gaines' manager.

"Hoss Allen, a disc jockey at WLAC, was my manager at the time," said Gaines, who still performs and records around Nashville. "We recorded the album in Owen Bradley's studio in Nashville, at Bradley's Barn, and shipped it to HBR. I loved the album, and hoped we could do another with HBR. But Hoss was a heavy drinker, and he kept bugging people for money and advances. I never received any money from HBR, but they did pay royalties. And what little money I got, I got from Hoss Allen. He got enough for a home."

SVR Records, a small Detroit label, licensed three of their groups to HBR - a soul group called the Four Gents, and two popular Motor City garage bands, the Unrelated Subjects and the Tidal Waves. The Tidal Waves' cover of the Premiers hit "Farmer John" was already a #1 hit in Detroit, while The Unrelated Subjects "The Story of My Life" is still heard on Detroit oldies stations today.

"I was 15 years old at the time," said the Tidal Waves' Bill Long, 'and I think the oldest guy in the band was the drummer, 17 at the time. We were so excited about going national, I just figured Hanna-Barbera were branching out into rock and roll, and I was excited that it was a big company with lots of money. I would have hoped for Capitol Records, but we were more into making the music than worrying about the label. When I saw our first 45 with HBR, it was pretty cool looking, compared to the SVR label, which was pretty plain."

"I remember that for the mastering of The Unrelated Segments' 'The Story of My Life,' I wanted it to be quite biting," said John Chekaway, the owner of SVR Records. "I was really fussy about the sound, and it was always so iffy doing lacquer transfers. HBR worked with stereo masters in Los Angeles, they did a very good job - if an acetate didn't sound right, they immediately sent me another transfer to address the problems. It took three tries to get it right."

One of the rarest HBR records in the company's run is a copy of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" (HBR 492). According to Elevators historians Andrew Brown and Pete Buesnel, and as part of their website, http://www.lysergia.com, in June 1966 HBR entered into a verbal agreement with International Artists, the Elevators' record label, to press West Coast copies of "You're Gonna Miss Me." International Artists' president Bill Dillard agrees to the deal, but insisted that HBR wait until the contracts were signed before pressing any copies. Hanna-Barbera eventually trumpeted the acquisition of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators master in the July 11, 1966 edition of Billboard.

Two weeks later, International Artists Records announced in a full-page Billboard ad that IA, not HBR, had full exclusive rights to the song for national distribution. Apparently when Bill Dillard learned that HBR pressed copies of "You're Gonna Miss Me" before any contracts were signed, he took the masters and stampers back to Texas, which International Artists used throughout the record's print run. Ironically, many of the IA pressings still have the initials "HBR" in the dead wax, despite attempts by the mastering agents to scratch the initials out!

In September 1966, HBR planned a multi-record release of several licensed tracks and LP's. In addition to their cartoon product, HBR readied such singles as the Abbey Tavern Singers' Irish drinking song "Off to Dublin in the Green" (HBR 498), a cover instrumental of the country chestnut "Almost Persuaded" by pianist Larry Butler (HBR 499), and a hard-rocking reinterpretation of the garage classic "Psychotic Reaction," by a Texas studio group called the Positively 13 O'Clock (HBR 500).

The Positively 13 O'Clock's lead singer was a familiar face in HBR history - Jimmy Rabbitt, the music director at KLIF who was fired after the "Evol - Not Love" music survey lawsuit. Besides his stint on radio, Rabbitt had several regional singles, and eventually Tom Ayers at HBR contacted Rabbitt. "I was in California, trying to get national distribution for one of my songs, 'Wishy Washy Woman,' and the guys from the Five Americans told Tom Ayers about me. Tom brought me over to HBR, and tried to tell me what I was playing wasn't what he needed at the label, and then he pulled out some acetates - groups like Arthur Lee and Love, and the Count Five, and others. He then said, 'We've been trying to make a deal on "Psychotic Reaction," but it's not happening - so why don't you come back and make a cover of it?'"

With that, Rabbitt went to Robin Hood Studios in Dallas, and cut a cover version of "Psychotic Reaction" that was more frantic, more freaky, more psychedelic than anything the Count Five could muster. With a throwaway B-side, and a roster of musicians that would later include members of Mouse and The Traps, The Positively 13 O'Clock was born. "Our version of 'Psychedelic Reaction' got better reviews," said Rabbitt, "but the Count Five's version just - it just happened. It became the bigger hit. I sang lead for the 13 O'Clock. I might have played rhythm guitar on it too, but I'm not sure. It took a long time for us to cut it - and then we went out and played as 13 O'Clock, and some of the members later went to Mouse and the Traps."

Another rare HBR pressing involves the Chocolate Watchband, the Los Angeles garage group with a devoted collector following. After the group recorded a cover of Dave Allen and the Arrows' "Blues Theme", the Watchband's Tower/Uptown label refused to put out the record. Hanna-Barbera leased the track, crediting the song to "The Hogs." The song's B-side, "Loose Lip Sync Ship," is a trippy B-side instrumental that would later appear on a Nuggets compilation. In the middle of the instrumental jam, lead singer David Aguilar goes into a full-blown freakout, shrieking "Freaks are for kids, not for silly rab-bytes," then cascading into an old-time sermon filled with reverb and a chorus of "Row Your Boat." The producer's credits on the 45, listed as "The Phantom," led many to surmise that Frank Zappa produced the avant-garde recording; but most likely, the record was either produced by the Watchband's regular producer, Ed Cobb, or by the band themselves. In fact, the first portion of "Loose Lip Sync Ship," with lyrics and additional instrumentation, appears as the song "Gossamer Wings," on the Watchband's album No Way Out.

By May 1967, although the Hanna-Barbera cartoon company comfortably dominated Saturday morning television, the record division was in a shambles. Regional hits were licensed and released with little fanfare; chart appearances were minimal at best, and the licensing fees cost HBR a small fortune. And the one group with whom HBR actually had a Top 40 hit, the Five Americans, left HBR when their manager, John Abdnor, took his Abnak Records label to the national level. Ironically, the very week HBR announced they were ceasing independent distribution, the Five Americans' song "Western Union" was finishing its run atop the Top 10.

"Don Bohanan was quite down about the folding of the label," said SVR president John Chekaway. "He made an effort to transition all the licensed product wherever he could, and they immediately connected us with Liberty Records for distribution."

"I think Hanna-Barbera wanted to have a label, period," said Jimmy Rabbitt. "And they hired Tom Ayers because he was a well-known Hollywood promotion man. Tom Ayers spent a lot of money trying to get them a label. You gotta know how much money they spent leasing those records and pressing them up."

Many of the HBR performers and front office staff found new projects. Danny Hutton became part of Three Dog Night. Kim Fowley became a successful producer and performer. The Guilloteens recorded some sides for Columbia; while frontman Louis Paul stuck around with Hanna-Barbera, doing some voice work for the company. Tom Ayers would move to RCA Victor, and eventually signed David Bowie to that label. The Unrelated Subjects and the Tidal Waves moved to Liberty Records.

"In a world of one-hit wonders," said Kim Fowley, "HBR was a one-hit-wonder record label, with the Five Americans. Three hits, if you count Danny Hutton and the Guilloteens. It was a nice try, but it didn't become Sun Records or A&M either."

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