Bang Records, the label that helped launch the careers of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison over three decades ago, has been revived. Now based in Nashville, Bang II will release both R&B and country records. The reactivated label’s first single, “Why’d You Start Looking So Good” by Monty Holmes, was the most added debut release at country radio last week.
Bang was formed in 1965 by Bert Berns with Atlantic Records chiefs Ahmet Ertegun, Neshui Ertegun, and Jerry Wexler. Prior to his label career, Berns cowrote such hits as The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” and The Exciters’ “Tell Him.” (In 1967, he penned Erma Franklin’s “Piece of My Heart,” which was later covered by Janis Joplin and Faith Hill.) Bang’s first release was The Strangelove’s No. 1 hit “I Want Candy”; records followed by The McCoys (for whom Berns wrote “Hang on Sloopy”), Van Morrison, and Neil Diamond (whose hits on Bang included “Kentucky Woman,” “Cherry Cherry,” and “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”).
In 1967, when Berns died of heart failure, his 23-year-old widow, Ilene, a former dancer at New York’s Peppermint Lounge, took over Bang and another label, Shout Records, which worked primarily with black artists. Even though she had a million-seller with Derek’s “Cinnamon,” Bang’s future was cloudy: By that time, Diamond and Morrison had both departed the label.
Berns moved to Atlanta in 1971 and signed Paul Davis, a singer from Jackson, Miss., who eventually scored a big hit in 1977 with “I Go Crazy.” She bought a recording studio and hired staff engineers Ed Seay and James Stroud, who are now among Nashville’s top producers. Along the way, Bang had success with Brick (“Dazz” and “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody”) and former Elton John drummer Nigel Olsson (“Put On Your Dancing Shoes”); an offshoot label, Bullet Records, signed Peabo Bryson as its first artist.
By the end of the decade, however, Berns was ready to get out of the record business. In 1979, she sold her labels to CBS and began buying country and R&B radio stations. Through the years, she retained her ownership of WEB IV Music Publishing and Sloopy II Publishing (both of which she has since relocated to Nashville). Then, in 1993, at the urging of her current husband, former apparel executive Brian Jackson, she moved to Nashville. Earlier this year, she revived the Bang imprint.
“To be honest with you,” she says, “I just missed the passion of the record business. If I feel like I have a hit song, I get excited about it. If I pitch it to an artist or a label, you never know if they’re going to cut it.
“I think it’s more exciting and in fact easier [than before],” she says of the music business. “I’m sure everyone else would tell you it’s a lot harder, but it’s not. When we did it in the ’70s and ’80s, we had so many more accounts to service. Now we just have seven or eight accounts. Now we have videos which help with artist identity.”
Berns runs Bang II’s creative side, while her husband, who has an MBA from Wake Forest, serves as CEO and president. The label has 14 employees, including former Atlantic Records promo man Larry King, who now serves as Bang II’s executive vice president, and former Atlantic executive Elroy Kahanek, who is VP of artist development. Marketing efforts are guided by Nashville consultant Mike Martinovich, and the label’s distribution is handled by MS Distribution in Chicago.
“We just want to work one artist at a time and be a boutique label,” Berns says. Adds Jackson, “Ilene’s philosophy was always quality and not quantity. They all have to be marketed in different ways. We don’t want to get too big too fast.”
In addition to Monty Holmes’ record, which was produced by Paul Davis, Bang II is also releasing an R&B disc by Sleepy’s Theme, a group that includes Patrick Brown of the Organized Noise production team; a greatest-hits package from Brick; and a new album by Davis. “The only thing I had to work very hard on was to persuade Paul Davis to produce,” Berns says. “I’m only as good as the product I put out.”
Spanish-born, Canadian-raised Miguel Salas will be launched to the country and international markets simultaneously. Separate staffs, meanwhile, will work the label’s country and black music releases; within a month, Bang II will open an Atlanta office, which will handle all of the label’s R&B acts.
Although some people in the industry are wary of attempting Bang II’s dual strategy, Berns doesn’t think it’s odd to work such different formats at the same time. “Bang Records was always that,” she says. “I’ve always known how to work a black record as well as a country record. Music is music. There’s a really good correlation between urban and country. What I love to work is songs; to me, the song is everything.”
New Country closes
New Country magazine, the most interesting of today’s mainstream country periodicals, has temporarily suspended publication; it will relaunch in the fall as a bimonthly. The magazine began in the early ’90s under the editorial leadership of David Sokol and Nashvillian Brian Mansfield, whose edgy and intelligent approach gave the magazine a unique appealthis was the one publication that industry publicists read for enjoyment. After Mansfield’s departure, New Country lured Bob Cannon, a contributor to such national periodicals as Entertainment Weekly, from Florida to Nashville. Cannon is not expected to remain with the magazine through its reinvention. It’s likely that he’ll be snapped up by another national publication by then.
New kid in town
You might never have heard of songwriter Annie Roboff, but that should change soonif her frequent appearance on the Billboard country charts is any indication. The Almo/Irving writer, who moved from Los Angeles to Nashville three years ago, cowrote Faith Hill’s “This Kiss,” Trisha Yearwood’s “There Goes My Baby,” Patty Loveless’ “To Have You Back Again,” Martina McBride’s “Happy Girl,” Kevin Sharp’s “Love Is All That Really Matters,” and Linda Davis’ “I Wanna Remember This.” In addition, she cowrote the Bonnie Raitt cut “Meet Me Halfway” and the upcoming Olivia Newton-John song “Precious Love.”
“Some of it is luck,” Roboff says. “Some of it is that I work with incredibly gifted songwriters, and some of it is that I love music and I love the radio and I probably write a lot.”
Roboff was born in Greensburg, N.Y., and began her musical career in a band that made appearances in the movie and TV show Fame. After the band broke up, she began writing themes for TV movies and sports shows, including the ’84 Olympics and ABC’s broadcast of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding. She left music temporarily in the mid-’80s to preside over Vision Communications, a PR firm that handled both politicians and entertainers.
Soon, though, she discovered that she missed music. So she moved to L.A. and began writing pop songs, landing cuts with such acts as Newton-John, 4 Real, and Phil Perry. She moved to Nashville in 1994 and wrote her first No. 1, “Walkin’ Away,” with Craig Wiseman, three months later.
“The thing that struck me most about Nashville is how exciting the writing community was and just the depth of great talent here,” she says. “L.A. is a much more fractured community; there are so many great writers there, but people operate more independently.”
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