Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: 1978, WBR Becomes The HQ For P-Funk and Soul
Every Tuesday and Thursday, former Warner Bros. Records executive and industry insider Stan Cornyn ruminates on the past, present, and future of the music business.
1978 -- WBR Becomes HQ
For P-Funk and Soul
Starting Slow with Loma
The search for more sales remained intense at Warner Bros. Records in the early Sixties. Other labels had led the Billboard charts, with their English bands (where are our Beatles?), with their pop singles (should we make singles with those triplets?), with their R&B divisions (where is our Stax-type label?). Warner felt stuck with its oldie artists. Good oldies, but doing what they’d done for years.
So, back in 1964, a fervent music exec from King Records in San Francisco -- Bob Krasnow -- was hired by Warner Bros. Records’ Mike Maitland to run a we-need-one-too: an R&B label for WBR.
Loma Records, it got called. Loma didn’t do well either. It eventually had one semi-hit by Redd Foxx, but that was hardly enough. Krasnow and Loma had no staff, at least none who knew how the 1964’s marketplace gets its hits.
In 1965, Krasnow moved on. At Warners, the now old Loma catalogue was forgotten.
On his own now, Krasnow next headed Kama Sutra Records, then founded Buddah Records, then founded his own Blue Thumb Records, where he signed Ike & Tina Turner, the Pointer Sisters, and enjoyed hit acts. Enough sellers for Krasnow to cash in. So in the early ‘70s he did just that.
Bob Krasnow retired to Beverly Hills, where he lived an indulgent life with a Top Ten gourmet kitchen, where before dinner all his guests would gather, savour, then hum “Mmm!”
After one dinner there, WBR’s new Chairman, Mo Ostin, urged Krasnow to return to Burbank, to come back to Warner Bros. Records. But not to some old Loma. This was now 1974, and Krasnow insisted, if he did come back to Warner, that he would have no job description. And that he would work the way he liked, by his rules. And even his business card would describe him as “Executive Without Portfolio.” Mo Ostin got his man.
Krasnow moved into WBR, and instinctively signed his kind of music. Not copying others’ hits. Krasnow wanted original-sounding records. Fresh signings in black music, jazz music, soul.
Unlike 1964, this decade later, this time Krasnow’s choices proved right on spot.
Original-sounding turned out good. Krasnow persuaded jazz guitar marvel George Benson to sign with WBR, but to sing. Benson did, and astonished jazz fans by singing a pop hit, “Breezin’.” Then Krasnow persuaded the “Queen of Soul” Chaka Kahn to sign, and she too had cross-over (to pop) hits, like “I’m Every Woman.” Another million seller.
Both ear fresheners.
How Original Can You Get:
But the very most eye-and-ear freshener of Krasnow’s signings was – how to put this? -- 15 musicians that sometimes got called Parliament and sometimes called Funkadelic, both names that their leader used to describe the same band which could play this way (soulful) and other times that way (funky).
That way, this music veteran – George Clinton -- could pay the same band members with income from two labels, two deals. “Why not?” was his answer to good questions.
Also, Clinton wanted attention to his records. He wanted ribald album covers. This is 1976, isn’t it? He wanted edgy “adult’ songs, like “The Electric Spanking of War Babies” and “Icka Prick.”
George Clinton. He, like Krasnow, craved being original.
Clinton had been evolving his music since his teens in the ‘50s, when doo-wop that rose and then sank. “Next?” was how Clinton judged today’s market.
With Clinton’s new Parliament and Funkadelic cuts, Warner found itself baring more soul than ever before. Clinton/Warner became a leader of the new Next: Funk.
During the 1970s, Clinton and his “two” bands dominated “far out” music. They had over 40 R&B hit singles (three Number Ones), and three Platinum albums. Clinton loved being “mainstream,” loved startling new audiences (as well as Warner execs).
With the release in September of 1978 of Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” (both the album and the single), WBR had found the complete pleasure of a whole new market, one that kept growing, from R&B to Funk to Hip Hop and beyond.
Then, the 1980s came in. Clinton had legal problems with his dual-label deals. Disco died. Funk faded. Hip-hop was more “in.” Now, at Warner, bands like Fleetwood Mac provided the market heat. Clinton’s successes dimmed.
Out of Funk Comes Bootsy
Of all the talent surrounding George Clinton in his multi-talented Funkadelic/Parliament band, some of the band also sprouted even more new band off-shoots. Most successful sprouter was bass-player Bootsy Collins.
Bootsy’s group got called Bootsy’s Rubber Band. His group was a bit smaller than Clinton’s 15-member groups, but still big enough to have a section called The Horny Horns.
Like Clinton, Bootsy’s group recorded funk for Warner Bros. Records, who issued Rubber Band albums with titles like “Bootsy? Player of the Year.” Bootsy would play performing roles in his albums; in this “Player of the Year,” he played the part of Bootzilla, “the world’s only rhinestone rockstar monster of a doll.”
A single from Bootsy’s (third) Warner album, “Bootzilla,” hit the top of Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart, followed by a second single, “Hollywood Squares.” Both were co-authored by Clinton and Collins, and co-produced by them, too.
Where Are They Now:
P-Funk retired from touring in 1984.
George Clinton, gone from WBR, had scooted his gang of musicians from label to label. He moved his group to Casablanca Records to Capitol to Prince’s Paisley Park to Sony and even another new, going-nowhere label he named The C Kunspyruhzy.
In 1997, all 16 members of the Parliament-Funkadelic got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 16 for one award set another record.
Bob Krasnow kept moving, too. In 1983, promoted out of WBR, he got a bigger gig: CEO of Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records. He moved its HQ to Manhattan. He kept building Elektra for the next decade, selectively, with acts from Tracy Chapman to Metallica. Then, in July of 1994, he semi-retired, then finally, retired for real, this time to Palm Beach, Florida, and a softer life, where his new kitchen went Platinum.
Loma Records remains closed. Even “Best of Loma” re-issues are now unavailable, although searching for tracks is possible via iTunes. An on-line Loma Discography exists, with some sound clips. It was created in England by the late Chris Savory. Check it out here.
Bootsy’s career continued at WBR until 1982, and other Bootsy albums elsewhere continue to this day. But not just albums.In 2011, for example, Bootsy launched a bass-players school in which he became lead professor. His school is known as Funk University, and refers to itself as “Funk U.”