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Mafia a Go-Go : The Unwritten History of Rock 'n' Roll : THE BEAUTIES AND THE BEAST: The Mob in Show Business, By Hank Messick (David McKay: out of print) : WAIT UNTIL DARK: Jazz and the Underworld, 1880-1940, By Ronald L. Morris (Bowling Green University Popular Press: out of print) : HIT MEN, By Fredric Dannen (Vintage: $12 ; 407 pp . ) : BIG BEAT HEAT: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll, By John A . Jackson (Schirmer: $24.95; 400 pp . ) : STIFFED: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia, By William Knoedelseder (HarperCollins: $23; 480 pp.)

April 25, 1993|NICK TOSCHES | Tosches's book "Dino," which is being made into a movie for Warner Bros., will be published in paperback this June by Dell

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Juggy Gayles, the Moses of promotion men. In the 1930s, Juggy was a song-plugger for the likes of Irving Berlin and Sammy Cahn. "The idea," he told me, "was to get your song played on the radio. With seven plugs, seven good shots, you could make a hit song."

Juggy was the man who plugged "God Bless America," the man who broke "White Christmas"--the biggest-selling record of all time. In a career that spanned half a century, he worked with Glenn Miller, Sinatra (who tried to kill himself in Juggy's apartment), Led Zeppelin, the Eagles. "Back in the swing days, we never paid the bandleaders. Some of those mickey mouse bandleaders, we'd slip 'em 10 bucks to play a chorus, because we needed a quick plug. But I couldn't go to Benny Goodman and pay him. Just couldn't do that sort of shit." But by the 1950s, "payola was all over the place." As Juggy saw it: "Booze, bribes and broads. That was rock 'n' roll."

Music has always been a dirty racket. Louis Armstrong's career began under the aegis of the Matranga family, which had taken control of New Orleans after that city's Mafia war of 1890. At Chez Morgan, the New York speak-easy he named for her, Lucky Luciano kept torch singer Helen Morgan as his bird in a gilded cage. Meyer Lansky ran the Emby Distributing Co., which controlled every Wurlitzer jukebox in the New York area, a nickel-in-the-slot empire he divided among the henchmen of Luciano, Joe Adonis, Longie Zwillman and others.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 13, 1993 Home Edition Book Review Page 15 Book Review Desk 2 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
In "Mafia-a-Go-Go" (Apr. 25), Nick Tosches left the impression that author Fredric Dannen had not thoroughly researched his book, "Hit Men," because he failed to exploit two important sources. In fact, Dannen says he was very familiar with both sources, and that Tosches grossly exaggerated the importance of one of them. Tosches says he did not mean to imply that Dannen's research was shoddy.

Nor were the Mafiosi the only dirty players in a long and corrupt process that enriched culture and criminality alike. Folklorists, such as John A. Lomax, and black entrepreneurs, such as J. Mayo Williams, regularly usurped copyrights to the compositions of unsophisticated recording artists (themselves more often rooted in plagiarism than originality)--a practice carried on by producers, managers, label-owners and others well into the Modern Age.

Not much changes except the faces and figures. Months ago, a veteran producer told me that, while he could still turn a country record into a hit with 50 grand ("spread around in the right places"--and he wasn't talking about advertising), a pop hit nowadays could cost at least twice as much.

The dark underbelly, the inferno beneath the genial soundtrack of candy land, is a realm that remains largely unknown and unexplored. Twenty years ago, in his book "The Beauties and the Beast: The Mob in Show Business," Hank Messick presented an ill-researched and ill-written hodgepodge of hearsay, inaccuracies and rumors. Seven years later came Ronald L. Morris's "Wait Until Dark: Jazz and the Underworld, 1880-1940." Bearing an intriguing title and the gravity of a university-press imprint, it looked promising but was in fact a slight and shoddy book that delivered nothing. (Morris, who seemed to know little about either jazz or the underworld, failed, for example, to connect Henry Matranga to the New Orleans underworld, but mentioned him only as being Italian and therefore, it was implied, guilty of something or other.)

Fredric Dannen's 1990 "Hit Men" is surely the best and best known of books dealing with crime in the music industry. Yet, in providing an interesting look at the sub-rosa cabals and conflicts of modern-day record-company executives, its tone is too often one of innocence and wide-eyed wonder, and we are led through familiar, well-worn territory as if through a garden of revelations. ("The Genovese crime family," we are told, "has a bloody history.") For me, the photograph of executive-with-a-past Frank Dileo and Michael Jackson (page VII of the Vintage edition) surpasses the text in eloquence and alone is worth the price of the book.

"Hit Men" deals primarily with events of the '70s and '80s. John A. Jackson's "Big Beat Heat" of 1991 is concerned with the rock 'n' roll boom of the '50s that culminated in the payola scandals and federal hearings of 1959-60. Jackson's research, for the most part, is thorough and impressive (through an endeavor that involved a special vote by the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, he gained access to Alan Freed's long-suppressed 1960 testimony before the House Committee on Legislative Oversight), and he approaches his subject with intelligence and underlying passion. The weakness of this capably written, well-documented and enlightening work lies in the fact that Jackson, a record-collector and educator, is far less familiar with the criminal than with the cultural aspects of rock 'n' roll.

William Knoedelseder's "Stiffed," the newest addition to a meager literature, is ambitiously subtitled "A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia." While the early years of the Music Corp. of America surely hold darker tales, Knoedelseder has chosen to tell the story of MCA's recent involvement in the cut-outs racket, the common practice whereby remaindered records become a currency of shady commerce.

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