Born Jacob Goldman, 9 February 1917, New York City.
Throughout a career spanning 22 years, George Goldner owned or co-owned over a dozen different record labels, including Tico, Rama, Gee, Roulette, Gone, End and Red Bird. On top of that, he recorded for or distributed more than 50 labels. He dealt regularly with early movers and shakers of the business - Alan Freed, Morris Levy and Ahmet Ertegun, to name a few - and his efforts went a long way toward racially integrating the pop record charts and the music industry at large.
Born in New York City, Goldner gave up an early career in the garment business to open a chain of dance halls. Goldner himself was a good dancer, and saw no reason not to pursue a career doing something he enjoyed, if there was money to be made at it. He was lucky enough to get in on the mambo boom, and had a special appreciation of Latin music, in part from having married a Latin woman.
In 1948, Goldner founded Tico, a label that helped to successfully introduce Latin music into the pop mainstream by way of its strong artist roster (Tito Puente, Machito, Tito Rodriguez et al.). When he heard neighbourhood kids making noise about a burgeoning new music scene, he formed an offshoot label called Rama to record and release R&B platters. His fifth Rama release - "Gee" by the Crows, issued in the summer of 1953 - rose to such heights by the following spring that it became the first R&B record to make a splash with white audiences, just as the term "rock 'n' roll" was first becoming established in the American vernacular. Goldner even went so far as to form another label, named Gee, after his biggest hit till then, but the new label failed to boost record sales and was discontinued after only twelve releases. A sampling of the records either produced or released by Goldner in the '50s would virtually define the black R&B vocal group idiom: the Valentines' "Woo Woo Train", Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" (his biggest hit, a 2 million seller), the Cleftones' "Little Girl Of Mine", the Flamingos' incredibly atmospheric "I Only Have Eyes For You", Little Anthony and the Imperials' "Tears On My Pillow" and the first successful girl-group record, the Chantels' "Maybe".
Goldner did not have his own studio. Most of his recording was done at Bell Sound Studios in Manhattan. In the studio, Goldner and his right-hand man Richard Barrett (recruited from the Valentines, writer of "Maybe") had multi- faceted jobs : find the right key and "groove" for a song ; collaborate with the musicians to create a "head" arrangement ; encourage and control the young, often inexperienced singers during their maiden visits to the recording studio ; oversee the vocal balance by placing the singers at the proper distance from the microphone ; keep an eagle eye on the clock (sessions were traditionally three hours in length, after which overtime kicked in); and, most importantly, recognize the magical "best take" that would ultimately click with the record- buying teenagers.
As with other great record entrepreneurs who flourished in the '50s, George Goldner's fortunes rose and fell numerous times, nearly always in association with his luck at the racetrack. He sold his interests in Tico, Rama and Gee (not to mention Roulette, which he co-founded) to Morris Levy in 1957 and immediately started up two new labels, End and Gone, which he would also sell to Levy five years later. It was on Gone that he enjoyed success with Elvis soundalike Ral Donner, and recorded the Isley Brothers, the Four Seasons and Johnny Rivers before they scored hits. Other notable Gone artists were the Dubs, Jo-Ann Campbell and Mack Vickery. In the early sixties Goldner produced records for his old partner Morris Levy at Roulette, and eventually joined forces with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to co-found the highly successful Red Bird label in 1964. Red Bird is largely associated with the creative work of Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Shadow Morton, and scored hits with the Dixie Cups, the Shangri-La's and the Ad-Libs. In 1966 Leiber and Stoller sold their interest in Red Bird to Goldner. Soon thereafter the label folded. It had been primarily a "girl-groups" label and with the ascendancy of the Beatles, girl groups lost the limelight. George Goldner died in April 1970, of a massive heart attack, just as his newest label venture, Firebird Records, was about to launch its first releases.
(Partly adapted from the entry for Goldner in The Encyclopedia of Record Producers, by Eric Olsen et al., Billboard Books, 1999)
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