Born 13 January 1918, Los Angeles, California
Publisher / producer / manager / record label owner.
Lester Sill was a ubiquitous and well-connected figure in the West Coast music scene. He first entered show business as a night club owner, but in 1945 he joined the sales and promotion staff of Modern Records in L.A., later producing sessions for R&B acts like Charles Brown and Hadda Brooks. In 1950 Sill met Jerry Leiber, an aspiring lyricist, who was looking for a partner who could read and write music. Sill introduced Leiber to Mike Stoller and thus began a collaboration that has produced a unique musical legacy. Leiber and Stoller were still in their teens, unexperienced in the business, and Sill became their guide and mentor. The three men started the Spark record label in 1954 (with financial backing by Stoller's father and Jack Levy), along with their own publishing company, Quintet Music. Spark's main asset was the vocal group The Robins ("Riot In Cell Block # 9", "Smokey Joe's Cafe" etc.) who would develop into the Coasters, a group managed by Sill. Spark Records was sold to Atlantic/Atco in October 1955.
In 1956 Sill met Lee Hazlewood, then a disc jockey and producer in Phoenix, Arizona. He introduced Hazlewood to his old boss Saul Bihari of Modern/RPM Records, which resulted in the single "Snake Eyed Mama" by Don Cole. In 1957 Sill and Hazlewood set up a new publishing company, Gregmark Music, followed in 1959 by their own record label, Trey, a Hollywood-based imprint distributed by Atlantic. But most of their activities were concentrated in Phoenix, where their main (and by far most successful) protege was Duane Eddy, the twangy guitar man. Hazlewood and Sill produced all of Duane's recordings until mid-1960, when there was a falling-out. Duane went on to produce his own sessions for Jamie, but was reconciled with Hazlewood after he had moved to RCA in 1962.
During a Teddy Bears session in 1959, Sill had met Phil Spector and signed him as a songwriter to Gregmark. He took Spector to Phoenix to observe Duane Eddy's sessions and it was there that Spector learned much about recording techniques that he would later employ in his Wall of Sound productions. Sill's house became Spector's creative brewery. Hazlewood and Sill took him on as an apprentice producer, first for Trey, then for its successor, Gregmark Records, for which Spector produced the # 5 hit "I Love How You Love Me" by the Paris Sisters. After Sill's partnership with Hazlewood collapsed, Lester decided to form a new label (late 1961) with Phil Spector, a decision he would soon regret. The new imprint was called Philles, combining the Christian names of its two owners, who also set up a new publishing company together, Mother Bertha Music. In 1962-63, almost every single on Philles (by the Crystals, Darlene Love, Bob B. Soxx and the Bluejeans and the Ronettes) was a hit. Spector felt that it was his artistic genius that had made Philles into a success and he wasn't about to share the rewards with someone else any longer than necessary, especially after Sill had the impudence to produce and release non-charting singles of his own. To keep the story short, Sill eventually sold his share in Philles for $ 60,000 and he didn't even manage to collect that small sum as Spector withheld the money, claiming that Sill still owed him royalties for his work with the Paris Sisters. Sill hired a lawyer and the partnership ended acrimoniously after just 14 months. "I sold out for a pittance", Sill told Mark Ribowsky, the author of the Spector biography "He's A Rebel". "But I just wanted the fuck out of there. If I wouldn't have, I would have killed him. It wasn't worth the aggravation".
After a year in seclusion, Sill resurfaced in 1964 as a consultant to Don Kirshner, then president of Screen Gems-Columbia Music, which also operated a record label, first Colpix and then (from 1966 on) Colgems. This latter label had great success with the Monkees and the Archies (on its affiliated label, Calendar Records). Sill stayed with Screen-Gems for two decades, eventually taking over Kirshner's position. In 1985 he was appointed head and CEO of Jobete Music, the publishing arm of Motown, and remained there until his death in 1994.
Acknowledgements : Jason Ankeny (All Music Guide), Mark Ribowsky, Rob Finnis (Bear Family book with Duane Eddy's 5-CD Jamie box-set).
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