Gary James' Interview With Bobby Darin's Manager
He was born Walden Robert Cassotto, but the world would know him as Bobby Darin.
His recording career started in 1956, when he was 19. By the age of 37, Bobby Darin was dead. Bobby Darin is probably best known for the songs, "Splish Splash", "Queen of the Hop", "Dream Lover," "Mack The Knife", and "Beyond The Sea".
Steve Blauner was Bobby Darin's personal manager. Recently he shared his recollections of a true rock'n'roll legend with us.
Q - Mr. Blauner, how did you meet Bobby Darin?
A - There was a lady called Harriet Wasser who was in promotion in New York. I had just started in the business. I was an agent at GAC (General Artists Corporation) which at that time was the third largest agency in the world. MCA being first, William Morris being second. She just kept talking to me about this kid and rock'n'roll, and I hated rock'n'roll and I wasn't interested. I had met him with her and then because I got mad at the Morris office over something that pertained to Sammy Davis, I had Bobby come up, because the Morris office was about to sign him. I gave him a big song and dance and I signed him with GAC, not caring that maybe I was screwing up his life. I was just too mad at the Morris office and then I felt guilty. The first time they got him a gig was at a charity show in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I had somebody drive me up there from New York. He opened the show. He was doing rock'n'roll which I hated, but, the minute he hit the stage, I just went "wow"! The next day I went back to the office and said if this kid can sing one note legit, he'll be one of the biggest stars of all time. He had this incredible stage presence. The only person that had ever done that to me first time I saw 'em was Sammy Davis.
Q - So, you actually knew Bobby Darin before he
A - Oh yeah.
Q - Would this time period have been 1958 or before?
A - This was probably '58. I guess maybe "Splish Splash" was '58. In fact, he might've sung "Splish Splash" that night. Actually, I might've met him toward the end of'57. But, he hadn't had a hit record yet.
Q - And you became his personal manager.
A - Yes. Later.
Q - Tell me how that happened.
A - I got transferred to California. He came out to California. He would sleep on the couch in my living room. I shared a 3 room house with a guy who worked for Sammy Davis. We were driving down Sunset Blvd. and he said he wanted me to manage him. I almost crashed the car. I said no for three reasons: one, it's not ethical, me being with the agency, two, I think you're gonna be a big star and I don't know enough. I've only been in the business a minute and a half. I turned him down. Then later, after I'd quit the agency and I was working for a movie producer, I called him up and said if you still want me to manage you, O.K. I'll do it, but it's gotta be now. I can't stay here any longer. It's not fair to these people. He had no money. Maybe he'd made $25,000 the year before. He had four years left on a contract with the other managers who were really in the publishing business. So he made deal with them that what he wrote and recorded, they would own the publishing to, until it hit one hundred thousand at which time, the deal would end, but they would still own those copyrights, so that hundred thousand could be worth a million someday, who knows.
Q - Besides Bobby Darin, who else were you booking at GAC?
A - GAC was bands and acts. In other words, we had all the singers. We had Nat Cole, Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Guy Mitchell, Peggy Lee, Perry Como, Pat Boone, and a bunch of rock'n'roll acts and comedians. There were still some bands playing around the country. We started a department that I volunteered for - writers, producers, directors, creative people. So, I was basically in the creative end. So, I wasn't handling anybody that would've heard of.
Q - Besides, Bobby, did you manage anyone else?
A - Nobody. Bobby said to me he wanted me to manage Peggy Lee. I said, Fine, I'll manage Peggy lee. You've got the same percentage of me, that extra business, as I do of you. He said, "why I didn't do anything for it. I won't take it." Bobby was the most honest human being I had ever met. I said "Bobby, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be managing Peggy Lee. So, that by itself was worth it. But real reason was, I didn't want to be in the position where if I was doing something for Peggy Lee and he couldn't find me, he could complain. This way I could say this making you money while you're not working. He wouldn't take it, so I wouldn't manage anybody else. At one point for a short period of time, because I thought country ready for a comeback, I did some management with Dick Haymes. But, he started to drink again, and I just quit.
In other words, the only person I ever really managed was Bobby.
Q - People will put Bobby Darin in the Rock'n'Roll category, but that doesn't seem to fit. Is there another area where we can put Bobby's singing and writing into?
A - That's the problem today. If you go into a record store, people don't know where to put him. Bobby is unique. He is the only person ever, in the history of music that covered all the bases he covered and did them all well. He started doing rock'n'roll 'cause that was the way to get your foot in the door. In other words, when he had "Splish Splash" and it was a hit, he took the money that he made from "Splish Splash", went in and made an album of standards. In those days standards meant "Beyond The Sea", "Mack The Knife". He was on the Atco label which was owned by Atlantic. Ahmet Ertegun (owner of Atlantic) thought he was crazy, 'cause that music wasn't selling. It was petering out. But, he knew he couldn't be a rock'n'roll singer all of his life. He was the first one to make the transition from rock'n'roll to the nightclub business. I don't know what you want to call that, Big Bands, Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, Vic Damone, Tony Bennett, those kind of people. He was great and a big hit doing that. Then, at some point, he took off the tuxedo, took off the hairpiece, went to Vegas in jeans with four pieces behind him, a rhythm section and started to do what I call his protest period. He was doing sort of Folk music. Then, he came back to Vegas in a tuxedo, and the hairpiece, doing the same show but, he had augmented the band. Instead of having just the rhythm section, he had eight brass. He had the smallest band on the Vegas strip. In the old days, as a manager, you'd go in and see Sinatra, and count how many men in the orchestra. Then you'd go the next time and have at least one man more. It got so bad that Tony Bennett once came to Vegas with a symphony.
Q - Did you ever get the chance to see any of Syracuse?
A - Well, I went to school in Geneva, which wasn't far from Syracuse, so I'd been to Syracuse a number of times. I remember when I was in the movie business, making movies, pictures like 'Five Easy Pieces', 'Easy Rider', 'The Last Picture Show', 'Hearts and Minds' which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, 'King of Marvin Gardens', we were gonna do a picture called 'Drive, He Said' about a basketball player, with Jack Nicholson who was gonna direct it. It was the first time he was ever gonna direct. We went searching for colleges, and we were at Syracuse. We also went down to Ithaca, down to Cornell. We ended up shooting the picture at the University of Oregon as it turned out.
Q - You say you made pictures. You were a producer then?
A - Yes. After managing Bobby I went into television. I became an executive at Screen Gems, which was the television arm of Columbia Pictures. I was responsible for 'Bewitched', 'I Dream of Genie', The Farmer's Daughter', 'Hazel', all the shows that are being re-run now. We must've had ten half hour sit-coms, although they weren't called sitcoms then, on the air at one time. The Donna Reed Show, Dennis The Menace. I was responsible for putting The Monkees on the air.
Q - Back to the Three Rivers Inn for just a minute. Do you remember the owner, Dom Bruno?
A - He was a sweetheart. Very fond memories. He treated us great. You couldn't have worked for a nicer human being.
Q - How do you compare managing a singer with producing movies?
A - I made movies that were basically hits, Academy award nominations, Academy award winners. So, I've basically done it all. The greatest time, the most exciting time, the most unbelievable time was managing Bobby. It was a comet ride, in the beginning. It was just incredible. I was too young and inexperienced to understand what was happening. I was just living the moment. I had old line managers, 20, 30 years older than me, say 'I hate you'. What have I ever done? I never said anything. You know, we've been in the business all these years. First time out of the box, and you got this superstar. I never even realized this. When I said to Bobby I didn't know enough to manage him, I meant it, and I didn't , so I yelled a lot. Of All the things I've ever done that was and will always be the most exciting.
Q - Did you go into the studio with Bobby?
A - Always.
Q - Was he a one-take kind of singer?
A - Well, first of all, you have to understand, in those days, that's why the music was better. Forget whether you like the music or not. Today, with overdubbing, everything is sterile. There's no excitement. The people that are recording probably don't even understand it, 'cause they've never done it any other way. You'd go in, and an album would be 12 songs, between 30 and 40 minutes. You'd go in and I think do three, four hour sessions. Four songs a session, twelve songs, album over 3 days. You would sing Bobby, right there with the orchestra 'live'. There might be a two-sided thing to separate him from the music. So everybody had to be there on the moment. He was not necessarily one-take but he did four songs in a session, every time out, sometimes maybe more. You did 'em 'live' and there was no coming in later and fixing 'em. In those days you couldn't. And, you would do four albums a year. Today, you do one every four years, it seems like, or one every two years. But minimum you'd do three albums. Bobby did five albums from April of '66 to August of '67.
Q - Because Bobby had a bad heart, was that the reason he drove himself so hard?
A - Probably. He overheard that he wouldn't live to see 16, when he was very young. He loved music.
Q - Do you think about Bobby very much these days and what do you think about?
A - Well, first of all, I'm surrounded by Bobby. In my living room, there's Bobby all over. There's Bobby with Sammy Davis. There's Bobby by himself. There's Bobby with me. I think of Bobby, I can't say everyday, but it wouldn't surprise me one way or another. I'm still working for Bobby. I represent the estate. I've just worked on an album that Capitol is gonna put out called "Biography" with 14 songs in it, versions of some that have never been out before. There's a movie that's about to be made about Bobby's life at Warner Bros. Barry Levinson is gonna direct. That's been almost 10 years in the making. Bobby said to me once and this will tell you all you need to know about Bobby: "Steve, when I get up in the morning and I look in the mirror, do you know what I see? I see a short, balding, double-chinned, big-nosed, paunchy, ugly Italian. When I go out that door I'm John Wayne."