Climax/Rocky Road Label
by Ben McLane, Esq.
"Precious And Few." A classic pop song that will live forever. Recorded by the group Climax on the Rocky Road label, and featuring the unforgettable lead vocals of Sonny Geraci. This article will focus on the story of Climax, and the person that made this hit record possible, music industry executive Marc Gordon.
Climax evolved out of the classic 1960s band from Cleveland, the Outsiders, who hit #5 on Billboard (BB) in early 1966 with the horn rock masterpiece "Time Won't Let Me" (and later charted top 40 in BB 3 more times that same year). According to Geraci, the Outsiders got signed to Capitol because "our manager, Roger Karsher , was the number one promo man for Capitol and he convinced Capitol that we were great. In fact, we had already cut 'Time' before we signed with Capitol." Unlike most bands of that era, the Outsiders were self-produced, which says a lot about the mature musical abilities of the band. By 1968, however, things went sour. Adds Geraci, "the Outsiders stopped recording for Capitol because we quit working with Karsher when we discovered that he screwed us out of our money." (Karsher later became Vice President of Capitol, worked at Hanna Barbara, and then wrote a book called "The Music Machine" exposing payola in the music business.)
In late 1968, Geraci left the Outsiders and moved to Los Angeles. (Tom King, the guitar player and elder member of the Outsiders, kept the band going in Cleveland, eventually recording for Kapp with new lead singer Jon Simonell.) About this time, Geraci released a collectible solo single on Capitol, "Loving You" b/w "Think I'm Falling", which failed to chart. Both of these sides were written by a replacement Outsiders member Walter Nims (who would later pen "Precious And Few.") "Walt Nims was still in the Outsiders, but I liked his songs and recorded them," says Geraci. The bond with Nims would prove to be most beneficial soon thereafter.
A new Los Angeles based Outsiders featuring Geraci singing Nim's songs hit the streets in 1969 looking for another record deal. Recalls Geraci, "we played some shows around Los Angeles and signed with the Metromedia label (then hot with Bobby Sherman). At Metromedia, we recorded a few sides with producer Ron Kramer, including a version of 'Precious And Few.' However, nothing happened and they dropped us." At this juncture, Marc Gordon entered the picture and added the necessary elements which led to the hit version of "Precious And Few" that still permeates the airwaves today.
Marc Gordon got his start in the music business around 1960 in Los Angeles managing an R&B singer from Cincinnati, Ohio - Hal Davis, and having Davis record Gordon's songs. States Gordon, "through this process I learned about producing and selling masters. Then, we started collaborating with other artists and musicians just starting out such as Glen Campbell and Gary Paxton. [Note, you can hear Gordon and Davis singing background on the #1 hits "Alley Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles and "Monster Mash" by Bobby Boris Pickett]. One thing led to another and all of a sudden we became partners as record producers."
Continues Gordon, "Hal and I produced an artist that we took to one of the first R&B conventions. There, we met Barry Gordy, who did not yet have a presence in Los Angeles. Barry gave us both a job to produce product on the West Coast. The first record we made for Motown was a hit - Brenda Holloway "Every Little Bit Hurts" (1964 Tamla, BB #13). For three years, 1962-1965, I helped stabilize the West Coast Motown office, eventually becoming President, West Coast. While at Motown, I was responsible for producing the Ikettes, and Tina Turner and I co-managed all of the acts on Motown that were on the West Coast." While at Motown, Gordon formed a friendship with young songwriter Jimmy Webb - who was a staff songwriter with Motown for a short time - that would soon change history for them both.
By 1966, Gordon had left Motown. (Hal Davis stayed with Motown and became a hit producer, producing many of the early Jackson 5 chart toppers and Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way.") According to Gordon, "I started a management company and began working with a new jazz-pop group called the Versatiles. The Versatiles first record deal was with Bob Keane's (of Del-Fi fame) Bronco label, where they recorded a couple of unsuccessful sides, with Barry White (of 1970s disco fame) as music director. Next, Johnny Rivers accountant hired me to open up and manage Johnny River's new Soul City label which was subsidized by the Liberty label. The Versatiles were the first signing, but they soon changed their name to - the Fifth Dimension. Rivers came to me with idea of producing the group singing a 'white' song. Before then, the group had been doing R&B music." The song River's chose, "Go Where You Wanna Go," became a hit in 1966/67 (#16 BB). Explains Gordon, "River's was a friend of Lou Adler, who produced the Mamas & The Papas, and was attracted to the material and direction of the Mamas & The Papas. He patterned the Fifth Dimension's harmonies after them."
Gordon co-produced with Rivers the Fifth Dimension breakthrough hit, the grammy winning Jimmy Webb composition "Up-Up And Away" (#7 BB, 1967). Voices Gordon, "River's was uncomfortable with the Fifth Dimension surpassing him as an artist, so he choose not to produce them anymore. River's recommended that the group be produced by Bones Howe, who had just had success producing the Association. Howe knew how to produce groups and he thereafter chose all of the songs recorded by the Fifth Dimension. His formula was to combine white pop composers (ala Webb, Sedaka, Nyro) with a soul sound."
In about 1970, Rivers sold Soul City and changed distribution from Liberty to Bell, owned by Larry Utall. With the continued success of the Fifth Dimension on Bell, this opened up a channel which allowed Gordon to start his own record label in 1970 - Carousel - distributed by Bell.
In 1970, Geraci's Outsiders, with the help of Ron Kramer, signed a deal with Gordon's Carousel label. This relationship resulted in the sadly overlooked catchy horn-laced recording of Nim's song "Changes", actually released on Bell/Carousel. Almost immediately, there were a flurry of important name changes prompted by legal threats. With respect to the Outsiders, informs Geraci, "Tom King started sending cease and desist letters, so we changed the name to Climax." With respect to Carousel, it is a bit more complex. Says Gordon, "the first Climax product was with a producer named Larry Cox. (Cox later went on to produce "Miracles" "Runaway" and "Count on Me" for the Jefferson Starship, and also Graham Nash.) Out of that album came the song 'Precious And Few.' The album was released on Carousel first. Then, I was advised that someone else owned the rights to that name and I had to cease and desist using it. I had pressed a lot of records on Carousel , but I had to change the label name to Rocky Road." When Climax recorded for Gordon's label, the group consisted of Geraci, Nims, and many of Los Angeles' finest session musicians. During this period, Climax was managed by the team of Paul Kessler, attorney Dave Cheren, and Brain Paulella, who also managed the group Taures at the time.
"Precious And Few" became a huge hit for Rocky Road in 1972 (#3 BB), putting the label on the map. (However, the label's biggest hit came the next year via one of Gordon's other management clients - Al Wilson and "Show And Tell" [#1 BB].) "Precious And Few" was followed-up with several prime examples of melodic, vocal-driven pop, including: "Life And Breath" (#52 BB, 1972), "Caroline This Time" (1972), the original, pre-Righteous Brother's version of "Rock And Roll Heaven" (1973), and "It's Gonna Get Better" (1974, produced by Steve Cropper, and Climax's last release). In order to promote their releases, Climax did tour. According to Geraci, "we toured with BJ Thomas and the Guess Who. However, our managers did not know what to do with us."
All good things must come to an end, and the same was true for Rocky Road and Climax. States Gordon, "in 1974, Clive Davis took over Bell and was not interested in promoting any of the Rocky Road releases. Instead, Clive wanted to concentrate on the East Coast product."
Throughout the 1970s, Gordon continued to manage not only the Fifth Dimension and Al Wilson, but other premier artists such as Tony Orlando And Dawn, Thelma Houston, and Willie Hutch. Says Gordon, "I got out of the music business in 1979. My cycle was over and I went on to other things, such as merchandising during the 1984 Olympics. Now, I am getting back into it again." (Gordon is now in the process of seeking a record deal for his new management client, vocalist/instrumentalist Sean Holt.)
As for Climax, "The group called it quits in 1976," says Geraci. "After Climax, I worked with Bob Stone who wrote 'Gypsy's Tramps & Thieves' for Cher. He got me a deal on Janus, but nothing happened. Then, I recorded an album in 1979, but it flopped. I now have out a new Sonny Geraci CD, consisting of some originals. Nims still lives in Los Angeles, but is in poor health." The new Sonny Geraci CD can be ordered by calling 1-800-484-5412, dial code #6173.Copyright 1996, Ben McLane
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