26 March 2007

Steed Records

Jeff Barry

The Steed Records Story
Jeff Barry's New York Hit Factory
by Donny Jacobs
"With an ear to the future!"
That was the slogan emblazoned on the red, black and white paper sleeves of a new independent label that debuted in the late 1960s. Its proprietor was a man who definitely knew a thing or two about making hits . . . "Tell Laura I Love Her", "Hanky Panky", "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy," "Chapel Of Love," "Leader Of The Pack," "I'm A Believer" and "Cherry, Cherry", just to name a few! Steed Records was owned and operated by Jeff Barry, one of the hottest songwriters and record producers of the last 50 years. It was launched in the spring of 1967, right around the time Jeff was ending his professional association with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, owners of Trio Music Publishing, and with Ellie Greenwich, his former wife and most successful songwriting partner. Steed's operations were centered around New York's Century Sound Studios, the popular 52nd Street recording facility that Jeff co-owned with sound engineer Brooks Arthur. However, he'd occasionally book other recording studios for Steed dates, including The Hit Factory, RCA Records'(now Sony/BMG)Manhattan studio complex, and later, Sound Labs in Hollywood. Century Sound proved to be not so much a regular place for Jeff to cut sessions as it was a place to rehearse new acts, write new songs and experiment with new sounds. American Pop music was changing rapidly in the late '60s. Psychedelia was happening. Eastern music was happening. Funk and Boogaloo were happening. Country and Blues Rock was happening. So-called Bubblegum Rock was evolving. It was a very exciting time to be working in the music industry.

As had been the case at Leiber and Stoller's Red-Bird Records two years earlier, Jeff acted as the unofficial head of Artists and Repertoire, supervising an eager young production staff under the auspices of Jeff Barry Enterprises. They included his brother-in-law, Dean Christopher, who had arranging and conducting skills, and singer/songwriters Neil Brian Goldberg, Gil Slavin, Ned Albright and brothers Mike and Steve Soles. Most of them could play instruments well enough to do session duty, but Jeff certainly didn't lack for good studio musicians. He brought veterans from his recent Neil Diamond dates to Steed, including the incredibly talented lead guitarist, Hugh McCracken. Joining McCracken were seasoned pros like rhythm guitarists Sal Di Troia, Al Gorgoni and Trade Martin, bass players Joey Macho and Chuck Rainey, keyboard wizard Ron Frangipane, and drummers Buddy Saltzman and Gary Chester. Jeff's flawless sense of rhythm qualified him to handle most percussion instruments. Jeff's preferred engineers for Steed recording dates were Fred "Paco" Weinberg and RCA's Mike Moran. Freddy DeMann, later to gain fame as an artist manager for Michael Jackson and others, was Steed's Director of Promotion.

During the years he operated Steed Records, Jeff stayed extremely busy doing outside projects. Unlike Phil Spector, at whose Philles label he'd worked extensively, he couldn't just concentrate on running his own business; if somebody offered him a plum assignment, he was incapable of turning it down. So he wrote and produced soundtrack songs for the "Archie", "Klowns" and "Harlem Globetrotters" TV series during this time. He logged numerous recording sessions with non-Steed acts like The Monkees, The Down Five, Paul Davis, Ron Dante, Bobby Bloom and Dusty Springfield. He produced an off-Broadway musical (The Dirtiest Show In Town) and composed music for two motion-pictures (Hello, Down There, a comedy starring Tony Randall, and the dramatic film Where It's At). He even waxed a couple of solo singles. Despite spreading his time dangerously thin, Jeff managed to turn Steed into a reasonably profitable company. Andy Kim, a former Red-Bird recording artist, became the label's most popular act, followed by actor/singer Robin McNamara, and a psychedelic Rock band known as The Illusion. Originally distributed by Hollywood's Dot Records, Steed Records later became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dot's parent company, Paramount Pictures. The complete Steed singles catalog is listed and discussed in detail here; for a complete listing of Steed albums, please consult the Jeff Barry album page at Laura Pinto's Jeff Barry website:  http://lpintop.tripod.com/jeffbarry/id7.html

Steed 701
And I Don't Want Your Love! (Alzo Fronte-Ali Noor Uddin)
b/w My Babe (Alzo Fronte)
The Keepers Of The Light
Steed Records' debut single is a catchy fusion of Neil Diamond-style folk rock with Middle Eastern music. The Keepers was a progressive Rock ensemble led by singer/songwriters Alzo Fronte and Ali Noor Uddin.

Steed 702
I've Got To Find Me A Woman (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w Plastic Flowers (Jeff Barry-Marty Sanders)
The Rich Kids
Arranged by Dean Christopher
Denny Belline led this five-man group, which previously recorded for RCA Victor. (Denny's uncle, Perry Como, also recorded for RCA and may have helped his nephew break into the music biz.) One of Jeff Barry and Andy Kim's finest pop tunes, "I've Got To Find Me A Woman" was covered by a Detroit band called The Neal Ford Factory. Arranger Dean Christopher produced the NFF single, among others, for ABC Records and its subsidiary labels, sometimes working under the aegis of Jeff Barry Enterprises.

Steed 703
One Time For Love (Jeff Barry)
b/w Baby, Baby (Jeff Barry)
Louis St. Louis and Jacqueline Carol
Singer, songwriter and pianist Louis St. Louis would go on to produce the million-selling soundtrack for the '70s megahit Grease, as well as write arrangements for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Tony-winning 1995 musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe." Jacqueline Carol later appeared in the Broadway musical Oh! Calcutta. Effervescent and hook-laden, "One Time For Love" was arguably the most commercial of the early Steed singles.

Steed 704
Saturday Noontime (Herb Goldberg-Stu Krane)
b/w Headed For The Highway (Hank Shifter)
Hank Shifter
Arranged by Dean Christopher
A superb progressive Rock debut for this young singer/songwriter and session guitarist.

Steed 705
Sitting In The Park (Alzo Fronte-Ali Noor Uddin) b/w
So Down (Alzo Fronte)
Alzo and Uddin
As previously stated, this duo was originally part of the group Keepers Of The Light. After leaving Steed, they would record as a duo for other labels until Alzo emerged as a successful solo artist in 1972. "Sitting In The Park" is a lighthearted, Folk-flavored number reminiscent of Donovan sides like "Jennifer Juniper" and "Sunshine Superman."

Steed 706
You Made Me A Man (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w I Tried To Tell You (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
The Rich Kids
Arranged by Dean Christopher
People who associated Jeff Barry and Andy Kim with Archies tunes like "Sugar, Sugar" were doubtless surprised to know they were capable of penning a fearsome garage rocker like this. Despite strong songs and high hopes for The Rich Kids, Jeff was ultimately unable to break them commercially.

Steed 707
How'd We Ever Get This Way? (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w Are You Ever Coming Home? (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
Arranged by Dean Christopher
This infectious, Caribbean-flavored nugget introduced the multi-talented Andy Kim to Pop radio. It was also Steed Records' first hit single. Ellie Greenwich sings background vocals.

Steed 708
Mary On The Beach (Jeff Barry)
b/w Two Of A Kind (Jeff Barry-Hank Shifter)
Hank Shifter
Arranged by Dean Christopher
This atmospheric, semi-Spectorish production is one of Jeff Barry's all-time favorites. 
Listen again for Ellie Greenwich on background vocals.

Steed 709
release cancelled

Steed 710
Shoot 'Em Up, Baby (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w Ordinary Kind Of Girl (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
Arranged by Dean Christopher
This second hit single for Andy Kim was nearly banned from radio because some programmers mistakenly thought the title and lyrics endorsed drug use. The ensuing publicity actually helped sell the song!

Steed 711
Rainbow Ride (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w Resurrection (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
Arranged by Ron Frangipane
Conducted by Dean Christopher
"Rainbow Ride" is easily the hardest-rocking of Andy Kim's Steed singles, while the dieingly-sad ballad "Resurrection" holds forth with a decidedly Gothic flavor.

Steed 712
Did You See Her Eyes? (Jeff Barry)
b/w Falling In Love (Chuck Adler-Rich Cerniglia-Mike Maniscalco)
The Illusion
The Illusion were a Long Island bar band with a strong local cult following. The members were Mike Maniscalco, Chuck Adler, Rich Cerniglia, Mike Ricciardella and lead singer John Vinci. They came to Jeff Barry's attention after having been turned away by Ellie Greenwich and Mike Rashkow's Pineywood Production company. Copies of this single are extremely rare. Unsatisfied with the edit, Jeff Barry withdrew it from sale.

Steed 713
I Can Love You (Jeff Barry)
b/w Lila (Jeff Barry)
Robin McNamara
Arranged by Dean Christopher
This, and not "Lay A Little Lovin' On Me" was the debut single for Robin McNamara, one of the stars of the Broadway musical Hair. The slap happy topside was written for and performed in the 1970 Paramount film Hello Down There (but by actors Richard Dreyfus and Kay Cole, not Robin). The flipside is a killer of a Rock song that was also recorded by The Illusion.

Steed 714
Just We Two (Joey DiBenedetto-Steve Tudanger)
b/w C'mon And Ride (Joey DiBenedetto-Steve Tudanger)
The Playhouse
Arranged by Ron Frangipane
An impressive debut for this group, which comprised the merged remnants of a male doo-wop outfit called The Four-Evers and a girl group known as The Candy Girls. The members' names were Judy Moroulis, Frannie Martinez, Steve Tudanger and Joey DiBenedetto, who sings the male lead. The Abba-flavored "C'mon And Ride" is absolutely one of the most infectious records you'll ever have occasion to hear.

Steed 715
Tricia, Tell Your Daddy (Jeff Barry-Marty Sanders)
b/w Foundation Of My Soul (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
Arranged by Ron Frangipane
This is probably the original demo version of a song that was later recorded by Jay and The Americans. The flipside holds forth with a classic Barry-Kim melody that would've been perfect for The Archies.

Steed 716
Baby, I Love You (Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich-Phil Spector)
b/w Gee, Girl (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
Steed Records' biggest hit single, and the definitive version of the Barry-Greenwich-Spector classic originally cut by The Ronettes in 1963. The soprano vocal is sung by Jeannie Thomas Fox. All percussion instruments are performed by Jeff Barry.

Steed 717
Run, Run, Run (Mike Maniscalco)
b/w I Love You, Yes I Do (Jeff Barry-Rich Cerniglia)
The Illusion
A very exciting number that anticipates the arena rock sound of '70s groups like Journey. "Run, Run, Run" was Steed Records' first stereo single release.

Steed 718
Did You See Her Eyes? (Jeff Barry)
b/w Falling In Love (Chuck Adler-Rich Cerniglia-Mike Maniscalco)
The Illusion
This re-recorded (and somewhat awkwardly edited) version of The Illusion's storming first single became the group's breakout hit. Jeff Barry is the guest percussionist on this recording, which runs nearly seven minutes long in its album mix.

Steed 719
You Don't Know It (Joey DiBenedetto-Steve Tudanger)
b/w Love Is On Our Side (Joey DiBenedetto-Steve Tudanger)
The Playhouse
Arranged by Dean Christopher
A very strong double A-side featuring excellent harmonies and fiery flamenco flavorings. Radio programmers probably didn't know which side to play!

Steed 720
So Good Together (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w I Got To Know (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
With this Top Forty release, Jeff Barry's Africanized, wind-tunnel percussion mix becomes Andy Kim's signature sound. The single edit of this "So Good Together" differs from the slightly longer version found on Andy's Baby, I Love You album.

Steed 721
How Does It Feel? (Jeff Barry-Rich Cerniglia-Mike Maniscalco)
b/w Once In A Lifetime (Jeff Barry)
The Illusion
The flipside of this blistering follow-up to "Did You See Here Eyes?" (which unfortunately stalled outside of Billboard's Hot 100 list) showcases a fine Jeff Barry Blues ballad.

Steed 722
Together (Chuck Adler-Rich Cerniglia-Mike Maniscalco)
b/w Don't Push It! (Jeff Barry-The Illusion)
The Illusion
Jeff Barry brought in a children's chorus to sing with members of The Illusion on this mid-chart hit. A cheery number that sports a deadly handclapping groove, it's the title track from the group's second Steed album.

Steed 723
A Friend In The City (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w You (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
Arranged by Charlie Calello
Although the topside is a lovely orchestra ballad tinged with melancholy, the jingle-jangle flipside of this single is the real keeper and would probably have made for a bigger hit. Ellie Greenwich provides very distinctive scat background vocals.

Steed 724
Lay A Little Lovin' On Me (Jeff Barry-Jim Cretecos-Robin McNamara)
b/w I'll Tell You Tomorrow (Jeff Barry-Robin McNamara)
Robin McNamara
Jim Cretecos and Robin McNamara brought Jeff Barry the unfinished idea for this provocative song, which was recorded during a rockin' session at RCA's New York Studios. Ellie Greenwich and (possibly) La La Brooks of The Crystals join in on background vocals and handclappings.

Steed 725
release cancelled

Steed 726
Let's Make Each Other Happy (Chuck Adler-Rich Cerniglia)
b/w Beside You (Jeff Barry-The Illusion)
The Illusion
Bonafide kick-ass Rock 'n' Roll from the Illusion's third Steed album.

Steed 727
It's Your Life (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w To Be Continued (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
"It's Your Life" was unquestionably Andy Kim's funkiest release on Steed. The flipside is a very appealing Mexican-flavored ballad featuring duet vocals by (guess who?)Ellie Greenwich.

Steed 728
Got To Believe In Love (Neil Goldberg)
b/w Aren't You Thinking Of Me? (Jim Cretecos-Robin McNamara)
Robin McNamara
"Got To Believe In Love" was penned by Neil Brian Goldberg, the most talented and prolific of Jeff Barry's staff songwriters. Neil contributed two more Gospel-tinged numbers to Robin McNamara's memorable Steed album, Lay A Little Lovin' On Me.

Steed 729
Be My Baby (Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich-Phil Spector)
b/w Love That Little Woman (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
This second Andy Kim revival of a Ronettes original possibly features Donna Marie of The Archies on background vocals. Of all his Steed releases, "Be My Baby" is sung with the most joyful abandon.

Steed 730
Hang In There, Baby (Jeff Barry-Robin McNamara)
b/w Together, Forever (Ned Albright-Mike & Steve Soles)
Robin McNamara
As on its predecessor "Got To Believe In Love," this record's massive background chorus is comprised of featured players from the Broadway cast of Hair.

Steed 731
I Wish I Were (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w Walkin' My Lah-Dee-Dah (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)Andy Kim
More of Jeff Barry's Afro-Brill Building percussion accents shake out a Top Forty Adult-Contemporary single for Andy Kim.

Steed 732
Wait A Minute! (Jeff Barry-The Illusion)
b/w Collection (The Illusion)
The Illusion
John Vinci tears it up on a tour-de-force Rock/rhythm production that should have been hailed as a classic. "Wait A Minute" is definitely Jeff Barry's crowing achievement with The Illusion.

Steed 733
release cancelled

Steed 734
I Been Moved (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
b/w If I Had You Here (Jeff Barry-Andy Kim)
Andy Kim
Arranged by Lee Holdridge
Andy Kim's funky final chart single for Steed Records was recorded in Hollywood and is rumored to feature Ronnie Spector on background vocals.  It's actually Toni Wine.

Steed 735
Rise And Shine (Neil Goldberg-Robin McNamara)
b/w Lost In Boston (Robin McNamara)
Robin McNamara
This surging Rock ballad is Robin McNamara's favorite of all his Steed singles.

Steed 736
Mary, Janey and Me (Jeff Barry-Neil Goldberg-Robin McNamara)
b/w Beer Drinkin' Man (Robin McNamara)
Robin McNamara
The final Steed 45 features a highly suggestive number based on a real-life ménage à trois that Robin McNamara was involved in! It would surely have been controversial had it broke for a hit. Toni Wine (formerly of The Archies) contributes the sexy duet vocals.

Andy KimRobin McNamara

A little over half of Steed's 33 single releases hit the Billboard charts, as did Andy Kim's Baby, I Love You album and The Illusion's debut LP. However, by 1971, Steed product was no longer garnering the kind of sales and airplay necessary for sustaining a record company. Jeff's attention was drawn forcefully toward the West Coast when Paramount, his distributor, lured him to Hollywood with a job offer. He was tapped to work at Famous Music, their song publishing division; evidently, the studio made him some lofty promises about opportunities to score major film releases. Jeff had been longing to move west for several years, so selling his share of Century Sound Studios and shuttering his label really wasn't too difficult a decision to make. The final Steed album, Andy Kim's Greatest Hits, may have been withdrawn from sale. Commercial copies exist, but they're almost impossible to find; Canadian pressings on the Dot label are somewhat easier to come by.  (In 1974, the compilation finally received wide American release on the ABC Dunhill label, which purchased Paramount's music holdings that same year.) As it happened, the Famous Music job didn't materialize, but by 1972, Jeff had landed a lucrative position on the production staff of Herb Alpert's A & M Records. Robin McNamara and his wife JoAnne, who'd actually motored to Los Angeles with him, were two of the first artists he produced at A & M.

Today, Steed Records' album and single masters are controlled by Universal Music. Andy Kim's tracks are licensed occasionally for compilations, as is Robin McNamara's "Lay A Little Lovin' On Me", and The Illusion's albums have been bootlegged. However, most of the Steed catalog has lay dormant for nearly forty years now. True, the majority of the label's artists weren't successful, but that doesn't change the fact that its output was of overwhelming high quality. Always more of a creative talent than a businessman, Jeff Barry used his label primarily as a vehicle for experimentation, delving headlong into progressive Rock, Adult-Contemporary styles and funky World music rhythms. As it turned out, he really did have an "ear to the future." His evolution into a keenly individual producer and songwriter can clearly be heard in the progression of singles; especially the failed ones. Releases by The Rich Kids, Hank Shifter, The Playhouse and Keepers Of The Light are just as essential to understanding Jeff's artistry as any of the better-known releases . . . essential, and very pleasing to the ear. It's long past time for the Steed Records master tapes to be dusted off, digitally remixed and discovered by a new generation of music lovers. Rock historians (particularly those who control entry into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame) need to learn that there's much more to Jeff Barry than catchy Girl Group platters and Bubblegum Rock soundtrack albums.

The Illusion Live

featuring JOHN VINCI

There's only one thing that feels better/
Than clappin' your hands . . .

-excerpt from the song "Love Me, Girl," 

featured on The Illusion's 1969 Steed Records album 
Together (As A Way Of Life)

Special thanks to Neal Umphred for helping compile 
the Steed singles discography.