Gene Goodman is virtually a charter member of a small, elite group of music publishers, whose roots go back to the era of song pluggers and whose musical activity was centered in a place once known as the heart of the pop music business, the Brill Building, at 49th Street and Broadway in New York City.
But even prior to hanging out his publishing shingle at the Brill Building, Gene Goodman worked briefly as a band boy with his brother Benny’s Band. Things were going well in this job until he accidentally backed the touring van over his brother Harry’s bass.
Later, he obtained employment at a publishing combine known as The Big Three, consisting of Robbins, Leo Feist and Miller Music, where Abe Olman, later to be a co-founder of our Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, was one of the top bosses. His
first Big Three assignment was as counter boy but within a year he was promoted to Song Plugger, a job requiring persuading artists to perform the publisher’s songs, on the radio and in public shows.
As a plugger, one of his first major coups came when Frank Sinatra agreed to sing the tune, “That Old Feeling,” on New York’s WNEW Radio, at that time,
the home base for the vaunted Make Believe Ballroom and one of the nation’s most influential radio voices.
The impending tragedy of World War II was already casting dark clouds over America and the world in 1940, but Gene and his brother Harry decided on a major step forward. Harry quit the Benny Goodman Band and Gene left The Big Three and the two set up headquarters in the Brill Building, establishing their own music publishing company, Regent Music. Later, both brothers served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Between Harry’s band contacts and Gene’s business credentials, gleaned from his work with The Big Three, songwriters were hearing a buzz on the street about Regent and began bringing their new material to the brothers. One of the first was Alee Wilder who brought in the song, “While We’re Young,” later recorded by both Peggy Lee and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, and the immortal “I’ll Be Around,” recorded by the Mills Brothers. Bandleader brother, Benny, helped the burgeoning action at Regent with such songs as “Flyin’ Home,” “Air Mail Special” and “Soft Winds.”
At another point, a pair of young writers, Bob Crewe and Frank Slay, entered the Regent offices with two of their songs, “Silhouettes” and “Daddy Cool.” The tunes were subsequently published by Regent and a recording with a new group, The X-Rays, was produced by Slay and Crewe. Both sides became hits in their own right, to the point where even today they consistently show up on golden oldie lists. Bob Crewe, who himself was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1995, and Frank Slay will be the presenters to Goodman of the Abe Olman Publishers Award this evening.
Like all songplugger/publishers worth their salt, Gene and Harry did plenty of hanging out at the famed 52nd Street clubs, The Hickory House, The Three Deuces, The Famous Door and Birdland, where they would seek performances of their songs by such illustrious names as Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Louis Prima and Joe Marsalis and the Chicagoans.
At the close of their first decade in business with Regent, Gene set up a partnership deal with the renowned Chess Records blues label in Chicago and its publishing wing, Arc Music. Through this arrangement, the Goodman brothers came to be involved in publishing the songs of such greats as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Etta ‘Miss Peaches’ James and many others. Later, in 1950, the brothers also acquired the catalog of Jewel Music Inc., which included such gems as -Moonlight Cocktail,” “Sunrise Serenade,” “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis” and “Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy).”
While enjoying a brief luncheon break at the Brill Building’s famed eatery, Jack Dempsey’s, the pair met a young English songwriter who claimed to have what he felt was a great tune, “I Saw Mummie Kissing Santa Claus.” Upstairs, the composer played the song on the upright piano, the folks at Regent were blown away, and a meeting was set up with veteran producer, Mitch Miller, who had the song recorded by a new child star, Jimmy Boyd. The rest is history!
Gene Goodman’s success with Regent/Jewel continued well into the ‘60s and 70s. There was an ongoing series of single song acquisitions as well as tie-ups with existing catalogs, such as the purchase of Conrad Music of Chicago, which was the publishing division of the hot VeeJay Records label. The list is almost endless. The hits rolled on and on and included such memorable titles as “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “Pipeline,” “Apache,” “Lady Godiva,” “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life,” and “Abraham, Martin and John.”
During the ‘70s, the parade of hits continued with such entries as “Nothing Shakin’ But the Leaves on the Tree,” “I’m a Believer,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.” During the ‘80s, too, there were many successes. The acquisition of Singular Music led to such smash hits as “At
the Hop” and “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay,” and Sylvia Music’s song “Operator,” recorded by the great Gladys Knight and the Pips.
During the ‘90s, the Regent Music Group and the Goodmans, have enjoyed continued success in placing their songs in feature films, 27 films in 1996, nine of which are represented on soundtrack albums.