Charting the history of any record label — much less two or three — is a precarious occupation at best. A hit record makes ordinary people heroes, while a stiff causes the arrow of blame to spin madly, looking for a suitable target. Some success in the music business comes from sheer luck; some is the result of hard, diligent work, and some comes from what can only be described as a “genius” for the medium.
If any one man in the 1950s embodied those three principles, it would have to be George Goldner, entrepreneur extraordinaire and owner of countless small (and medium-sized) record labels from 1948 to 1966. Goldner’s 10th Avenue one-man operation carried his enterprise into the mid-1950s, when a plethora of hit artists like Frankie Lymon, The Chantels, The Flamingos and Little Anthony & The Imperials made it impossible to carry on alone. Songwriter/singer/producer Richard Barrett came on board in 1955 as his right-hand studio man and talent scout, and one Arthur “Artie” Ripp became his go-for.
Under Goldner, Ripp received a street education in the record business equal to none, and it’s not surprising that by the time Goldner had sold out most of his enterprises to Roulette’s Morris Levy, Ripp was on his own as an independent producer. And it was Ripp — along with partners Hy Mizrahi and Phil Steinberg — who set up Kama Sutra Productions in 1964. With a stable of songwriters and producers, Kama Sutra Productions hit immediately and often, producing hits for the Critters, Shangri-Las and numerous other acts in 1964-65.
At this point, the production company was not, in itself, a label; that would follow sometime in the summer of 1965, when Ripp and company was joined by Art Kass, an accountant who had formerly worked for MGM Records. The four of them established the Kama Sutra Records label and immediately signed a distribution agreement with MGM, at the time a major label.
With Ripp as musical director, Kama Sutra hit the national pop charts with its first two releases: “You’re My Baby,” a neo-doo wop number by a vocal group called the Vacels that topped out at #63 that summer, and “Do You Believe in Magic,” the extraordinary first single release by John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful. The Spoonful were not signed directly to Kama Sutra; instead, the group was handled by Koppelman-Rubin, a production company who in turn signed with Ripp in what would be the first of a number of such production deals for the label(s). However good the Vacels might have been – they recorded the first version, for instance, of Bob Dylan’s “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” before he did and their two singles on Kama Sutra were quite decent – it would be the Spoonful who single-handedly carried the Kama Sutra label for its first year of operation… read more >