History of LASS (Part 2)

January 1974
MOVE TO ART LABOE’S (formerly Ciros, now The Comedy Store Big Room) ON THE SUNSET STRIP
When the Fire Marshall shut them down at Capitol they found that Art’s club was dark on their, then traditional, Thursday night. Arrangements were worked out and contracts signed that week.

The move to Laboe’s offered Len and John the opportunity to realize another dream. With an open-ended night, they had the time to offer an hour-long music industry interview session they called Hang Out, inadvertantly titled by Russ Regan, their first interview guest who, in answer to a question about how to learn more about the industry and make contacts said, “You’ve just got to hang out.” The interview sessions lasted in various lengths and time-slots for the next 13-1/2 years and featured an impressive list of over 650 hit songwriters and recording artists, producers, publishers, record company presidents, record promoters, a&r reps, booking agents, managers, publishers, entertainment attorneys, deejays, radio station program directors, public relations people, record retailers, distributors and critics. The sessions were all taped and, after an interview by John or Len, was opened to questions from the audience. Those who attended regularly received a music industry education without parallel.

The talent was also stellar. Here are a few of the super talents who showcased during that period: Jules Shear IRS Recording artist & hit writer who then had a day gig sewing sequins on shoes; Keith Green who in his short life brought inspiration to many as a Christian artist on Sparrow Records; Alan O’Day later was a staff writer for Warner Bros., had a hit as an artist/writer with “Undercover Angel;” Ed Sanford & John Townsend showcased their soon-to-be hit “Smoke From A Distant Fire;” Stephen Bishop showcased “On And On” and other great songs; Diane Warren began auditioning for the Showcase at the age of 15, and, shortly after, performed in her first public Showcase in April ’74. Len and John critiqued over 150 of her songs; Larry Groce showcased his novelty song “Junk Food Junkie” before it became a #1 hit on his independent label; Baker Knight later wrote the Mickey Gilley country hit “Don’t The Girls All Look Prettier At Closing Time;” Warren Zevon showcased “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “Werewolves Of London” and other songs that later became hits for both Linda Ronstadt and himself. John Rhy’s saw his set at the showcase and produced the first LP of those songs before Warren signed with Warner Bros Records; David Clayton Thomas Blood, Sweat & Tears’ former lead singer; Rotunda featuring super guitarist/artist Steve Lukather; Franne Golde just arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago. Later a recording artist, co-wrote the Commodores smash “Night Shift” (see bio for further list of hits); R.C. Bannon has become a successful country hit writer/artist/producer. Other country hitmakers showcased then include Robert Byrne, Kerry Chater, Chick Rains, Kieran Kane and Sandy Pinkard. Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham turned in a powerhouse performance several months prior to joining Fleetwood Mac; Billy Zoom, became a member of “X;” Voudouris and Kahne were discovered at the Showcase and signed by Capitol Records. Roger Voudouris went on to a solo career and David Kahne became a successful writer/producer at CBS Records.

Len’s little studio began to change shape around the needs of the Showcase. Miles Gregory, who went on to write hits for Rose Royce (“Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”), built a partition between the entrance to the studio and the larger room where writers auditioned, so that the secretary’s phones wouldn’t intrude. Shelves were built along the rafters to hold hundreds of live audition tapes, (many of which they still live in John’s garage). Marilyn “Rhada” MacGregor went to work at minimum wage as their first secretary and Pam Martin (just out of Fairfax High) went to work for LASS as their first intern, (later, secretary, sound mixer and Jill of all trades.) Pam is now VP of Silver Pictures.

October 1975
Len Chandler and Budd Friedman had known each other in New York and when he heard Budd was taking over the Ash Grove for his West Coast Improv, Len called him with a proposal. Since he was getting established it might be a good idea to be able to start on a slow weeknight with the Showcase’s ready-made audience to boost his bar and food business. It was a win-win situation as the Showcase got a great venue with a separate bar area where people could schmooze without disturbing the writers and listeners and Budd got an audience for both new and established comics to work out their material on. Among the newcomers were Freddie Prince, Jay Leno, Elaine Boosler, Byron Allen and Andy Kaufman. The Showcase remained at the Improv for five years until Budd, looking to book major comics for longer gigs, could no longer guarantee their regular night.

August 1977
Norman Winter Public Relations was representing BMI and John and Len got together with the late Ron Baron, who worked for Winter, to brainstorm some promotable projects. Ron said, “You guys really need to have some big songwriters’ event that I can get some national publicity on.” The Expo idea was the one that stuck. It would combine classes, workshops and panels featuring many of the industry pro’s they had already interviewed as well as publishers who would critique songs. The first Expo took place on August 13-14, 1977 at Immaculate Heart College and was a major success. Detailed over-preparation insured that almost everything went right and a team was born with Len and John, Mandi Martin, Angelo Roman and the LASS staff that continued to produce 22 Expos in L.A., including two that involved a national song competition, Songsearch, in partnership with NAS (then SRS); two Orange County Music Market’s (mini-expos); a Vancouver/L.A. Connection in May, 1986 with the Trebas Institute in Vancouver; and, two Austin Songwriters Expos (’90 & ’91) with the Austin Songwriters Group. Expo sites have included UCLA, Beverly Hills High School, Pasadena City College, Pasadena Conference Center, The Sheraton Airport Hotel, the Universal Hilton Hotel and Burbank Hilton.

The Songwriters Expos, through the years, have introduced thousands of writers from all over the world to each other, to the hundreds of hit writers, teachers and industry professionals who have taught them the finer points of their craft and business and to hundreds of publishers, producers and a&r representatives who have given them valuable feedback, published or recorded their songs or formed lasting relationships that have led to later success.

January 9, 1980
The success of the Publisher Song Evaluation sessions initiated at the Songwriters Expo inspired the idea of a section of the Showcase dedicated to critiques. It satisfied several needs: the need to offer opportunities to those writers who can’t or prefer not to perform (the live Showcase rule was that you perform only your own songs pre-selected by audition); it would allow many more writers to participate instead of the seven or eight scheduled; they could give publishers the opportunity to hear more writers; writers could be educated about what publishers look for, in general, as well as the tastes of each individual guest. Writers had to check in their tapes and first-come-first-served was not fair to those whose work or drive time would make them late. They needed a way to randomly select the tapes. They decided on a roulette wheel for selection and to add some visual drama. Pam Martin’s father and writer Steve DeGroodt built the wheel and Len and John came up with name Cassette Roulette. Ronny Vance (later president of Geffen Music) was their first publisher guest. It was an instant hit and gave thousands of writers and writer/artists all over the world access to the industry.

October, 1980
The original name, The Alternative Chorus Songwriters Showcase was created by incurable punster Len Chandler, who saw what they were doing as an “alternative course” for people to connect with the industry. “Chorus” was a more musical substitute for “course.” The initials “ACSS” also denoted “access,” central to their philosophy. Later, as the Showcase gained more international visibility, the name was changed to reflect the fact that it could connect writers to the hub of the music industry.

August 9, 1981
The success of Cassette Roulette got people thinking about the format and it wasn’t long before producers realized it might be a good way to tap into the street for some songs. Len & John got a call from producer Jack Goga who had a project and wondered if there was a way they could help him find some songs. He was familiar with Cassette Roulette and asked if they could do some version in which he could hear a lot more songs. John and Len figured that, since the most important function of this new situation was to get as many writers songs heard as possible and for the producer to hear as many as possible, critiques were not necessary. John dubbed the new event “Pitch-A-Thon.” Soon, not only producers, but a&r reps and managers were using the event as a part of their search for material and/or artists. An estimated 5000 songs a year were heard by this method and an average of 15% of the songs heard in both Cassette Roulette and Pitch-A-Thon were held for further consideration by industry guests. The names of the writers and the songs picked up were posted in the monthly Songwriters Musepaper.

Continue to Part 3