A Musical Inheritance
Roland Kluger (pictured left) admits to being fascinated by the range of musical experiences his father Jacques managed to cram into his short lifetime. His father’s biography at the bottom of this page is well worth reading, revealing musical collaborations and associations with a host of renowned jazz, easy listening and pop stars from the 1930s through to the 1950s.
Interviewing Roland in January 2015 it’s immediately evident that, as the old saying goes, ‘the apple never falls far from the tree.’ Mirroring his father’s habit of adapting his work patterns to the times in which he lived, Roland’s career has been a sequence of fluid career shifts, branching out in different directions and into new roles as technological advances shaped the media landscape. From the 1960s to the present Roland has been a music publisher, producer, songwriter, record label owner, television executive and internet consultant. Refreshingly honest, he admits some ventures have been more successful than others and some career changes were partly through ‘circumstances and accident’ rather than by design. The sum of these experiences; his entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to work hard and an aptitude for adapting to social and cultural changes, have shaped personal philosophies he now generously shares with 22,000+ students as a Fellow of the Hebrew University:
‘Think like an entrepreneur. Be proactive, be creative. Don’t be afraid to launch your own ideas. What you do is less important than doing it….launch something new, making use of the new tools at your disposal….try to carry the ball forward, get things in motion’
Born in France in 1943, Roland began his career in music at World Music, the publishing company his father (pictured left) started in in partnership with Felix Faecq in 1945 building on connections they had both made in the jazz world of the 1930s and 1940s. Spoke Records asked Roland to explain how he managed to manoeuvre from the management side of music publishing to the creativity of music production.
‘I was 20 years old when my father (pictured left) passed away in 1963 at the age of 51. I had already worked alongside him for a short while and on my return from army duty I helped to carry World Music forward with his partner Faecq and my older brother Jean. World Music had already started a record label in the 1950s called Palette and had scored a big hit with ‘Manhattan Spiritual’ a song recorded by a UK artist called Reg Owen. In those days to survive as a publisher you had to generate original material so producing records for Palette was something I had already experienced.
Jean La Fennec – Phantastic
As the 1960s drew to a close Roland began to seek out artists who produced music closer to his own tastes in the heady, psychedelic atmosphere of the times. In 1969 he produced Phantastic by Jean La Fennec, an esoteric and slightly odd LP musically occupying a space at the interstices between orchestral funk, chanson, psych and rock.
I was always attracted by off-the-wall type of things and Jean Le Fennec is a good example of that. He was writing unusual music in the late 60s in a time when lots of people were experimenting with interesting ways of writing and arranging songs and we were able to do a recording deal with the Barclay record label. He was, I think, more of a writer than a singer. Reflecting on those days, there were not so many ways for him to express his music in more visual ways and if there had been he would possibly have been more successful.
Chakachas – Jungle Fever
A few years later in the early seventies, Roland’s natural affinity for ‘off-the-wall’ music manifested itself again when he was united with Chakachas, a band previously associated with World Music and Jacques Kluger in the 1950s. The resulting LP features the very well-known and much-sampled ‘Jungle Fever’. Roland relates the story behind it.
As a band Chakachas had been quite popular in the 50s and early 60s. We were their publishers, they recorded locally in Belgium and they were quite successful as a group though in those days being successful didn’t necessarily mean you were selling a lot of records. In the early 1970s I met the head of the group and we both thought it would be fun to do a studio album. Willy Albimoor was drafted in to help with arrangements and we set to work.
I was an independent freelance producer for Polydor Records. At the time I didn’t yet have the capital to start my own label or invest in albums but I had made a deal with Polydor and Philips to do certain types of production for them. We were close to completing the Chakachas album when we realised we had space for one more track. It was around the time Serge Gainsbourg had his big hit with ‘Je T’aime’,…Mais Non Plus’ and we thought it would be fun to do something like that in a Latin or Rn’B style. That’s how ‘Jungle Fever’ was created and shortly recording it was released as a single in Belgium.
It wasn’t successful at all but a copy did find its way to Polydor headquarters in New York where some guy heard it, thought it sounded like a great R’nB record and it lead to them importing a couple of hundred promos. Based on the positive response it received they decided to release Jungle Fever in the US as a single where it was very successful and reached number three on the Billboard charts. I honestly think it could have got to number one but a lot of women’s groups started to be very vocal about its suggestive, sexy sounds. They decided they weren’t going to have any more of that, it began to be played less and less and as a result of their complaints, that was that!
Pleased with the success of Jungle Fever and moving with the times once again, Roland’s production work shifted on from Rn’B as he embraced the burgeoning disco scene by recording tracks with Two Man Sound.
Two Man Sound
Embarrassingly unaware of the success of ‘Disco Samba’ but staying true to our own obsession with overlooked ‘B’ sides, Spoke made the mistake of asking Roland how the huge disco hit ‘Que Tel America’ came into existence.
Que Tel America was the B-side of ‘Disco Samba’ which was a huge hit in South America mainly because it was a medley of all the big Latin American songs. It achieved ‘Gold’ record status in Mexico and even made a small impact in the States. One day I got a call from music producer Pete Waterman, who I didn’t know at the time, and he did a remix of Que Tel America which then became a hit on the disco scene.
In 1978 Roland’s RKM label had another huge worldwide hit with yet another ‘B’ side, this time with ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’ from a French punk drummer who went by the name of Plastic Bertrand. Two Man Sound were involved in this one too. Lou Deprijck, who was tne half of the duo, both co-wrote and produced it.
Spoke could not move on from Roland’s career in the 1970s without polite enquiries about every crate-diggers favourite Hammond organ player from Belgium, Andre Brasseur. Andre had a long association with Palette records and Roland was his regular producer.
Andre Brasseur was in a group, played Hammond organ and was very friendly with a well-known DJ called Jean Claude who had a radio programme that was very popular on the French side of the country. Andre started doing radio themes and jingles for him and that’s how we started working together. He had a big hit with his composition ‘Early Bird’ and another song of his was very popular with North Sea radio pirates around the time when they were starting up. He wrote songs, I produced and the way we recorded in the studio gave him a particular sound, an extra edge that made him stand out from other Hammond organ players.
The RKM label
Kluger began his RKM production music library in 1980 and though Volume 1 is now a highly prized and collectable library LP for record collectors, the new label wasn’t as successful as Roland hoped it would be.
When I started the RKM Production Music label I thought the field of creating music for films and television to use would be an area of potential growth. As publishers we were already working with some library production labels in the US and also UK labels called KPM and Southern Music. As we had facilities to make music and already had some recordings to use we thought starting the RKM library would be a good thing. We did three volumes but it didn’t really take off in the way that we would have liked it to. All the songs were composed in the studio using studio musicians with Nico Gomez as a regular arranger.
Ever prescient of changes occurring in the wider media landscape, Roland explains the circumstances behind his move from music to television production.
The growth of music videos in the 1980s made it very difficult for independent music companies to keep pace with the major labels and it became a very different ball game. At this stage I got out of music production altogether and through accident and circumstance I began working with a person who was a big personality in France called Pierre Bellemare. Home shopping was just taking off in the States so we got together and created home shopping television shows in France and though it was tough in the early days it eventually became successful.
Despite introducing ‘teleshopping’ to the French public and capitalizing on its success Roland kept his thinking current and kept a close eye on business opportunities offered by the inter-connectivity of the World Wide Web as it evolved throughout the 1990s.
“I facilitate business development in the media sector by leveraging the digital revolution. Managing in today’s digital revolution, I can build the strategic plan as well as the marketing – communication plan. As a facilitator during formal and informal meetings I can act as a sounding board, sparring partner for top management to help articulate the vision, the strategy, marketing and communication plan. In this context, because of past experience with creators and artists, I may facilitate creative exploration of «out of the box» opportunities and bring together multi-disciplinary talents in what today is called the «360° management».An entrepreneur with an experience of 40 years in the world of entertainment and ecommerce. My background is music publishing and TV & Online business. I am just fascinated by the digital revolution and its impact.
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