In early 2001, I was most honored to speak with Laurin and we were able to touch upon many interesting subjects including his musical career. Read on for some fascinating insights into the making of Disco music and how great things come about merely by chance. As with many things in life, it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time.
Laurin's musical career did not begin with Disco. It actually started back in the early 1950s during rock and roll's infancy. In fact, Jazz and big band had first won over Laurin during his teenage years.
Born in Los Angeles, California on April 3, 1943 he knew by the age of six that he wanted to be a musician. At seven, he was playing the trumpet. His father, who was an understudy for Bing Crosby during the 1930s and 40s, encouraged Laurin to play and later built him a drum set out of trashcans and corrugated boxes. Soon the trumpet gave way to the saxophone and then finally the drums and the reason for this was that Laurin felt that the drummers in his junior high school band were having more fun. I asked him if the drummer really had more fun and he emphatically replies, "Yes-absolutely. Drummers always have more fun."
He continued with the drums and played on his first album as a session drummer in 1953 while only ten years old. During his sophomore year, he decided to drop out of high school to pursue music on a full time basis by playing with local bands around Los Angeles. The first band he played with was Dick D'Augustine and the Swingers who had a local hit with a tune called "Nancy Lynn."
Laurin Rinder and Jazz
At nineteen, Laurin took a correspondence course to the Berkeley School of Jazz and devoted his life to music. The great jazz artists of the day such as Davis, Monk and Mingus were his influences. Every minute was spent on music and as he says, "there was no time for anything else-there really wasn't." I asked Laurin why he felt so confident about quitting high school at such a young age to pursue music and he replies, "It was an obsession. It was so strong that I can't even begin to tell you." He continues by explaining that school was not teaching him what he wanted to learn and that he was not interested in history or phys-ed.
Laurin was among the first in a small group of young musicians that played rock and roll in Hollywood during the mid 1950s. There was a shortage of drummers since little if any of the older musicians who were in there thirties, forties and fifties wanted to play this new style of music. Rock and roll in its infancy was essentially gritty blues, r & b, rockabilly or country western. Something the older players felt they were above. This is very important to note since this will eventually explain how Laurin morphed from early blues influenced rock and roll and jazz in the 1950s to Motown in the 1960s and later Disco in the 1970s.
In essence, one can draw parallels between rock and roll's gradual shift away from its Black and rural roots and Disco's transition from its Black, Hispanic and underground roots to the more sterilized and bleached styling of the Bee Gee's and the Studio 54 set in the late 1970s.
During the period between 1956 to around 1963 Laurin claims to have played in roughly about half of the music that was released during that time. Non-stop session work paid the bills. They were given a meager $25.00 and a pizza to perform and never received credit on the record label. Laurin says, "Especially with Motown, you didn't know the artist you were playing on until the record came out. We would play on two tracks and do a two and a half-minute ditty song and it would be me (on drums), piano, bass and maybe a little guitarno one rehearsed. We just did this thing and there were tons of mistakes and it was all about the feeling and I still believe that's what it's all about anyway."
Laurin Rinder & the Motown Years
In the early 1960s Laurin made the move to Detroit and was part of early Motown history along with friend Bernard Purdy. While now based in Detroit he continued to travel and do Philly, Miami, Muscle Schoals in Alabama and played on Arthur Prysock, Anita O'Day and Billy Eckstein among others and even traveled extensively with James Brown, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and John Hooker by bus throughout the South. R & B was always his thing and he was usually the only white player in a black group. He felt a connection with them because of his jazz roots. Las Vegas also figured into his travels were he even did comedy as part of "Rinder, Ryder and the Swinging Brass" around 1966-67. When asked why so many different things under his belt his only reply is, "I'm an opportunist. I look for the door and go through it." Did this drive come back to bite him in this ass? "No," is what he quickly blurts out. "I've been extremely lucky in that I've always had work and got paid well. Things got a little thin in the early 1970s when we were doing hard rock and at this time is when Michael (Lewis) comes in."
The Arrival Of W. Michael Lewis
Around 1968 Laurin was living in Laguna Beach, California when he called his good friend Dick Dodd, who was the lead singer of the group The Standells, to arrange for an audition. The Standells were a Rolling Stones type outfit with songs like "Good Guys Don't Wear White" to their credit. Michael, who hailed from Alabama, was the keyboard player and had just come from another group, called We Five, which was a Kingston Trio folk-like deal and had performed on Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman." The two met and later went on to form a hard rock group called Joshua. It was a six-piece group comprised of members of the Righteous Brothers and Bonnie and Delaney. Together they played many concerts and venues with such superstars as The Eagles.
The members start to fragment, but the bands owner, Seymour Heller who was the president of "The Conference of the Personal Managers of the World" which had controlling interests of such stars as Liberace and Debbie Reynolds had other plans for Rinder and Lewis. Heller was also the owner of "Producer's Workshop" and partners with Ray Harris in the "American Variety International" record label or AVI for short.
Laurin and Michael still in their acid dropping hard rock stage and long hair would stop in at AVI to talk. It was here around 1973 that they were asked by Harris if they knew anything about "this new music called Disco" to which Laurin shrugged and said, "Na, I don't know anything' about that." They were then asked if they would like to go into the studio and try something out. The two were like, "Ya sure, whatever" They just knew that it paid well and they were capable of doing the work.
The Simon Soussan Projects
They go into the studio and meet with Simon Soussan who is best known for his later work on Arpeggio's "Love and Desire" and French Kiss' "Panic." Soussan who was originally from the middle east and in the profitable clothing business had told the two that he wanted to buy up old R & B masters to such classics as "Going To A Go-Go" and have Rinder & Lewis play over them. Soussan's idea was to remaster, remix and extend them to update the sound. In other words, make them more danceable. To Laurin, it was just another session and Soussan paid very well. It was a done deal.
Laurin recalls, "We went in and did all this stuff and we were the first ones to do this thing. And I was putting in these sh, sh, sh hi-hat things on R & B songs that turned into Disco songs. Then I said why don't we start using bells and whistles and I do some strange sounds like ew-ee, ew-eewe'll put breaks into it and play some bass drumboom-boom and who cares" to which everyone agreed.
A very famous gay Disco called Studio One was near Laurin's home so one night Laurin and Michael, who are straight, decided to stop by and see what this new Disco music scene was all about. Laurin says they discovered the following, "they were playing real old stuff, but kind of remixing them on the board and making them longer and taking two turntables that nobody had ever heard of and combining different things and we kept saying wow, this is weird." The two found themselves dumbfounded. Laurin said that their first impression was, "My God, what are they doing? They're like screwing around with these great old songs." I asked if they were intrigued or horrified and Laurin's answer was "intrigued, very intrigued." It was annoying to them at first since here is a record company (AVI) that was willing to pay them loads of money to do this easy stuff when they were pros. They were jazz musicians who could read and write music. Now a Disco DJ who had no formal training in music controlled the floor and was essentially stripping them of their powers. The Disco DJs were taking the music away from the musicians, but they could not help noticing that the crowd was eating it up. "People were going nuts." Laurin's attitude was "if that's what they want, we'll give it to them. I saw a window of opportunity I have this record company with all this fucking money, and they're going to pay us to do this thing. We can do this with no problem at all."
One of the first Disco songs that caught Laurin's attention was Van McCoys' "The Hustle" to which he thought, "Wow, this is musical, (humming the song)this is interesting, it's like mindless. It really was. It was over-orchestrated, kind of jingle-ee stupid stuff that was a 120 beats a minute."
Long time friend Barry White comes along and releases "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me" in 1976. A song that stuck with Laurin ever since Barry had played it for him long before it was ever released. Laurin took the track and changed the lyrics to make it become "Le Spank" which he released under the studio project Le Pamplemousse.
Within a two-month stretch they pounded out tons of material with the first one being El Coco's "Let Get It Together." When I asked Laurin how the name El Coco came about he readily admits, "We were doing a lot of cocaineit was pretty much that simple my friend." I then asked about the making of "Let's Get It Together" and he informed me that a traveling actress/singer by the name of Merria Ross was given studio time by AVI heads to record a song she had written called, "Let's Get It Together." Laurin "fleshed out" the rest of the song and Merria was given writing credits. They all went into the studio and and the verse Lets Get It Together was all that Merria ever sang, After this break, Merria went on to have charting song with Randy Crawford, High Energy and was nominated for a Grammy for "Finger On the Trigger" with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton (of Michael jackson's "Thriller" fame)
There was so much material that whatever didn't work for El Coco then went to Le Pamplemousse. The third tier was then Sweet Potato Pie and so on. So, whatever material didn't work for one studio group went to another until it found a home. The only thing that would change between each group was the back up singers they would hire for each project. In fact, Laurin tells me that the musicians listed on the credits on the Le Pamplemousse album are fictitious. Laurin proudly exclaims, "None of them existed, Mike and I played all the instrumentson every album. Every single album."
The Seven Deadly Sins
I then asked Laurin why the "Seven Deadly Sins" album credits Laurin and Michael as playing all instruments as opposed to the fictitious names of earlier albums. He acknowledges that it was getting tough to accept Disco awards for El Coco, Saint Tropez and Le Pamplemousse. When they went up, they had to use the excuse; "the group can't be here now because they are busy on tour." Since "Seven Deadly Sins" was a concept album, they decided to come clean and admit that they performed all the instruments. He gave me the reason why they made up the musician's names in the first place. "We were scared to death that someone would find out about us. We were very legitimate guys. We were rock and rollers and when someone said 'You wanna do Disco?' we thought it was the biggest cop-out that you could possibly ever do." I asked Laurin if they were embarrassed to which he said, "Absolutely." And when asked how he feels about it today, "It was a great time. Zero regrets"
The "Warriors" album soon followed proudly proclaiming that Laurin and Michael played all instruments. Freedom at last! An interesting side-note: during the making of that album, Laurin and his dad went down to Alabama to visit Michael and his dad. The highlight of the trip was to take both fathers out fishing. On one of those days, Laurin quickly snapped a photo of the two fathers and chose to use that picture for the upcoming album cover. Another album under the name The RinLew All-Stars featured musicians they had worked with in the past.
We now get into the recording aspect of things and discover that some basic concepts have been changed to facilitate this tremendous output of material. Laurin explains that, "We changed the way recording happened. We started with a bass drum. And we laid down a track of a bass drum for ten minutes. Just boom, boom, boom Then we started piling things on top of things, on top of thingsand then tons of editing." This differed from the standard practice of starting with piano, bass and drum. At this stage, they were using over forty tracks to produce their music, which was a far cry from the two tracks of just twenty years earlier.
Around 1978 as El Coco and Le Pamplemousse were becoming ever popular, their promotions man, A. J. Cervantes, whose dad was the mayor of St. Louis, asked if they would become producers for his new label Butterfly Records. The first project was Tuxedo Junction, which was to be a retro group. Laurin went to Bill Warlow the then head of Billboard and asked for the microfilm for all the songs that charted number one from 1930 to about 1943. He soon had a playlist from which to choose. They went down the list and selected all the songs they felt would be adaptable to dance music. Since Laurin had many friends from the big band days, he went about to try and get as many of the original players of the day to perform on the album. They got the oldest players that the AFM had and the oldest female singers that AFTRA had.
The big band flair of the Tuxedo Junction album was well received upon its release. To expand upon the concept further, they decided to do a racier version of it, but sung in French. This was to be called Saint Tropez and would have lush string arrangements. At the time Laurin and the record people had this thing for bisexual woman so they went with that as the basis for the songs like "Je T'Aime" and "Belle deJour" about the loving of two woman. And one look at the cover and gatefold photos verifies that.
The later incarnation of Saint Tropez was quite different from the French debut. "One More Minute" was a result of a cassette submission to Laurin who then ran with the idea. He likes to say that if someone gives him a title or idea he can come up with a song. With at least five groups to gather material for one has to be able to have constant ideas to work with. The two were also busy writing music for popular television shows such as "National Geographic, "The Barbara Walter's Special" and also a slew of films most notably martial arts flicks like the "Ninja" series and "Shogun Assassins."
The Arrival of the 1980's
As the 1980s were approaching Laurin and Michael became increasingly involved with television as opposed to Disco since there was more money to be made and they were sick of suing record labels for their fair share. There was accountability in television and film whereas in music there really was none. Around 1982 is when Laurin says he bowed out of music and by around 1985 had stopped his television work as well. Seeing as he had built up a comfortable annuity from royalties he spent time travelling and even got married more than once. There was even a time where he opened a men's and women's clothing store in Santa Monica, but was wiped out in the big earthquake of 1994. He would later host a fishing show on ESPN called "Charlie's Anglers" for about a year and a half. Fishing is something he has been enjoying since his father took him as a child.
Laurin now spends his time painting with oils. Something he picked up purely by accident during his time when he was landscaping and designing. He stuck a small brush into some watercolors, was hooked, and later took some course at UCLA. He now has galleries in LA and collectors from all over the world who proudly display his paintings. He told me that he needed an abstract and creative outlet since he was not able to play the drums anymore. Abstract painting filled that void. He calls it the jazz of painting.
One thing that becomes apparent when one speaks with Laurin is that he is someone who will seize an opportunity and work it till he sees the desired results. He is truly a major part of modern musical history with his talents spanning a good part of the second half of the twentieth century. He was an integral part in the beginning of rock and roll, Motown and finally Disco. It was an honor and pleasure to be able to speak with him and he was most gracious and forthcoming. Thank you Laurin for your time.
Below is a list of the many projects that Laurin was involved with.
RINLEW PRODUCTION COMPANY
Records: (production, composition, arrangements)
- "Mondo Disco" - AVI (USA) AVI 1039 - 1975
- "Brazil Carnival" - AVI (USA) AVI 1040 - 1976
- "Let's get it together" - AVI (USA) AVI 6006 - 1976
- "Cocomotion" - AVI (USA) AVI 6012 - 1977
- "Dancing in Paradise" - AVI (USA) AVI 6044 - 1978
- "Love Exciter/Dance Man" (non album tracks ) - AVI (USA) AVI-12-270-D (1979)
- "Cocomotion '79" (instrumental) b/w Segue:Afrodesia/Coco Kane (Remixes) - AVI (USA) AVI 12-294-D (1979)
- "Revolucin" - AVI (USA) AVI 6082 - 1980
- "El Coco" - AVI (USA) AVI 6102 - 1982
- "Collectables" - AVI (USA) AVI 6113 - 1982
- "Tuxedo Junction I"
- "Take The A Train"
Saint Tropez / St. Tropez
- "Je T'aime"
- "Belle De Jour"
- "Hot And Nasty"
- "Feme Fatales"
- "Eloise Whitaker"
- "Night Talk"
Rinder and Lewis
- "Seven Deadly Sins"
- "Full Circle"
- "Half Circle"
- "Le Pamplemousse"
- "Le Spank"
- "Sweet Magic"
- "Planet Of Love"
- "Le Pamplemousse 1980"
- "My Love is Burning Up"
- "Heavier Than Yesterday"
- "Can You imagine"
- "L.A. Bullets"
- "Rinlew Allstars"
- "Take Five Now"
- "Maybe I'm Right"
TOP 35 RECORDS (production, composition, arrangements)
- "Let's Get it Together"
- "Chatanooga Choo Choo"
- "Le Spank"
- "Gimmie What You Got"
- "Mondo Disco"
- "Take The A Train"
- "Willie and the Hand Jive"
- "I'm Mad as Hell"
- "Toot Toot Tootsie"
- "Carry Me"
- "Planet of Love"
- "Sweet Magic"
- "Tomorrow Night"
- "Dancing in Paradise"
- "One More Minute"
- "African Symphony"
- "Seven Deadly Sins"
- "Je T'aime"
- "Belle De Jour"
- "Rainy Night in Rio"
- "Monkey See, Monkey Do"
- "Under Construction"
- "Just Be You"
- "Hooray for Hollywood"
- "Don't Turn Your Back"
- "I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You"
- "Love Stealers"
- "I've Been Watching You"
- "Femme Fatales"
- "On A Rien A Pedre"
- "Fill My Life With Love"
- "Love Exciter"
- "Fait Le Chat"
TELEVISION (production, composition)
- "In Search Of" Alan Landsburg Prods. Theme & Multiples
- "Fawn Story" ABC Afterschool Special Score
- "That's Incredible" ABC Multiples
- "Barbara Walters Specials" ABC Theme & Multiples
- "Those Amazing Animals" ABC Multiples
- "Catastrophe" ABC Mini-Series Theme
- "Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark" NBC
- "Making of Star Wars" NBC Theme
- "Snow in L.A." ABC Documentary
- "World's Greatest Mysteries" ABC Series
FEATURE FILMS (composition, complete score production)
- "Enter the Ninja" Columbia Pictures
- "Shogun Assassin" New World Films
- "New Year's Evil" Cannon Films
- "Secret of the Bermuda Triangle" Warner Bros.
- "The Killing of America" Renan Productions
- "Love is Just a Word" Independent
- "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez" United Artists
- "The 3-D Movie" Columbia Pictures