Monday, April 29, 2013

The Larry Yasgar Story

                                                   The Larry Yasgar Story
                            Written 12/27/2010 and rewritten 03/04/2016 unedited
                                                          Howard Yasgar

     In 1987 at the suggestion of my wife Katherine, I called up my cousin Larry Yasgar. I hadn’t spoken to Larry since around 1963, that’s when I married and moved to Florida from New Haven Connecticut.
     My cousin Larry is the son of my father’s brother, Sam Yasgar and his wife Faye. I felt bad that I hadn’t spoken to Larry in about twenty five years, and I had often wondered how he was doing. Both our fathers, were born in New Haven, around 1909 and 1910. With my father Jack being the older of the two. But both the brothers were a couple of handsome looking guys that grew up playing around on the streets of New Haven in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. Those, were the prohibition days, when the kids were wearing knickers, and trolleycars ran on the streets.
They were the days when Vaudeville was playing in the Shubert Theater on College Street. In New Haven, and it was also a time when New Haven was just becoming a modern city, you could call and order blocks of ice for your ice box , and they would be delivered by the ice man right to your house by truck.
     Both brothers, Jack and Sam lived in their family two story house on Sherman Avenue, and they hung around with their buddy Alfred Caplin. He was a budding artist back then that later became Al Capp the originator of the popular “Lil Abner” comic strip. My father said the three of them to hitch a ride would run behind the ice delivery trucks jumping on the back when no one was looking, they did it until Alfred fell off the back of the truck and a trolley car ran over his leg.
    By the 1930’s, life was changing for the two brothers, my father was selling news-papers on the corner of Church and Crown Street, in down town New Haven and Larry’s dad started professionally tap dancing on stage and traveling the vaudeville circuits.
     Eventually by the late 1930’s both of the brothers had married, with Sam, marrying a good looking blond girl named Faye, and they had a son Larry, who was born in 1941, and my father marrying a nurse named Betty Lazaroff. I was born in 1939, but because I was two years older than Larry, we didn’t hang around much together, in those days as us older guys never hung around with little kids younger than ourselves.
     I got to see Larry when there were family functions or when my folks went over to their house to visit. I can remember once when we visited their home and Larry was about eight or ten years old. Larry’s mom always opened up a big box of Whitmans chocolates. Well, one evening I walked into the pantry where Larry was biting into each candy until he found the soft fruit ones that he liked. What he was doing wasn’t really bad, as Larry carefully replaced the rejected ones with tooth marks back into its rightful place in the box.
     By the 1950’s my dad had bought a home in Westville and so did Larry’s Dad, and it was around that time that my cousin Larry started working at Cutlers record and tape store. Cutler had opened the music store on Broadway in New Haven in 1948 and I’m sure that Larry’s working in Cutlers record store is what probably inspired him to get into the music record business.               
     While I didn’t get to see Larry at all during those years, that he worked at Cutler’s, I often got to see his father Sam, who was managing the cosmetics departments for the Rexall drug chain right up the street from my high school.   
      In 1961 my father passed away, and by 1963, and I had just married and left Westville and New Haven for Miami Florida, but I had heard from family members that Larry had also married, and he was doing very well, living in Stamford Connecticut. They said he had three children, and I was told that he was working for some big record Company in New York.
      So one day in 1988, as I was sitting in my office in Miami, I was thinking about my cousin Larry, and I got the idea of looking him up on the internet to get his phone number, I found it, and I called Larry up. At that time we had not spoken in over twenty eight years, so I think Larry was happy to hear from me just as I was happy to talk with him. He confirmed that he was married and had several children, and he said that his father had also passed away but his Mom, came to visit his family in Stamford all the time.
      Larry told me that he was very involved with the recording Industry, he said he had started out at the bottom, working at Cutlers record store, and then he had worked himself up and into the New York record industry. Larry said he had done everything, even traveling and selling records out of the trunk of his car. Then in 1970 he became the regional sales manager for Atlantic Records in New York, and by 1973 he was promoted to national sales director, and he also became president of a new division called Vendetta Records. I didn’t fully understand everything Larry was talking about, because I knew absolutely nothing about the recorded music industry, but I was happy to hear that Larry was doing so well, and like me, he was working doing something he really liked to do.
      Larry took my telephone number and said he would get back to me, when he was coming to Florida. So I was pleasantly surprised when Larry called me in 1989 saying he would be coming to Florida with his new wife Roni, and perhaps we could get together for supper, I was so delighted to hear from him. Larry said he had been divorced and had now remarried, and his wife’s parents, were living in North Miami, so it was decided we all meet together at a local Steak and Ale restaurant, which was close to her parent’s home.
     At the restaurant my wife Katherine, and I met Larry’s lovely wife Ronie as well as her father and mother. At the time we had no idea who Larry’s wife Ronie was.
     After supper, Larry told us that he recently had a close call with death. He said that one evening he felt bad and they rushed him to the Hospital. It was there that he said his heart had actually “exploded” and his doctors told him later, that he is the only person they ever saw who had survived from it.
     After recuperating, Larry said he had started promoting singing groups, he was looking for new talent and recording their songs. He said that he had discovered and promoted a group called C & C Music Factory, and they had made several number one hit records with him.
One of the songs was called “Let’s Dance”, and even I, had remembered that song. Both Katherine and I thought it was really nice to hear that Larry was so successful in the record Business. We all enjoyed our evening together with him and his wife Roni, and her parents. We all said our goodbyes, both Katherine and I hoped we would see Larry and Roni again.
    By 1991, my wife Katherine and I were going most weekends to our condo at Executive Bay Club, it was located in Islamorada in the Florida Keys. At the time we were also into disco dancing, and where we lived in Islamorada, one of the only night clubs with live disco music was located on the top of the Holiday Isle Resort building. It was on the top of the building, which
Was only six stories tall, but it was the tallest building in Islamorada. So to get to the nightclub required using their elevator. We stepped in the elevator, but we were quickly advised that the nightclub had been reserved for a private party and we couldn’t go up. We were disappointed but as there were four young people standing in the elevator, I asked them who had reserved the nightclub, they said it was a party for the music Industry. Really, so I said, is my cousin Larry Yasgar here?  Their eyes got real big, “Oh no”, they said, “Larry Yasgar is a big shot in the Industry, he wouldn’t be here, this party is for us lower level employees. Wow, I couldn’t believe it, they all knew my cousin Larry. We left feeling pretty good after hearing what they had said about Larry.  
     It was around 2005, when I had been listening to the Oldie Goldie’s music from the 1950’s and they had just played “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.  I had been hearing that song for years, but not being a music fan, I never paid any attention as to who sang it. But I knew that I had been hearing it ever since I was a teenager, and I always thought that whoever sang that song had to be some king of genius. Because it sounded so very different when compared to the doo wop, sha na na type music that was being played at the time, and I wondered how they ever did it, but that was it, I never did anything about finding out who and how that song was made.
        So again, around 2009, I was again talking to my wife Katherine about the song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. I told my wife that I thought the song was a masterpiece, of highly technical music. I wanted to find out who wrote it, who produced it and who sang it. I wanted to call them up, and tell them I thought it was absolutely fantastic, and a masterpiece, but I had no idea of who, or what group did the song. As we spoke about it, my wife Katherine said, “It was probably made by some “Flash in the Pan” type artist, who never had another hit record and has by now faded into obscurity, I agreed.
     That’s when Katherine suggested, that I should go onto Google and again find my Cousin Larry Yasgar, who could probably tell me everything I wanted to know about the song.
     So I went on Google again to look for my cousin Larry, and I was really surprised to find page after page of Larry's accomplishments, there was no question, he was a rock star at the top of the top, in the music industry.
     I again found Larry’s home telephone number in Stamford Connecticut, and I called him.
Larry was happy to hear from me again. I jokingly told him about my fascination with the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and I wondered if he knew who did it? Larry said, “Sure, it was
Jay Siegle of the Tokens, and Larry said he knew Jay. He said he would bump into Jay Single all the time, in the corridors of Columbia Records”. Larry asked me that if I wanted Jay's phone number, he said Jay Siegle was living in upstate New York. So I could either call him, or if I wanted, Larry said he would introduce me to him. He said Jay Siegle was a fantastic artist who sang the song in a falsetto voice. Larry said that Jay Siegle not only sang, but he wrote songs and was also a music producer who had brought many groups up the ladder in the music Industry. He said Jay Siegle was truly a real artist and still going strong, having produced The Captain and Tennille, and many other singing groups.
     Then Larry asked what I was doing, he wanted to know if I had a job for him. I thought he was joking. But Larry sounded a little depressed, and said he was going to apply for a job at a local Wall Mart Store the next day, I really didn’t know if he was joking with me.
     Larry then told me that when the Internet started giving away free music, Columbia Records tried to stop them, and they eventually brought a bunch of law suites against the transmitting of free music and they spent millions of dollars, on attorney’s fees, but it all got them nowhere, and eventually they ran out of money. Larry said that the closing of Columbia had really hurt him financially. And if that wasn’t enough of a problem, he was badly hurt in an automobile accident on the Meritt Parkway and the insurance company had so far refused to pay, so now he had a lot of legal as well as medical expenses.
     Larry said his wife Roni, was now helping by working for a local antique company. But despite all the problems, Larry said was hoping to one day put something together in the music business again. Never the less, I felt bad to hear about all the problems, and I invited them to come for a visit to Florida.
      Then in 2013, Larry called to say he was coming to Florida with his wife Roni, her father was ill and they would like to get together with us when they came down. They did come down, and they stayed with us for a weekend. We all had a good terrific time, and in talking to them we had two surprises. The first surprise was to find out that Larry’s lovely wife Roni was the ex-wife of Tommy James of the Shondells, and what a story she had to tell. She told us about her life with Tommy, and she said that we should read a book written by Tommy James called, “Me, the mob, the Music”. One of the stories Roni told us took place in 1969, Tommy James was performing in Hawaii, and they were living in the lap of luxury in a big house there. Tommy was asked if he wanted to do an upcoming show in upstate New York. They decided not to do it as nothing could be better than living in that big beautiful house in Hawaii, and that’s how they missed doing Woodstock in August of 1969.
      Larry said that after his divorce, he saw Roni in the Cafeteria at Colombia Records, and when he found out she was divorced he just fell in love with her at first sight, and now they have two sons. We could have listened to their stories about the music and record industry forever, it was absolutely fascinating to have them with us.
     While Larry and Roni were visiting us, I called my aunt Lilian. Lilian. Lillian was my mother’s youngest sister who was now ninety years old and living in Hamden Connecticut. She had always told me that she knew Larry, but she didn’t know why. I asked Larry, and he said he didn’t know why she knew him either. It turns out that as a teenager Lillian handled the cash register at Cutlers Records and Tapes on Broadway in New Haven, it was the very same record store where Larry got his start.
      We try to stay in touch with Larry and Roni and they know they always have an open invitation to come visit us in Florida. I am sure they have lots more stories to tell us about the music industry.  


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