Artie Mogull, who died November 25 at age 77, was an appropriately named A&R executive who discovered or signed, among others, Bob Dylan, Laura Nyro, Bill Cosby, Olivia Newton-John, Wilson Phillips, and Hootie and the Blowfish.
At various times, Mogull worked for nearly every major pop music label, including Warner Bros., Capital Records, and MCA, and for several years in the 1970s he was president and then owner of United Artists Records. Still hard at work until the end, he had recently founded a new label, Insane Records, dedicated to distributing music via the Internet.
Mogull grew up in suburban Mount Vernon and his father, a Russian immigrant, was part-owner of the well-known Mogull Film and Library Shop on West 48th Street.
Mogull got his start in the music business in the 1940s when his cousin, Ivan Mogull, hired him fresh out of Columbia College to work at his music rights business, located in the Brill Building. Within a year, Artie Mogull became a record promoter, traveling the country seeding local radio stations with records in advance of the Tommy Dorsey and Ray Anthony bands.
Mogull soon tired of life on the road and opted instead for the music publishing business, working as an artists and repertory man, known in the business as "A&R."
Among the early acts he worked with was the Kingston Trio and Paul Anka, with whom he was associated for several decades. Years later, when Mogull was president of United Artists and heard that Elvis's death had caused fans to order hundreds of thousands of the King's records on RCA, Mogull is reputed to have said, "Let's shoot Paul Anka." Mogull loved to finish the story with Mr. Anka calling him in the middle of the night to complain, only to be mollified by Mogull's excuse, "Do you realize you were the only artist I could think of whose death would warrant those kind of sales? "Anka had a big hit at the time with "Havin' My Baby."
In the early 1960s, Mogull, then at Warner Bros., signed Bob Dylan to his first music publishing contract. When the contract ended, Mogull quit Warner and went into the music publishing business on his own, taking Dylan with him. In his office, Mogull kept a piano, and when he had it tuned, the tuner asked to audition his daughter, a songwriter.
In a recent interview on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, Mogull told the rest of the story of how he discovered Laura Nyro: "Next day, this little, short, unattractive girl comes up, and the first three songs she plays are 'Wedding Bell Blues,' 'Stoney Inn,' and then 'When I Die.' I almost fainted. I went crazy." The three songs went on to become hits for the 5th Dimension, Barbra Streisand, and Blood Sweat and Tears, although most of Mogull's contracts with Nyro became invalid when she turned out to be underage.
In 1968, Mogull had a brief brush with the law when he formed Tetragrammaton records with Bill Cosby and released John Lennon's first solo album, "Two Virgins." The record caused a sensation because it featured Lennon and wife Yoko Ono naked on the cover. Despite distributing the record in a brown sleeve, Mogull was sued, and in some localities the record was seized and even burned. The album was a commercial failure; more than one critic thought that the record itself and not just the sleeve should have been burned. The label folded.
In the early 1970s, Mogull worked for Capital, where he was the first to sign Helen Reddy, and MCA, where he acquired the rights to the "That's Entertainment" soundtrack. In 1976, he was named president of United Artists, and two years later, in partnership with Jerry Rubinstein, a former chairman of ABC Records, he purchased the company. At UA, Mogull oversaw releases by Electric Light Orchestra and country music acts like Kenny Rogers and Crystal Gayle, along with the soundtrack to "Rocky." Mogull in 1979 sold UA to EMI (which had financed the initial deal) and returned to being an independent A &R man.
Mogull was renowned for acting impulsively, and occasionally he scored a success this way. Supposedly, he signed Hootie and the Blowfish without even hearing a demo tape - he just liked the name. Hootie and the Blowfish was to be his last major acquisition, although he continued to work in the music business, founding JRS Records in the early 1990s and Insane Records last year.
Mogull was known to embroider a good story.
"Artie was a little mendacious," said Robert Nathan, who worked as Mogull's lawyer for several years. "He would say, 'It makes a better story my way.' It was large grains of salt with Artie."
Born March 27, 1927, at Mount Vernon, N.Y.; died November 25 of heart failure at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.; survived by his daughters, Andrea Anker, Cathy Mogull Simons, and Alison Ostrin, four grandsons, and his brother, Peter.