1962: Clipper Cowbridge

1963: The Swiss Invasion

1965: Marilyn Kaye

1969: The Fold

1970: Yorgi

1971: Devon Shire

1972: Sandee Saunders

1976: Rockfinger

1978: The Spooky Bunch

1979: Decoupage

1981: Bleep

1984: Tiger Love

1985: Laryssa Foxxx

1986: Smasher of Things

1987: Suthrn Cuzn

1989: ~pianogirl~

1990: Razorflesh

1995: Breaker Bear

1996: Action Plus

1998: J Lounge

2001: Eesk

2004: Lazarus Project

The True Story of Clubbo’s Improbable Origins

In today’s era of test-marketed, formula-bound pop culture, it’s easy to forget there was a time when the soundtrack of daily life was composed not by multinational media firms, but by low-budget visionaries like Clubbo co-founders Chet Clubb and Morris “Bo” Bogerman.

Like many small-label opportunists, Clubbo would bet on anything: novelty and kiddie discs, global exotica, bandwagon-jumping quickies. What set Clubbo apart was the label’s occasional knack for generating music so far outside the mainstream that the mainstream had to shift its course in response.

As is so often the case with the label, Clubbo’s inception reflected both lofty idealism and crass opportunism. In 1960, Greenwich Village bookshop owner Chet Clubb won an ancient record lathe in a poker game and began pressing spoken-word discs by some of his literary friends. It was a money-losing venture — until Clubb joined forces with poker acquaintance Morris “Bo” Bogerman, a veteran of the rough-and-tumble novelty industry.

The original headquarters of Clubbo Records, now a nail salon.

Clubbo’s former Hollywood headquarters at 1299 Ivar Avenue

Bogerman proposed using Clubb’s lathe to press “stag records” (off-color novelty discs sold under the counter to accompany strip shows and bachelor parties). Clubb, reasoning that Bo’s sleaze could underwrite his art, accepted the offer. Releases on the pair’s new Gent label (“Ifs, Ands, & Butts,” “Here, Pussy, Pussy,” “Spank You Very Much”) probably wouldn’t rate a Parental Advisory sticker today, but were spicy for their time.

While poetry record sales languished (Clubb’s A Samovar of Synecdoche sold a mere 40 copies), the stag sides were instantly profitable, especially those by Gent’s leading “artist,” Professor Randy. Randy’s “Dawn’s Crack” moved an astonishing 60,000 units — enough to draw the unwelcome attention of the censors, and worse, the mob figures who controlled the porn industry.

In the wake of increasingly ominous messages from both civic and criminal authorities (and Randy’s arrest on Mann Act violations), Clubb and Bogerman shut down their Gent operations and relocated to Hollywood with a new name: Clubbo.

Crazy Sounds for the Kids

Bogerman’s new plan was to tap into the lucrative teen market with aboveground novelty records. He lucked out when now-legendary sound wizard Clipper Cowbridge responded to a trade paper ad seeking an engineer capable of transforming “Itty Bitty Titties,” an unfinished Professor Randy track, into something suitable for Top 40 airplay. Responding to Bo’s directive to “nix the French words and add some crazy sounds for the kids,” Cowbridge transformed the song into “Soda Pop Shop,” a burp-themed novelty tune. It was one of the best-selling sides of 1962, and the record put Clubbo on the map.

Rare red vinyl pressing of the Ava & the Avalanches hit "Ski Baby Ski."

But the mere fact that Clubbo was on the map didn’t mean they knew where they were going. Bogerman’s tenure as creative director was marked by successes and missteps of equal grandeur.

For example, Bo squandered most of the “Soda Pop Shop” profits by signing up every lounge combo in Gstaad and Zermatt in hopes of marketing them as “The Swiss Invasion.” But then he turned around and racked up surprise hits with Swedish pop thrush Ingeborg (“Two Plus Two”), the sweet-soul vocalizing of the Sugar Daddies (“Gonna Make Slow Sweet Love to You Baby”) and the breathy, minstrels-and-maidens fairy tales of Devon Shire (The Lady and the Lute). He also made inroads into global exotica (Las Ollas, Jufu) and children’s music (soundtrack albums for the Prayer Bears and the Spooky Bunch.

The Illia Era

While Bogerman transformed Clubbo into a label of legendary if sometimes ill-advised daring, Clubb receded into the background, finally selling out to his former partner in 1969. In 1973, Bogerman hired young William Jones as a staff engineer and all-around fetch-it boy. Jones, of course, would later make music history after amputating the outside consonants from his name and reinventing himself as Illia One, mastermind of the band Lunaire.

Clubbo co-founder Bo Bogerman with daughter June (AKA Junko Watanabe) and their cat, Orbit.

Illia’s spectacular post-Clubbo success (and equally spectacular mental decline) has been recounted ad nauseam by the pop music press, most authoritatively in Alan Asch’s 1994 tome Nonstop to Nowhere: The Lunaire Story. Less often remembered are the artistic and/or commercial successes Jones oversaw during his years at Clubbo, including releases by Plynth, Rockfinger, the Clean Plate Club, and many others.

It’s tempting, but inaccurate, to depict Bo Bogerman as a broken man following Illia’s 1981 defection, when he left Clubbo and took Lunaire — along with Bo’s daughter June (a.k.a. Junko Watanabe of Lunaire) — to a rival label. In fact, Bogerman remained a force to be reckoned with. Witness his post-Illia successes with acts such as Eden & After and Soula Devine. Clearly, Bo still had fire in his belly.

No Mo’ Bo

Too much fire, as it turned out. Bogerman dropped dead during a 1982 studio session with synth-poppers Bleep, a victim of one of his legendary apoplectic tirades.

Former Clubbo Records CEO Bas Carlton, post-retirement.

Former Clubbo Records CEO Bas Carlton, post-retirement.

New Clubbo chairman Bas Carlton was in every respect less explosive than his predecessor. But in his own buttoned-down, British fashion, he too exemplified the blend of vision and blindness that had come to define Clubbo.

True, he reined in expenses and turned consistent, if humble, profits. But behind every straightforward success (like the Oxygen Thieves’ Breathless Hits, or Thunderbeast Park, the metal magnum opus by Smasher of Things) lurked some bewildering failed gambit.

Take Suthrn Cuzn: Who but Clubbo would sign a Southern boogie band in 1987, let alone one from Israel? And although Carlton continues to deny the oft-repeated rumor that he signed Indonesia’s Tiger Love to settle a stupendous Balinese bar tab, any other explanation makes about as much sense as Tiger Love’s incomprehensible music.

If there was any surprise when Clubbo finally closed its doors in 2002, it was that Clubbo had held out so long in an era of stylistic conservatism and corporate consolidation. The precise terms of the deal that transferred all Clubbo interests to the world’s then-largest label remain unknown, but it was enough to underwrite Carlton’s comfy Cayman Islands retirement. The mega-label in question made a feeble attempt to assemble a “Clubbo Story” compilation, but the project fizzled, and for several years Clubbo lay dormant.

Clubbo Today

We lack the space (and legal footing) to recount here how Clubbo passed into our stewardship. (“Read my damn novel,” one of my colleagues is fond of grumbling.) But as you can see from this site, we have grand plans for the Clubbo brand, both as an archival label and a launching pad for new music conceived in the old Clubbo spirit.

Shoshana Sanchez
General Manager, Clubbo Records