Chuck Kaye is a charming, high-energy member of Sansum Clinic’s Board of Trustees. He and his lovely wife, Rebecca, met with me in their home in the Montecito hills to talk about their interesting lives, his career in the music business and their mutual dedication to Sansum Clinic.
The Kayes met in Los Angeles after Chuck returned from a trip sailing to the South Pacific as a sabbatical from his hectic work life. “Rebecca thought I was a professional sailor,” Chuck says with a laugh. “What did I know?” says Rebecca. “I’m a gemologist!”
“Indeed,” says Chuck. “She loves jewels, especially diamonds!” He winked at her. Married in Hawaii, Chuck and Rebecca have been together for 38 years. They share a love for three daughters, their two dogs, sailing, British mysteries and doing what they can “to make the world a better place.”
Now retired from the music industry, Chuck served as an executive for many high-profile music corporations, such as A&M Records, Warner/Chappell Music and DreamWorks Records. His fields of expertise include music publishing and working directly with song writers. He learned the business from his stepfather, Lester Sill. “My stepdad was a pioneer in the music business, truly a legendary figure in the music world,” says Chuck. “In the beginning, he sold records for juke boxes but he worked his way up to become a producer and publisher.
“In 1961, my stepfather joined forces with Phil Spector, so that should tell you something,” Chuck says with a wry smile. “The name of the company was Philles Records, which combined the first parts of both their names—Phil and Les. After about a year, they dissolved their partnership and Phil owned the business by himself. He asked me to run it for him! I was only 21 years old but so was Phil. It was a young people’s game back then and probably still is.
“Working with Phil Spector was an amazing opportunity for me, which is a story unto itself. I stayed there until 1964 when I moved to Los Angeles from New York City to become the West Coast Director of the new Aldon Music. While at Aldon, I was able to work with songwriters, people like Carole King, Neil Sadaka, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.”
“After I left Aldon in 1967, I started the publishing wing for Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M Records. We were responsible for signing talent, including performers like Bob Marley, Steve Winwood, Bryan Adams, Paul Williams and Peter Frampton. Those were heady days,” he says. “Chuck had incredible business acumen and he also had an innate ability to find (and sign) talent,” says Rebecca. “Sure,” he says. “I found you!” They both laughed.
In 1977, Chuck became president of both Almo/Irving and Rondor Music, while also being vice-president of A&M Records. In 1980, he went into partnership with David Geffen to form Geffen/Kaye Music Publishing and signed John Lennon. “That was quite a time,” he exclaimed. A year later, the company was acquired by Warner Brothers Music and Chuck eventually became its chairman. Later on, the company merged with Chappell & Company and he became the CEO, a position he held for 10 years. “We signed various acts, including Michael Jackson, David Foster, the Beach Boys and Madonna. Let’s say I worked with a lot of interesting—and sometimes challenging—artists,” says Chuck with a grin.
“Sometimes serendipity enters the picture,” says Chuck. “For instance, Crocker National Bank contacted me to have a songwritten for a commercial and I had my contract writers, Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, write a song. The result was called ‘We’ve Only Just Begun.’ Richie Carpenter saw the ad, we ended up recording it with the Carpenters and it was a worldwide #1 single. Some of it was being at the right place at the right time.
“It’s a tough but very rewarding business,” says Chuck. “When I came on, the business exploded! Pop tunes had a lot more energy than the songs of the ‘50s and record sales went through the roof! One of the best parts of this for me has been when we’ve been in a foreign country and one of our songs starts playing. Even though the words may be in a different language, the music is the same. It’s a thrill to see people’s reactions when they hear those songs and it always amazes me to think that our music is heard all over the world!”
In 1997, Chuck went back to working with David Geffen as Head of Music Publishing at DreamWorks Records and he stayed there until he retired in 2004.
“Lucky for us, we knew Eddie and Bobbie Rosenblatt, since Eddie and I’d worked together. When I retired, he and Bobbie encouraged us to come to Santa Barbara and we’re so glad we took their advice. We love it here, especially since the four of us are such close friends. In fact, Eddie brought me onto the Sansum board. He invited me to attend some of their meetings and I was very impressed with the caliber of the people on the board—they’re all very smart. I was also very impressed with Dr. Kurt Ransohoff and many of the other doctors at Sansum. In fact, Dr. Jim Zmolek took care of me after I broke my ankle on the golf course. He’s a great guy!”
“We’ve had such a wonderful life together,” says Rebecca. “I’m from Minnesota and people here say that Sansum is the Mayo Clinic of the West—and for us, it’s just that.”
“Sansum Clinic is a huge asset to our community,” says Chuck. “It’s an honor for us to support such a worthy organization.”