Recap of Part I: Life long Philadelphia resident and former Gamble and Huff songwriter Frankie Smith pens the funky novelty song Double Dutch Bus. Laid off from Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, Smith pitches his song to WMOT Records with no inkling that WMOT is a money laundering front for The Yuppie Conspiracy that supplies most of the eastern coast of United States with cocaine. The Yuppie Conspiracy is headed by twenty-seven year old dentist Larry Lavin, his financial adviser Mark Stewart and a cabal of dentists and other University of Penn alum.
U.S. Route 30, also known as Lancaster Avenue, links the old money western suburbs of Philadelphia. The locals call it the “Main Line”. The Main Line communities of Villinova, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Devon and Malvern are some of the most affluent in the United States. Retired Brigadier General John Eisenhower, son of President Dwight Eisenhower, and his wife Barbara lived on Timber Lane in Devon.
Most of the Timber Lane residents were the usual fare–doctors, lawyers and members of the corporate elite, middle aged, retired or soon to be retired. The Eisenhower’s neighbor across the street was a retired admiral and a practicing dentist. Their tall, lanky, puppy-dog-like next door neighbor, Larry, was also a dentist, though you wouldn’t think it. He and his wife, Marcia, were all of twenty-seven years old. The Lavin’s.
Of course, when Larry and his wife, that’s the way most of the neighbors described her, (she was very reserved and rarely spoke unless spoken to) first moved in they caused a bit of a stir. They were so young.
There were nods and waves. A few hellos. They seemed nice enough.
Weeks turned into months–plenty of time for them to have everything unpacked and put away–and, yet, there was Larry, always manicuring the yard are puttering around the garage. Soon they were making renovations to their home, putting in a pool and a solar light system. Neither he nor Marcia left for work in the mornings.
Inevitably, Larry wandered over to the Eisenhower’s yard and they got acquainted. He was very friendly and helpful, always offering to assist with a yard chore or a small home maintenance job. He and Marcia were generous with the neighborhood children too. The Eisenhower’s grandchildren excitedly showed off full sized Snicker bars the Lavin’s handed out at Halloween.
Larry told his neighbors that he had gotten into managing rock bands in college as a fluke. He had unexpected success which led him into the recording business and a financial windfall.
Always gregarious, he invited neighbors into his home to see the renovations and decor. During the tours he proudly showed off the encased gold record that hung in his den: The Double Dutch Bus, Frankie Smith, WMOT Records.
Barbara Eisenhower was especially impressed with Larry. It showed good character for him to finish dental school even though he was making so much money in the music business. Larry explained that he was waiting for the right opportunity to practice dentistry. He wanted to buy an established practice that catered primarily to the underprivileged and undeserved. It was his way of giving back.
The year 1982 was shaping up to be a good one for Frankie Smith and his mother. They made some modest purchases for their home, things that would go with Frankie’s gold record that hung in the small living room above the piano that his mother had bought for him by squirreling away ten to twenty dollars at a time. There was plenty of money to pay the bills now, and then some, since Frankie was the opening act for the Kool and the Gang and Rick James tours. He made appearances on Soul Train, American Bandstand and The Merv Griffith Show and, on a particularly memorable evening he preformed on The American Music Awards. His mother was very proud that night. She cried.
Frankie Smith had arrived thanks to a Double Dutch Bus that he rode all the way to #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart and to #30 on the Billboard Top 40 chart. The single sold well over a million copies.
There was just one problem. He hadn’t received a dime from royalties. Smith found that especially galling.
For years he had dreamed of writing a hit song. He had worked diligently, patiently and more than once was on the cusp of his dream. Now he had achieved it. Every time he heard Double Dutch Bus on the radio he felt like a proud papa, but in his songwriter’s mind he had yet to see his baby. In his songwriter’s mind, he was covering his own song.
After months of waiting for a check he called the WMOT booking keeping office. “I’m calling about my royalties,” he told the bookkeeper. She put him on the the line with Mark Stewart.
Mark Stewart was an enigma to the artists at WMOT. Roaming the halls with his face frozen in a scowl, he had few words for anyone. And when he did speak it was obvious that he knew virtually nothing about the record business. He wasn’t into Funk, he was in a funk–a perpetual one at that.
There was a good reason for Stewart’s surliness. Bad investments and over reaching had driven him to the brink of financial ruin. It was desperation that pushed him over the line of shady real estate deals and boxing promotion and into a full fledged life of crime with coke dealer Larry Lavin.
Lavin’s money was like a god send, propping up some of his ill advised investments. He poured over 500 thousand of Lavin’s cash into money laundering ventures like WMOT Records, The Philadelphia Arena, which he renamed The Martin Luther King Arena and a minor league basketball team, The Lancaster Red Roses.
But the cash infusion couldn’t save the arena or the Red Roses. Stewart eventually hired Pagan motorcycle gang member James “Horrible” Holt to burn down the arena in an insurance scam. Only WMOT Records proved profitable and that, in large part, was due to Frankie Smith’s hit record, Double Dutch Bus.
Stewart didn’t know much about Smith, he couldn’t care less about the artists at WMOT, but he did acquaint himself with a few details he viewed as essential, namely zip code and education. Smith’s address of 51st and Dearborn told him everything he needed to know.
So when he was informed that Smith was on the line inquiring about his overdue royalties, Stewart was nonplussed. There were much bigger things on his plate to be worried about. He picked up the phone.
“Mr. Smith, I’ve been meaning to call you,” he said. “I’ve got a check here with your name on it for twenty thousand dollars.”
To be continued…