Music Mogul David Kapralik Says Sony Owes Him Big Money

It was 2 P.M. on Monday, Sept. 20, the day of atonement for Jewish people around the world, and David Kapralik was thinking about Sly Stone and shedding big tears into his bowl of miso soup. Mr. Kapralik–a sprightly 73-year-old who stands 5 feet 6 inches and bears a resemblance to Jack Lemmon in a Colonel Sanders disguise–sat in a deserted restaurant on Columbus Avenue and held his hands over his face. His shoulders quivered under his burnt-orange turtleneck. “God, I’m emotional,” he said. “Maybe it’s the sake.”

Or perhaps it’s the history. Mr. Kapralik is a former high-powered re-cord executive, cocaine abuser, children’s entertainer and, most notably for our purposes, the discoverer, manager, producer, mentor and No. 1 worshiper of Sly Stone, who in the late 60′s and early 70′s recorded hits like “Dance to the Music,” “I Want to Take You Higher” and “Family Affair.” Under his towering Afro, Sly–né Sylvester Stewart–and his racially integrated band, Sly and the Family Stone, funkified an anxious generation and, not incidentally, brought a country of white people to the dance floor for the first time.

It’s not surprising that Mr. Kapralik gets emotional–it’s been 20-odd years since he last laid eyes on Mr. Stone, who, despite rumors, is still very much alive. And while Mr. Kapralik also signed Andy Williams, Barbra Streisand, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet, it is Sly he misses most.

And, well, yes, there is something else. About five years ago, Mr. Kapralik decided he was getting stiffed on producer’s royalties from the Sly and the Family Stone records he produced. The songs continue to permeate the culture: Toyota based a television campaign on “Everyday People,” and AT&T and the National Basketball Association have used “I Want to Take You Higher.” And Mr. Kapralik wasn’t seeing any money. On Sept. 17, he filed suit in Federal court in Hawaii, where he now lives, against Sony Music, asking for all of his back royalties, a number his lawyer estimates at over $1 million. Sony Music Entertainment owns the two labels, Columbia and Epic Records, on which Mr. Kapralik recorded Sly and the Family Stone.

These days Mr. Kapralik lives what would appear to be a quiet life on his tropical flower and onion farm on Maui, selling the flowers and onions over the Internet. When he decided five years ago to approach Sony about the money, he made an appointment and flew to New York. In fact, he hadn’t lost all contact with the record company: A friend of Sony president Tommy Mottola had been ordering onions for him and his then-wife, singer Mariah Carey, through Mr. Kapralik’s company.

‘Ah … Want … Mah … Cash … Money!”

This is what Mr. Kapralik was shouting five years ago as he pounded on the desk of Scott Pascucci, the vice president of business affairs, at a meeting in Sony’s Madison Avenue headquarters. His argument went as follows: After decades of getting statements from Epic Records for his producer’s share of royalties on Sly’s records, suddenly, around 1988, which happened to be the year that Sony purchased Epic and its parent company, the CBS Records Group, the statements stopped coming. Up to that point, Mr. Kapralik had not received any actual money: Record companies only begin to pay royalties when artists have recouped their advances. When Mr. Kapralik stopped getting statements, Sly and the Family Stone was still deep in the hole: The band had been paid millions in advances, not to mention that Sly was notorious for sleeping in recording studios, at a cost to Epic of about $250 an hour. But now, after a few years of not receiving statements, Mr. Kapralik wondered if the band had finally broken even, which would mean Sony owed him some money.

According to Mr. Kapralik, Mr. Pascucci told him that they couldn’t locate the contract which said Mr. Kapralik was entitled to any producer’s royalties. Unless he could come up with the contract, Mr. Pascucci said, there was nothing Sony could do. Mr. Kapralik responded with a story: Back in 1963, when he was Columbia’s head of A&R, the department responsible for signing new talent, Mr. Kapralik had signed Cassius Clay to record a comedy album called I Am the Greatest . This was a year before he knocked out Sonny Liston and became Muhammad Ali. One day, Mr. Clay, not happy with Columbia’s sluggish accounting department, walked into Mr. Kapralik’s office and began pounding the desk, shouting “Ah … Want … Mah … Cash … Money!” Mr. Kapralik stood up and recreated the scene for Sony’s Mr. Pascucci, imitating Ali’s broad Kentucky accent. “They were not amused,” said Mr. Kapralik of his Sony audience. He went back to Hawaii.

In the magic mirror,

The nearer the dearer the clearer I see.

Hi me.

This is the rhyme that Mr. Kapralik and Mr. Stone would recite in unison in the late 60′s. They would be facing each other, each pointing his right index finger and touching each other’s left cheek: a pseudo-mirror image of a 6-foot-tall, Afro-ed black man and a miniature Jewish guy with sideburns. Sly, or Syl, as Mr. Kapralik still calls him, wore a chunky Star of David in honor of Mr. Kapralik. He even wore it at Woodstock. “Syl was me,” said Mr. Kapralik. “He represented the most ennobled part of me. I knew who he was from the beginning. Have you ever in your life had those people you met who you just had an inner knowing about? Your intuition was beyond language, beyond physiognomy, beyond characteristics.” Mr. Kapralik paused over his soup. “Maybe I met Darth Vader and recognized Luke Skywalker in him.”

By the time Mr. Kapralik met Mr. Stone, he already had an illustrious career.Bornin1921in Plainville, N.J., to a middle-class Jewish family in a gentile town, he went to Columbia University, took a degree in sociology and landed a job with Columbia Records’ sales department in 1960. The label was run by the patrician Goddard Lieberson and closely monitored by William Paley, the founder of CBS. At 29, Mr. Kapralik was given Columbia’s A&R department. He racked up expense-account lunches at the Four Seasons and smoked long, thin Nat Sherman cigars. Soon he took over Epic’s A&R department as well. He brought in “young people with good ears.” He signed a singer named T.D. Valentine who would later revert to his given name, Tommy Mottola, when things didn’t work out as a pop star. He hired a black music executive, one of the first black producers on a major pop label. “From my earliest memories of youth, being a Jewish kid being picked on in a non-Jewish environment, my dream was a world of peace, a world that wasn’t prejudiced,” said Mr. Kapralik. “I believed that to my core.”

Things were going swimmingly until Mr. Kapralik tried to fire John Hammond, the most legendary A&R man who ever lived. Mr. Hammond had signed Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, but he was technically working for Mr. Kapralik. According to Mr. Kapralik, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin came into his office upset about how Mr. Hammond wanted to record them. So Mr. Kapralik called Mr. Hammond in and told him he had to let him go. “Little did I know,” said Mr. Kapralik, “that night he drove out to his old social buddy Bill Paley’s house in Long Island. It wasn’t too long before I was lateralized out of the A&R department.”

Soon Mr. Kapralik went out on his own as an independent producer; he agreed to give Columbia/Epic first dibs on any acts he found. In 1967, Mr. Kapralik sat in an after-hours club in Redwood City, Calif., and listened to a band started by a soul deejay and record producer named Sylvester Stewart. Afterward, he took Sly out for pancakes. “After we signed, I said to Syl, I know I can help you make all your dreams come true,” said Mr. Kapralik. “I knew what he had. It was like Dr. Pangloss talking to Candide. I said, ‘Only you can decide what you’re going to do with that success and power. You can use it benevolently or malevolently.’”

Mr. Kapralik formed Stone Flower Productions, owned jointly by himself and Sly, and brought the band to Epic. Mr. Kapralik says that the 1967 contract–the one neither Sony Music nor Mr. Kapralik can locate–stipulates that Mr. Stone and Mr. Kapralik would share producer’s royalties on all Sly and the Family Stone recordings.

In 1967, Clive Davis, the new head of Columbia records, asked Mr. Kapralik to come back to head Epic A&R. He agreed. He now had at his disposal the full force of the Epic marketing and sales department to break Sly and the Family Stone.

Nova Scotia lox and bagels with quail eggs.

Beluga malossol caviar.

Bottle of 1962 Champagne.

A glass of buttermilk.

This is what David Kapralik ordered from room service in Bungalow A at the Beverly Hills Hotel on a rainy night in the early 70′s. He was in the same suite where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton spent their honeymoon. He planned to die there. Earlier, at his house in the Hollywood Hills, he swallowed all the Nembutals he could find. In those days, he said, he was snorting a half an once of cocaine a week.

Across town in Bel Air, Sly had surrounded himself with a phalanx of bodyguards and hangers-on. He was missing concerts and not recording any new material. A small riot broke out in Chicago when the band didn’t show; he and a cohort beat up Three Dog Night in a Manhattan hotel room; his pit bull, Gun, had nearly eaten little Sly Jr. In 1971, Mr. Kapralik told Rolling Stone that managing Sly was like managing two separate artists. There was Mr. Stewart, “representative of everything that is life-affirming and healthful in our society.” Then there was Mr. Stone, “the street cat, the hustler, the pimp, the conniver, sly as a fox and cold as a stone.”

Back in Bungalow A, Mr. Kapralik was in the midst of writing his suicide note when he got hungry and called room service. The mixture of the buttermilk and Champagne made him throw up. “Five thousand bucks it cost me for cleaning that rug, I swear!” Mr. Kapralik cackled.

I’ve been kissed by many pretty girls,

By many pretty girls, like this (smooching sound).

But I had never been kissed

‘Till I was kissed by a pink hippopotamus

A pink hippopotamus, miss.

This is the song David Kapralik performed for Sly Stone in a motel room in Los Angeles one day in the mid-70′s, the last time he saw him.

Two years before, after some more suicide attempts, Mr. Kapralik had gone through a spiritual conversion that began with his being kissed by an infant hippo in a wildlife park in California. He quit the management of Sly and the Family Stone but said he retained rights to producer’s royalties for any Epic albums the band had recorded in the past, as well as for the albums remaining on the Epic contract. He kept a suite in the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan and an apartment next door on 58th Street. He attended humanistic psychology conferences, listened to Sufi choirs and hired five airplanes to skywrite the word “om” over and over above Central Park. He sold his publishing rights for the Sly and the Family Stone catalogue to Warner Brothers for about $400,000. (Warner Brothers would later sell them to Michael Jackson for several million dollars.) He moved to a commune in Boston and started going by the name Illili. He met a guy who played guitar, and the two of them performed children’s songs, under the name Hime and Illili, in the Massachusetts public school system.

In a Los Angeles motel room, Hime and Illili crossed paths with Sly and the Family Stone. Sly lay under the covers with a young woman as the former big-shot record executive sang a lilting, off-key children’s song. Then Mr. Kapralik said goodbye.

Mr. Kapralik said he has almost resolved his feelings about Mr. Stone. Over a plate of salmon teriyaki, he cried again. “Maybe if I hadn’t fallen apart and started doing a lot of drugs, Syl would have been stronger and would have kept it together,” he said. Tears streaming down his face, he let out an embarrassed laugh and began talking loudly and exuberantly. “We need figures of transformation! We need heroes! We need ennobled souls! We need them!” The Japanese waiter poked his head out. “Where are they?” said Mr. Kapralik, his voice now a feeble croak. “If we don’t have them, what do we as a society aspire to?”

Twenty years ago, Mr. Kapralik bought his farm on Maui and started his mail-order business. In 1995, at a high-altitude meditation retreat in Keokea, he met an attorney, Bonnie McFadden, whom he told about his past, his troubles with Sony, his fruitless meeting with Scott Pascucci. She took the case on a contingency basis. In June of this year, Mr. Kapralik and Ms. McFadden came to New York after sending a letter to Sony saying that if Sly and the Family Stone’s records had recouped, Mr. Kapralik was owed some money. They included a copy of a contract that Mr. Kapralik did have, which stated that Epic records could not use Sly and the Family Stone’s music for any merchandising or advertising not directly related to selling records without first getting consent from both Mr. Stone and Mr. Kapralik. That would certainly seem to pertain to the Toyota, AT&T and N.B.A. TV ads. Mr. Kapralik said they didn’t get a response to the letter. So they came to New York with an appointment with Gail Edwin, Sony’s chief of litigation. Instead, they were met by attorney Elise Boyan, who admitted that she had not read any of the materials. Ms. Boyan said she was sorry, but without that 1967 contract, there was nothing Sony could do. (Ms. Boyan did not return repeated phone calls from The Observer .)

According to Ms. McFadden, Ms. Boyan did give them one interesting bit of information: The albums covered by the 1967 contract in question–those recorded between 1967 and 1972–had recouped. And through a source in the royalty department, Ms. McFadden learned that producer’s royalties were indeed being paid to a company called Even Street Productions, with an address on 57th Street. Ms. McFadden said that Ms. Boyan promised to fax her all the relevant contracts concerning Sly and the Family Stone, but she has yet to receive anything. (Sony Music did not respond to phone calls and written correspondence from The Observer regarding this story.)

‘I am the greatest!”

These are the words that Cassius Clay used to write on anything he could get his hands on while hanging around Mr. Kapralik’s office at Columbia Records. He would come into the office, put his feet up on his desk and just sit there, scrawling the words over and over on scraps of paper and on the boxes housing Mr. Kapralik’s Nat Sherman cigars.

Two days after Yom Kippur, Mr. Kapralik was lying in the guest bedroom of his sister and brother-in-law’s Fifth Avenue apartment, trying to get over the flu and scrawling the old Shaker slogan, “Speak truth to power” over and over on Post-It notes and sticking them on the folders containing the documents relating to his lawsuit. He had taped a picture of Sony chairman Nobuyuki Idei to one of the folders. Suddenly, while leafing through The New York Times , he had a Kapralikian revelation: He saw a headline, “Goliath.com Still Winning, but David Has an On-Line Sling,” and it spoke to him of his situation. The similarities were freaky, exhilarating. He got on the phone to his Web master in Hawaii, and $119 later he was the proud owner of Speaktruthtopower.com. He ran out to Staples, bought some adhesive letters and started decorating folders with “Speaktruthtopower.com.” Mr. Kapralik said that in his will he will leave money for the maintenance of the Web site, which will be dedicated to others like him who feel wronged.

“I’m like a frog in heat!” he said in the Fifth Avenue apartment. He started jumping up and down. “You know when the male frog is humping the female frog, if you took a chain saw and cut the frog’s hindquarters off, he would still be humping her. I have a laserlike focus, like I was when I signed Sly and the Family Stone.”

Dear Syl,

I hope this finds you well, all in your life is harmonious, and that your creative flame shines brightly.

This is how Mr. Kapralik started a letter to Mr. Stone on Aug. 30. It was the first time he’d tried to get in touch with him since the impromptu motel concert. He told him about the lawsuit and about his “quiet, healthy rural life.” And he wrote: “Should you ever like to contact me, I would welcome hearing from you, Syl.” Mr. Kapralik sent the letter to Family Stone saxophonist Jerry Martini, who sent it to Sly’s sister Rose, who presumably delivered it to Sly, wherever he may be.

Sly Stone may hold the answer to Mr. Kapralik’s question. At last check, he was driving a Hummer around Los Angeles; as of 1997, he was reportedly living in a large house with two female live-in assistants and a keyboard patched into two Macintosh computers. Several sources told The Observer that Sly is almost completely dependent on his manager of about 10 years, Jerry Goldstein, who is also president of Los Angeles’ Avenue Records. Mr. Goldstein’s attorney is a man named Glenn Stone, whose name is listed on the voice-mail at Even Street Productions, the company which Ms. McFadden said has been receiving the producer’s royalties for Sly and the Family Stone.

According to Ruby Jones, a New Brunswick, N.J. woman with whom Sly lived for a time in 1988 and 1989, Mr. Goldstein owns Mr. Stone’s stake in Sly and the Family Stone. She faxed The Observer a February 1989 contract, signed by Mr. Stewart, which would appear to turn over his royalties and income from both CBS Records and Warner/Chappell Music to Mr. Goldstein. Perhaps coincidentally, this was around the time Mr. Kapralik’s royalty statements stopped arriving. A separate five-year employment contract said that Sly would work for Mr. Goldstein at a starting salary of $75,000, eventually rising to $250,000. She also faxed a list of advances paid to Sly Stone by Mr. Goldstein in the month of February 1989, showing that Mr. Goldstein paid Sly increments from $200 to $400 about every other day. Ms. Jones claims that Mr. Goldstein refused to continue giving Sly this money until he signed the royalty contract. Mr. Goldstein and Glenn Stone did not return phone calls from The Observer .

Animals have feelings too,

just like me and just like you.

If you hit ‘em and hurt ‘em and cause them pain,

It feels the same, just the same,

like if someone hit you and hurt you,

and squeezed you here,

tried you choke you or pull your ear.

Animals have feelings too.

These are the words to the old Hime and Illili song that Mr. Kapralik was singing recently in Central Park. He was standing near the Diana Ross Playground. There were dogs everywhere, and Mr. Kapralik was smiling at them. He says that when Sony pays him–it is always “when,” never “if”–he is going to build an education center at the Maui Humane Society; it bothers him that so many animals have to die. He said he keeps lots of strays on his farm, and that he doesn’t think too much about the old days.

“I’m on to other things now. I’m on to the critters,” he said. “They don’t call you up at 3 o’clock in the morning to bail you out of jail.” He started howling with laughter, standing in the middle of the walking path. People were looking, but he didn’t notice. He was too happy.