THE RISE AND FALL OF A MUSICAL EMPIRE.
The Rise and Fall Of A Musical Empire.
Musical history is littered with examples of entrepreneurs who thought they could make money out of running a record company. The only problem was, they lacked the specialised skills that were required. There was a way round this, by surrounding themselves with music industry professionals. Then they were in with a fighting change of running a profitable record company. However, some entrepreneurs have an ulterior motive when they a founded record company. This included Michael Thevis.
The story began in the early seventies, when Michael Thevis was looking for a legitimate way to get his substantial fortune into the financial system. By then, Michael Thevis was heavily involved in pornography. So much so, that he would later admit to a Louisville jury that he was: “the General Motors of pornography.” That was still to come.
In the early seventies, Michael Thevis had a problem. He discovered that he was under investigation from the FBI. Not wanting to follow in the footsteps of Al Capone and Dutch Schultz, who were brought down by federal investigations, Michael Thevis began looking for legitimate enterprises.
Casting around looking for a legitimate business, Michael Thevis hit upon the idea of forming not one, but three record labels. This included GRC (General Recording Corporation), Aware and Hotlanta Records. These labels would become part of Michael Thevis’ nascent musical empire.
Soon, there was a new addition to Michael Thevis’ musical empire, the Sound Pit Studio in Atlanta. It boasted some of the best equipment money could buy. Building the studio made financial sense. It saved hiring other studios, and meant artists signed to GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records could record at the impressive Sound Pit Studio. When the studio wasn’t in use by Michael Thevis’ artists, it could be hired out, and bring in much needed income. However, as all this empire building continued, tongues began wagging, including Michael Thevis.
Veterans of the Atlanta music scene watched, as the state-of-the-art studio took shape. This was the most advanced studio in Atlanta. It was a similar case with the rest of Michael Thevis’ musical empire.
No expense was spared as Michael Thevis expanded his musical emprire. He added to his record labels and Act One publishing company, the Jason Management booking agency and a film company. They became part of Michael Thevis’ musical empire. He was proud of his empire, and wasn’t shy about telling people about it.
Rather than keep a low profile, Michael Thevis ran his musical empire from a lavish suite of offices in Atlanta. They were featured in Billboard in May 1974, when the magazine ran a feature on the Atlanta music industry. A bullish Michael Thevis told Billboard of his latest takeover, and his expansion plans.
Michael Thevis’ most recently acquisition was the Moonsong publishing company, which he had purchased from Bill Brandon. This became part of the GRC’s publishing division, alongside Act One, Michael Thevis’ own publishing company. To run the newly expanded publishing division, Bill Brandon joined GRC, and became the publishing manager of GRC’s R&B division. However, the acquisition of Moonsong was just part of Michael Thevis’ grand plan.
Michael Thevis told Billboard of his plans to build a brand new twenty-eight story skyscraper in Atlanta. This would be where he ran his musical empire. It would have outposts in Nashville, Houston, Los Angles, New York and London. What made Michael Thevis’ seem all the more convincing, was when he booked eight pages of advertising in Billboard’s Atlanta special.
To most people, Michael Thevis came across as a legitimate businessman, who had big plans for the future, and for Atlanta. By then, everyone seemed to buy into Michael Thevis’ grand plan. He was the local boy who had made good. It was a case of hail the conquering hero.
Incredibly, though, nobody seemed to be paying close attention to the numbers. None of Michael Thevis’ record companies were particularly successful. They were neither consistently releasing hit singles, nor successful albums. So where was all the income coming from? Was it the publishing company, recording studio, booking company or film company? Nobody it seemed, was in a hurry to find out. Given Michael Thevis past and his reputation for violence, maybe that wasn’t surprising?
Originally, Michael Thevis’ film company financed legitimate films. This included the Zhui Ming Qiang in 1973, and Seizure, one of Oliver Stone’s earliest films. It was released in 1974. A year later, Michael Thevis had gone up in the world, and released Poor Pretty Eddy 1975. Every film was bringing greater riches Michael Thevis’ way. However, although Michael Thevis was trying to build a legitimate business empire, he had reverted to type.
The film company he had acquired began producing pornographic films. If any journalist had even looked into activities of Michael Thevis’ empire, it could’ve come tumbling down. This looked unlikely in early 1975.
Country singer Sammy Johns had been signed to GRC for a couple of years. In early 1973, Sammy Johns released Chevvy Van as a single. It was reported to have sold over three million copies. Given that a GRC artist had just enjoyed such a successful single, surely the label’s finances would be on a sound footing as 1975 progressed?
While most people would’ve thought so, the truth was that many of GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records’ releases weren’t particularly successful, and hadn’t sold in vast quantities. That was despite the labels having impressive roster an impressive roster of artists. This included Dorothy Norwood, John Edwards, Judy Green, Joe Hinton, Jimmy Lewis, Jean Battle, Bill Brandon, Floyd Smith, Sam Dees and Loleatta Holloway. The roster was like a who’s who of Southern Soul, and GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records should’ve been among the most successful labels in the South. Instead, the losses were mounting up. Michael Thevis’ record companies weren’t particularly successful. However, they had their uses though.
Running a regional record companies offered Michael Thevis an opportunity and facility to launder dirty money. He could’ve used dirty money to buy his own companies’ releases. These phantom record sales would only exist on paper, and would have the effect of laundering the dirty money through the company’s accounts. Once the money was in the record company’s accounts, tax could be paid on the profit that had been made. This would further legitimise any dirty money the company was making. Especially, as the FBI were still watching Michael Thevis.
GRC and the rest of Michael Thevis’ musical empire all came crashing down in late 1975. Michael Thevis’ attempt to build a legitimate business empire had failed. Soon, it emerged that Michael Thevis’ musical empire was always doomed to failure. It had been for three years, ever since the FBI starting investigating his business activities.
That was when Roger Dean Underhill was involved in a routine traffic stop. An eagle-eyed traffic officer noticed a small cache of stolen guns under the passenger seat. This resulted in Roger Dean Underhill being arrested. Rather than face the consequences, Roger Dean Underhill decided to inform upon his business partner, Michael Thevis.
This lead to the start of a three year investigation that resulted, in the arrest and subsequent conviction of Michael Thevis. For all the artists signed to GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records, this was the beginning of the end.
All the artists signed to GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records were left high and dry. It was disaster for all the artists affected by the collapse. They were left without a label and some of the artists were also owed royalties, which in some cases, was a significant sum of money. For the artists signed to GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records they had no idea what the future held for them.
It was a similar case for Michael Thevis’ whose grand plans were left in tatters. It looked like the beginning of the end for GRC, the company he had spent three years building.
It wasn’t the end of GRC. Michael Thevis’ wife Veld and son Michael Jr, took over the running of GRC. For a while, it was business as usual for GRC. However, for Michael Thevis things were about to get much worse.
He was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson, and distribution of obscene materials. The man who sparked the three year investigation into Michael Thevis, even testified in court. Roger Dean Underhill took to the stand, and the FBI’s informant testified against his former business partner. He thought this was the right thing to do.
I was a decision Roger Dean Underhill would later live to regret. In 1978, Michael Thevis managed to escape from prison. Straight away, he was placed on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list. By then, Michael Thevis and some of his ‘associates’ had placed an open contract on Roger Dean Underhill.
When the hit came, the shooter was none other than Michael Thevis. He shot and killed Roger Dean Underhill and one of his associates. Not long after the murders, Michael Thevis was arrested and taken to a high security facility. The Scarface of Porn was the convicted of the two murders. Over thirty years later, and Michael Thevis is still serving his sentence, and parole looks unlikely for the man who founded the GRC, Aware and Hotlanta Records.
The Rise and Fall Of A Musical Empire.