Al Nevins

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To most unschooled onlookers, Al Nevins wasn't much more than the guitarist, producer/arranger, and co-founder of a pop trio called the Three Suns. In point of fact, he was a serious behind-the-scenes…
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To most unschooled onlookers, Al Nevins wasn't much more than the guitarist, producer/arranger, and co-founder of a pop trio called the Three Suns. In point of fact, he was a serious behind-the-scenes figure in the evolution of 1950s pop vocal music into early-'60s pop/rock, as co-founder of a major publishing company, Aldon Music, and one of the very few figures from '40s pop music to make the jump successfully across the chasm of the mid-'60s into rock & roll. Born Allan Nevins in 1916 in Washington, D.C., he was proficient on the violin as well as the guitar, and only switched to the latter after his career had begun. In partnership with his accordionist brother Morty Nevins (born 1917) and a cousin, Artie Dunn (born 1922), who played the organ, he co-founded the Three Suns out of D.C. at the end of the 1930s, and by the close of the decade, they were working some of the better rooms on the East Coast, culminating in 1940 with a seven-year residency -- growing out of an initial two-week gig -- at the Hotel Picadilly in New York City. In addition to playing guitar, Nevins was more or less their de facto music director, expanding the ranks of players as the engagement or the repertory demanded, so that the "Three Suns" frequently had as many as five members working at once. He became one of the better-known guitarists of the 1940s, and also developed a reputation in the business as a producer with a penchant for unconventional instruments, adding everything from castanets to an oversized theater organ to the group's basic sound, which set them apart from virtually all of their rivals in the pop and light jazz fields.

In 1944, Nevins co-wrote "Twilight Time" with his brother Morty and Buck Ram -- the future legendary manager/producer, who was just starting out in the business at the time. It became a Top 20 hit for the group and put Ram on the map, eventually yielding covers that sold in excess of a million copies, though the song's real value wouldn't be apparent until 13 years later when the Ram-managed group the Platters scored another monster hit with the song, reconfigured as an R&B-style ballad, and raising its total sales to over three million. By that time, Nevins was no longer a performing musician, partly owing to his declining health. He'd ceased performing with the Three Suns after 1954, content to have Johnny Buck and then Joe Negri replace him, and he turned over the producing chores to others, most notably Charles Albertine. He recorded three solo albums, Escapade in Sound, Lights and Shadows, and Dancing with the Blues -- the latter two in the new stereo format and the last featuring arrangements by Albertine -- for RCA Victor, but it was his work on the business side of the music business that was to prove more visible and important. In early 1958, he met Don Kirshner, a young songwriter who'd seen a little bit of success up to that point, who presented Nevins with a notion for a new kind of music publishing company. At the time, music was in transition, with rock & roll and traditional popular music in a struggle for supremacy. There were divisions in publishing between companies (and composers) associated with the older, more establishment-oriented performing rights organization ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) and the newer BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated), but most publishers -- apart from those specializing in such fields as classical music and exclusive areas such as gospel -- handled a fairly wide range of material, and were only too happy to foster performances and recordings by artists across the entire age and genre spectrum (and even the classical outfits -- and their composer clients -- would happily take the money earned by the occasional hybrid "crossover" release such as Bobby Darin's rendition of "Mack the Knife" or, for that matter, the Doors' version of "Alabama Song").

What Kirshner proposed was a publishing company that would specialize in music aimed at young listeners. His timing was perfect, as Nevins was reaping the rewards of the Platters' hit revival of "Twilight Time," and saw the real potential in what Kirshner proposed. Thus was spawned Aldon Music, taking its name from the first names of the two partners. Nevins' know-how on the business side and his talents as a producer, coupled with Kirshner's generation-younger musical acumen, and his ever-growing circle of contacts among the new generation of performers and composers (he already had contact with Bobby Darin at the time of the company's founding) gave the company its stock-in-trade. Their stable of writers soon included Neil Sedaka, Barry Man, and Cynthia Weil, and had a string of hit songs for its credit, including "Stupid Cupid" (a hit for Connie Francis), co-authored by Sedaka. Soon, however, Nevins and Kirshner were making plans that would transcend the traditional publishing industry and earn Aldon vastly larger amounts of money, as well as revolutionizing the music business. In addition to establishing the stable of writers (which included Carole King, among others) that would turn Aldon into a teen pop factory during the outset of the 1960s, the company altered the business for writers when Kirshner and Nevins began working as producers as well as publishers, with Aldon not just offering songs but also recording finished recordings to the labels, which gave them a share of artist royalties as well as the standard publisher's share of revenue from songs. Not only did this give Kirshner and Nevins control over how the record sounded, but on a hit record, such as Sedaka's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," the company's income jumped five fold or more from what it would have been under the traditional payment system. Nevins' enjoyment of this business triumph was muted by a series of heart attacks that he suffered during the early '60s. He relinquished his role as producer, although he continued to exert and powerful indirect influence at Aldon in his choice of arrangers, which included his contemporary Marty Gold and slightly younger figures such as Sid Ramin.

In 1963, Aldon and the rest of Kirshner's ventures were sold to Columbia Pictures, and Kirshner became the head of the studio's newly enlarged record division, while Nevins stayed on as a consultant to the new operation. The company's record of successes included more than 200 songs lofted into the Top 40 charts in the space of five years. Nevins' health continued to deteriorate, however, and he passed on in early 1965, his legacy embodied on hundreds of sides by the Three Suns and his three albums of soft pop-jazz, as well as the many dozens of early Aldon productions on which he worked.