The Jesse Cutler Biography
Jesse Cutler has spent an illustrious career, beginning at age 12, as a musician, composer, actor, producer, entrepreneur and even a Playgirl centerfold. Starting in New York City in the 1960s and then in Los Angeles from the early ‘70s through the late ‘90s, Jesse performed with his bands and in the original cast of Godspell on Broadway, made records that saw Billboard’s Top 100, formed his own companies and appeared on TV and radio and in national print.
Now, after a decade-long respite from the glow of Hollywood, Jesse is riding a comeback. In his newly released book, StarLust™: The Price of Fame (Morgan James, 2008) , he asks would-be celebrities and their parents, “Are you willing to pay the price?” A cautionary tale fostered by his 40-plus years in show business, StarLust chronicles Jesse’s life from his beginnings in Brooklyn and his formative years as a teen rock star, then on to Broadway where his work as part of the original cast of Godspell won him a Grammy Award. David Letterman’s bandleader, Paul Shaffer, a good friend of Jesse’s since those Godspell days, wrote the foreword to the book.
Born Louis Milo Gibaldi, by age 12 Jesse was surrounded by celebrity. Signed by Mercury Records in 1964, Jesse’s first band, The Young Executives, saw their single “Everybody Do the Duck” hit the Billboard Top 100 charts. They were invited to appear on American Bandstand, The Merv Griffin Show, Hullaballoo and Shindig. At charity fundraisers and private parties on Long Island, they played in the company of The Rolling Stones, Sammy Davis, Jr., Barbra Streisand, Anthony Newley, Joan Collins and the Beatles.
“It was the Sixties,” Jesse says of that time, when he went by the name Lou London. He ultimately changed his name to Jesse Cutler in 1971. “The Beatles were a phenomenon. No one had seen anyone like them, but they inspired us. With my dad as the band’s manager, we had entrée to places and people very few other Long Island kids would have had.”
Jesse’s mother wanted him to be a doctor. But Jesse had other ideas. His passion was music. He’d traveled to Sicily as a boy, seen his older cousin singing and playing the guitar before a crowd of swooning teenaged girls. Back home in Long Island, Jesse picked up the guitar and never put it down. In fact, he went on to teach himself piano and drums. He honored his mother’s wishes, though, that he continue his schooling. The Young Executives broke up, and by the time Jesse was 20 and had attended two years at Hofstra University, he was ready to dive back into the fray.
Not one to sever friendships, Jesse believes one key to his success during that time and since has been his ability to stay in touch with the people he met along the way. Thus, when one of his Young Executives band mates, Riki Shutter, a popular Long Island musician, asked him to “come play songs” for Stephen Schwartz, Jesse obliged. Schwartz had a new musical in the works, Godspell, and Jesse was invited to join the band. He played in 800 consecutive performances during 1971-1972, first at the Cherry Lane Theatre off-Broadway, then at the Promenade Theatre on Broadway. He also co-arranged the score for the Arista Records original cast recording and then in 1973 for the Arista Records movie soundtrack. Both albums were awarded gold and platinum records, and Jesse won a Grammy Award for his work on the original cast recording.
After Godspell, Jesse began performing solo on guitar at Kenny’s Castaways and other local New York clubs. A rock-pick guitarist who loved the Afro-Cuban sound, Jesse took his act to L.A. with a new band, Jesse Cutler’s Angel. At the Whiskey a Go Go, the Roxy and other venues, the edgy New York sound took L.A. strummers by surprise. Jesse says, “They’d never heard this sound, this kind of rhythm and blues.” Inspired by Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Lionel Ritchie, Jesse still likes the sound of “big bass on the bottom and a lot of percussion” behind him. It was during this time in L.A. that he met Quincy Jones, who became another strong influence on him and his music.
Back in New York City and only 21 years old, Jesse was signed by Fabergé in late 1972 to launch their new record label, Brut Records. It was a real coup for Jesse, who through the multiyear contract traveled the world, resided in an Upper East Side penthouse and lived the heady life of a rock star. “The world was at my feet—that’s how I felt at the time,” he says. “Here I was, a second-generation Italian kid from Brooklyn, and I’m seeing my picture in Harper’s Bazaar.”
Los Angeles beckoned again, in 1976, and within six months Jesse was signed to United Artists Records with a three-year contract. Jesse Cutler came out in 1978 and became a Top Album Pick from both Billboard, who noted that the “songs have more hooks than a tackle box,” and Record World, who wrote, “A crisp commercial sound pervades, brought to life by some of L.A.’s finest session men.” Jesse’s self-titled breakout album was produced by Joe Renzetti, who in 1979 won an Academy Award for the best original soundtrack for The Buddy Holly Story in which Jesse also appeared on screen with actor Gary Busey.
But Jesse’s luck turned not long after that. EMI bought United Artists Records and “cleaned house…all except for Kenny Rogers and Dottie West,” Jesse says. It was a cruel blow, and from that time Jesse says he learned how to pick himself up and dust himself off, “a necessary skill for anyone who’s climbing to the top.” He posed as a Playgirl centerfold—one of their editors had been after him for two years—in January, 1979, and contemplated his next moves.
A new fad was buzzing through L.A. at the time, and long before Richard Simmons or Jane Fonda brought disco exercise to the masses, Jesse Cutler was there, with Disco Diet: Dance Yourself Slim. He sold half a million albums from his Beverly Hills office, posing with Playboy centerfolds and using “Automatic Man,” his single on Venture Records, as a promotion.
Jesse’s one-year stint as an entrepreneur and success with Disco Diet International helped him realize the value of producing. “I liked being an artist,” he says, “I still do, but the money was in production. With talent you can reinvent yourself, and that’s a big part of what it takes to stay in the spotlight.”
Jesse gave himself some time to write screenplays,—one of which he sold to Tri-Star Pictures—and from his office at Columbia Pictures began to plan his next steps. In 1980, when John Lennon was shot and killed, Jesse took a step back. Jack Douglas, Lennon’s producer, was a friend of Jesse’s since boyhood, and the murder gave Jesse pause. “I took a big step back,” he says. “I realized how fleeting life, celebrity, could be. I was devastated. John Lennon had been one of my heroes, and then he was gone, just like that.”
Jesse’s parents were living alone in Florida; he’d always been close to them. In 1985 Jesse moved there—temporarily, he thought—to help his father through heart surgery and recovery. “I decided after the surgery that I couldn’t leave him. He was my best friend. He needed me.” Jesse’s mother died in 1995, his father in 2001. But Jesse stayed in Florida, living near Orlando and continuing his entrepreneurial ventures. Between 1986 and 2000 he published Medical Digest, distributed to pharmacies in Florida; created and produced The Singles TV Connection, a TV show hosted by Jennilee Harrison from Three’s Company and Dallas; and published Restaurant Tour Magazine, a guide to South Florida restaurants distributed through hotels and other tourist venues.
Throughout that time, he was never far from music, playing at home or jamming with friends, and in 2001 he wrote and produced Music of the Stars: The Astral Connection, twelve original music CDs, one for each sign of the Zodiac. In addition, to showcase young musical talent, Jesse formed ESP Entertainment. From 2001-2004 he produced twelve CD samplers—featuring over 200 recording artists and record labels—that he distributed through New Age Retailer and Latin Beat magazines.
Now, Jesse Cutler is looking to the future, poised for the next step in his multifaceted career with StarLust™: The Price of Fame, his new book, due out in 2008. “I wanted to share my experiences and help those who are on the edge of fame,” he says from his office in Orlando. “There are so many traps to avoid. But there’s also a great sense of accomplishment and reward once you do grab that brass ring and enter the spotlight.”