LifeNotes: “Golden Age” Arranger Chuck Sagle Passes

candle lifenotes11A producer, arranger and conductor from the “golden age” of rock ’n’ roll passed away in Nashville this week.

Chuck Sagle, whose career touched such talents as Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Tony Orlando and Bobby Darin, died at age 87 on Monday, April 13 from complications following a stroke. He worked in four of the nation’s key music centers — Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Nashville — and for such top record labels as Mercury, Epic, Reprise, Motown and ABC-Dot.
He excelled at trumpet and keyboards as a high-school student and entered the University of Illinois at age 16. He served in the Navy during World War II, entertaining the troops in the Pacific as a musician and bandleader.

Sagle graduated from college in 1950 and took a job in the A&R Department of Mercury Records, first in Chicago, then in New York. While with the company, he produced such “doo-wop” groups as The Dell-Vikings, The Danleers and The Diamonds (the 1957 No. 1 hit “Little Darlin’”). He also worked as a conductor for pop balladeer Joni James and r&b star Clyde McPhatter.

In 1958-59, he was the musical director for Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music. While there, he worked with Bobby Darin, Jack Keller and Barry Mann, among others. He arranged and conducted for Neil Sedaka (1959’s “Oh Carol” etc.) and discovered 17-year-old Carole King.

He next worked in A&R at Epic Records in New York. He signed King to the label and arranged and/or produced records for her, Roy Hamilton, Jack Jones, Link Wray, Sal Mineo, Ersel Hickey, Lenny Welch and Tony Orlando.

He also arranged and conducted on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. Sagle recorded his first solo LP, Ping Pong Percussion, in 1961.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1962, he joined Reprise Records as musical director. There, he arranged and/or produced records for the label’s Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Soupy Sales, The Hi-Lo’s and Les Baxter. He also recorded two more solo LPs, 1962’s Splendor in the Brass and Contrasts.

He produced jazz great Chico Hamilton in 1963 and later did arrangements for pop legend Gene Pitney and r&b queen LaVern Baker.

In 1968, he arranged and conducted “Valley of the Dolls” for the close-harmony quartet The Arbors.

He was an arranger in 1971-72 for the stellar r&b vocal group The Manhattans, notably on their LPs With These Hands and A Million to One and the top-10 r&b hit “One Life to Live.” During the same period, he served a brief stint as an arranger for Motown Records.

Sagle moved to Nashville in 1972. He arranged music for ABC-Dot (Brian Collins, etc.) and for Starday-King Records and other labels. His first love was big-band music, and he returned to that in Music City by doing arrangements for The Establishment orchestra and Jack Daniel’s Silver Cornet Band. He returned to college around 1984 to study computer programming. Sagle worked in this field for the next decade, but also taught a class on Jewish music at the West End Synagogue and composed a musical for its choir. He retired in 1994.

Charles H.”Chuck” Sagle is survived by his wife Sarah Stein, by sons Jacob and Christopher and by two grandchildren.

Services were held on Thursday, April 16, and he is buried in Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Sherith Israel Congregation, 3600 West End Ave., Nashville 37205 or to Disabled Veterans of America.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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