Jamie/Guyden traces its history to the first releases on Guyden Records in 1954. 1955 saw the founding of Universal Record Dist. Corp., perhaps the first distributor started for the new rock 'n roll era.
Jamie and Guyden were at first distributed by Gone and End Records, the labels of one of rock ‘n roll’s earliest legendary entrepreneurs, George Goldner. Goldner’s own labels put out Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" Goldner helped out the fledgling Jamie and Guyden by providing them with productions like the Heartbeats’ "One Million Years" (Guyden 2011) and Johnny ivers’ "There’s a Hole in the Ground"
Universal Record Distributing Corp. was founded in 1955 as a regional distributor for the area of Philadelphia, eastern Pennsyvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware. The labels it distributed regionally included Archie Bleyer’s Cadence Records (the Everly Brothers, Andy Williams, "The First Family" comedy album), A&M (Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, Captain and Tenille, Paul Williams, the Carpenters, Sandpipers, Joe Cocker), Chess, ABC Paramount, MGM and Epic Records, as well as George Goldner’s labels. By the end of the 50s, Jamie/Guyden had had hits that included Duane Eddy's worldwide hits starting with "Rebel Rouser," Mitchell Torok’s "Caribbean," and Donnie Owens’s "Need You."
In the 1960s Jamie/Guyden was as well known for the labels it distributed nationally as for its own output. Most prominent of all was Phil Spector’s Philles Records and its string of hits that included the Crystals’ "Uptown," the Ronettes’ "Be My Baby," Bob E. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ "Zippity Doo Dah" and Darlene Love’s "He’s Sure the Boy I Want to Marry." Its other distributed labels were Arctic, with Barbara Mason’s "Yes I’m Ready," Dionn with Brenda & the Tabulations’ "Dry Your Eyes," Montel, with Dale and Grace’s "I’m Leaving It All Up to You" and Sundi with Mercy’s "Love (Can Make You Happy)."
The company started its own r&b and soul label, "Phil-LA of Soul," (pronounced Filet of Soul), which had Cliff Nobles’ "The Horse" and the Fantastic Johnny C’s "Boogaloo Down Broadway." Jamie and Guyden tried to ride the wave of the doo-**** revival, which fizzled in the wake of the British invasion. Jamie’s participation in British rock included Crispian St. Peter’s "Pied Piper."
In the mid to late 70s, independent record labels found themselves at a disadvantage against the major distribution companies that grew from the acquisition of the significant independent labels. Jamie/Guyden survived through Universal’s deft switch from distribution to one-stopping, where it handled the product of all the major labels and continued to sell to its solid base if independent record stores. Universal Records and Tapes became the pioneering modern one stop, handling all the major and independent releases from its growing warehouse in downtown Philadelphia. Nearly 20 years later it was still there, ready to put out its original releases on CD, with the label tucked into one corner of one of the United States’s largest and by far its oldest music wholesaler still operating with the same management that it started with in the 1950s.
August 23, 2013
If you date rock 'n roll from the time that Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" was the Number One record in America (as The Billboard Book of Number One Hits does), 1995 marks the 40th anniversary of rock 'n roll. Since Universal Record Dist Corp dates from September 2, 1955, the last week of Bill Haley's pioneering record as Number One, it too traces its roots to the beginning of rock 'n roll. Jamie and Guyden Records, which are the better known entities of what is perhaps the first, and now the remaining independent, label-distributor combo in the music industry, actually date some of their releases back to 1954. But 1995 is good enough for us, and pinning down dates is no mean feat for a record label that might actually have dated its releases from its first airplay as much as anything else.
Unbeknownst to him, Bill Haley had a hand in the founding of Universal. Haley, from Philadelphia suburb Chester, Pennsylvania, recorded for Essex Records, a Philadelphia-based label owned by father Al Miller and sons Dave and Paul. When Haley let his Essex contract lapse in order to go with Decca Records, the Millers started Universal.
Forty years later, Paul Miller recalled, "Actually we started rock 'n roll with Bill Haley with 'Crazy Man Crazy'. In fact we gave Haley the name Comets because it was Bill Haley and the Saddlemen. For a couple of years we'd press twelve hundred records and get a thousand fifty back, and this went on and on. One session Dave [Miller] said we don't want to record this, I don't want to play that game, we'll record [Crazy Man Crazy] or forget the session, and he said, ‘Furthermore, we'll change the name to the Comets.’"
Far from recognizing this new musical era, at the time the Millers thought of their Haley sessions as "some music that moved rather than the old South Jersey cowboy music, which was basically what they used to play. It was something with a beat to it, that's what we started."
There was no hard feelings at the loss of Bill Haley. After all, "Rock Around the Clock" was not much of a hit when it was released in 1954. Only when it played under the opening and closing credits of the original movie of teenage delinquency, Blackboard Jungle, did the record become a smash hit. That was the next year, the summer of 55, when Blackboard Jungle acted as the first music video for rock 'n roll's first hit, "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" (Decca 29124).
If Universal was founded because the Millers no longer had Bill Haley under contract, the new distributor got a boost from a new television series of the summer of 1955--the Mickey Mouse Club. Started to coincide with the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, the Mickey Mouse Club was an instant afternoon television success. Its theme song featuring Annette Funicello was the first release of the Disney label in September 1955. It was distributed by ABC Paramount, a part of the ABC television network, which was also a part owner of the Walt Disney Company. (In order to finance building Disneyland, Walt Disney sold the ABC network a large stake in his company, with the right to repurchase the shares over time.)
Universal's first label to distribute, apart from the Millers' Essex Records, was Disney. ABC Paramount's Philadelphia distributor, David Rosen, had given up its other labels at the request of Mercury Records. According to Irv Derfler, the Rosen sales manager at that time, Mercury was successful enough to make the distributors give up their other labels. Unfortunately for Rosen, Mercury soon decided to start its own branches in the model of "the big six" majors -- RCA Victor, Columbia, Decca, Capitol, MGM and London Records.
Rosen ultimately got ABC back from Universal, but the new upstart was on its way. The Millers dropped out early in 1956, not because of problems of the distributor but because of the high investment needs of all their businesses, which included a pressing plant as well as the record label.
Universal was taken over by Harold B. Lipsius, who had been the Millers' lawyer and been given a 10 percent interest as his legal fee for setting up the company. When the Millers were looking for someone to take over the company debts, Lipsius decided to step in to save the jobs of the business's half-a-dozen employees.
It was a case of being at the right place at the right time. Yes, it was the beginning of the rock 'n roll era, but more than that, Philadelphia was the center of the business. Philadelphia made rock 'n roll. WPEN had the 950 Club, a live afternoon program (named for the station’s position on the AM dial) on which high schoolers danced to the latest records. WDAS pioneered rhythm 'n blues programming with major early disc jockey personalities like Doug "Jocko" Henderson, Georgie Woods, Louise Williams and John Bandy.
Any city with any claim to a rock ‘n roll legacy can point to radio station and disc jockey pioneers. Some can claim disc jockeys with a far greater following than Philadelphia’s. Those jocks, like John Richberg in the South and Hound Dog in Buffalo, were on powerful stations out in some hinterland with a clear signal covering a wide area. Philadelphia, as always squeezed between New York and Washington D.C., could not boast that kind of influence.
But Philadelphia could boast about the influence of its pioneering weekend dances run by the local disc jockeys. Held at high-school gymnasia, ballrooms or roller-skating rinks, the dances were immortalized by South Philadelphians Danny and the Juniors in their hit, "At the Hop." Hops were an important stepping stone to national hits, especially in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia was a Mecca for aspiring artists. Universal salesmen would spend the weekdays traveling around their designated sales territory of eastern Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, Delaware, and southern Jersey to Trenton, only to have to be home for record hops on the weekends.
Joe Beiderman, a Universal salesman since 1956 (and still going strong in the summer of 1995) recalled, "On a Monday morning, I would go up from Philadelphia to Lebanon, Pennsylvania. It was an account called Marty's Music. I used to be there 9-9:30 in the morning. I used to write my order. From there I used to go to an account in Annville, Pennsylvania, called Davis Music. From there I would go into Hershey, stay overnight in Harrisburg. I had some pretty good accounts there. From there I would go to Carlisle, Smith Music, which was right across the street from Dickinson College. I did a lot of business up there. I'd go to Hanover; I'd go to York, Pennsylvania, then I'd head myself back toward Lancaster, and Route 30 on the way home. In the interim, there were other accounts I was visiting in Ardmore, Paoli, and so forth."
The weekends were a tour of a different sort. "I was always working every single weekend: Saturday night, Friday night, Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening, and I would always run around with different acts, because we felt this was part of the record industry--it just didn't end on Friday. There were also times they would run record hops on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, I would do that, and on the weekends. It was a tremendous time. I used to enjoy going to work during the day, selling the product [and then promoting it] in the evenings."
In late September 1952, WFIL, the ABC television affiliate in Philadelphia (owned by Walter Annenberg, the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer), gave up on English movie reruns in the afternoon and put on radio disc jockey Bob Horn. The station owned the rights to old film clips of singers of the 1930s and 40s. So Horn was instructed to make an interview show with visiting artists who didn't perform interspersed with live-action clips of artists who did.
Horn switched to a format modeled on the 950 Club. It became an immediate hit with younger viewers. Tony Mammarella, who started as Horn's producer, said that "Horn was a great promoter. He had a very good public relations sense, and he also had a very commercial mind. He knew the kids, what made them tick, and how to exploit it."
Dick Clark got his break when Horn was fired after being arrested for drunken driving. It was the beginning of a short, steep slide into poverty that ended with one of Horn's former dancers and later a noted disc jockey in his own right, Jerry Blavat, having to pay for Horn's funeral back in his native Texas.
There was a small clique of Bandstand regulars who stood by Horn and resented Dick Clark the upstart, but he was immediately popular to the television audience. He was young, smart, personable and respectful. He made rock 'n roll acceptable to parents, while making songs like "Wake Up Little Susie" respectable despite their lyrics being considered suggestive at the time.
And Dick Clark knew his music because he also ran record hops. As Universal salesman Joe Beiderman recalled, "Bobby Darin, the Isley Brothers and I were driving to Dorney Park in Allentown, to do an appearance with Dick Clark. It was a very, very heavy rainy night, like a monsoon. We were driving on the Turnpike, and I had a right front blow out, I'll never forget it as long as I live, and the car started spinning around like a top. If it weren't the weight in the car, with Bobby Darin, the Isley Brothers and their instruments, the car would have turned over. So I can honestly say that Bobby Darin and the Isley Brothers literally did save my life. I changed the tire, we proceeded to Allentown and made an appearance with Dick Clark. Bobby Darin had just had ‘Splish Splash’, which became a very big hit. The Isley Brothers were on a label called Gone Records, which was originally owned by George Goldner. I couldn't wait for the weekend in which I could run around with the different artists, and somewhat become a celebrity myself by doing this work here."
Just appearing on Dick Clark's record hops was a stepping stone to stardom. And the artists knew it. Beiderman noted, "Oftentimes he would have as many as 6, 8, 10 artists on any given evening. On a Saturday night or a Friday night, there were times when a series of 6-7 acts would be doing their thing at a Dick Clark record hop. Some would perform live, some would perform lip synch, but they were there. They felt the importance of it."
Philadelphia‘s place at the center of the music industry lasted a good four years, during which every major independent record label owner made an obligatory appearance in Philadelphia. You could almost judge the success of a label by how often the label owner visited Philadelphia.
It was even better to have a label in Philadelphia. And there were lots of them -- the Millers' labels -- Holiday, Essex, Palda (and later Somerset with the 101 Strings, another business Dave Miller invented, this time budget records, that made Miller, in Harold B. Lipsius's phrase, "one of the original geniuses in the business"); Chancellor, which had Fabian and Frankie Avalon, Bernie Lowe's Cameo/Parkway with Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, the Orlons and the Tymes; Kae Williams' Junior Records, which put out the Silhouettes' "Get a Job" before Herald/Ember picked it up nationally and Dick Clark's Hunt Records, which put out the Virtues' "Guitar Boogie Shuffle." The group became a standby on American Bandstand. "When somebody didn't turn up, they used to call on us," according to group leader Frank Virtue, whose name appears etched on the vinyl on many a 1950s disk for providing the masters from which the records were pressed. His North Broad Street studio, while not as famous as Sigma Sound after Philadelphia International Records put it on the map, has had its own share of hits over the years.
Among the local labels was Guyden, which had releases as early as 1954. Its first release, Carmen Taylor's "Let Me Go Lover," was release number 100. The next release jumped to a 600 series that lasted five releases -- by Esquire Boys, Anita Tucker, Jimmy Brown's Variety Boys and Sunni Scott. The 700 series lasted only eight releases that included, as 706, the Top Kicks’ “Don’t Break the Heart that Loves You” and as 707, the Four Larks’ “Go Baby.”
The 2000 series brought good luck with the very first release, Guyden 2001 -- Donnie Owens's "Need You." Guyden 2003 was early Johnny Rivers singing "A Hole in the Ground," followed by another too-early release, Neil Sedaka doing "Ring-A-Rockin'" b/w "Fly Don't Fly On Me" (Guyden 2004). One of the classic doo-woop performances of the era came out as Guyden 2011 -- The Heartbeats' "One Million Years," a mellow, sad ballad of innocent love led by James Shephard, who was later catapaulted to fame as Shep and the Limelights singing “Daddy’s Home.”
Guyden's companion label, Jamie, was founded in 1956. Most companies had more than one label in order not to overload their distributors around the country. Ideally, for each release you had a promotion man. The only way a company could approximate that was with labels spread among various distributors. For that reason there was Cameo/Parkway, Chess/Checker/Argo, ABC Paramount/Apt. To get into the pop music business, the major companies did the same thing with their own independently distributed labels (shades of the 90s when the majors started their own independent distributors). Variety wrote in November, 1955, "The capture of a substantial chunk of the popular singles record market by independent manufacturers has set the majors reeling...The strategy of the majors, basically, is to take a page from the indies' book and fight them for consumer favor...." Universal distributed most of them in Philadelphia, including Vik from RCA Victor, Columbia's Epic and MCA's Uni. When the Florida market was particularly weak in independent distribution, Epic’s head, Len Levy, organized six of his other distributors to open a Miami branch, which was called Campus, after the initials of the participants. Eventually Harold Lipsius took over when the other partners wanted to drop out and eventaully had to liquidate the business after suffering large losses.
Jamie was named for the daughter of Allen Sussel, a legal client of Harold B. Lipsius's whom Lipsius recruited to take over Universal when the Millers left. Sussel asked Lipsius to become his partner, an arrangement that lasted only a short time because Sussel, the owner of a mail-order medical supply business started by his father-in-law, "became involved with a South American artist on Cadence Records," according to Lipsius, "who had come to Philadelphia for appearances -- a very handsome man, who traveled with two beautiful dogs, and who had apparently been a movie idol in his native country, which I think was Argentina. Allen was the one who took him around for his interviews. When Allen learned that he did not have a manager, he offered to become his manager in the States for his recordings. He did become his manager, I believe, and then went to Archie Bleyer [owner of Cadence, which was distributed in Philadelphia by Universal] and apparently had a discussion with Archie about the kind of recordings the artist should be doing. Archie called me and told me that he didn't appreciate the fact that his distributor had become the manager of one of his artists and was negotiating with him on behalf of the artist. I then told Allen that I felt that Archie was right and that he had to decide whether to become a manager or remain in the distributing business. Allen decided that he'd rather become a manager, and as a result, I bought out Allen's share of the business. It was an amicable parting, even though it was the result of something that was a little difficult to handle." Sussel's enduring legacy was the label named after his daughter.
Jamie's releases started with Marian Caruso's "It's Great to Fall in Love," Jamie 1033. The company had its first hit with its second release, the Inspirations' "Dry Your Eyes" (Jamie 1034). An entirely different "Dry Your Eyes" would also come from the company almost a decade later. Paul Fien, who started with Universal and Jamie/Guyden in 1955 and was still the company finance head in 1995, picked whether a new artist would appear on Jamie or Guyden. Though the intent was to balance the two labels to get maximum exposure, Jamie soon became the more prominent one. The Jamie 1000 series did not start auspiciously with releases from such artists as Rita Raines, Waldron Sisters, and Don Blyer and the Tuesdayniters. The most important relationship established in the first releases was with Lester Sill and Lee Hazlewood, who leased Jamie “Sweet Sweetheart” by the black vocal group the Sharps, former the Lamplighters.
Jamie/Guyden put a tiny one-track studio in the former apartments above Universal’s two-room sales office and warehouse on the ground-floor. Despite being in the back of the building to avoid street noise, the studio always had to contend with creaking wooden stairs and a pressed tin ceiling. The one or two engineers who ran the studio doubled as producers and A&R men.
Philadelphia was a steady source of new releases, giving the company a solid foundation in doo-wop music. When doo-wop had a revival in the early 1970s, a new label, Recall Records, was created to put out an oldies doo-wop album called Time Machine. Numbered OL 57 it had an old RCA Victor 45-records changer on the cover. Tom Kennedy, Jamie/Guyden promotion man, designed the cover. "It was a functioning player, the EY3. The RCA Victor EY3. The EY3 meant it had its own speaker; it was the EY2 that plugged into the back of your TV."
The album harkened back to the mid-50s with homegrown songs like the Larks' "Fabulous Cars & Diamond Rings"; the Butlers' "Lovable Girl," with Frankie Beverly singing lead; the Four Jays' "Here I Am Broken-Hearted," and two Billy & the Essentials cuts -- "Maybe You'll Be There" and "The Dance is Over." Other souvenirs of that bygone era on the Recall album were "God Gave Me You" by Tony Allen & Wonders, "Love" by the No Names, "Love is Like Music" by the Chords, and "I'm in Love" by the Pentagons. As the liner notes explain, "This album contains none of the million sellers. Instead, we have put together 14 of the most valuable and most difficult selections to find. An authentic original of any one of the songs on this album cannot be found on the original label for less than $5.00 each, if you are fortunate enough to obtain a copy."
Despite strong roots in the local market, Jamie/Guyden was adventurously national in its source of music. The driving force was Harry Finfer, a restless perpetual motion machine with slicked-back black hair and a small upside-down chevron moustache that some people swore twitched when he got angry.
Harry had a reputation for roaming the country and wherever he saw a radio antenna, he’d take in the latest record he was promoting. Harold B. Lipsius remembered: “We were distributors of the Chess line. When Harry was in Chicago promoting a Jamie record, he visited Chess's offices, and the first thing that he did was to play the Jamie record. Phil Chess telephoned me and told me that he was pulling the line because we were more interested in our own records than his, and he did.”
Jamie got a shot at Duane Eddy because Dot, RCA and Modern Records all turned him down. His first release, “Moovin’ ‘n Groovin,’” came out in February 1958, soon after the first national broadcast of American Bandstand, as it was called from its national debut on August 5, 1957. Duane flew into Philadelphia for an appearance on Bandstand. Joe Beiderman remembered, “We ran around with Duane all over the place. During the prom season, we’d call up a high school, find out if we could bring our artists to perform there, naturally no charge. This was another way we got the kids to listen to the music. We went to different colleges and high schools to make an appearance. We even took him to high school proms. We would make an appearance at a prom and he'd do his thing there with his group. I’ll never forget one time, I had to pick Duane Eddy up and take him to one of the stores downtown, to get him a sport jacket. We bought him a sport jacket over at Krass Brothers to play a prom, and we took him around, made a star out of him, and he eventually became a big star.”
“Moovin’ ‘n ‘Groovin’” reached the bottom of the charts by the end of March, 1957. It sold 90,000 copies and put Duane on the map. But he had no music to follow up that release. Lee Hazlewood, his producer and co-writer, called Duane at an appearance tour in Los Angeles to come back to Phoenix to go into the studio.
“Rebel Rouser” was originally the B side of Jamie 1104, with “Stalkin’” meant to be the A side. Lee Hazlewood preferred “Stalkin’” and Dick Clark played it for two weeks with little reaction. When radio started to play “Rebel Rouser,” the company quickly changed sides.
Duane's career took off as quickly as "Rebel Rouser," and, not unjustly, Duane Eddy has always been associated with that first big record, which he never really surpassed. There were variations, dozens of variations, but the songs he wrote reflected the free-form way they were created.
Duane wrote "Rebel Rouser" itself under the pressure of having to record. He recalled, “Lee said, ‘Write something. We’ll just throw it together’. It comes easier when I’m under a little pressure. I wrote ‘Rebel Rouser’ at the session that day. I had the drummer play a back beat and I fooled around with the melody until I got it where I wanted it. I’d worked a week on this show so now I knew what I wanted. That’s why the intro of ‘Rebel Rouser’ is like it is. I thought it would be cool to do the first bars by myself. I pictured this spotlight with me moving out on stage, then the band started moving out. The mood and atmosphere I saw and felt was like a West Side Story scene with guys walkin’ toward you in this dark alley.”
The tune, Duane noted, was not based on “When the Saints Go Marching In” as many assumed, but on “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet,” an old public domain song Duane knew from a Tennessee Ernie Ford record.
At the beginning, he was so rushed that recording had to be squeezed into a relentless performance schedule. Dick Clark took an active interest in Duane's career from his first appearance on Bandstand and eventually became his co-manager. Duane recalled that first appearance on Bandstand on July 24, 1958, when he played "Rebel Rouser" and "Moovin' 'n Groovin.'" Dick Clark "really liked what I'd done. He said, 'Come to our Saturday night [television] show next weekend. We're gonna be in Miami'. I drove down to Miami. Just before the dress rehearsal, Dick said, 'Would you mind opening with 'Moovin 'n Groovin', just doin' it live?' They had us on a fork lift takin' us through the audience down to the sage and then we'd finish up 'Rebel Rouser' onstage in this big auditorium. Dick said, 'Now I need something to close with. Have you something else? 'Stalkin' is too slow'. I said, 'Well, we got this thing we cut last summer called "Ramrod."' 'Let me hear it', he said. So we worked it out on the spot. Steve Douglas was with me. There was no sax on the original record but I told him to take the second break or whatever and we worked it out real quickly. Dick said, 'That'll be a great closer'. So when Dick signed off, we started 'Ramrod' while the credits rolled. Monday morning Jamie has orders for 150,000 copies of 'Ramrod'. And it doesn't even exist yet, as we played it. Jamie panicked and called Lee. Lee called me and I told him I'd really like to cut that thing again, that I had some other ideas on the song. He said, 'We don't have time and can't afford to fly you back here. So I'll just overdub the Sharps and [saxophonist] Plas Johnson on it. I saw what you did on the show and I'll try and keep it as close as I can'. By the next day he had the Sharps whoopin' and yellin' and Plas wailin'. We sped the original track up a little so Plas could play it in B-flat, 'cause we had played the thing in A."
Thus Dick Clark had forced "Ramrod" out as Duane's third release in August 1956. Later, Lee Hazlewood admitted that the record was actually by Duane's sideman Al Casey and had been released originally on Hazlewood's Ford record label.
With "Cannonball" coming out that November, Duane had four releases in 1958 from his first, "Moovin' 'n Groovin'" in February. But none of these nor the next two in early 1959 ("The Lonely One" and "Yep!") broke the 20. "Forty Miles of Bad Road," which made it to number 9 in June, 1959, was the only record to break the top 30 in a year's worth of seven releases.
Gallico remembered going to Phoenix to record Duane. "In those days, artists did not spend days in the studio. It was one, two or three live takes and that was it. But Duane sets down his guitar and says, 'OK, boys, let's go', and picks up his rifle to go hunting for three days. Then he came back to finish the session. I never saw anything like it, at that time."
With a year and a half left on his contract, Duane and his new managers decided he should be on a big label. They asked to get out of his contract to sign with RCA and left Jamie.
Lee Hazlewood and his partner Lester Sill were based in Los Angeles. But once they had success with Duane Eddy, they found more talent in Phoenix to bring to Jamie/Guyden. The two releases on Jamie after "Moovin' 'n Groovin'" were Hazlewood productions of Mark Robinson's "Pretty Jane" and the Ernie Fields Orchestra doing "Annie's Rock." In fact, it was the Robinson record that got a Billboard review that said, "Robinson shows that he can sing a rock ballad with feeling. Here he is helped by girls' voices in the backing. Two good sides. This boy is to be watched."
Duane’s rhythm guitarist Donnie Owens had a hit as the vocalist on the now classic, “Need You,” on Guyden.
The first era of rock 'n roll, when Dick Clark escalated the independent record companies' dominance of the music business (and in the process turned Philadelphia into rock's first Mecca), ended abruptly as the decade itself ended. It was only a short five years since it had begun.
The fateful day was in November, 1959 when "investigators for the Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce descended on Philadelphia, beginning a reign of terror that didn't end until the following June," according to Dick Clark, a prime target of this congressional witch hunt. In his revealing autobiography, Rock, Roll & Remember, Clark notes that payola was not illegal at the time of the investigation. The committee members proceeded as though the only way this terrible new music could reach the airwaves was by bribery, an opinion echoed by witnesses, some of whom were in the business themselves.
Dick Clark decided to divest himself of his music business interests rather than leave the air, a choice given him by the chairman of the ABC network.
The free-wheeling days were over. It was the beginning of the slow return of the majors. RCA had been the first to accept a consent decree, not admitting guilt but promising never to do it again. Other record companies had to follow suit, even though payola was still not illegal.
And it could not have escaped their attention that the independents' business methods as well as their music had been trashed by the committee.
Dick Clark stayed on the air, eventually moved to California and took American Bandstand with him.
Singles to albums
The business in the early 60s was essentially divided between the independents which dominated single sales and radio airplay and the majors which controlled the album market with classical, jazz and show tunes. Universal was lucky enough to have the first independent album that sold like a single. It was Vaughn Meader's First Family comedy album on Cadence Records.
The Christmas of 1962, Universal spilled out into the street to sell The First Family directly from the delivery trucks. Joe Beiderman remembered:
We would eventually go more and more into LPs, because that was a very strong part of the industry as the years went on. With our getting the A&M label, that turned the entire picture around. Actually, before the A&M label, we had probably one of the biggest single selling LPs of all time. That was in 1962--I'll never forget it--it was the First Family.
We were a very small distributor on Girard Avenue, and we were getting in such orders that were not to be believed. We would actually have the dealers meet us outside of our office at night, and we would do all the paperwork, and give them from the truck to their car, from the truck to their car--that's how fast the product was selling. We were a very small independent distributor when it came to LPs, but this thing kicked in so strong, it was on Cadence Records, and I'll never forget when that release came out. There were about four releases that came out at that very same time. I'll give you an example: I think there was the Chordettes that came out; I think there was a Don Shirley that came out, an Andy Williams that came out at that time, and we were drawing out orders for each of these selections, but when it came to the First Family, we knew nothing about it being a comedy thing. We didn't have very much information on it because it kicked in so quick.
I was a salesman at that time for a chain called the Korvettes Stores; the buyer at that time called me up and said, "You know you have one of the biggest albums that's going to be in years in the music industry, and it's on Cadence Records." Was it the Andy Williams he was talking about? Was it the Chordettes he was talking about? "No," he said, "you have an album by the First Family." I hesitated. I really knew nothing of what he was talking about. I said, "Oh that album, oh absolutely." I made as though I knew. He said, "Joe how many can you get into the stores in the Philadelphia market?" I think there were at that time seven or eight Korvettes stores. I said, "Well what kind of number are you looking for?" The buyer at that time was a fellow by the name of David Rothfeld. He said, "Is there a chance that you could send to each one of the stores about 200 LPs?" I played it very lightly. I said, "Of course, there's no problem. We don't have it in stock at the moment, we will get it into your store."
At that time, Len Rakliff was our sales manager. I got off the phone, and I said, "You know I just spoke with Dave Rothfeld, we have an album that looks like it's going to be a very very big piece--this First Family -- and he's looking for me to send in 1200 pieces in to his 6 stores." Lenny reacted, "How big is this, what is this all about?" Well this is what he wants. Should I call him up to confirm that kind of quantity? I called him up and said, "On the 200 pieces you wanted for each of the stores, I just wanted to make sure it's 200 pieces." "Oh absolutely." Okay we did order the product, and the rest actually is history. I can't begin to tell you exactly how many pieces were sold. It was so big in every single store.
I was handling an account at that time at 13th and Chestnut called the Woolworth Stores, and we were selling them as a distributor as an independent. They must have sold out of that store about 15,000 LPs. It got to the point where the record department was in the basement, they set up three registers on the first floor, and all they sold was The First Family album. It was a take-off on the Kennedys, if you recall.
The store was unable to do business in other departments. The lunch counter could not do any business; the cosmetic counter could not do any business -- only because the store was flooded with people just to buy the album and nothing else. It was impossible for them to get around to any other department in the store. The manager came over and said, "Joe, what are we going to do with this? I'm hurting in this department, I'm hurting in the photo department, I'm hurting in the cosmetic department, they're all flocking in just to buy this album." But this is how the album sold. I can't begin to tell you how many millions it sold in such a short span.
Then they came out with a Volume II. Between Volume I and Volume II, there was no contest. Volume II was a very weak album. It only sold about 2 million, but that was a nothing album compared to what the first one sold. Then when he had passed away, there was a recall on every single thing.
Then we became the distributor for A&M Records, and the same thing was with the Herb Alpert. I'll never forget the Lonely Bull album. The orders were astronomical.
There was a famous album that had a picture of a girl -- all she was wearing was foam.
The stores were buying those albums at that time as though it were a hit single. That's the kind of quantity. I'll never forget I went to one of my major Goody stores. There was a store in Cheltenham Shopping Center, and they had really heavy inventory. The entire department was flooded with the Herb Alperts. Whipped Cream was the name of the album. Every one of the "butt ends" was loaded, and I would take inventory to see what kind of sales they'd had the last few days. They would have 200 LPs of this Whipped Cream.
"Well you had better bring it up to 500." These were the kind of orders I was writing. They had 200 on hand but they wanted me to bring it up to 500. And yet we would send them the additional amount, bring it up to 500, a couple of 3-4 days later, between visits, I was calling all these stores and I was writing orders on top of orders to the point where I said to myself, "I wonder if they got the order from two days ago or is this just a re-order." No, they got it, and this is how these albums sold. This was one of our big big times and a very successful part of our industry for Universal.
And we also had Atco. Atco had some very big hits. They had a big album called Inagadda-Da-Vita by Iron Butterfly, also around that time which became very big. Everything went up from there on. And we became a major, major distributor.
Universal agreed to take over distribution for Dot Records, which had had its own branch before. As part of the deal, the company took over Dot's storefront warehouse a mile uptown. Universal also took in Bob Perloff, Dot's local manager, who became a Universal salesman.
Paul Fien recalled Universal's getting Dot's distribution: "There was an enormous inventory that we took over; however, we did not have to pay for the merchandise on normal terms. We were given extended terms, even though the product did not move out, we did not pay for it. I think we were distributors for a period of possibly two years or so. I can't say that it was a successful selling label for us, because all of the hit product that Dot Records had introduced was before we became distributors. Of course, it gave us some clout among other manufacturers. We had a larger sales force, we had a larger operation as a result of being a Dot distributor, not that Dot was that successful."
The new place, 1618 North Broad St. on the edge of the Temple University campus, was downstairs from Frank Virtue's studio. Though Universal had only the ground floor and a small basement, it was more and better space than on Girard Avenue.
In the less than two years that Universal was at 1618, Jamie/Guyden became the distributor for Phil Spector and Lester Sill's legendary Philles Records. Harold Lipsius and Harry Finfer were original partners of Phil and Lester in Philles.
That remarkable collaboration took off with its first release, the Crystals' "There’s No Other (Like My Baby)" Philles 100, which made the top 20 in November 1961. According to Mark Ribowsky’s biography of Spector, He’s a Rebel, Phil was also working with Liberty Records at the time.
But it was the relationship with Jamie/Guyden Distributing Corp that flourished. Phil produced such hallmarks of rock 'n roll as the Crystals’ “Uptown” (Philles 102) and “He’s a Rebel” (Philles 106), Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (Philles 107), and the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" (Philles 116).
Success was, perhaps, too easy. Mark Ribowsky writes, “By the time ‘He’s a Rebel’ came out [in September 1962], Phil’s peevish independence had eaten away the partnership with Lester Sill....’The problem was, when it got to the point where it was a successful venture, he didn’t want anybody around him’, Sill said; “He felt no one else was carrying his weight -- creatively, no one carried his weight with Phil.’”
Lipsius’s opinion was that if Phil no longer wanted partners, there was no point in trying to force them on him. First Phil became the sole owner of Philles, then he decided to handle distribution himself. Universal, however, remained Philles’s Philadelphia distributor and years later, Phil wrote Harold suggesting starting over again. But by then it was too late for Jamie/Guyden, if not for Phil.
The demise in the relationship with Phil Spector precipitated the departure of Harry Finfer as well. From the April, 1961, release of “Gidget Goes Hawaiian,” which did not even get into the top 100, Duane Eddy did not crack the top 50 with his next, and final, seven releases on Jamie. Through Al Gallico at Shapiro, Bernstein, Jamie got “Sound Off” (Jamie 1174), a minor hit by Titus Turner, and a flop by a well-known figure: Dick Van Dyke singing “Three Wheels on My Wagon” (Jamie 1178). The label, to say the least, was not doing as well as it had in the heyday of Duane Eddy. When Harold Lipsius told Harry Finfer that it would be necessary, at least for now, to cut back, Harry refused. He decided to go out on his own, where he started Quaker City Distributors and Arlen, a small label that never matched the successes he had had with Universal and Jamie/Guyden. His bitterness 35 years later reflects a faulty memory and lingering disbelief that Harold Lipsius, a lawyer for Chrissake, had succeeded where Harry failed.
It was a reaction that reflected the innocent period of the music business before lawyers, agents and managers displaced the label owners, managers and promotion men at the top of the hierarchy. Tom Kennedy said of the important people of that time, "There were a lot of lunatics in independent labels, who really believed that theirs was the greatest record ever made, and you can't fault a guy or a woman for feeling that way. And the line there would be they wouldn't put any pressure on me, they'd simply call Harold and say they're pulling the label, they're going to take it out of there. And Harold would come and say 'What can we do?' and I'd say 'Let them pull the label'. Come on be serious. Again, if it's in the groove, it's in the groove. In most instances, labels were very happy with what we did and sometimes even surprised about what we were able to do."
Bernie Lowe was said to have commented when he sold his company, Cameo/Parkway, referring to the success of Cliff Nobles' "The Horse" on Phil-LA of Soul, "When a lawyer can make money in the record business, I'm getting out." He did. Lipsius stayed.
Phil-LA of Soul
In late 1963, Universal had the chance to buy Columbia Records’ branch building down Broad Street at Girard Avenue, around the corner from the original location. With the gradual addition of four buildings next door and behind the main location, 919 North Broad became the company’s home for 25 years. The new space consisted of a sales office at the front of the old store and overstock and packing in a large warehouse space in the back that led to the company's first location with rear overhead delivery doors. Compared to the two old buildings that required going in and out through the front, it was a big upgrade.
Within a year of moving in, a two-alarm fire of suspicious origin broke out on a Saturday afternoon inside Universal. Paul Fien recalled, "Most of the Dot product was consumed in a fire that we had in September 1964. I remember that it was in September 1964 because I had thrown a party for my daughter and I was called to say that 919 was on fire, and I left the party and I went.
"It gutted our entire warehouse, which had to be rebuilt. We were covered insurance-wise, and eventually we found our way through it all. I know the bookkeeping system was a horrendous job. We had to reconstruct our accounts receivable. So you can picture, if you had an accounts receivable of a half million dollars, you had to go and reconstruct it from invoice books and from cash receipts. Customers would tell you. 'I paid for this....' I'm sure we lost quite a bit of it; however, we did have enough information to get started again, a warehouse available within the same block, and within a year we were able to move back.
"From the fire, I'd say that we were in business within a month. I can remember Tom Jones's very first record became a big hit right at that time, and Engelbert Humperdinck--they were the big artists at the time.”
In redesigning 919, Barnet Glickler, a local architect, blocked up the storefront windows, made staircase for the studio and a separate office for Harold Lipsius and his law practice.
In the early 60s, Universal was still perhaps the third or fourth largest distributor, but its stable of lines was growing. It got the former self-distributed London Records, which was a particularly close relationship because London put out Duane Eddy in England, where the company was known by its original name, Decca. (Decca had to sell its American company during World War II; it reopened after the war as London.)
A&M was started in 1962 by Jerry Moss, a former West Coast promotion man for Jamie/Guyden, and his horn-playing partner Herb Alpert. A&M was an instant success with "Lonely Bull" by Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. And A&M went from strength to strength, becoming the backbone of the independent system and one of the last independents.
Universal got MGM Records to distribute when Ed Barsky decided to concentrate on his first love, golf. As long-time Philadelphia observer and participant Kal Rudman noted, "Show me a man's golf handicap and I'll tell you the state of his business." Barsky chose golf.
In the new building, Universal's promotion department had its own separate area. As Tom Kennedy, originally a local promotion man for London and other Universal labels, recalled:
Because Universal had so many labels, we had a team of promotion men. It's obvious you couldn't go into a radio station and expect them to add six of your records. Let's say, a station is a top 40 station, any given week it would add three to five records. If you went in and you got one added, you were really doing well. If you got two added, that was phenomenal. It kind of created an illusion there. It was better that the more people who carried your product, the better its chances to go on. You get five guys in there to get one record added, and everybody would be happy to get the record added, but say that all five guys worked out of Universal, so in essence, Universal got 100% of the adds that week. That sometimes happened, but remember back then, we were competing with Capitol, we were competing with Columbia, we were competing with RCA with our smaller labels. We actually had promotion meetings. We got together and decided what our top priorities were, what we could expect to get played. Then we were also working 60 stations in this marketplace. Sixty top 40 stations as far north as Scranton, as far west as State College, east to the Jersey shore and south to Wilmington, so it was a pretty big territory. Of course the top of the pile was WFIL and WIBG. If they added your record, then you were set. Music day was Monday. Every Monday you went over and you waited for your appointment. You saw the Music Director, and you had five minutes to do your dog and pony show, then you left, and then at noon the next day you found out what records were added. Some days it was a hearty elation and some days it was pretty sad. Generally we did very well with our records, and we had a lot of good promotion people who came out of Universal. Some of them have left the business, but in their day, they were really good at what they did. They could present an argument as to why the records should be played. And to have their ducks in a row on the progression of the record, what it was doing in sales. You went in there with facts.
You had to go in with a story. The fact that Dean [Tyler on WIP] was playing the record--these two guys should really hate one another. They're in the same market competing. They weren't really competing, they were in different demographics. WIP was an established good music station; WFIL was a rock and roll station, but there is a demographic that crosses over: probably women 18 to 24 can be in either place. And Jay [Cook of WFIL] would follow up on any information I gave him. If I told him the record was selling, he would call Record Museum to see if the record was actually selling. And if he got to Record Museum, he could make it look like the record was really selling. In all honesty, the record was really selling, so yes it was a progression. And it was always a progression. You would like to start a record in Allentown, you would like to start a record in Scranton. You would like to have a story to tell, and that's the way you pursued records, and didn't WFIL, when it fell into the national picture, wasn't the next likely station to be in Los Angeles or New York after having brought in Philadelphia, and that's the way it happens.
There were five stations we got monitor reports on. We did WDAS, WHAT, WMMR, WFIL, WIBG. It was a lot of stations. I remember them being on the back of used envelopes. I recall those little sheets coming in every morning, but it was very beneficial to us in what we did. They were useful if you were devious enough to use them, and I was. A guy could say he was playing a record, but unless you were listening, how would you know? You didn't get a station log. Once the illusion was created that you had a secret weapon that listened to everything they did, they then began to ask permission to go to the bathroom, because they knew that you knew their every movement. There were times when you saw a guy who played your record three times in a three-hour show. Gee that's nice, and you let him know that too. Then he thinks, “My God, he's always listening.î It amazed me. I can't believe that we actually did it with one radio. Yes, it was very beneficial. In fact, a fellow from Capitol, Bill Jamison, who was exposed to these sheets, went on to design a monitor machine that was carried in an attaché case and plugged in when he arrived in a city. It was on for so many seconds, off for so many seconds--it was all done with timers, relays, and what have you.
I remember I used to mail records to Jim Hilliard [of WFIL] who said something like, "I never open those envelopes, my kids open them." He was fluffing me off in a moment of frustration. That day he turned on a lamp for me that got his attention for good. I discovered that a tootsie pop is the exact diameter of the hole in the center of a 45 record. From that day on, I mailed the 45s to his home with a tootsie pop placed in the center, and they were brought to his attention every time they arrived. We all have to use whatever we can to bring that little special attention to whatever we are doing.
Occasionally you mentioned somebody's record you felt needed a shot, I know I would, and the rest of the week was spent setting up out of towns. You would do calls up there.
As I look back, Universal was the only one that moved. Everybody stayed where they were. And Universal had to move because there was the expansion. It's probably tunnel vision, but I always saw them as the best distributor.
Actually Universal, again, did a promotion newsletter called "Focus on Philly." Universal was the first distributor to throw a convention for secondary market radio. We didn't pay to bring them to Philadelphia, but if they made the trip, we paid for the room. I know on two occasions we did it, we brought in all the outlying program directors, they came to Philadelphia, and we had a terrific relationship, but nobody else, not even the majors, would do something to that extent for secondary radio product. Allen "This Side Hot, Thanks A" Lotte had a page. Of course it was "Tom's Pipeline," which was pretty appropriate. I was smoking a pipe way back then. Each gentleman that worked there had his own page in that newsletter.
If I had to encapsulate Universal's successes, I think it's like the book In Search Of Excellence. A lot of that existed at Universal. Always did, always will. To say in closing, to show you how perceptive Mr. Lipsius was, he went out and hired me.
Phil-LA of Soul
In the rebuilding, a new studio, called Studio 919, was built into the second floor in a supposedly soundproof pair of rooms next to the bookkeeping and order taking areas. In the 70s, the studio succumbed to the pressure of space needed for the distributor and one stop.
But the studio was a boon to the record label in the early 60s. Run by Larry Cohen, a former promotion man at Marnel Distributors, Jamie/Guyden tapped the local talent that could use its new studio. Larry had once been a Philadelphia public school teacher and from that hardening experience, he was a lot tougher than his dandyish cuff pulling and dapper clothes let on. He laughed at his nickname "Larry Canoe," after the after-shave lotion.
At Marnel he had been a tough competitor, close to Joe Niagra on WIBG and buoyed by a hot streak at Atlantic Records. Many Atlantic artists came from Philadelphia and at Jamie/Guyden Larry was determined to keep them in Philadelphia.
He put his own mark on the company by creating Phil-LA of Soul Records for this new urban sound. Tom Kennedy, who worked with Larry remembers "the neat way Phil-LA of Soul got it's name. We thought Philadelphia was the hot bed of music, and the second hot bed of music was Los Angeles, so we used Phil-LA, if you understand, 'of Soul Music'. It was Larry's idea."
The first release on Phil-LA of Soul, Helene Smith's "A Woman Will Do Wrong," typified the plaintive, heart-felt songs that produced other hits like Brenda & the Tabulations' "Dry Your Eyes" and the durable "Yes, I'm Ready," perhaps the most rerecorded of the Jamie/Guyden repertoire. John Ellison, writer of “(She’s) Some Kind of Wonderful,” another standard of the 60s that became hits again for Grand Funk Railroad and Huey Lewis & the News (which is Ellison’s favorite version), released several records on Phil-LA of Soul, both in his own name and with the Soul Bros Six.
The studio was a good lure. Tom Kennedy, who joined Larry at Jamie/Guyden, long remembered that studio. The 60s went something like this, according to Tom Kennedy:
I guess it was three or four years after I was doing the local promotion that I went upstairs to join Larry with the Jamie/Guyden thing.
Was there a studio up there at the time?
Yes, there was a studio, and I attribute my ear nerve deafness to that studio today. We had enormous Altech speakers--the playback speakers. Of course, if you recorded a rhythm track.... I guess at that time Bob Finiz was the engineer. They were doing the Kit Kats and they were doing Brenda & The Tabulations and a group called The Ambassadors. Certainly when Cliff Nobles came in, when Jesse James, the producer, brought them to the label, and that whole Jesse James sound thing. When you do a rhythm track, and everybody was kind of pumped, it was compulsory to play it back at the threshold of pain, and we'd be in this control room, which is probably the size of the room we're in right now, maybe 15' x 12', and the speakers were 7' x 5', and you'd stand in front of them, and fill your ears and your entire body would vibrate with the playback. That was kind of exciting, too, to hear that. Usually we'd start around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The studio was involved in the distributorship, it was all a part of the same building, so that around four o'clock, you would hear this "boom, boom, boom" coming through the walls, and you knew it was session time so you'd walk over. Those sessions would start then but go to four, five o'clock in the morning, which was usually the best time to get things done. It was an exciting time.
I'm sure that most of the releases on Jamie/Guyden were cut in that studio. I know that all of the Kit Kats stuff was cut there.
What was their big record?
I would think it was "Let's Get Lost On A Country Road."
How well did that do?
That was an enormous record locally, probably 80,000 pieces locally, but it never had the national success. Here's something I'd like to forget, but I'll tell you about it. I had the brilliant idea that Carl [Hausman of the Kit Kats] was probably the greatest keyboard man since Mozart. He used to do this thing called the piano rag, and it was very big in club appearances and concerts. We recorded Carl as a soloist and called the group the "Tak Tiks." How clever. Who would figure out that it was Kit Kats spelled backwards. That again locally did fairly well. For the life of me I could never figure out why the Kit Kats didn't take off nationally. Maybe it was the name. They had one more metamorphosis after that and became known as The New Hope, which they chose because of New Hope, Pennsylvania, where they had done some appearances. But in concert, they were in appearance in person a powerful group. John, the vocalist--wonderful voice. And Carl and Kit, of course, who was the percussionist. They were a good band, a very good band. It's a shame they never really got the success they could have achieved. They were very big at the shore points in the summer. They used to have a huge following, but....
Getting back to the studio, even if a lot of records were not cut there, if we had made a master purchase, we would mix in that studio and maybe do some things over. After Bobby Finiz--Bobby was there only a short time--I believe a fellow named Joel Fine came in. Joel, I believe today, is still doing soundtracks in the West Coast. If you would attempt a documentary on the number of people who went through Universal on their way to other successes in related industries, it would probably be something like Gettysburg. It would take some time to do, I'm sure.
We all know the story of "The Horse." It's a great, great story. I can't remember the name of the title, but "The Horse" was called something else. The vocal was called "Love is All Right." A local disc jockey came to us with this product, and Jesse James was involved at one point, a record by Cliff Nobles & Co., and in order to get this record out (I don't know how to say this diplomatically), but what we decided to do was to make the B side the A side of the record without the vocal track. We weren't the first ones to do this--a lot of people did it, but it would save some expense on putting together a record. You could just do one side, use the track on the other side, you wouldn't have to record another side, and we sent this record out. Larry and I both believed in this record. We were both at Phil-LA of Soul at the time. We believed in the A side of the record. The track was there; we thought this guy had something. We received a call from a radio station in Miami, Florida, and the guy said, "I have an interesting story for you. I'm playing your Cliff Nobles record, ‘Love is All Right’, I made a mistake and I cued up the wrong side and I played the B side. Because I'm familiar with the record, I played it a few times. I started singing along with it. The phones lit up, and people were telling me, 'Please shut up and just leave the music play.' I think you may have something here." That's the story of "The Horse." "The Horse" was a B side instrumental, and it went on to be possibly the biggest record Phil-L.A. of Soul ever had.
Jamie/Guyden: "Love (Can Make You Happy)" "Dry Your Eyes," Brenda & The Tabulations; I think we had something by The Ambassadors; Barbara Mason "Yes I'm Ready." That was the heyday of Jamie/Guyden. It was very exciting until I talked Harold into purchasing a group out of Australia, which I thought would take Jamie/Guyden to the next level. I suppose it took Harold to the poorhouse. It wasn't a big investment, but talk about disappointing records. It's fortunate for me that I can't remember the name of the group or the name of the record, but Harold was (I'm not saying this because I'm currently in the building where he resides) really great to work for, because he was for people and put them together and dressed them up. It's funny, we did this, we put the group on. It strikes a nerve, because I also remember having Gene Chandler simultaneously at three hops at the same time. This kind of thing had not been done before.
Motown created the first nationally popular black music since doo-wop. It updated doo-wop with more intricate pacing, fuller productions and more assertive lyrics. Motown was a veritable music factory generating hit after hit, the model for young artists and producers around the country. In Philadelphia, Johnny Styles, Luther Randolph, Weldon McDougal and Jimmy Bishop started DynoDynamic Productions "to get," according to Styles, "that Motown sound. The Detroit thing was what was happening so we just tried to get as near to it as we could." They even recorded the Supremes' "Come See About Me" with Nella Dodd.
They picked up a young girl named Barbara Mason because she was the neighbor of one of the Larks and had a singing group of her own. She came to them with her song, "Yes, I'm Ready," which they immediately cut at Virtue studio.
Jimmy Bishop, a college-educated chemist, came to Philadelphia in 1962. He immediately immersed himself in the city's black music scene by becoming a disc jockey on WDAS and eventually its music director. But he was usually in the recording studio cutting his own music. He had a good ride at Arctic. He cut Kenny Gamble in the group Kenny and the Romeos, which included Gamble's later collaborator, Thom Bell. Gamble was also the male voice on Barbara Mason's "Yes I'm Ready." Many of the elements that later produced the Philadelphia International sound of Gamble and Huff were present earlier and separately at Arctic, Landa and Phil-LA of Soul. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes had their first release with "Get Out" (Landa 703), a label distributed by Jamie/Guyden that got its name when "Linda" was already taken. Bobby Martin, the arranger who made a great contribution to Philly International, worked with producer Jesse James on "The Horse." Bishop himself ended up working at the business end of Philly International, from which CBS Records hired him to head their music publishing division in New York.
Tom Kennedy recalled,
Arctic was a big label. I remember I went out and bought the attaché cases as props for the group called The Ambassadors. I remember taking the red mystic tape and running it across the attaché to make it look very official, then we went out and rented tuxedos. I don't know whether we rented tuxedos or we traded the tuxedos for an in-store appearance for the Ambassadors. Jimmy Bishop, who was the program director at WDAS, and a jock and had always been in the urban music scene had a good ear for music. Philadelphia had a wealth of urban players that could really get the bottom that was necessary for hit records then. Certainly Motown had it, but Philadelphia, the Jimmy Bishops and the people who were cutting at that time--we had Gamble & Huff in the studio--and Thommy Bell--we had great musicians here. We had a pretty funky studio right up the street from Universal and Jamie/Guyden, Frank Virtue Studio, which also had a label, Virtue Records. Any given night I'm sure there was a lot of activity in both studios. Jimmy did some of his stuff at that studio, and he cut some great records. I'm trying to think of whom he had after the Ambassadors and Barbara Mason. The Exceptions I think were on Arctic also.
Were The Ambassadors a big group?
Marginal group, but they were good.
Jimmy Bishop was not the only Philadelphia disc jockey to have a record label. Georgie Woods' Dionn Records started off with the huge hit by Brenda & the Tabulations, "Dry Your Eyes" (Dionn 500). By the early 60s, Woods' Uptown Theater show and evening time slot on WDAS made him a key player nationally in the black music scene. His label was taken care of by his wife Gilda Woods and Harold Lipsius, who distributed it nationally, while Georgie concentrated on his live shows at the Uptown, which ranked with the Apollo as a prime venue for the hottest black acts. A weekend show might be headlined by some Motown Revue like Little Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Temptations or the Four Tops. After Dionn, Georgie started Top & Bottom Records, but together the two did not equal the output of Arctic, where Jimmy Bishop concentrated on recording.
The industry had by 1995 seen further consolidation. Schwartz Bros, a public company that had dominated the Washington market for music as well as video, went out in 1993. It had lost its biggest video customer, Erol's, to its purchase by Blockbuster, and its music business suffered with the decline of the independents.
Richman Bros, a 30-year-old one-stop in the Philadelphia market, faced a financial crisis that it could not pull through, as it had so many times before.
Nova Distributors disappeared so suddenly that its expensive color ad in the Billboard International Buyers Guide came out after it had folded.