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Record Makers and Breakers

Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers

John Broven

Publication Year: 2009

This volume is an engaging and exceptional history of the independent rock 'n' roll record industry from its raw regional beginnings in the 1940s through its peak in the 1950s and decline in the 1960s. John Broven combines narrative history with extensive oral history material from numerous recording pioneers including Joe Bihari of Modern Records; Marshall Chess of Chess Records; Jerry Wexler, Ahmet Ertegun, and Miriam Bienstock, of Atlantic Records; Sam Phillips of Sun Records; Art Rupe of Specialty Records; and many more._x000B_

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Music in American Life

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book is first and foremost an attempt to capture the record makers’ truly fascinating stories, in turn biographical, analytical, funny, and occasionally tall. Also, I want to highlight the historical importance of the independent record men and women within a vanishing world before it is too late. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

First, I must say a big “thank you” to all the pioneering record makers, artists, and others who contributed so willingly and graciously to this project. Please see chapter headings and appendix G for detailed lists of interviewees. Great names, great people! ...

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pp. 1-6

“Hymie, my goombah, you are a survivor. A connoisseur of the street, the jobbers, the hustlers, the syndicators and backbiters, the unknown stockroom, the chargeback, the freebie, the cut-rate studio; platonic ideal of the indomitable underfinanced indie, rising Phoenix-like from the ashes of insolvency time and again.” ...

Part 1: The Independent Revolution

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1. We're Rolling—Take One!

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pp. 9-20

Stein, who was president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, could not have put into better perspective the dramatic and colossal impact of the pioneering record makers and their labels (or indeed the abundant pool of talent on hand). Yet the stereotype of an “independent record man” is of a seedy, hustling, low-life character from a Damon Runyon story ...

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2. The Super Indies

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pp. 21-32

A gradual buildup in the independent record business had been under way during the early 1940s despite the desperate circumstances affecting the music industry. The shining beacon was Capitol Records, yet the label had to overcome the worst possible timing of its launch. ...

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3. California Booming

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pp. 33-52

By 1945, California was booming due to a confluence of factors. The United States was patently winning World War II, and the defense, film, and agricultural industries were prospering in the triumphant economy. To offset the wartime manpower shortages, the state was attracting migrant workers of different races from all over, ...

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4. New York: Big City and Little Tiffany

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pp. 53-72

Jerome Felder, known professionally as Doc Pomus, was an ardent admirer and advocate of the effervescent New York music scene throughout his lifetime. A unique man who overcame the terrible affliction of polio, he started out as a Jewish blues shouter in the 1940s and emerged as a noted writer of teen songs in the rock ’n’ roll age. ...

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5. The Battle of the Speeds and Golden Records' Seeds

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pp. 73-90

In the late 1930s, New York was attracting an army of talented musicians by way of job opportunities in radio, theater, nightclubs, and recording. The city’s reputation as an enlightened music capital was endorsed by a host of liberal, highly articulate young jazz fans including Herb and Miriam Abramson, George Avakian, Milt Gabler, John Hammond, Orrin Keepnews, ...

Part 2: Regional Sounds

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6. Riding the Nashville Airwaves

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pp. 93-115

Radio was a key element in the growth of independent labels from regional to national entities and was eagerly targeted by the more enterprising record men and their distributors. Without radio spins, a record had little chance; it was as simple as that. This led seamlessly to the rise of the personality disc jockey and to payola—the “pay for play” scam. ...

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7. The Chess Game

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pp. 116-130

Leonard Chess was the dynamo behind Chess Records, the label that, along with Atlantic and Sun, has come to epitomize the independent record business. His legacy is seen in the enduring, diverse work of his main artists Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Etta James, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, the Moonglows, Ahmad Jamal, and Ramsey Lewis. ...

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8. King of Them All

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pp. 131-148

For any record collector visiting Cincinnati, Ohio, there was always one essential pilgrimage to make: to the site of the old King Records factory complex in the Evanston neighborhood. I could almost smell the history as I walked around the exterior of the 9,000–square foot edifice, once an ice plant. ...

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9. Behind the Southern Sun

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pp. 149-165

The Sun Records story is yet another that has been honored and dissected many times.1 Sam Phillips has earned forever his celebrity in rock ’n’ roll history as the inspiring Memphis record man behind Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and a slew of rockabillies—even Roy Orbison, fleetingly. ...

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10. Louisiana Gumbo

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pp. 166-184

Down in South Louisiana, a bevy of record men were able to tap into the rich cultural heritage of Cajun land and New Orleans. There, J. D. “Jay” Miller, Eddie Shuler, and Cosimo Matassa had started out at the dawn of the independent record era, when the jukebox operators were calling all the shots. ...

Part 3: The Hustle Is On

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11. Billboard and Cash Box: Stars and Bullets

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pp. 187-207

Billboard and Cash Box were integral pillars of the independent record era. These trade papers were, effectively, the support force of rock ’n’ roll by supplying chart data and record reviews, feeding news stories, and providing vital advertising platforms. In a fast-moving music industry, the weekly arrival of these journals was awaited eagerly ...

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12. A-Hustle and A-Scuffle at Old Town

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pp. 208-230

Hy Weiss came into my life by accident. In May 1993, I had arranged to meet Shelley Galehouse to discuss the licensing of her father’s masters of the Wailers on the Golden Crest label on behalf of Ace Records of London. In particular, I was looking to land “Tall Cool One,” a double Top 40 hit (in 1959 and 1964) ...

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13. Mercury Rising and the Roulette Wheel

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pp. 231-253

In the monochrome culture of the early 1950s, the bettermanaged pioneering independent labels were adding welcome color to the musical landscape because they had the energized rhythm and blues sector more or less to themselves. R&B music was evolving into a catchall term covering everything from raw gutbucket blues and cool after-hours sounds ...

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14. Tin Pan Alley and Beyond

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pp. 254-276

It is easy to understand a favorite refrain of the music publishing fraternity: “There is nothing better than earning a fortune while you sleep—like from a good song.” By the mid-1950s, the music publishers’ cozy world of sheet music sales, song plugging, and royalty collections was under threat from the new order being created by the lively independent labels. ...

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15. Hillbilly Boogie

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pp. 277-296

By the early 1940s, through regular exposure on Nashville’s national barn dance on Radio WSM, the Grand Ole Opry, country acts such as Roy Acuff (OKeh) and Ernest Tubb (Decca) were selling millions of records. The powerful Texas-Mexico border stations were important factors in the spread of hillbilly music, too. ...

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16. West Coast Rockin' and Rollin'

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pp. 297-318

Out west in California, a handful of the original indie labels from the “78 era” were nicely established by the mid-1950s, namely Aladdin, Imperial, Modern, and Specialty. There had been a few important 1940s casualties along the way, such as Exclusive, Excelsior, ARA, and Black & White, felled by a dearth of hits and changing trends coupled with over-expansionistic ideals. ...

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17. From Motown to Manhattan: In Almost Perfect Harmony

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pp. 319-340

It was always a privilege to be in the company of Roquel “Billy” Davis. Forever warm and welcoming, with a constant chuckle, he had an intelligence level that was inspiring. Over lunch or in front of a tape recorder, he was always willing to talk about his many accomplishments in the music business but with a disarming modesty. ...

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18. Harlem Hotshots and the Black Experience

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pp. 341-357

In May 2005, Bobby Robinson, still located in his beloved Harlem, had just turned eighty-eight. Sporting a fetching straw boater hat perched on the gray locks that flowed to his shoulders, he was wearing a bright red jacket, multicolored waistcoat, and white pants with bright red shoes. ...

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19. On and Off Broadway

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pp. 358-378

Back in late 1956, with the rock ’n’ roll age approaching full bloom, young teen Donn Fileti harangued his father into taking him on a selective tour of the offices of the independent labels in New York. His memories of the trip provide a unique firsthand account of the indie environment of the time from the perspective of a record collector, record researcher, and future record man. ...

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20. Gold Coast Platters and Stock Matters

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pp. 379-394

Famed for its Gold Coast as portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and as the setting for the original suburban dream, Long Island was home to record men Jerry Blaine, Archie Bleyer, Joe Carlton, Bob Shad, Al Silver, Mike Stoller, and Jerry Wexler. “We smell the same sea breeze!” exclaimed Hy Weiss, another noted resident. ...

Part 4: Rock 'n' Roll Is Here to Stay

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21. The London American Group: Rockin' around the World

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pp. 397-414

In licensing thousands of independent masters for distribution throughout the world, London American Records was the international messenger of rock ’n’ roll. Here was the global marketplace in operation years ahead of its time. The New York office of the parent company, Decca Records of London, England, was the conduit for a raft of deals with the indie record men. ...

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22. Teen Scene

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pp. 415-438

By the late 1950s, heavy rock ’n’ roll, mixing the harsher elements of R&B with testosterone-laden rockabilly, had seen its best days. Or so it seemed. Even Sun Records’ Sam Phillips was talking about rock ’n’ roll in the past tense. He was paraphrased by Billboard in May 1959 as saying, “Perhaps never again will pop music be so dominated by a single style of sound. ...

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23. Corporate Takeover and Talent Makeover

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pp. 439-453

The entrance of ABC-Paramount Records in November 1955 was another indication that the big corporations were waking up to the growth potential in the record market, to the general detriment and ultimate demise of the original stand-alone independents. ...

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24. The Payola Scandal and Changing Times

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pp. 454-471

All hell broke loose at that never-to-be-forgotten 1959 Miami disc jockey convention, held May 28–31 and sponsored by chain broadcaster Storz Radio headed by Todd Storz. Laboring under the name of the Second Annual International Radio Programming Seminar and Pop Music Disk Jockey Convention, everybody seemed to be there. ...

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25. End of Session: Art Rupe's New Rules at Specialty Records

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pp. 472-480

In the mid-1950s, Art Rupe wrote up the equivalent of a staff instruction manual based on his personal experiences in the “school of hard knocks.” Viewed as a whole, these documents represent priceless insights into the modus operandi of the independent record makers from a faded era through one of its leading practitioners. ...

Part 5: Appendixes

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pp. 481-508


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pp. 509-544


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pp. 545-556


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pp. 557-584

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About the Author, Further Reading, Publication Information

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John Broven is a respected expert on the rock ’n’ roll era and has served as a consultant at Ace Records in the United Kingdom. A one-time coeditor of Blues Unlimited and cofounder of Juke Blues Magazine, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094019
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252032905

Page Count: 640
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Music in American Life

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Subject Headings

  • Sound recording executives and producers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Sound recording industry -- United States -- History.
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