Monday, April 18, 2011

Forgotten Hits Remembers Randy Wood

Admittedly, we're a little bit late on this one ... but we wanted to salute Randy Wood, founder of Dot Records, who passed away about ten days ago.
Dot Records was home to a number of early Rock Era white artists, many of  whom covered the popular Black, R&B tunes of the day and made them "safe" for mainstream, Middle-America.
A look at the label's All-Time Top 50 Songs will give you some indication of what we're talking about here.  (The list comes from Fred Bronson's EXCELLENT book, "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits", now in its 4th Edition.)
The book ranks the biggest songs from virtually every major label and artist, as well songwriters and producers ... it also counts down The Top 100 biggest songs from every year (and decade) of the rock era, 1956 - 2007.
Oldies music fans will find it to be a fascinating read ... and perhaps the ultimate trivia argument settler!  In fact, the grand finale includes a countdown of the Top 5000 Songs EVER from this period!
You can pick up your own copy here:  Click here: Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits, 4th Edition (9780823015566): Fred Bronson: Books

Randy Wood, whose Randy's Record Shop pioneered the sale of R&B records by mail order and who later founded Dot Records, died Saturday (April 9) of complications from a fall at his LaJolla, California, home at the age of 94. Ironically, Dot Records specialized in covers of R&B hits by white artists like Pat Boone, Gale Storm and the Fontane Sisters, though Randy also gave us hits by Lawrence Welk, Tab Hunter and the Surfaris. He sold the label in 1957 but stayed with it for ten more years. It was discontinued in 1977 and Randy's Record Shop closed in 1991.
-- Ron Smith

Dot recording artist Robin Luke ("Susie Darlin'") filled us in a little bit on the back-story behind HIS Top Ten Hit Record a couple of months back in Forgotten Hits ...

Originally, we had written:
The single was first released on the Bertram International label in 1958 before Dot picked up the master for national distribution.  Luke was born in Los Angeles, California, but relocated to Hawaii because his father worked for Douglas Aircraft and, depending on where he happened to be assigned at any given point in time, that's the place that Robin called "home".  The story goes that Dot Distributor Art Freeman heard the original recording of the song (already a popular hit locally in Honolulu on the Bertram International label) while honeymooning with his newlywed wife Dorothy in Hawaii and was so taken by it that he called Randy Wood, the owner of Dot Records, and told him that he had just found their next hit. Based on Freeman's enthusiasm, Wood purchased the master without even hearing it (!) and quickly released it on his own label.  The original "bedroom recording" (with echoed vocals courtesy of the bathroom!) featured Robin Luke on guitar and vocal and Bob Bertram, head of the Hawaiian Record Company that first released the song, on percussion ... which consisted of tapping pens on a box and sticks on a pen! (Wayne Jancik's book, "The Billboard Book Of One Hit Wonders", says that the actual recording pressed on Bertram Records was recorded in a small studio in Honolulu. Actually, digging just a little bit deeper, it sounds like Bertram's "studio" WAS, in fact, a bedroom ... and it was the accompanying bathroom that provided the "echo chamber" used on the record!)  After becoming popular locally in Hawaii, Dot took the record national and it sailed into The Top Five during some of the earliest days of rock and roll.  That "primitive"-sounding recording is the one we all fell in love with at the time.  However, a re-recording of the track came about when Randy Wood initially had problems releasing "Susie Darlin'" because it was cut at a non-Union recording session. On his website, Luke explains that they next went into The United Recording Studio in Hollywood, California, to recut the track with union studio musicians: “We went over to the United Recording Studio, which was state-of-the-art at that time, and we had some of the greatest talent in Hollywood working on ‘Susie Darlin'’’ with formal sheet music and the Jack Halloran Singers. It was absolutely beautiful – but it didn’t have that haunting sound, so Randy Wood slipped the original tape into production.”  It worked and Robin Luke soon had his first ... and only hit. Although he recorded several other tracks ... backed by some of the best talent in the business ... he was never able to recapture the raw sound first recorded in Bob Bertram's bedroom studio.  (kk)

Robin Luke then elaborated:
Bob Bertram always thought Susie Darlin' was a hit.  In fact, to make sure, he actually slowed down the song until it sounded like a death dirge. A little bit more up-tempo and it is a terrific blues song, and I am asked often to sing it when appearing in “oldies shows.”  The bedroom where this song was recorded WAS a bedroom (not a studio) and we used a primitive Ampex portable tape recorded with “sound on sound” and one microphone. I would lay down a track and then put on earphones and sing over the original track(s) to put another one on. This went well until a mistake was made, and then we would HAVE TO START ALL OVER! It took about one month to get it right with seven tracks. That is why Susie Darlin' sounds so “mushy” ... because each time a track was laid down on top of the others it took a great deal of high fidelity away.
I will certainly admit that Susie Darlin' was a "monster hit", having sold over 

2 1/2 million copies (and it is still selling … I get royalties to prove it).

Promoter / Producer Fred Vail remembers Randy Wood ...
When Randy Wood died on April 9 at age 94, he had lived long enough to have seen the independent music industry re-emerge as a major force in music. His contributions were enormous.  This obit (see link) is a rather simplified story on the impact of Randy Wood and Dot Records. It's truly a rags to riches story of a record retailer (Randy's Records in Gallatin, TN, north of Nashville) who started a 78 rpm mail order business in 1948, marketed almost entirely on the strength of 50KW WLAC Radio, his primary advertising vehicle. Then came a label that became of one the most dominant indies of the 50's and 60's. Pat Boone, a Nashville native, was, perhaps, his biggest overall star, but you cannot discount the dozens of others who followed, including: Debbie Reynolds, Lawrence Welk, Jimmie Rodgers (who started on Roulette but moved to Dot), Roy Clark, Barbara Mandrel, Freddy Fender, Billy Vaughn, Mac Wiseman, and popular television star Gale Storm, who recorded "I Hear You Knockin,'" Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and "Ivory Tower," which, unlike the two previous hits, was not a 'cover' of a black hit. Other hits by Sanford Clark, The Fontane Sisters, Bonnie Guitar, Nervous Norvis, Louis Prima and Kelly Smith, and Dodie Stevens were other Dot successes.  And let's not forget Forgotten Hits regular contributor Robin Luke, whose "Susie Darlin''' is one of my (and your) personal favorites. I also forgot Tab Hunter ... he was signed by Randy because of his sex appeal and reportedly took 20 takes to get it right on "Young Love". (I guess that is a good example of 'what goes around, comes around.' Signed because of looks and sex appeal and not talent? What a concept!)   :)
If Randy had only introduced a predominantly white rock audience to black crossover records -- songs by Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and others -- his legacy would be secure -- but Randy went far, far beyond that.
Fred Vail / Treasure Isle
Nashville, TN

(courtesy of Fred Bronson, author of "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits)
 1. LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND - Pat Boone  (1957)
 2. THE GREEN DOOR - Jim Lowe  (1956)
 3. YOUNG LOVE - Tab Hunter  (1957)
 4. AIN'T THAT A SHAME - Pat Boone  (1955)
 5. SUGAR SHACK - Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs  (1963)
 6. CALCUTTA - Lawrence Welk  (1961)
 7. APRIL LOVE - Pat Boone (1957)
 8. I ALMOST LOST MY MIND - Pat Boone  (1956)
 9. DON'T FORBID ME - Pat Boone  (1957)
10. BEFORE THE NEXT TEARDROP FALLS - Freddy Fender  (1975)
11. I Hear You Knocking - Gale Storm (1955)
12. Come Go With Me - The Dell-Vikings  (1957)
13. A Wonderful Time Up There / It's Too Soon To Know - Pat Boone  (1958)
14. Wipe Out - The Surfaris  (1963)
15. Moody River - Pat Boone  (1961)
16. Sail Along Silvery Moon / Rauncy - Billy Vaughn  (1958)
17. I'll Be Home / Tutti Frutti - Pat Boone  (1956)
18. The Shifting, Whispering Sands - Billy Vaughn  (1955)
19. Dark Moon - Gale Storm  (1957)
20. Friendly Persuasion / Chains Of Love - Pat Boone  (1956)
21. Susie Darlin' - Robin Luke  (1958)
22. The Fool - Sanford Clark  (1956)
23. Remember You're Mine - Pat Boone  (1957)
24. Pipeline - The Chantays  (1963)
25. Seventeen - The Fontane Sisters  (1955)
26. Funny Face - Donna Fargo  (1973)
27. Why Baby Why - Pat Boone  (1957)
28. Whispering Bells - The Dell-Vikings  (1957)
29. Wasted Days And Wasted Nights - Freddy Fender  (1975)
30. Deck Of Cards - Wink Martindale  (1959)
31. Sugar Moon - Pat Boone  (1958)
32. Marianne - The Hilltoppers  (1957)
33. Only You - The Hilltoppers (1955)
34. At My Front Door / No Other Arms - Pat Boone  (1955)
35. Transfusion - Nervous Norvus  (1956)
36. Dark Moon - Bonnie Guitar  (1957)
37. Teen Age Prayer / Memories Are Made Of This - Gale Storm  (1956)
38. Speedy Gonzales - Pat Boone  (1962)
39. Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor - Lonnie Donegan  (1961)
40. The Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A. - Donna Fargo  (1972)
41. If Dreams Came True / That's How Much I Love You - Pat Boone  (1958)
42. Wonderland By Night - Louis Prima  (1961)
43. Ivory Tower - Gale Storm  (1956)
44. You Cheated - The Shields  (1958)
45. Ninety-Nine Ways - Tab Hunter  (1957)
46. A Swingin' Safari - Billy Vaughn  (1962)
47. Daddy-O - The Fontane Sisters  (1955)
48. Wonderful Summer - Robin Ward  (1963)
49. Eddie, My Love - The Fontane Sisters  (1956)
50. Daisy Petal Pickin' - Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs  (1964) 

Early rock artists like Fats Domino and Little Richard (Pat Boone covered BOTH of them!) have remarked many times how much help these whitebread cover versions boosted their careers.  Artists like Pat Boone and Gale Storm (both Dot recording artists), along with several other similar artists on other labels, helped to bring this music into homes that might otherwise never have listened to the R&B / Early Rock sounds of the day.  (Sure, the KIDS were catching on ... and DeeJays like Alan Freed were helping to spread the word ... but Mom and Pop just didn't feel "safe" until somebody "cleaned up" like Pat Boone came along and showed them this music was really okay.)

In Fred Bronson's book "Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits", Boone remembers it this way:
"Ninety percent of radio stations in America wouldn't play R&B hits, no matter how big they were.  To get them on radio, other artists had to do them.  I talked to Fats and Little Richard -- there was a definite ceiling on how far they could go.  When a white artist came along and sang their songs, they were introduced to audiences they couldn't reach themselves."

You'll find more here: