The Falcon and Abner Labels (1957-1962)

© Robert L. Campbell

NEW: June 23, 2020


Revision note:

By the end of 1956, Vee-Jay had grown so much that Vivian Carter, Jimmy Bracken, and Ewart G. Abner, Jr., decided that the company needed a second label. Parrot had opened Blue Lake. Chance had opened Sabre. Chess had opened Checker, then branched off into Marterry/Argo. So Vee-Jay opened a label called Falcon. The official launch took place in May 1957. Vee-Jay had started with a 100 series; Falcon started at 1000. However, the new label would never put out nearly as much material as its parent. While Falcon, later known as Abner, was active, there were consistently more releases each year on Vee-Jay.

Falcon had to change its name in June 1958, when Vee-Jay got word of an existing label by the same name in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Whether a lawsuit was threatened, we don't know; we have found no indication of one in the trade papers. (It is true that the labels for the Texas Falcon carried a patent notice.) Vee-Jay merely changed the name on the label, in honor of Ewart Gladstone Abner, Jr. The same label art (a falcon perched on a gloved hand) was retained, the same style of calligraphy was used for the new name, and the same presentation for label copy; the release series kept on without a hitch. The one other alteration pertained to a vocal group called the Falcons. It being deemed inadvisable to rebrand them as the Abners, they went back to being the Lyrics—and their releases were moved over to Vee-Jay.

The change of name to Abner went smoothly for everyone else except discographers, who for many years after Vee-Jay went out of business believed that some early Falcon singles had been re-pressed with Abner labels. One single appeared with both Falcon and Abner labels: Falcon 1013 became Abner 1013. The name change took place a few weeks after Falcon 1013 was released; the record was such a big hit that many copies with both labels can still be seen today. Everything before 1013 was strictly a Falcon; everything after it was strictly an Abner.

Although 1959 had been the subsidiary's biggest year for releases, and Abner singles were charting in the early months of 1960, in July Vee-Jay decided to discontinue the Abner line. This was not because the company didn't want to operate other imprints; in its final years it would offer several. In June 1962 Abner was fitfully revived, with a new A7000 series, to accommodate some Bill Sheppard productions plus a few items acquired from other, smaller companies. The second Abner, which used the same logo and virtually the same label copy as its predecessor, was done by the end of 1962. Ewart Abner, Jr., would subsequently be booted out of Vee-Jay and then asked to return. When he came back there was no third incarnation of the label.


1957

In the spring of 1957, Vee-Jay adopted a policy of giving each new single a trial run in Chicago before making it available nationwide. By May 25, with Falcon ready for its national roll-out, Abner was telling Cash Box, "Vee-Jay will, from now on, test each and every record via Chi stations at least 4 weeks prior to national release" (p. 96).

Besides making it harder to pin down release dates, the new policy limited production on some Falcon/Abner releases. Records that didn't get enough airplay in Chicago, or didn't pull sufficient local sales, were not re-pressed, were not given promotion in the trade magazines, and were not made available to all of Vee-Jay's distributors. Consequently certain Falcon and Abner releases are extremely rare today. The very first on the new label, Falcon 1000, ended up among them.

Falcons 1000 through 1002 were recorded in January and February 1957. As long as the original Falcon/Abner label was in operation, material for it was often recorded in batches, so we're thinking Falcon was already in the planning stages. Al Smith had been leading studio bands for Vee-Jay since the fall of 1954; 1957 would be his busiest year, with 11 sessions. But there had been little interest in recording him as a leader, and most of his instrumental sides had been left in the can. On January 11, 1957, the company cut four sides by an Al Smith combo followed by five on which nearly all of them backed The Dells. Here the instrumental sides were obviously not an afterthought, or an opportunistic use of leftover studio time at Universal Recording. The tracks by The Dells were released on Vee-Jay, the Al Smiths on Falcon.

Not long after the January 11 session (it follows immediately in the matrix number series) came one for an R&B singer named Ron Wiggins. Cash Box (January 19, 1957, p. 38) included The Dells, Al Smith's Ork, and Ron Wiggins among those who cut sides "this week." We know little about him, or about the band that was used to accompany him (it wasn't Al Smith's). The company's decision not to take out ads for Falcon 1000 in the trades tells us that the single did not score much airplay or jukebox action in Chicago. We don't know what else was cut at the session, and we have no evidence of it being released later.

On February 19, 1957, the company brought another Al Smith band at Universal to back the Kool Gents, a doowop group under the sponsorship of DJ Herb Kent. But nothing from it was issued under that name. One side, "Mother's Son," was used as a flip for another Kool Gents side, but on both the group was disguised as The Delegates. Vee-Jay 243 was out right away in March. Apparently, however, a move was afoot to pull Dee Clark out of the Gents and make him a solo act. Two of the other sides were held for the Falcon launch, and Falcon 1002 came out under Clark's name. A fourth side from the date was never used.

Far more obscure than Falcon 1000 is Falcon 1003, which our fragmentary sources tell us was by one Jerry Ross. Has anyone seen a copy?

The company took a pause after the Falcon launch in May; Vee-Jay kept turning out releases, and Al Smith's band did more recording behind vocal groups, but nothing further was done for release on Falcon until August.

Priscilla Bowman, a singer from Kansas City, had been with Vee-Jay since 1955, when her first release, "Hands Off," was a national hit. But in 1955 and 1956 she was on board as a member of Jay McShann's band. The company decided to let McShann's contract expire and keep Bowman as a solo act. According to Cash Box, Jimmy Bracken was in Kansas City in April planning a session for her (April 20, 1957, p. 46). The session was delayed—maybe McShann's final contract extended into July?—and by the time it took place the company had decided to put her on Falcon. The outing was at Universal Recording on August 13, 1957. Another Al Smith band was used, featuring Lucius Washington on tenor saxophone, and enough time was left after the regulation four sides to record an instrumental jam on which Washington was featured. Jimmy Bracken, Vivian Carter, and Ewart Abner expected a lot out of Falcon 1004, which was out a month later. 1004 rated a solo ad in Cash Box on October 19 (p. 45).

Eventually, there would be a second single, but the release was held until 1958 and Falcon 1008 got one ad in Cash Box.

A real Dee Clark session (i.e., he was the only singer) took place on September 13. Al Smith's band was there again, and there was time for an instrumental after the four vocal numbers were committed to tape. Falcon 1005, "Seven Nights" b/w "24 Boy Friends," was out in October (first advertised in Cash Box on October 26, 1957, p. 41). The other two vocal sides didn't see issue until well after the original Vee-Jay had closed.

The instrumental, "Quarter Party" was coupled with another side from January 11 and released on an Al Smith single, Falcon 1007, in November.

A couple of weeks later, Al Smith's band backed a vocal group that had been going as The Lyrics. Four sides were laid down. Ewart Abner found it propitious to rename the group in honor of his new label, so Falcon 1006, which came out in December, was credited to The Falcons. Falcon 1006 and 1007 were being advertised into the new year (Cash Box, January 11, 1958, p. 36).

The other two sides by The Falcons were also deemed worthy of release. But by the time a release was being prepared, in June 1958, the Falcon label had to be renamed. The group switched to Vee-Jay and reverted to its original name.

Vee-Jay recorded at a rapid pace during the final quarter of 1957, but everything was intended for release on the parent label.


Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
57-605 Ron Wiggins Angel Hands Falcon 1000 January 1957 May 1957
57-604 Ron Wiggins Someday Falcon 1000 January 1957 May 1957
57-595 Al Smith Get Up and Go Falcon 1001 January 11, 1957 May 1957
57-594 Al Smith One, Two, Cha Cha Cha Falcon 1001 January 11, 1957 May 1957
57-623 Dee Clark Gloria Falcon 1002 February 19, 1957 May 1957
57-625 Dee Clark Kangaroo Hop Falcon 1002 February 19, 1957 May 1957
Jerry Ross How Come You Do Me like You Do, Do, Do Falcon 1003
Jerry Ross Falcon 1003
57-730 Priscilla Bowman with Al Smith's Orchestra A Spare Man Falcon 1004 August 13, 1957 September 1957
57-729 Priscilla Bowman with Al Smith's Orchestra Yes, I'm Glad Falcon 1004 August 13, 1957 September 1957
57-744 Dee Clark Seven Nights Falcon 1005 September 13, 1957 October 1957
57-746 Dee Clark 24 Boy Friends Falcon 1005 September 13, 1957 October 1957
57-755 The Falcons with Al Smith's Orch. Now That It's Over Falcon 1006 September 26, 1957 November 1957
57-754 The Falcons with Al Smith's Orch. My Only Love Falcon 1006 September 26, 1957 November 1957
57-596 Al Smith Road House Falcon 1007 January 11, 1957 November 1957
57-748 Al Smith Quarter Party Falcon 1007 September 13, 1957 November 1957

1958


The first Falcon release in 1958 was by Priscilla Bowman, from her session of August 13, 1957. The single was mentioned in Cash Box on January 25, 1958 (p. 50) and showed up in one company ad (February 1, 1958, p. 51). Although it got more promotion, today Falcon 1008 is harder to find than Falcon 1000.

In January, the company recorded Paul Tate, The Prodigals, The Upsetters, and Dee Clark. We are not sure how many sessions were involved. Dee Clark and The Upsetters obviously recorded on one session, though the company chose not to advertise the relationship. Except for a second Upsetters record that ended up credited to "Lee Diamond," the output was all intended for Falcon.

Vee-Jay brought Dee Clark to Los Angeles to record with what had been Little Richard's band. On January 18, 1958 (p. 48), Cash Box reported a fair amount of news from Vee-Jay, including the recent signing and recording of bluesman Memphis Slim. "Abner and Cal Carter are heading for the west coast to record Dee Clark with the Little Richard Orch." (p. 48). Little Richard's band, The Upsetters, was available because Little Richard, during a tour of Australia, saw what turned out to be Sputnik I passing over the stadium where he was performing, and fairly promptly announced his first return to God (there would be three in his career). In the matrix series, the Dee Clark and Upsetters sides immediately precede a Larry Birdsong session (back at Universal) from January 30, 1958.

The Dee Clark sides were out in February, catching a mention in a company ad on February 15, 1958 (Cash Box, p. 41), then again on February 22 (Cash Box, p. 45). Falcon 1009 was in another company ad on March 15 (Cash Box, p. 28). But for whatever reason, Falcon 1009 did not do well at the cash register. Clark was a mainstay of the label, and several of his releases charted, but 1009 is hard enough to find today that there has been a lot of "repro" action on the 45.

The Upsetters' single got a solitary plug in Cash Box (February 8, 1958, p. 68) but wasn't advertised or reviewed. Falcon 1010 is harder to find today than Falcon 1009. One wonders whether Vee-Jay was tiptoeing around Specialty, which still had Little Richard under contract. On 1009, the combo is called the Original Little Richard Band. On 1010, it's called The Upsetters. Publicity drew no connections between the two, though quite a few consumers must have known about them.

Did Little Richard's contract with Art Rupe encompass the Upsetters? Seems rather unlikely, when most of Little Richard's Specialty sides were made with a studio band, not his touring unit. Still, we're thinking Abner et al. didn't want to find out the hard way, by being served with a lawsuit. Further evidence of the low-profile strategy takes the form of the final two sides from this session, 58-837 and 58-838. They were attributed to one Lee Diamond and released on Vee-Jay 272. Lee Diamond was in fact Wilburt Smith, saxophonist and leader of The Upsetters.

All four sides by The Prodigals were deemed worthy of release. Falcon 1011, released in February, took a while to get them but ended up pulling regional sales. The company advertised 1011 on February 15, 1958 (Cash Box, p. 41), on March 15 (Cash Box, p. 28), on March 29 (Cash Box, p. 22) and April 5 (Cash Box, p. 30). The ad from April 5 indicated where 1011 was selling: Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Today Falcon 1011 is substantially easier to find than Abner 1015, about which all we can say is that it came out several months later.

During the January sessions, the company also cut a singer named Paul Tate. Matrix numbers put him right before the Prodigals, but without knowing who was in the studio band for each, we can't say whether his session was combined with theirs. Tate's only release, Falcon 1012, was reviewed in Cash Box on May 24, 1958 (p. 44). He may have cut two other sides for the company; if so, they were never released. Was this the same Paul Tate who occasionally sang with Sonny Thompson's band for King? If so, he had appeared most recently on King 5055 (reviewed in Billboard on June 3, 1957, p. 66) with his song "Stop, Come See Me." Previously, he sang "Lost in This Great Big City" (King 4992, released in 1956) and "I'm Beggin' and Pleadin'" (King 4718, from 1954). Tate's song "Everybody but Me" (a collaboration with Calvin Carter) was used again on the Gene Allison session of December 17, 1958. Allison's cover was released as Vee-Jay 317 in May 1959.

None of the January sessions for Falcon produced anything big commercially. What happened in April was a whole 'nother matter. Jerry Butler and the Impressions recorded "For Your Precious Love."

Vee-Jay picked up the group from Bandera, a small label on the South Side of Chicago that would operate on and off for 9 years, but never had national distribution. Bandera was run by Vi Muszynski and her son Bernie Harville Jr. The company actually got its start with the Impressions. The group signed a contract with Vi Muszynski on April 9, 1958. As can be seen in Ian Saddler's notes to Bandera Doo Wop, a CD released in 2011 as Ace CDLUX 005, the contract was on a Vee-Jay form with the Vee-Jay information Xed out. Muszynski taped some of the group's rehearsals (which were eventually released on the Ace CD) and paid for their session later in April. But she wasn't ready to press, promote, or distribute any Banderas yet. So she licensed the sides to Vee-Jay. The Impressions' first studio date was mentioned in a round-up of four sessions that Ewart Abner Jr. expected releases out of in time for the Music Operators of America convention (Cash Box, May 3, 1959, p. 42). The "recently pacted Impressions" (and who pacted them?) had cut four sides.

If the contract ran for the usual one year and wasn't replaced with a Vee-Jay contract, Bandera actually owned all of the Impressions sides cut through the end of 1958. It is known that the masters were never returned to Bandera.

There are two further tangible signs of dealings between Bandera and Vee-Jay. Bandera's first R&B release, 2501, "Cry over Me" by Lonesome Lee, would be distributed nationally by Vee-Jay-Abner (as is noted on the labels). "Cry over Me" was also cowritten by Calvin Carter and published by Tollie. Bandera 2504, released in July 1959, was by The Impressions with the Riley Hampton Orchestra. Supposedly the sides were newly made for Bandera on April 27, 1959 at Hall Recording Company in the Loop, after the Impressions signed a new contract with Bandera on April 1. However, Riley Hampton was doing a lot of sessions for Vee-Jay and we are told that Jerry Butler (under contract to Vee-Jay under his own name) was present at the session, though not performing. "Listen" (a Jerry Butler tune) and "Shorty's Got to Go" were the sides. Also, the Impressions had not left Vee-Jay for good; they would cut for Abner again in December 1959.

Whatever was going on behind the scenes, Vee-Jay/Falcon sensed a hit. For a hot minute the single was out as Vee-Jay 280, which must be very rare. It was withdraw in favor of Falcon 1013, which was on the shelves in May, whereupon it began hitting. Falcon 1013 was among the "New MOA Releases" for May 10, 1958 (Cash Box, p. 90). After tepid praise from Billboard (May 19, 1958, p. 42), a solo ad for the release followed in Cash Box on May 24 (p. 14); by then there were already cover versions in circulation, and it was "Destined for a Hit!" Cash Box reviewed Falcon 1013 on May 31 (p. 48); the same issue included a sizable display ad for the single (p. 18) and an article ("U.S.-Falcon Issues Pop Disk") about how big a hit Falcon had on its hands (p. 29).

For a few weeks, no other releases were planned for the subsidiary; the company was letting the sales on 1013 build uninterrupted. Another big display ad for Falcon ran on June 14 (Cash Box, p. 17). But toward the end of June, news finally arrived of the Falcon label in Texas, and the company decided it had better change the name. (The Texas label, which started recording rancheras and other Norteño or Tex-Mex specialties in 1954, was so local that we haven't found a single mention of it in Cash Box while Vee-Jay was running Falcon. We figure Falcon 1013 was the first to get airplay in the Rio Grande Valley.) So Falcon 1013 was replaced with Abner 1013. The changeover was announced in a full-page ad in Cash Box (June 28, 1958, p. 15).

Vee-Jay 280 is presently known as a production 45. Falcon 1013 appeared on 78, on 45, and as a DJ release (also on 45). Abner 1013 appeared on 78, on 45, and (even though the record had been out for a while) as a DJ release on 45. Some DJ copies of Abner 1013 still carry a little round sticker urging radio stations to use the Abner promo and put their copies of Falcon 1013 out with the garbage.

"For Your Precious Love" b/w "Sweet Was the Wine" is the only single to appear on both Falcon and Abner. Ads for the Abner edition ran on July 5, 1958 (Cash Box, p. 80), July 12 (Cash Box, p. 30), and July 26 (p. 32). Charting as a Falcon and as an Abner (into September, in its Abner incarnation), 1013 is still fairly easy to find on both labels today.

Jerry Butler and The Impressions (who were soon getting their own releases; they officially split in December 1958) would be Abner acts until the first edition of the label closed down. Another act to remain with Abner (albeit with considerably smaller sales impact) was Al Smith.

What looks like an Al Smith-only session took place on June 3, 1958. This time the leader got budgetary approval for a four-horn front line. But for some reason only three tracks were laid down. Two were selected for Abner 1014, which was out in July 1958 (a company ad in Cash Box, July 12, 1958, p. 30 held out Abner release as imminent). The company advertised 1014 in Cash Box July 19 (p. 41) and July 26 (p. 32). Abner 1014 was also in a company ad in Billboard for July 28, 1958 (p. 42). Cash Box reviewed it on August 16 (p. 16). The record scored some regional sales; our guess is the company was promoting it heavily because Al Smith had begun touring with Jimmy Reed, who was one of the company's biggest draws.

The next two singles apparently didn't make it past their Chicagoland tryouts. Abner 1015 was a new (and final)release by The Prodigals. Abner 1016 was a curious reissue.

For Abner 1015, "Vangie" and "Won't You Believe" by The Prodigals, we can confirm titles and matrix numbers (from the same January session that produced Falcon 1011), but we have yet to find a contemporary published reference to the single.

Abner 1016, if the descriptions we have seen are correct, was a straight-up reissue of Vee-Jay 244. The two sides by a new Orioles group, restarted by Sonny Til after the old group broke up, had been recorded at Boulevard Studio around the middle of May 1956, and released on the group's third Vee-Jay single, 244, in April 1957. The company appears to have been trying again, just over a year later, with Abner 1016. But it's a lot easier to find Vee-Jay 244 today than Abner 1016 (we're hoping someone can show us the Abner).

Vee-Jay/Abner was eager to get another session out of The Impressions featuring Jerry Butler (to use the billing as freshly negotiated) while a new release could draft off the still-moving sales of Abner 1013. On July 12, 1958, Cash Box already had Calvin Carter "prepping" the follow-up (p. 38). On August 9, the session was still being "set up" (p. 38). Splitting the difference, we figure it happened at the end of July or the beginning of August. Abner 1017 was out before the end of August, with the first ad and the (highly favorable) review appearing in Cash Box for August 30, 1958 (pp. 13 and 38, respectively). Ads followed on September 6 (p. 18), September 13 (p. 33), September 27 (p. 36), October 4 (p. 28), October 11 (p. 43), and October 18 (p. 32). Sales took some time to build (maybe Abner 1013 had to be off the charts first), but by mid-October Ewart Abner could celebrate 1017's entrance into the Cash Box Top 100 (October 18, 1958, p. 18)

From a Dee Clark session in July came Abner 1019, "Nobody but You" b/w "When I Call on You." Riley Hampton was credited on the labels for leading the studio band. The Chicago launch was in October (Allstate Distributors was already talking it up in Cash Box for October 18, p. 18). The company advertised it in Cash Box on November 8, 1958 (p. 26) and again on November 15 (p. 36). Cash Box reviewed it on November 22 (p. 50). The record gradually rose on the charts, as noted in company ads from December 6 (Cash Box, p. 37), December 13 (p. 31), December 20 (p. 27) and December 27, 1958 (Cash Box, p. 6). With the exception of Falcon 1009 (see above), Falcon/Abner could sell pretty much anything it put out on Dee Clark. As 1019 kept moving off the shelves, further ads ran in Cash Box on January 31, 1959 (p. 41), February 7 (p. 6), February 14 (p. 6), and February 21 (p. 24).

We know that Abner 1020 by Al Smith was also released in October 1958. A company ad on October 4 (Cash Box, p. 28) said to watch for it. "Christopher Columbus" was from the session of June 3. The company had an unissued side from January 11, 1957, but chose not to use it, reprogramming "One, Two, Cha Cha Cha" instead. There was no further promotion for 1020, suggesting that sales were not going to reach the levels attained by 1007 and 1014. In fact, it would be the last Al Smith single on Abner.

The Don Palmer group appears to have been some kind of jazz ensemble. Palmer releases were all instrumental. "The Little Hooper" led buyers to thoughts of the Hula Hoop, a toy then becoming faddish. It also seems that Vee-Jay obtained the Palmer sides from another label; to be researched. Abner 1021 was out in October. Cash Box mentioned it as "just released" on November 1, 1958 (p. 42). Vee-Jay advertised Abner 1021 on November 8 (Cash Box, p. 26), November 15 (p. 36), November 22 (p. 8), and November 29, 1958 (p. 31).

The Impressions got a single of their own on Abner 1023, out in November 1958. The group was about to part company with Jerry Butler officially. In November 1958 it was already recording without him (see below). However, the sides used on Abner 1023, though Butler apparently did not participate on them, had been made at the late July session when he was still in the group. The single was advertised on November 22, 1958 (Cash Box, p. 8) and November 29 (Cash Box, p. 31). Cash Box reviewed the record on December 6, 1958 (p. 50). Abner 1023 was given one more push in a company ad in Cash Box on December 27, 1958 (p. 36).


Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
57-731 Priscilla Bowman Sugar Daddy Falcon 1008 August 13, 1957 January 1958
57-732 Priscilla Bowman Don't You Come in Here Falcon 1008 August 13, 1957 January 1958
58-839 Dee Clark and The Original Little Richard Band Oh Little Girl Falcon 1009 January 1958 February 1958
58-840 Dee Clark and The Original Little Richard Band Wondering Falcon 1009 January 1958 February 1958
58-836 The Upsetters The Strip Falcon 1010 January 1958 February 1958
58-835 The Upsetters The Upsetter Falcon 1010 January 1958 February 1958
58-831 The Prodigals Marsha Falcon 1011 January 1958 February 1958
58-833 The Prodigals Judy Falcon 1011 January 1958 February 1958
58-830 Paul Tate Everybody but Me Falcon 1012 January 1958 May 1958
58-828 Paul Tate Dance On Falcon 1012 January 1958 May 1958
58-891 Jerry Butler and The Impressions For Your Precious Love Vee-Jay 280 April 1958 May 1958
58-890 Jerry Butler and The Impressions Sweet Was the Wine Vee-Jay 280 April 1958 May 1958
58-891 Jerry Butler and The Impressions For Your Precious Love Falcon 1013 April 1958 May 1958
58-890 Jerry Butler and the Impressions Sweet Was the Wine Falcon 1013 April 1958 May 1958
58-891 Jerry Butler and The Impressions For Your Precious Love Abner 1013 April 1958 June 1958
58-890 Jerry Butler and The Impressions Sweet Was the Wine Abner 1013 April 1958 June 1958
58-925 Al Smith Wabash Blues Abner 1014 June 3, 1958 July 1958
58-926 Al Smith Left Field Abner 1014 June 3, 1958 July 1958
58-834 The Prodigals Won't You Believe Abner 1015 January 1958
58-832 The Prodigals Vangie Abner 1015 January 1958
56-461 The Orioles Sugar Girl Abner 1016
[Vee-Jay 244]
mid-May 1956
56-459 The Orioles Didn't I Say Abner 1016
[Vee-Jay 244]
mid-May 1956
58-959 The Impressions featuring Jerry Butler Come Back My Love Abner 1017 late July 1958 August 1958
58-958 The Impressions featuring Jerry Butler Love Me Abner 1017 late July 1958 August 1958
58-924 Al Smith Christopher Columbus Abner 1020 June 3, 1958 October 1958
57-594 Al Smith One Two Cha Cha Cha Abner 1020 January 11, 1957 October 1958
58-946 Dee Clark Nobody but You Abner 1019 July 1958 October 1958
58-944 Dee Clark When I Call on You Abner 1019 July 1958 October 1958
58-1001 The Don Palmer Quintet The Little Hooper Abner 1021 c. September 1958 October 1958
58-1000 Don Palmer Lolita Abner 1021 c. September 1958 October 1958
58-956 The Impressions The Gift of Love Abner 1023 late July 1958 November 1958
58-957 The Impressions At the County Fair Abner 1023 late July 1958 November 1958


1959


Priscilla Bowman's Abner 1018 got a significantly delayed release. Recorded in July 1958, Abner 1018 was held till February 1959, regardless of the commercial expectations that Vivian, Calvin, Jimmy, and Ewart had for it. Supposedly it got "tremendous pop exposure" in Chicago in February 1959 (Cash Box, February 28, 1959). The single was reviewed in Billboard on March 23, 1959 (p. 52); it appeared in a company ad in the same issue (p. 30). It was advertised in Cash Box on March 21 (p. 39) and reviewed in Cash Box on March 28 (p. 56), also being featured in a company ad for that date (p. 38).

Abner 1022 by Jo Ann Raven, a singer whose only previous release had been on Vee-Jayin October 1956, looks like another one that was recorded in 1958 and released in 1959. (We have neither matrix numbers nor a release announcement nor advertising on Abner 1022, so we can't be sure.) Ms. Raven was from Chicago, her real name was Jo Ann Rodrigues, and she leaned toward jazz. That's the entire bio we can provide for her. Obscure as her Vee-Jay had been, her Abner is more resistant to location. Although she probably never sold a record outside of Chicago, she was an artist of some talent and we wouldn't mind hearing this rarity.

With Abner 1024 and 1025, we have the products of separate outings by Jerry Butler and The Impressions, both toward the end of the previous year. Cash Box announced on December 20, 1958 (p. 17) that Jerry Butler was in town to record. Ewart Abner said Butler's new single (Abner 1024) would be out on January 5. We don't know whether the company held to that date, but "Jerry Butler's Great New Release!" was in a company ad on January 31 (Cash Box, p. 41). More followed on February 7 (p. 6) and February 14 (p. 6)

The Impressions' single had to wait a while longer. On March 21, Cash Box mentioned it as one of the company's "New waxings released t'other day" (p. 34). Abner 1025 was advertised in the same issue (p. 39). Another company ad followed on March 28 (p. 38), the same week that Cash Box reviewed the single (p. 56). There was a certain logic to pairing Abner 1024 and Abner 1025, as was done in an ad on April 4 (Cash Box, p. 47). But the release of Dee Clark's Abner 1026, which the company thought was going to be a big hit, disrupted the arrangement, as can be seen in ads from April 18, 1959 (Cash Box, p. 43) and May 9 (p. 40). All copies of 1025 spell Senorita without the tilde.

Abner experimented twice with stereo 45s in 1959. Both were by Dee Clark, and both were selling healthily in mono before the company gave the nod to a stereo version.

The first was Abner 1026, recorded at a session on March 27, 1959 that was intended from the start for a future LP. It was recorded in stereo, and some standards were purposely included with an eye to LP releases as well as the pop market. "Whispering Grass" made it onto Clark's new single.

The mono version of Abner 1026 was rushed out after the session. Cash Box was already running an advertisement on April 18, 1959, in which Abner 1026 was billed as "Hit of the MOA!" (p. 43). Cash Box reviewed it on April 25 (p. 10); a solo ad ran in the same issue (p. 36). Further ads appeared on May 9 (p. 40), May 16 (p. 28), May 23 (p. 26), May 30 (p. 53), and June 6 (p. 9). By June 13 (p. 17), Abner 1026 had reached number 20 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart, rating a full-page ad.

The pressing plants Vee-Jay usually worked with hadn't tooled up yet, so the mastering and pressing on the stereo singles were subcontracted to RCA Custom Pressing and they carry extra matrix numbers in RCA's K series. Several stereo jukebox models were commercially available in 1959, but how much market share were they picking up? To our knowledge, no other Abner singles were released in stereo.

Abner 1027 was the second and last by Don Palmer. Again, just the two sides appeared in the Vee-Jay matrix series, probably because the masters were purchased. It looks as though this single did just OK in its Chicago tryout. Cash Box reviewed it (June 27, 1959, p. 14), after two ads ran for it (Cash Box, May 30, 1959, p. 53; June 6, 1959, p. 9).

Jerry Butler followed with a session in April. According to Cash Box (May 16, 1959, p. 26), Abner 1028 was to be released "next week." The single was advertised in Cash Box on June 13, 1959 (in the undercard to a full-pager on Dee Clark's Abner 1026, p. 17). Cash Box reviewed it on June 20 (p. 8) and ads followed on June 27 (p. 45), July 4 (p. 43), July 11 (p. 27), and July 18 (p. 43).

Recording activity for the Abner label continued to be patchy. Lots was going on for release on Vee-Jay, but nothing more for Abner until July 30.

Dee Clark got another single (the second to see an extra release in stereo) in August. One side of Abner 1029 was from his March session; the other was a previously unused item from July 1958.

On July 30, Abner brought Priscilla Bowman back to Chicago. Al Smith wasn't leading studio bands any more; a Riley Hampton aggregation took charge. Two sides were given a delayed release on Abner 1033; the release number says it might have been planned for December 1959, but for all we know the actual release could have been delayed into the new year. (We aren't sure because we haven't found any promotion for the record yet). This was Bowman's last outing as a commercial recording artist; afterward, the company let her contract expire. She remained active in Kansas City for many more years.

On August 7, Dee Clark was back at Universal, and a few days later, Jerry Butler was back as well. A little while after that, the company either recorded or picked up two sides by a vocal group called The Senators. Then the Abner operation went back into a lull; lots of tracks being laid down for Vee-Jay, but nothing for Abner again until the middle of December (see the 1960 releases for these sessions).


Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
58-975 Priscilla Bowman A Rockin' Good Way Abner 1018 July 30, 1958 February 1959
58-974 Priscilla Bowman I Ain't Givin' Up Nothin' Abner 1018 July 30, 1958 February 1959
Jo Ann Raven Time and Time Again Abner 1022
Jo Ann Raven Whispering Sea Abner 1022
58-1044 Jerry Butler with Riley Hampton's Orch. Lost Abner 1024 December 1958 January 1959
58-1045 Jerry Butler with Riley Hampton's Orch. One by One Abner 1024 December 1958 January 1959
58-1035 The Impressions Lovely One Abner 1025 November 1958 March 1959
58-1037 The Impressions Senorita I Love You Abner 1025 November 1958 March 1959
59-1107 Dee Clark (Orch. conducted by Riley Hampton) Just Keep It Up Abner 1026 March 27, 1959 April 1959
59-1109 Dee Clark (Orch. conducted by Riley Hampton) Whispering Grass Abner 1026 March 27, 1959 April 1959
59-1107
K8OA-5755
Dee Clark (Orch. conducted by Riley Hampton) Just Keep It Up Abner S1026 March 27, 1959 June 1959
59-1109K8OA-5756 Dee Clark (Orch. conducted by Riley Hampton) Whispering Grass Abner S1026 March 27, 1959 June 1959
59-1116 The Don Palmer Quinette [sic] Tutti Fluti Abner 1027 late March 1959 May 1959
59-1117 The Don Palmer Quinette Explosion Abner 1027 late March 1959 May 1959
59-1126 Jerry Butler Hold Me My Darling Abner 1028 April 1959 May 1959
59-1136 Jerry Butler Rainbow Valley Abner 1028 April 1959 May 1959
59-1111 Dee Clark Hey Little Girl Abner 1029 March 27, 1959 August 1959
58-945 Dee Clark If It Wasn't for Love Abner 1029 July 1958 August 1959
59-1111K8OA-9636 Dee Clark Hey Little Girl Abner SR1029 March 27, 1959 September 1959
58-945
K8OA-9635
Dee Clark If It Wasn't for Love Abner 1029 July 1958 September 1959
59-1134 Jerry Butler Couldn't Go to Sleep Abner 1030 April 1959 September 1959
59-1219 Jerry Butler I Was Wrong Abner 1030 August 1959 September 1959
59-1226 The Senators Julie Abner 1031 August 1959 prob. September 1959
59-1225 The Senators It Doesn't Matter Abner 1031 August 1959 prob. September 1959
59-1210 Dee Clark How about That Abner 1032 August 7, 1959 November 1959
59-1106(-X) Dee Clark Blues Get off My Shoulder Abner 1032 March 27, 1959 November 1959
59-1203 Priscilla Bowman Like a Baby Abner 1033 July 30, 1959
59-1204 Priscilla Bowman Why Must I Cry Abner 1033 July 30, 1959

1960


Vee-Jay often changed the scheduling on its planned releases, which can be seen clearly when we put the last Abners in the order they came out. The first new Abner to be advertised in 1960 was 1037, but it was the last in the series by release number.

Just one of the known 1960 releases derived from a session after January 1 of that year, Jerry Butler's Abner 1035.

Abner 1036 has been reported as a Gene Allison single, consisting of two sides from his July 1957 session: one originally released on Vee-Jay in 1957 and the other on Vee-Jay in July 1958. But the company was advertising one of these titles ("Why Do You Treat Me So Cold") on Vee-Jay 341 alongside Abner 1034 and 1035 (e.g., Cash Box, April 30, 1960, p. 33). On June 18, 1960 (Cash Box, p. 9), the company promoted Vee-Jay 341 next to Abner 1035. The flip to Vee-Jay 341 was not "Let's Sit and Talk"; it was a 1959 side titled "Oh Yeah, I'm in Love." All of this makes us kind of skeptical. Maybe someone has a copy of Abner 1036 and can prove us wrong.

Abner releases were promoted into June 1960. But nothing else was being recorded for the label. A full-page ad in Cash Box (June 18, 1960, p. 9), aimed at members of ARMADA, the trade association Ewart Abner had helped to found, promoted 10 Vee-Jay singles—and one lonely Abner.

On July 23, 1960, Vee-Jay announced (Cash Box, p. 30) that Abner was being discontinued and artists like Dee Clark and Jerry Butler would now be released on the parent label.

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
59-1329 Dee Clark At My Front Door Abner 1037 December 1959 February 1960
59-1330 Dee Clark Cling A Ling Abner 1037 December 1959 February 1960
60-1368 Jerry Butler A Lonely Soldier Abner 1035 January 1960 March 1960
60-1367 Jerry Butler I Found a Love Abner 1035 January 1960 March 1960
59-1325 The Impressions That You Love Me Abner 1034 December 1959 April 1960
59-1326 The Impressions A New Love Abner 1034 December 1959 April 1960
57-715 Gene Allison Why Do You Treat Me So Cold Abner 1036 [?] July 1957
57-716 Gene Allison Let's Sit and Talk Abner 1036 [?] July 1957

Dee Clark's records were selling so well that, in addition to two stereo 45s, the company tried a 45-rpm with extended play. The programming strategy was interesting: one side each from Abner 1019 and Abner 1026 (which had been hits), one preview of Abner 1032, and one side ("Count on Me") not otherwise released on a 45. Accompaning the EP was one-sided DJ promo of "Blues Get off My Shoulder, which wouldn't be out on a single for a while yet.

Vee-Jay's advertising (for instance, on a picture sleeve for Abner 1029) declared that there was a stereo edition of the EP, SEP 1-900. Anyone seen this?


An Abner EP (1959)

Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
59-1167 Dee Clark Just Keep It Up Abner EP 1-900 (Side A) September 1959
Dee Clark Blues Get Off My Shoulder Abner EP 1-900 (Side A) September 1959
59-1168 Dee Clark Nobody but You Abner EP 1-900 (Side B) September 1959
Dee Clark Count on Me Abner EP 1-900 (Side B) September 1959

1962


Nearly two years after the company closed it, the Abner label was revived. The reopening got a quick mention in Cash Box on June 16, 1962 (p. 32). In the middle of 1962, Vee-Jay was expanding mightily (overexpanding, really), and other subsidiary labels had been acquired or recently opened by the company. As far as we can tell, expectations for the new Abner weren't high. It was just a place to put some Bill Sheppard productions plus one or two items acquired from some smaller label. In all, the second Abner operated fitfully, generating 6 releases over a period of roughly six months. By the end of 1962, the label was retired again, this time for good.

Abner A7003, by Don Downing with Rodney (Lee) and the Blazers, was a rockabilly record by a performer from Kansas made for a label based in Oklahoma. It was initially released on Chan 108, which was reviewed in Billboard on May 19, 1962 (p. 31). We haven't found a review of the Abner edition, but July 1962 seems about right for its month of release.

We have found one ad for a 7000-series Abner in the trade papers. A7006 was included in a full-page ad that ran in Cash Box on December 8, 1962 (p. 17) and boasted about the diversity of Vee-Jay's offerings. The last mention in the trades was a week later, in Cash Box for December 15, 1962 (p. 26). As the label's namesake put in a plug for A7006, the magazine described it as a Vee-Jay release. If there was an announcement that the Abner label was being discontinued for a second time, we haven't found it.


Matrix Artist Title Release Number Recording Date Release Date
62-2507 The Bill Sheppard Combo Burnin' Abner A7001 June 1962
54-202 Turk Kincheloe Cash Box Abner A7001 October 1954 June 1962
62-2506 Roberta Daye I'm Never Gonna Cry Again Abner A7002 June 1962
62-2505 Roberta Daye Every Daye Abner A7002 June 1962
62-2509 Don Downing with Rodney and the Blazers A Bird in the Hand Abner A7003 c. April 1962 c. July 1962
62-2508 Don Downing with Rodney and the Blazers Jivin' Jean Abner A7003 c. April 1962 c. July 1962
62-2516 Marie Gladness Cops and Robbers Abner A7004 July 1962
62-2517 Marie Gladness I'm Anxious Abner A7004 July 1962
62-2578 The Hammond Brothers I Told You Abner A7005 October 1962
62-2577 The Hammond Brothers Thirty Miles of Railroad Track Abner A7005 October 1962
62-2737 The Sheppards Elevator Operator Abner A 7006 November 1962
62-2390 The Sheppards Loving You Abner A 7006 November 1962

Our thanks to Dan Ferone for his help with the Falcon and Abner labels. Also to Tyrone Settlemier for his online discographies on Falcon (http://www.78discography.com/FalconVJ.htm) and on the 1000 series Abners (https://www.78discography.com/Abner.htm). There were, of course, no 78s in the A7000 series.


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