The Stepheny label opened (on a boutique basis) in 1956, ramped up production in the summer of 1957, peaked in 1958, slid back down through 1960 (for singles). LPs started with a batch of 5 in May 1958; others were ready in 1958 but had to be held for release till 1959; the last few dribbled out, with the final LP probably appearing in 1962. The earliest offerings suggest that Stepheny Records was intended to be a pop label, maybe a pop label dipping a toe or two into rock and roll. In time it branched out into jazz, Country, doowop, Exotica, R&B, and rockabilly, plus some things that are tough to classify.
It did not have a typical small-label background. Its founder and owner, Norman William Forgue, had been operating printing presses since his mid-teens. Before, during, and after his venture into the music business, he ran Black Cat Press (which specialized in miniature books), Normandie House, and The Norman Press.
He was also past the age of 50 when he started the label. Norman Forgue was born in Chicago on November 12, 1904. The Forgue family was of French-Canadian origin, via Kankakee, Illinois; his father ran an ice delivery business. The Forgues lived at various addresses on the Near West Side. Norman had to go to work full-time when he was 13, in the composing room of a printing company. He worked as an apprentice in other print shops, worked briefly in the pressroom at Western Electric, then joined the Navy (where he ended up in the print shop). On returning to Chicago he was a compositor, then a foreman and a superintendant, at Book Press. With the experience he had acquired, Forgue started Black Cat Press in 1932, Normandie House in 1937, and (with a partner) a large printing company, The Norman Press, in 1939.
It looks as though Forgue produced the first Stepheny release as a favor to local performers who were friends of his. Betty Gilbart and Frank Paige were a husband and wife team who had probably been on the scene for some time. They had also written a song, "Still I Don't Care." Stepheny 45-01/45-02 consisted of "Still I Don't Care" and "Melancholy Baby," sung by Betty, who was accompanied on the Hammond organ by Frank. Some copies of the 45 were sold in an elegant picture sleeve, using type faces that would have been instantly familiar to buyers of Black Cat and Norman books; the back of the sleeve gave a brief statement about the musicians and the new company. The address was 1800 Asbury Avenue, in Evanston, Illinois; the company would retain this location for the rest of its run. The record labels were generic in appearance, numbered the sides of the 45 consecutively (45-01, 45-02), and gave no publisher information about the songs—all signs that Forgue was new to the business.
Norman Forgue named the company after his daughter, Stepheny Eveline Forgue. When the company opened, Stepheny was in her freshman year at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. According to The Lexington Leader ("UK Sororities Extend Bids Sunday Afternoon to Coeds," October 1, 1956, p. 13), Stepheny E. Forgue of Evanston, Illinois, had pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma.
The 45s were mastered and pressed by RCA Custom Pressing, in those days the go-to for a lot of small labels. The G prefixes tell us that they were recorded and released in the final quarter of 1956. If any attention was paid to them in a print medium, we haven't seen it.
Ms. Gilbart was an alto who sang the material straight, without jazz tendencies and without affectations. Mr. Paige was a pop organist of entirely different tendencies from those exhibited by Ken Griffin, who recorded for Broadcast, Rondo, and Columbia, laying down what would be heard at every roller rink for many years after. Paige preferred the hushed tones and insinuating washes heard on many a radio soap opera (did he get regular work on them?). No one else is on Stepheny 45-01/02. "Still I Don't" is a sentimental waltz that could have been written two generations earlier; Stepheny Records wasn't aiming at jukeboxes yet, so it leaves room for instrumental interludes. "Melancholy Baby," a much better song, gets a respectful treatment from Betty Gilbart (verse and chorus). Stepheny Records would never have great distribution, but for this initial effort did Norman Forgue even have it in mind?
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|GO8W-1121||Frank Paige—Hammond Organ | Betty Gilbart—Vocal||Still I Don't Care (Paige-Gilbart)||Stepheny A45-01||c. October 1956||late 1956|
|GO8W-1122||Frank Paige—Hammond Organ | Betty Gilbart—Vocal||My Melancholy Baby (Norton-Watson-Burnett)||Stepheny B45-02||c. October 1956||late 1956|
For some time after the Gilbart/Paige foray, it looked like one and done. But grom the RCA Custom Pressing numbers out of the Indianapolis pressing plant (these run parallel to the numbers used on Salem releases during the same period), we infer that Forgue suddently picked up his activity in July 1957, with a bunch of singers and vocal groups sharing a smaller number of studio bands.
The company was still putting pairs of numbers on 45s: the 1957 offerings started with 45-03/45-04. It now added BMI or ASCAP designations but still showed no publisher information on the labels. The company had recognized that, in the singles market, money spent on label design and printing would draw more of a return than money spent on sleeve design and printing. Stepheny was named after Norman Forgue's daughter. That in itself wasn't so unusual: Connie Toole named Theron after one of his sons, and the Chess brothers named Marterry after two of their sons. The label's name had to be changed because society bandleader Ralph Marterie didn't like it; eventually Leonard and Phil Chess named their new studio Ter-Mar instead.) But Theron labels didn't have Theron Toole's picture on them; Marterry labels didn't portray Marshall and Terry Chess. The new red labels carried a black and white portrait of Stepheny Eveline Forgue, with the company name in white, in a distinctive script font. The company would keep retain this style of label for 45s through January 1960. An adapted version, with Stepheny's 1958 portrait atop a drawing of a Greek or Roman bust, was applied to LPs until the supply of blank labels ran out in 1961 or 1962.
The first announcement of renewed and enhanced production appeard in Billboard for September 23, 1957 (p. 20). It declared that Norman Forgue was running Stepheny Records in Evanston and had just put Jerry Allan, formerly a regional publicist for MGM in Kentucky and Indiana, in charge of sales. Jerry Allan was from Indianapolis, where he'd most recently been active in public relations for LaRue's Supper Club and the 16th Street Midget Speedway, among other clients (Indianapolis Star, October 10, 1957, p. 46).
In fact, Billboard had sort of covered two Stepheny releases the week before (September 16, p. 55). These were Stepheny 45-07 by Sonny Jason and Stepheny 45-11 by Marsha Winters (Billboard identified the Winters 45 by four digits of an RCA Victor matrix number). Billboard also referred to Sonny "Jackson" and relegated both singles to the tail end of the review section, where records rated less than 65 out of 100 had to sit.
Billboard's lack of interest was worrisome. Press attention was an urgent need, because Forgue was telling the magazine that he had "18 disks ready for release" (Billboard, September 23, p. 20). How do you advertise and sell 18 singles—nearly all by different artists, each of whom has maybe a local reputation—when your company is new, short on promotion, and even shorter on distribution?
To our present knowledge, the flurry of activity in the summer led to 7 singles being released in September 1957, each with a pair of numbers in the 45-01 series. (There are a couple of gaps between 45-03 and 45-18, for releases we haven't verified. And maybe someone will find something beyond 45-18.) Just these 7 singles were a lot for Jerry Allan to juggle.
Stepheny 45-11 did get some positive text out of Phil Sheridan in the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 3, 1957, p. 11). On October 7, Billboard (p. 66) passed on two more of the seven Stephenys, 45-09 (Jodie Randall) and 45-15 (The Discorders). Ms. Randall's name came out as "Dottie" and The Discorders became the "Disorders." Billboard would not give a real review to anything on the Stepheny label until April 1958.
Stepheny Records was about to pull a trick previously employed by Miracle, Chance, and Herald, among other indies that had started really slowly. If you hadn't caught the attention of the trades before, pretend you hadn't been around before… So Stepheny, whose releases were all too low-rated to earn a review in Billboard, was heralded as a brand new company, in a trade paper that hadn't covered it yet. Cash Box ran a (re)birth story on October 12, 1957 ("Stepheny Records Formed," p. 28). The outfit was really around a year old and had just changed number series. The October 12 "launch" article mentioned 18 records already pressed, 4 already being distributed.
A week before, Cash Box had reviewed the Marsha Winters record (identified as 45-12; October 5, 1957, p. 12). No one seemed to find this discrepant. Of the 18 singles, the 4 "being distributed" were obviously the 4 that had caught a notice in print. Surely every 45-03 that was ever going to be was already out. The same issue of Cash Box ("Chez Paree Meeting," October 12, p. 42) carried a photo of Sonny Jason (Stepheny 45-07) at Chez Paree in Chicago, being interviewed by the MC. Seated next to him was Jerry Allan.
On October 12, Allan put on an event for The Discorders, a vocal quartet from Aurora, Illinois. It was held at a record store, where members of the group autographed copies of "My Hula Hula Lulu." The Mayor of Aurora proclaimed it was Discorder Day. Norman Forgue presented the group with a silver record. Naturally a representative of Cash Box was on hand and a brief article with photos followed in due time ("Discorder Day," Cash Box, November 2, 1957, p. 38).
The first five singles in the 45-03 series carry consecutive matrix numbers, indicating they were mastered and pressed together. They may have originated at one or two sessions over a few days in July 1957.
Stepheny 45-03/45-04 was the work of Johnny Dane (lead vocalist; he sounds like a confident teenager) and the Discorders. We don't know whether Johnny was a member of the group, catching separate billing on the record, or a solo vocalist who recorded with them just this once. Both titles are given rock and roll renditions ("Why Did You Leave Me" was probably written as a sentimental pop ballad, whereas the composer of "Shootin' High" seems to have been aiming for a Country if not a rock and roll interpretation). Accompaniment was by piano, electric guitar, string bass, and drums; "Why Did You" incorporates a guitar solo, while "Shootin'" was a juke box operator's dream, over and done in 1:51, with no space for such things. Recording quality is excellent: Stepheny was probably using Universal for these sessions.
45-05/45-06 could be the most obscure single from a label that would produce some obscure singles. One John Keston (of whom we know nothing, except he was not an English runner and actor) recorded two songs composed by Earl Roland. If we had the SF1800 counterpart (see below), we'd be sure of Roland's publisher. And, if we could hear the single, we might have some idea of the studio ork. Earl Roland was connected with Sunny, one of at least two music publishing houses owned by Seymour Schwartz. Schwartz, then still the proprietor of Seymour's Record Mart, was on hiatus from two expeditions into the record business, first with Seymour and more recently with the very first incarnation of Heartbeat, which had put out two singles in 1956, then gone inactive. He was also occasionally placing his songs with other companies, such a side by the Gayden Sisters on Bally 1003 (also in 1956).
Sonny Jason, who was responsible for 45-07/45-08, we can actually see in a photo, thanks to the publicity in Cash Box. He was a pop vocalist with a pleasant baritone voice. On "Easy Come Kisses" Jason was accompanied by piano, vibes, electric guitar, string bass, and drums. The guitarist got a solo, which was tasteful. For "Warm Red Wine" a little studio reverb was added to give it all a feel of cloudy reminiscence. A soap opera organ (Frank Paige, surely) was added, the pianist doubled on the celeste, and no drums can be heard. Maybe Sonny Jason and John Keston were on the same session?
Jodie Randall was the stage name of Mary Jo Hughes. Mary Jo Hughes was born in Indianapolis, probably in 1928, and was living in the Chicago area when she cut her record. She made a few appearances singing on TV; the Stepheny 45 would be her first and last commercial recording. Again, Paul Foster was credited with one song and Earl Roland with the other. "Red Shoes" is a peppy show-band number with accompaniment by a trumpet, two trombones, piano, guitar, bass, and drums. The trombones get into a little call and response with the singer. "Autumn Breeze" is a saggy ballad with three trombones, mostly muted, celeste, guitar, and bass.
Another female vocalist, Marsha Winters, shared a four-tune session with Jodie Randall. Her release on 45-11/45-12 terminated a string of 10 consecutive H7OW numbers that started running on 45-03. Her mildly tearful sound is appropriate for "Stay" and "Last Goodbye." Most of the songs the company got from Earl Roland were slow, frequently in waltz time, but "Stay" is done in passable Latin rhythm: three trombones, piano, guitar, bass, and Latin percussion. On this single the truly lachrymose number, "Last Goodbye," was written by Eddy Howard, presumably the singer and leader of sweet bands. Here we find three muted trombones, piano alternating with celeste, guitar, and bass.
We have an intuition that 45-13/45-14 was purposely skipped. The two further 45-03s that we know of are most likely the product of another session in July 1957, a few days after the skein of five singles was ready for mastering and pressing.
The Discorders got top billing on 45-15/45-16, copies of which they would autograph in Aurora on Discorders Day (October 12). In a now familiar pattern, one song was by Paul Foster and the other was credited to Earl Roland and Beryl Orris. Orris was likely one of Seymour Schwartz's pseudonyms, and on the SF1800 label the publisher is Sunny. Mama didn't allow no rockin' and rollin' in here: "My Hula Hula Lulu" is a Swing number with fairly catchy lyrics. Hula hoops weren't going to be a thing for roughly another year; Lulu dwells in Hawaii. The Discorders sound a lot more like the Four Freshmen than any doowop group of the era. Accompaniment is by a saxophone section (alto, tenor, baritone, one of each), piano, electric guitar, bass, and drums. Arranged passages for the section, no solos. "Nothing Else" is a drippy ballad; the lineup remains the same for the studio band, saxophones playing sweet-band style, dominated by their alto lead.
Making a return appearance maybe 9 months after the company opened, Betty Gilbart cut "You Can't Trust a Wolf" b/w "At Last (I Have Found You)." She shared the session with The Discorders and the same studio band. The group was credited with backup singing on "Wolf"; the Discorders had more work to do there, producing the obligatory wolf whistles, but they were on the flip as well. The first batch of labels for 45-17 read "You Can't Trust a Wool." Repairing the, er, howler must have generated a surplus of corrected 45-17 labels, making the 45-03 edition of the single much more common today than the SF1800 that followed. Songwriting chores were again divided between Paul Foster ("Wolf") and Roland-Orris, published by Sunny ("Found"). "Wolf" is an unnecessarily cutesy warning to young women about predatory men, with Swing licks from the three saxes. "Found," in waltz time, has enough schmaltz poured over it to rival anything Lawrence Welk was producing at the time. There is a guest spot for an organist, who again has to be Frank Paige.
While Discorders Day awaited a little ink and a photo array, the company's next public move was to buy a full-column ad in Cash Box (October 26, 1957, p. 4). (Norman Forgue had painstakingly designed the script Stepheny Records logo, already visible on the 45-03 series labels. Little could he anticipate that in our time, his choice of font would defeat optical character recognition and keep the ad from turning up in online searches by company name.) Although at least 7 titles had been in front of DJs and distributors, all were assigned new release numbers, in an SF1800 series. 1800 was the company's street address, and SF were Stepheny Forgue's initials. The new series gave a more professional appearance to the 45s, which now also cited the music publishers, and reinforced the impression of a brand new company. The SF1800s will be covered in the next section.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|H80W7106||Johnny Dane and The Discorders||Why Did You Leave Me? (Nelson-Knoble)||Stepheny 45-03||July 1957||September 1957|
|H80W7107||Johnny Dane and The Discorders||Shootin' High (De Lucia)||Stepheny 45-04||July 1957||September 1957|
|H70W7108||John Keston||This (Roland)||Stepheny 45-05||July 1957||September 1957|
|H70W7109||John Keston||Waiting (Roland)||Stepheny 45-06||July 1957||September 1957|
|H7OW-7111||Sonny Jason||Warm Red Wine (Foster)||Stepheny 45-07||July 1957||September 1957|
|H7OW-7110||Sonny Jason||Easy Come Kisses (Foster-Burrichter)||Stepheny 45-08||July 1957||September 1957|
|H7OW7112||Jodie Randall||Little Red Shoes (Foster)||Stepheny 45-09||July 1957||September 1957|
|H7OW7113||Jodie Randall||Lonesome Autumn Breeze (Roland)||Stepheny 45-10||July 1957||September 1957|
|H7OW-7114||Marsha Winters||Stay (Roland)||Stepheny 45-11||July 1957||September 1957|
|H7OW-7115||Marsha Winters||My Last Goodbye (Howard)||Stepheny 45-12||July 1957||September 1957|
|H70W-7235||The Discorders||My Hula Hula Lulu (Foster)||Stepheny 45-15||July 1957||September 1957|
|H70W-7236||The Discorders||Nothing Else Matters (Roland-Orris)||Stepheny 45-16||July 1957||September 1957|
|H70W-7237||Betty Gilbart and The Discorders||You Can't Trust a Wolf (Foster)
You Can't Trust a Wool (Foster) [sic; one pressing]
|Stepheny 45-17||July 1957||September 1957|
|H70W-7238||Betty Gilbart||At Last (I Have Found You) (Roland-Orris)||Stepheny 45-18||July 1957||September 1957|
The October 26 ad in Cash Box is the biggest the company would ever place in a trade paper. It shows 8 titles, four of which had been mentioned in one of the trades. The release numbers spanned from SF1801 to SF1817, making it look as though all but one or two of the 18 ready-to-go 45s were part of one big SF1800 batch in October 1957. (Did Norman Forgue not want an SF1813? We haven't found a 45-13. Down the road there wouldn't be an LP numbered MF 4013, and there would be LPs numbered MF 4014, 4015, and 4016. The other number series after October 1957, for singles on the Spinning subsidiary, yields no evidence, because it ended at HM6012.)
Clearly, Jerry Allan did not want to push all 18 (or all 14, or whatever the true number was) at one time. After Allan left, Mort Hillman didn't want to either. Records weren't marketed that way, and neither salesman was feeling suicidal. At chosen intervals, Allan, Hillman, or Forgue would talk up one SF1800 release selectively. The review copies that went to Cash Box (or, hoping against hope, to Billboard) were mailed on widely spaced dates over the next three months. Because the review or mention dates, when we've found them, didn't line up with release dates, we will work up through SF1817 in numerical order. Norman Forgue had heavily front-loaded the company's 45 production; the very last Stepheny single (for Christmas 1960) would be SF1843.
It's clear from the H series numbers applied by RCA Custom Pressing, and from scattered sub-credits, to The Discorders and others, that SF1801 through SF1817 were the product of a smaller number of recording sessions, not confined to July 1957, but also not spread out beyond the end of September.
Stepheny SF1801, by Johnny Dane and The Discorders, coupled a rock and roll ballad with a vaguely Country number. It had previously been 45-03/45-04. SF1801, which shows a credit to Stepheny's house publisher, Asbury Music, didn't get reviewed till January 1958 (Cash Box, January 11, p. 12; Billboard's brush-off misprinted the issue number, January 13, p. 72). This was purely a function of what was plugged when; Norman Forgue had other businesses to run, and Mort Hillman was trying to promote one single in a few different places at roughly one time.
We think Stepheny SF1802 was by John Keston. We've seen photos of its precursor, 45-05/45-06. We wouldn't mind hearing a copy of either.
Stepheny SF1803 should be familiar. It was by Sonny Jason and had gotten a fair amount of marketing as 45-07 (Norm Forgue also mentioned it in a note to Cash Box on the fateful date of October 12, p. 40). Paul Foster had a hand in writing both songs; his name showed up frequently in Stepheny composer credits, but only in 1957. On at least some copies of SF1803, the trail-off vinyl to "Easy Come Kisses" has H8OW-7110 stamped in it where the label shows H7OW-7110.
Stepheny SF1804 had been out there for a little while too. Jerry Allan told Cash Box (November 2, 1957, p. 15) that it was getting "a big play" in Indianapolis. OK, OK, Jerry Allan and Jodie Randall were both from Naptown.
Stepheny SF1805 was the Marsha Winters single, again familiar from the 45-03 days. Jerry Allan and Norm Forgue had put in a word for it in Cash Box for October 12, 1957 (p. 14).
Stepheny SF1806 was "My Hula Hula Lulu" by The Discorders, who had been on more than one session and had seen this particular record duly fêted on October 12 in Aurora.
Stepheny SF1807 we are fairly sure was "You Can't Trust a Wolf" by Betty Gilbart and the Discorders, b/w "At Last I Found You" by Betty Gilbart, Discorders still present but not named on the label. This would complete the string of seven as they'd been released on 45-03 through 45-18. The only review we've found is from Cash Box (February 1, 1958, p. 12). The late date (new Stepheny singles, recorded in January 1958, were on the verge of appearing) we attribute to SF1807 being at the far end of the queue for Hillman's efforts. But the Cash Box review called it Stepheny "17," and 45-17/45-18 is what's usually seen nowadays. We still expect SF1807 to turn up somewhere.
With Stepheny SF1808, we start encountering sides that were recorded in time to appear in the 45-03s, but may not have seen release in that series. 1808 is by Joe Hayes in front of a band and mixed vocal group (two men, two women) led by Ted Sieber. The accompaniment is just electric guitar, piano, bass, and drums.
SF1808 also wasn't among the 8 singles advertised on October 26, and we haven't found a solitary press mention on it. Both songs are by one Frances Philipps and are best described as Country takes on rhythm and blues. (Formulaically, one could say that rock and roll was a Country take on rhythm and blues, but these sides offer a Country take on R&B and they aren't rock and roll.) "What'll" employs the Jimmy Yancey bass line, and "Please-" (completion: don't mention her name) is an R&B ballad. Hayes was a baritone with a vocal quality that is just sort of odd. There was probably a market for this material but we doubt Stepheny was able to locate it.
Ted Sieber, we can say for sure, was the pianist on this date. Theodore Henry Sieber was born in La Junta, Colorado, around 1926. He moved to Chicago to study at the Chicago College of Music, where Rudolph Ganz was one of his teachers. In 1947, Sieber was the pianist for the Ambassadors of Song, a male vocal octet that included Howard Berhalter, later of Debbie and the Diplomats (see below). From the early 1950s through the mid-1970s, Sieber led a combo that played for dancers. He also wrote jingles and appeared in advertisements. When Ted Sieber died, in September 2015, his obituary mentioned that he had recorded for Stepheny. Can this be said of any other former Stepheny artist?
We have yet to turn up a copy of Stepheny SF1809.
Stepheny SF1810 was by a piano bar artist named Jack Ring, who receives credit for piano and vocal in front of "rhythm accompaniment." His sides were done early enough to catch a release in the 45-03s; again, we haven't seen them in that form. We'd figured out Ring's line of work before we did the newspaper search on him. When it came time to celebrate the New Year, Ring was working the piano bar at Mangam's Chateau (Chicago Tribune, December 29, 1957, pt. 7 p. 10). Ring was competing with, we'll just pick a few, Buddy Charles (at the Black Orchid), Dorothy Donegan (at the London House), Chet Roble (at the College Inn lounge), Ramsey Lewis (at the Cloister Inn), and the Duke Ellington Orchestra (at the Blue Note). He probably did all right; a whole year later (Chicago Tribune, December 28, 1958, pt. 7 p. 10) he was still holding down the piano bar at Mangam's.
For two of his own songs, Ring chose a banjo (switching to electric guitar on "Deetie") and a busy drummer. Not the usual rhythm accompaniment. It seems his heart was in the 1920s. Ring was an OK singer, a little shouty; his attack on the piano was reminiscent of some Chicago musicians long departed from the scene, such as Frank Melrose. If there'd still been a market for what one of the trade papers called "cornfed razzmatazz," the kind of market that Jack Teter was able to satisfy in 1949 and 1950, Ring could have made some interesting records.
Stepheny SF1811 is another mystery, to us at least. Anybody seen it?
Stepheny SF1812 featured a singer named Jack Nelson. One of the numbers, "Return My Heart," was cowritten with Warren Knoble, a leader of pop studio bands. Although the Discorders were on two sessions, in the runup to SF1817 Nelson was the only artist besides Betty Gilbart to get two releases under his own name.
We'd thought Nelson was a pop singer, but what we get on Stepheny SF1812 is two credible Country performances. Nelson had a good tenor instrument that suited the material. "Return My Heart" is a fair song in the Hank Williams vein; "Playboy" just needed better lyrics. The accompaniment was by steel guitar (soloing on both sides), rhythm guitar, string bass, and drums, sounding as though they'd been working together for years, plus a special added attraction: a soprano saxophone. A what? Soprano saxes were rarely heard on any kind of recording in 1957; whoever played the session was used to employing the straight horn in Country music (there's a little solo on "Playboy"). Mort Hillman was from Cincinnati, the home of King Records; one would think he might have known something about the Country market. Apparently Stepheny didn't have (and wouldn't acquire) the right distribution for this kind of record.
Stepheny SF1815 included a number by Warren Knoble and a different collaborator ("Pretty Girl"). Effectively it was Nelson's theme song. His only other commercial recording that we know of had been for Chance and it, too, included "Pretty Girl." The SF1815 "Pretty Girl" comes from the same session as the two sides of 1812, but the accompaniment is pared down to electric guitar, bass, and drums. Nelson sings it as a waltz-time pop ballad, no intimations of Country. "Stingy Kisses" probably was done at a session a little while later. It uses the exact same lineup from SF1812 (steel guitar solo included, no soprano sax solo) and returns to the Country presentation. Like "Playboy," the song could have used better lyrics.
Stepheny Records did little to promote Nelson's sides; neither SF1812 nor SF1815 is known to have been reviewed anywhere. Mort Hillman did have a working relationship with the MC at an upcoming charity event, a DJ known as "Coffeehead" Larsen. So he arranged for Stepheny performers to appear at a muscular dystrophy benefit in Milwaukee. On December 14 ("Disc Stars to Perform at M. D. Christmas Party," Cash Box, p. 40), an announcement put Jack Nelson among those scheduled (along with the Ebon-Knights). But when the event took place (December 17), there'd been a lot of slippage (Cash Box, January 18, 1958, p. 55). Stepheny's sole representative ended up being Del Clarke (who is not known to have released anything on the label; previously Nelson was to have been accompanied by Judy Valentine, who isn't known to have released anything either).
Stepheny SF1814 was advertised in October 1957. It brought King Kolax and his band to the label, at a time when the veteran trumpet player was having some trouble getting club gigs. The rationale for the record was to showcase the work of a songwriter named Allen Hall, Sr. The same tune appeared on both sides, one vocal and one instrumental, like a reggae number with a "version" (sometimes done with demos, but not a very common practice for a commercial release in 1957). The vocal side featured Clyde Williams, a baritone who had been a member of a couple of vocal groups in Chicago. When this session was made, Williams was singing regularly with Sun Ra's Arkestra. For the vocal side, strings were added to the Kolax combo (it would be interesting to know who wrote the charts for them). On the instrumental side, sans strings, the quintet that King Kolax had assembled got to stretch out a little. Clyde Williams didn't get invited back, but Norman Forgue included King Kolax in his plans for a Stepheny LP later on. Songs by Prentice McCarey, who played the piano in Kolax's quintet for several years, were also used.
One of McCarey's songs was taken up by Mark Mitchell, a singer about whom we currently know nothing. Mitchell's single was Stepheny SF1816. This, too, was advertised in October 1957. McCarey composed "You Make Time Stand Still." The flip, "Love's a Fire," was credited to Goldsmith, Kime, and Severson. Warren Kime was a jazz trumpet player in Chicago, and Paul Severson played trombone and piano and did a lot of arranging, sometimes for groups that included Warren Kime. In 1954 and 1955 Severson (usually in collaboration with Kime and others) copyrighted 40 songs. Out of this entire portfolio, "Love's a Fire" looks to have been the only one that got recorded. In the opinion of Gary Heller, who researched Severson's song copyrights, Severson and Kime must have written a tune and Goldsmith attached the "Fire" lyrics to it later, without excessive regard to fit. The Prentice McCarey song (McCarey took credit for music and lyrics) was, in his opinion, better crafted.
Mitchell had a decent tenor voice, but the production on these two romantic ballads was strictly pop. Now, however, Stepheny wanted strings. Heretofore, they'd been used only on the vocal side to SF1814. Strings would not appear on another Stepheny single till SF1830, and never again after that.
Heller thinks the arrangements on SF1816 (strings, solo flute, piano, bass, drums) could have been Severson's. He also suspects the instrumental backgrounds were recorded first and the vocals dubbed over them (as was becoming a regular practice, though as far as we can tell it was not typical at this company). Paul Severson handled some pop arrangements for the Academy label (a Chicago indie that functioned from 1954 through 1958, managing to remain more obscure than Stepheny). Severson enjoyed more success recording his own jazz combos, with one LP for Academy and a second for Replica, which was run by an audio enthusiast in Des Plaines. Four Severson LP tracks (plus a fifth track not commercially released, if, as seems likely, the film's Dixieland number was one of his) also appeared in Ed Bland's eccentric film short, The Cry of Jazz, which got a few showings in 1959. Severson was mentioned in the film and some of his recordings were credited; in later years he screened it to students in his jazz history classes. But the manner in which it was assembled did little to promote his music. Severson's band was never on screen and members of Sun Ra's Arkestra appeared to be playing two or three of his pieces.
Stepheny SF1817, last in the October batch, was by a vocal quartet from Saint Louis, The Ebon-Knights. The quartet (to our despair, we don't know any of the singers' names) had been brought in for a four-tune session. Two were chosen for SF1817 and the other two were likely meant for a subsequent single. Instead, they were held for the group's LP. On this session, two trombones and an alto and a baritone sax supplemented the basic rhythm section. The alto saxophonist gets a couple of solo statements on "The Way the Ball Bounces," an effective jump. For the ballad side, the company bypassed the Chicagoland songwriters it had been relying on and got the group to sing a standard, "Poor Butterfly." Until 1959, when the company started shopping for the cheapest recording rate, Stepheny singles were nearly all well-recorded and the sonics on SF1817, we're obliged to report, are unusually good.
From the H series matrix numbers, we see that SF1814, SF1816, and SF1817 were recorded, mastered, and pressed a little later the sides by the The Discorders and Betty Gilbart. All three were nonetheless advertised in Cash Box on October 26. A real live display ad (the second and last for Stepheny in Cash Box; a year and a half later there would be a single display ad for Spinning) ran on November 9 (p. 18), pairing a photo of four Ebon-Knights with a photo of four Discorders. Again, we attribute the later dates for other promotional activity to calendar management. The gap between HO7W numbers we ascribe to the four-tune session that was, for a time, going to lead to another single, instead of the Ebon-Knights' LP, which was released in May 1958 (see below). Clearly the group was doing something right, because only one other artist who recorded for Stepheny in 1957 ended up on an LP. (That was King Kolax: he'd been on SF1814 with one quintet; he would reappear nearly a year later accompanying Harvey Ellington, with a different quintet).
After 6 or 7 weeks with Jerry Allan, Norman Forgue replaced him with Mort Hillman. A couple of months later, Jerry Allan would join Seymour Schwartz at the second edition of Heartbeat. There Allen must have recommended a ploy by then familiar (Heartbeat 1.0 had opened and closed in 1956). Hillman, meanwhile, was available because his record company, Salem, had just closed its doors. Hillman's hiring was announced in Cash Box on November 23, 1957 ("Mort Hillman National Sales Mgr. of Stephany [sic]," p. 36). Guess who wrote it? The article happened to mention that Hillman was going right out on the road to recruit distributors—and to promote SF1817. It also mentioned that in due time Stepheny would be getting into LPs; Salem had released three.
Not so coincidentally, the same issue of Cash Box related a discovery story: Forgue, while returning to his parked car in a lot in the Loop at night, had heard the Ebon-Knights performing for passers-by at the entrance to an alley. (The liner notes to the Ebon-Knights' LP, by a DJ of Hillman's acquaintance named Jerry Leighton, would thicken the dramatic detail and alter the circumstances of the meeting. Per Leighton, the four Ebon-Knights, who had driven in from Saint Louis hunting for gigs, were so broke after a week in Chicago that they were down to their last bologna sandwich, which they were eating while sitting in their broken-down car.) This was utter BS, presumably the creative writing of Mort Hillman.
The Ebon-Knights then learned four tunes and cut their first sides in four days; this might conceivably be true. The article credits one Jerry Stadin with serving as arranger and musical director. We have found no newspaper references to him, but there are composer credits to Stadin on the Ebon-Knights' LP, one of which is to a number from their first session. How about a more plausible telling: Stadin pitched the group to Stepheny, bringing them to 1800 Asbury, Evanston, Illinois to make a demo, on which basis Norman Forgue decided to record them and told Leighton (or got Hillman to tell Leighton) he had to listen to them. The BS detector needle waves back into the red zone as we run past a 10-year (!!!) personal management contract with Norman Forgue, plus a 6-month (!!!!) gig he had booked for the group in Las Vegas ("Stephany [sic] Signs New Group Discovery," November 23, 1957, p. 47). And do permit us the observation that if Norman Forgue had had anything to do with the article, he would have made sure Cash Box spelled his daughter's name correctly.
What did materialize is that Stepheny SF1817 got a positive review in Cash Box on December 7, 1957 (p. 14). And Phil Sheridan gave it another in the Philadelphia Inquirer (December 11, p. 34). Billboard? Neah, couldn't be bothered.
Forgue and Hillman were able to land the Ebon-Knights a gig at Club Laurel, 5426 North Broadway, on a bill with the Don Thompson Quintet and Ann Marie Moss (Chicago Sunday Tribune, December 22, 1957, pt. 7, p. 9). Most importantly, the Ebon-Knights were factored into Stepheny Records' album plans.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|H8OW7106||Johnny Dane and The Discorders||Why Did You Leave Me (Knoble-Nelson)||Stepheny SF1801||July 1957||October 1957|
|H8OW7107||Johnny Dane and The Discorders||Shootin' High (De Lucia)||Stepheny SF1801||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW-7110||Sonny Jason||Easy Come Kisses (Easy Go Love) (Foster-Burrichter)||Stepheny SF 1803||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW-7111||Sonny Jason||Warm Red Wine (Foster)||Stepheny SF 1803||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW7112||Jodie Randall||Little Red Shoes (Foster)||Stepheny SF1804||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW7113||Jodie Randall||Lonesome Autumn Breeze (Roland)||Stepheny SF1804||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW-7114||Marsha Winters||Stay (Roland)||Stepheny SF 1805||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW-7115||Marsha Winters||My Last Goodbye (Howard)||Stepheny SF 1805||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW-7235||The Discorders||My Hula Hula Lulu (Foster)||Stepheny SF1806||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW-7236||The Discorders||Nothing Else Matters (Roland-Orris)||Stepheny SF1806||July 1957||October 1957|
|H70W-7237||Betty Gilbart||You Can't Trust a Wolf (Foster)||Stepheny SF1807||July 1957||October 1957|
|H70W-7238||Betty Gilbart||At Last (I Have Found You) (Roland-Orris)||Stepheny SF1807||July 1957||October 1957|
|H8OW-7288||Joe Hayes with Ted Sieber's Band and Vocal Group||What Good'll It Do (Frances Philipps)||Stepheny SF1808||July 1957||October 1957|
|H8OW-7289||Joe Hayes with Ted Sieber's Band and Vocal Group||Please (Frances Philipps)||Stepheny SF1808||July 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW-8350||Jack Ring with Rhythm Accompaniment||Who's Blue (Ring)||Stepheny SF1810||August 1957||October 1957|
|H7OW-8351||Jack Ring with Rhythm Accompaniment||Deetie (Ring)||Stepheny SF1810||August 1957||October 1957|
|H8OW-8322||Jack Nelson||Return My Heart (Knoble-Nelson)||Stepheny SF1812||August 1957||October 1957|
|H8OW-8323||Jack Nelson||Playboy (LaVere-Bancino)||Stepheny SF1812||August 1957||October 1957|
|HO8W-0114||Clyde Williams with King Kolax Band||Baby You're a Little Bit Forgetful (Hall)||Stepheny SF1814||September 1957||October 1957|
|HO8W-0115||King Kolax Band||Baby You're a Little Bit Forgetful (Hall)||Stepheny SF1814||September 1957||October 1957|
|H8OW-7293||Jack Nelson||Pretty Girl (Knoble-Earnhart)||Stepheny SF1815||July 1957||October 1957|
|H8OW-8324||Jack Nelson||Stingy Kisses (LaVere-Marchfield-Raymond)||Stepheny SF1815||August 1957||October 1957|
|HO8W-0219||Mark Mitchell||You Make Time Stand Still (McCarey)||Stepheny SF1816||September 1957||October 1957|
|HO8W-0220||Mark Mitchell||Love's a Fire (Goldsmith-Kime-Severson)||Stepheny SF1816||September 1957||October 1957|
|HO7W-0223||The Ebon-Knights||The Way the Ball Bounces (Irwin)||Stepheny SF1817||late September 1957||October 1957|
|HO7W-0225||The Ebon-Knights||Poor Butterfly (Hubbell-Golden)||Stepheny SF1817||late September 1957||October 1957|
As Mort Hillman tried to bring order to the company's promotional efforts, Stepheny Records was already taking a moratorium on studio visits. Sessions resumed after the first of the year. Subsequent releases on the SF1800 series would thus carry the J prefix from RCA Victor Custom Pressings.
Another vocal group, the Mar-Vellos, was probably recorded right after New Year's 1958. Stepheny SF1818, "Boyee Yoing" b/w "Come Back My Love," was released by the end of the month. It was the first Stepheny 45 to carry a new portrait at the top of the label (the new portrait would remain in use through the first release of 1960). The Mar-Vellos had been around a while; their first recording was for the Theron label late in 1955. Unfortunately, we don't know the names of anyone in the group, though it apparently included two brothers. We do know that they were managed by James P. Johnson (he may have played the piano, but was obviously not James P. Johnson the master of Harlem stride), who led the studio band on their Theron single and cowrote some of their songs. H. P. Duncan also received a songwriting credit to one of their sides for Theron. Connie Toole, who operated Theron, sent the group on a tour in January and February 1956 but the money he invested was largely for nought; the Mar-Vellos' single would be the last on his label.
Stepheny SF1818 would be the most commercially successful record the Mar-Vellos put out. Keep in mind, we're speaking in relative terms. Billboard (February 10, 1958, p. 44) dumped the Mar-Vellos onto its less-than-70 list. The group didn't deserve this: "Boyee Yoing" is an exuberant jump, and "Come Back My Love" a solid ballad. Accompaniment, presumably directed by James P. Johnson, consisted of piano, electric guitar, string bass, and drums. A tenor saxophonist pops up with a listenable solo on "Boyee Yoing."
Period notices on the Mar-Vellos are hard to find. We have learned they were the featured attraction at the Teen Age Easter Hop in the Armory in South Bend, Indiana. Accompaniment was by local musicians ("Rock 'n' Roll Four to Sing at Teen Hop," South Bend Tribune, April 5, 1958, p. 6). Why Stepheny didn't keep the group around a little longer is unclear.
In 1961, James P. Johnson opened his own label, which was called Marvello; King Kolax was his director of A&R. The Marvellos, as their name was then spelled, recorded two tracks in 1961, which ended up oddly split between two 45s. Most likely the group broke up not long after these last two singles were released. Yet of all the 45s on Stepheny and Spinning, the Mar-Vellos' would be the only one to get a reissue on a 45 in the United States. It came on the Cha Cha label, which opened in March 1960 and in its earliest days was distributed by Stepheny. But the Marvellos single, whatever the year, was reissued on Cha Cha well after Stepheny had closed down. Incidentally, Cha Cha C756 designated "Come Back My Love" as the A side. Stepheny singles after 45-01 never had A and B sides.
Next came a group called the Cheerful Earfuls. The Earfuls were a quintet that can be seen in a photo with trumpet, tenor sax, piano, electric guitar, and drums. They boasted they could play nearly anything, and from the limited evidence of their recordings we know that one of them (we think it was the trumpeter) frequently switched to electric guitar. It wasn't your usual combo that got promoted for "Dixieland jazz and singing" and for leading a "Rock & Roll jam session"—during the same Tuesday through Sunday engagement (Decatur Sunday Times Herald, July 22, 1956, p. 42; July 29, 1956, p. 42).
The Earfuls, as their 1956 gig in Decatur, Illinois, might signify, had been on the circuit for a while. The core of the quintet consisted of the two Sotos brothers, who had left New York City for the Midwest and for a while ended up running a club in Moline, Illinois. The Earfuls already had two singles out when Stepheny Records signed them. Both were on a very small label called Zale, whose frontman was a retired boxer. The most interesting thing about Zale was not the records. It was that the guy whose money backed the label ended up getting whacked in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on orders from the Mob. The Zales appear to be from 1956. Whoever produced them didn't want to rely on the Earfuls' instrumental contributions; the Earfuls sang and a studio band directed by Mike Simpson (who would also direct studio bands for Stepheny; see below) took care of the rest.
The Earfuls had landed gigs in Chicagoland before they came to Forgue and Hillman's attention. On December 7, 1956, they were at a Christmas Seal show at Morton High School; the announcement referred to them as "rock-'n'-roll recording artists" (Berwyn Life-Beacon, December 2, 1956, p. 7). In May 1957, they were playing the revived Brass Rail in the Loop (Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1957, pt. 7 p. 12).
The Earful's release on Stepheny SF1819 consisted of a two-sided rock and roll instrumental called "The Drag." One edition of the labels attributes "The Drag" to "Frye"; the other to "C. Earfuls." Either way the publisher was the same. A rock and roll instrumental most often called for two electric guitars; there were two, and, as far as we can tell, both of them soloed. Otherwise, there are contributions from the tenor sax, the piano, and the drums. "Number One" also layers on what sounds like an electronically processed vocalise; both numbers include hand claps that appear to have been overdubbed.
The company sent the Earfuls out to a couple of events. Don Bell, a DJ in Des Moines, Iowa, was running "Bell Hops" at the Val Air Ballroom. This was one of the few venues for a band like the Earfuls in Des Moines—Iowa had a law against serving liquor by the drink until 1963, so anybody who tried to operate a real nightclub got raided and shut down. At Bell's second anniversary event on February 27, the Earfuls were scheduled to be on hand along with Ronnie Self ("'Miss Livin' Doll'," Cash Box, March 8, 1958, p. 41). On March 8, the Earfuls participated in an hours-long show put on by the record companies at the First Annual Industry-Wide Disk Jockey Convention, in Kansas City ("Huge Turnout at Deejay Convention," Cash Box, March 22, 1958, p. 23). The major labels all had acts in the show, along with smaller Midwestern operations such as Fraternity and Argo.
The Earfuls were back at Decatur Cocktail lounge on April 18, 1958, for a 10-day engagement (Decatur Daily Tribune, p. 18). They were not typed by genre this time. The next month they were in a "Rock and Roll Revue" which, with all the ambivalence still evident at the time, featured "Favorite Chicago Jazz Units." It took place at the Belmont Theater, Ashland and Lincoln. The Earfuls were billed second, after Tony Smith's Band (Chicago Daily Tribune, May 17, 1958, pt. 1 p. 15).
The Earfuls broke up a year or two later. A successor entity, just going as The Sotos Brothers, made a single for a company called Fredlo in 1961. Fredlo was based in Davenport, Iowa, where it operated at a sedate pace from 1956 through 1973; after Fredlo 6106, we are not sure what the Sotos brothers did, though there are reports of them appearing on a jazz record or two.
Stepheny SF1820 was the work of one Jerry Jaye, who wrote his own songs. Consecutive matrix numbers led us to suspect that Jaye performed on the same session as the Cheerful Earfuls. He did. The accompaniment by two guitars, piano, and drums is the work of you know who. Both sides are credible rock and roll, though Jaye doesn't seem to have been the strongest of vocalists: his singing is mildly enhanced with reverb, and on a certain phrase ("Sugar dumplin'") he is double tracked. So was Jaye a guest vocalist or was he one of the Earfuls? We have no idea. We may report that we don't hear any tenor sax on his two sides. Jaye seemed to be modeling his songs after the work of Dale Hawkins and Bobby Charles, who were under contract to Checker and Chess, respectively. And the lead guitarist on his record was familiar with the work of Chuck Berry, also under contract to Chess. All of which made for formidable competition from a well-established Chicago-based label.
Stepheny SF1821 marked the last appearance on a record by Grant Jones, who for a decade had been active as a standup blues singer. Jones had recorded for Mayo Williams' companies, Coral, and United/States. The idea in January 1958 was to make him over as a rock and roller. Mike Simpson, a Swing-based jazz musician whose axes were tenor sax, clarinet, and flute, was going to lead a rock and roll band. Somebody might have gotten a credible rock and roll record out of Grant Jones. Just not with these songs: the pursuit of teen appeal was sickly obvious. The writers had no idea what rock and roll records teenagers (or anyone else) actually liked. Not with this band, either, despite the foreground accorded to the jangly guitar; why didn't Stepheny put Jones in front of the Earfuls?
"Soda Pop Rock" has deliberately inane lyrics. As Jones fights his way through them, band members keep chanting "A-pop-a-zooey!" It doesn't help him. There is an OK tenor sax solo by Mike Simpson; other band members play trumpet, electric guitar, piano, bass, and drums. "Pinball Machine" has a theme marginally better suited to Grant Jones, maybe because he helped to write it. Somebody in the band (the drummer?) occasionally plinks a xylophone. But who in rock and roll compared a pinball machine to a "dame"? Who compared anything to a dame? Grant Jones was in good voice for the session; the material sank him.
As sporadically happens with Stepheny singles, SF1821 carries a second set of matrix numbers (incised in the vinyl only). U-4439 and U-4441 point to Universal Recording. As we are about to see, the company recorded several LPs at Universal.
The Ebon-Knights were back in the studio early in the year; from the spread between the RCA Victor numbers, we infer two sessions a few days apart. (Few Stepheny artists landed a second session, let alone a third.) Both sessions employed piano-guitar-bass-drums, with a guest appearance by a tenor saxophonist on two tracks. Stepheny SF1822, "First Date" b/w "Only, Only You," was out in February and was reviewed in Cash Box (March 15, 1958, p. 12). "First Date," the ballad, and "Only, Only," the jump, were well sung and well played. How these qualities translated into sales we don't know.
"First Date" would soon be the title cut of the Ebon-Knights' LP on Stepheny (see below), made up of tracks from their first session in September 1957 and from these two in January 1958.
Mort Hillman was able to book the Ebon-Knights into the Apollo Theater in Harlem, in a show that opened Friday February 28th. They were a good distance down the list; top billing went to Mickey and Sylvia and Billie and Lillie (New York Age, March 1, 1958, p. 17). The whole thing probably lasted one week, and it was the biggest spotlight the group ever got. The final newspaper mention we've found on the Knights was from a gig at the Chaudiere Rose Room, in Ottawa, Canada. Well, Ottawa was probably warm while they were there. The Ebon-Knights opened on May 26, 1958 (Ottawa Journal, p. 11) and the club ran ads daily during the one-week stand. Though they now had an LP out, we can't see how the group could have stayed together much longer.
Stepheny SF1823 has apparently gone missing. Has anyone seen a copy?
A singer named Bob Laurie made his first appearance on Stepheny SF1824. Lew Douglas, who led one studio ork after another on Chicago pop sessions during the 1950s, apparently had a hand in both of the songs, which were published by Vincent "Bud" Brandom's company. Allan Webster led the studio band for Stepheny. Laurie was better at portraying dejection ("Young Heart") than resolution ("Ching"). The songs were on the dull side. Still, the right band might have made them into rock and roll, whereas Webster and crew (three backing vocalists, piano, banjo, bass, drums) merely made them corny. Why a banjo? Why the ricky-tick piano? We'll never know.
The first Stepheny release aimed at a niche market was The Bush Leaguers' single, commemorating the Milwaukee Braves' World Series win the previous fall. Fulton and Steele had previously written "Only, Only You" for the Ebon-Knights. Here the writers figured Milwaukee was polkatown, so "Home of the Braves" got three male vocalists, an accordion, a clarinet, piano, tuba, and drums. The group name arose because one of the New York Yankees had disparaged Milwaukee as a "bush league town." Sure, the rhythm was right for exalting the local beer, but how were Braves fans going to do the tomahawk chop to a polka? "Vacation Time" generalizes to Wisconsin as polkaland. A female vocalist is added and the accordion is exchanged for a trumpet. Coming from a company that had shown zero previous interest in polka, what could Stepheny SF1825 have pulled in?
Stepheny SF1826, recorded in March 1958, featured vocal group performances by Debbie and the Diplomats, who were from Chicago. Courtesy of the White Doo Wop Collector site (https://whitedoowopcollector.blogspot.com/2017/01/debbie-diplomatsstepheny-records.html), we don't have to relegate the singers to anonymity, the way we still have to do with the Ebon-Knights and the Mar-Vellos. When they recorded for Stepheny, the group, to the best of our knowledge, consisted of Debbie Kelley (soprano), Bert Sterling (tenor), Mel Johnson (baritone), and Howard Berhalter (baritone), who had started working together in 1955. Apparently their strongest following was in the Indianapolis area. Some of their gigs were as backing vocalists.
The group had been on the scene before 1955, with far more of a back story than older bios have indicated. A reference (Bill Myrick, "Lone Gal Adds Zip to Quartet," Atlanta Constitution, June 6, 1960, p. 22-A) to Howard Berhalter as the "leader" suggests that he had organized the group, which, in 1953 and 1954, was merely the Diplomats. The billing as "Envoys of Song" seems to go back to the beginning. As it turns out, the group's name and billing were borrowed.
Howard R. Berhalter was born in Chicago on February 4, 1913. He was surely working as a vocalist in the 1930s. Berhalter served in the US Army in World War II, rising to the rank of sergeant. In 1946, Howard Berhalter was a member of an ensemble, the Harmony Masters, which consisted of a male vocal quartet plus a pianist; Ray Steinler, bass, was the director. In 1947 and 1948, Berhalter was a member of a male vocal octet, the Ambassadors of Song, which had been established by Ray Steinler in 1937 (Steinler directed vocal ensembles of different sizes). On the occasion of a concert given in the Upper Iowa University gymnasium, in Fayette, Iowa, Berhalter was said to be currently affiliated with the Chicago Opera Company and to be serving as a vocal soloist with the Chicago Symphony. The octet's pianist was a 21-year-old named Ted Sieber. The program was eclectic, including classics, spirituals, some older show tunes, and Western songs (these last called for a costume change: into white cowboy hats and cowboy boots; "Crowd Greets First UIU Concert," The Oelwein Daily Register, October 9, 1947, p. 1). Six months later, the Ambassadors performed for the Early Birds Breakfast Club in Spokane, Washington; one of the singers was temporarily out because of an illness in his family. Grace Prince was now playing the piano. The program was similar to what they had performed in Iowa; the audience especially liked the duet on Verdi's "Solenne in Quest'ora" by Howard Berhalter and tenor Leonard Balsamo ("Singers Please Club Audience," Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, April 27, 1948, p. 6).
The Diplomats were initially on the Harmony Masters pattern: four male vocalists and a pianist. No female singer joined the group until the second half of 1954. For a performance on the Purdue University campus on June 26, 1953, not only were the Diplomats identified by name but nearly their entire program was laid out ("Musical Program for Convo Friday," The Journal and Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, June 25, 1953, p. 3). We're pretty sure a set list for Debbie and the Diplomats would look different. Diplomats 1.0 were: Howard Berhalter (baritone); Lawrence Gray (bass); Clifford Donnally (top tenor); Bert Sterling (second tenor); Richard Phillips (piano). Three of the four had been in opera companies. Phillips would play pieces by Chopin, among other composers, during their concerts.
When the Diplomats performed at the Florentine Club in Shreveport, Louisiana, in October 1954, the writer for the local Times noted that they had performed there "two seasons ago". We're not clear when that was, but it couldn't have been prior to 1953; during 1952, Howard Berhalter was performing solo or with a female vocal trio. Often talked about by the group's publicist was a command performance at the White House for President Eisenhower. This apparently took place on June 11, 1953 (see a blurb in The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, October 11, 1955, p. 3-A). The command performance is properly credited to five Diplomats sans Debbie. The early Diplomats did a fair amount of touring and reportedly made some guest appearances with dance bands (of the sweet and not the hot variety; for instance, they worked with Fred Waring). In July 1954, there were still five Diplomats. An item on a forthcoming appearance at Ball State University ("'Diplomats' Sing at College Convo,"" Muncie Star, July 4, 1954, p. A-7) mentioned the same four singers but was didn't know what to do with the pianist, as though Richard Phillips was supposed to sing too. For an appearance at Central State College in Stevens Point, Wisconin on July 7, the Diplomats were billed as a male vocal quartet ("Dramatization Opens College Assembly Series," Stevens Point [Wisconsin] Daily Journal, June 25, 1954, p. 7). An October 16 appearance for the Woman's Club of Rock Island, Illinois could have used a different lineup, but we lack information about the personnel (The Rock Island Argus, September 1, 1954, p. 14).
A photo first used in an ad, for possibly the group's next few performances in October 1954, shows a quartet with a female singer, whose name we don't know (The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana), October 19, 1954, p. 13-A). The Diplomats were also no longer carrying their own pianist. The same photo was used for an appearance in Minneapolis, extending from just before New Year's 1955 through the week after (Minneapolis Morning Tribune, December 29, 1954, p. 7); the group was at the Flame Room in the Radisson Hotel, with Don McGrane and the house band accompanying.
Within a few weeks the first female vocalist was out of the group. A singer and dancer who went as Miss Debbie or as Debbie Kelley had moved in, negotiating her own billing. An announcement for the new group's appearance at an auto show in Sioux City, Iowa, was accompanied by a photo of... Debbie (The Independent, Hawarden, Iowa, February 17, 1955, p. 10). This signalled that she brought some sizzle to the group's performances. Her mother and father, so we are told in a blub from June 1955, had once been teamed as The Dancing Waltons. (If this is true, we don't know whether it means that Jules and Joanne Walton, who were teamed from 1940 onward, were her parents. Or, stretching a wee bit, Josie, Jules' sister and his dance partner from 1916 to 1935, and Josie's husband were her parents.) As of June 1955, the quartet's personnel had stabilized as Debbie Kelley, Howard Berhalter, Bert Sterling, and Mel Johnson.
A photo of the same group ran a year later, when Debbie and the Diplomats were slated for the first show in a summer series at Mesker Amphiteatre in Evansville, Indiana (Evansville Press, June 22, 1956, p. 27). Cathy Carr, who had recently had a hit, and Tony Bennett, who would keep having hits, were at the top of the bill.
Also in 1956, Debbie and the Diplomats (just two male singers on this occasion; they were identified as a trio on the label) cut a 78 rpm lacquer with two sides at Modern Recording Studio, 55 Wacker Drive, apparently hoping the songs would be used in President Eisenhower's reelection campaign. No other year could fit for the Diplomats, who were not yet organized in the summer or fall of 1952; Debbie is credited on the label and audible on the acetate. They were accompanied by Priscilla Holbrook at the organ. It's unlikely that such material was meant for commercial release; the acetate looks like a demo for a political campaign, not for a record company. The title now available at archive.org is "Ike's Our Guy" (running time 1:49), words and music credited to Marion P. Winkelmann. The title on the other side (in poor condition on the copy of the acetate that was submitted, so not dubbed) was probably "Eisenhower March." The reporter who interviewed Howard Berhalter during the group's 1960 run in Atlanta referred to it as another item the group had recorded without commercial success.
A report of a performance in May 1957, at a show for Masons in Freeport, Illinois, describes the group's portion of the program as "ensemble and solo singing, including light opera." The lineup on his ocassion was Miss Debbie Kelley, soprano; Bert Sterling, tenor; Howard Berhalter, baritone; and John Kenny, bass ("800 Attend Masonic Program," Freeport Journal-Standard, May 4, 1957, p. 4). It seems that Mel Johnson's place had been taken by a bass singer. Whether Johnson subsequently returned, we are not entirely sure.
Debbie and the Diplomats had a gig, maybe right before their session, at Yeamans Supper Club in Detroit (Detroit Free Press, March 7, 1958, p. 39). When it recorded for Stepheny, the group was making the second trip to the studio under its own name.
Composer credits on both sides of Stepheny SF1826 went to Mascari and Wenzlaff, whose publisher was Bob-Cor. Mort Hillman knew these guys. The same writers and publisher had shown up around a year earlier on Salem S- 1002, by the Off-Beats. Here the songs sit uneasily between big band and rock and roll. "Burnin' the Torch" is a little more believable as rock and roll. Debbie, who takes an occasional solo line, and the three Diplomats (Bert Sterling, Howard Berhalter, and either Mel Johnson or someone like John Kenny) get some nice ensemble passages; otherwise, the vocal sound can get turbid. Accompaniment is by those two trombones (crossed slides could have been a company trademark), piano, electric guitar (with a brief solo on "Burnin'"), string bass, and drums. "Unchangeable," the ballad side, tends toward the big band. Lyrics are well above average for Chicago professional songwriter product. But neither side is really doowop, though we suspect it was another thing the group could do.
Stepheny-Spinning did a couple of activities to promote the record. In June, DJ Jim Lounsbury started a series of dances for teenagers, each Saturday night at the West End Ballroom, 121 North Cicero. A couple of live acts would appear, and the rest of the dancing would be to records. Debbie and the Diplomats, identified as Stepheny recording artists, were one of the two acts scheduled for the first event (Suburbanite Economist, June 4, 1958, p. 20). In July Debbie and crew were on the bill at the Chaudiere Rose Room in Ottawa, six weeks after the Ebon-Knights had put in an appearance (Ottawa Citizen, July 15, 1958, p. 23). They got further work in Canada, at the Casa Loma in Montréal (The Gazette, July 31, 1958, p. 12).
It would be nice to hear the quartet singing the songs it featured most nights. Stepheny wasn't going to attempt that; it did not invite Debbie and the Diplomats back to the studio.
We don't know the group's whereabouts in the early part of 1959, but one of the engagements they had lined up was for a June dinner dance, to be put on by the Junior Cancer League in the far south of Chicago. They were to appear with Ted Sieber's orchestra, which had recorded for Stepheny in 1957 (see above, SF1808), and a comedian then known as Stan Howard (Rhea Rosenberg, "Jr. Cancer League Sets Dinner Dance," Chicago Daily Calumet, April 28, 1959, p. 4). You'll be reading more about Stan Howard. For now, suffice to say that his real name was Stanley H. Brasloff, he was born in Philadelphia a little before 1930, he entertained troops during World War II, we've found newspaper ads for his club appearances going back to 1948, and for a while he'd been based in Chicago, where in 1948 he'd headed a show for teenagers on WGN-TV.
In the summer, it looked as though there would be a single by the group for another company, even an LP, with emphasis on songs the group did regularly. A blurb in The Gazette ("New Show Tonight at Casino," August 28, 1959, p. 11) for an appearance at the Bellevue Casino in Montréal said the group's recording of a medley from My Fair Lady was a hit, and that "The Best Things in Life Are Free," "Old Fashioned Girl," "I Love You Truly," and "Shake Rattle and Roll" were on the LP. A record deal had fallen through.
What's interesting is that Debbie and the Diplomats were on a released recording in 1959. It slipped past without an allusion in the Montréal blurb, or in any other we've seen for the group. An LP on RCA Victor's budget subsidiary, Camden, featured a studio band honoring Jean Goldkette, a legendary leader and impresario of the 1920s. In 1959, Goldkette was somewhere between 61 and 66 years old. He was still playing the piano and hadn't made a commercial recording since 1929. Chauncey Morehouse, the drummer, was the only musician who had been in his band in the 1920s. Goldkette was on board as the nominal leader, while Irving Brodsky played the piano on the date. The arrangements to "Dinah" and "My Pretty Girl" were taken directly off old records; the other tunes (all from the era, but not previously recorded by any Goldkette band) were arranged by Sy Oliver. Although the other instrumentalists (such as Doc Seversinson, trumpet; Will Bradley and Urbie Green, trombone; Hank D'Amico, reeds; George Barnes, guitar and banjo) were too young to have played in it, they were fairly successful at recreating the band's sound in the late 1920s. Noboby tried to replace Bix Beiderbecke or Frankie Trumbauer, but the saxophonists aimed for a period sound in their solos and a violinist took several solos in the manner of Joe Venuti. There were vocalists on four tracks, doing one-chorus band singing: nothing was said about them or their performances in the notes, but they were credited on the labels. Lou Hurst sang "Blue Skies" and "Who?" in a period high tenor. Debbie and the Diplomats sang "Always" and "Put Your Arms around Me, Honey." Reasonably, the weren't trying to sound like one of the vocal groups that Goldkette had recorded with. On "Arms," the vocal arrangement didn't favor Debbie; the real problem was that it was the weakest song used on the album. "Always" was a much better song and it yielded a better performance by the group; Bobby Christian (see above) might have learned a little from this rendition. Camden CAL 548 was recorded in New York City and was released on July 13, 1959. It didn't make a splash.
Two album cuts thus constitute the group's last known recording. Did RCA Victor record Debbie and the Diplomats at other sessions and then decide not to release anything? Or did another company do that?
In October 1959, Debbie and the Diplomats were at the Tower Club in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The advertisement (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 25, 1959, sec. 2, p. 14) has them in for "one week only" (October 26-31), but they might have extended their stay.
In January 1960, Debbie and the Diplomats appeared at a Chamber of Commerce banquet in Schererville, Indiana, as part of Paul Marr's All-Star Show ("Munster Chamber Dinner Wednesday," The Hammond Times, January 10, 1960, p. A-11). The Diplomats kept working as a quartet. This was far from a sure thing in 1960. While the group was in the midst of a second, longer engagement in Hot Springs, up popped an announcement that Debbie would be leaving. On February 26, 1960, the Chicago Tribune (pt. 3, p. 14) stated that comedian Stan Howard was headed from Chicago to Hot Springs to "get hitched to Debbie Kelley." Debbie was expected to leave the group and work with Stan instead (besides doing stand-up, he served as MC on some of his gigs). It appears they got married; possibly Debbie was also working with Stan and not the Diplomats in Hot Springs in April (the Southtown Economist had Stan Howard at one of the hotels there on April 12, p. 29). All we can say is, there would be more notices on Debbie and the Diplomats. In fact, their return visit to the Tower Club had been announced as running from February 15 to March 26 (Hope Star, Hope, Arkansas, February 15, 1960, p. 2). The only personnel change we know took place was that Al Hunt, bass, definitely took over the position once held by Mel Johnson, baritone (Bill Myrick, "Lone Gal Adds Zip to Quartet," Atlanta Constitution, June 6, 1960, p. 22-A). We're indebted to Myrick for going behind the PR packet and actually interviewing members of the group. In August, the group was across the border again, at the Killarney Supper Club in Windsor, Ontario (Windsor Star, August 22, 1960, p. 21). Stan Howard had performed at the same joint, but wasn't on the bill this time. In early September, the group was at the Gay Haven Supper Club in Detroit (on September 9, the Detroit Free Press, p. 12, mentioned they were finishing up their engagement). On September 10, they were set for a dinner dance for the local Amvets chapter in Itasca, Illinois, along with Del Rene and his ork (Suburbanite Economist, August 31, 1960, p. 6).
The 1961 Diplomats, however, were reduced to a trio. Bert Sterling, an original Diplomat with 8 years of service, had left the group. And now there were noticeable gaps between their bookings. During the year, Howard Berhalter took at least two non-Diplomat gigs. There were also notices for Stan Howard and Debbie Kelley together, starting in June 1961.
June found Stan Howard and Debbie Kelley on the road, stopping at El Morocco in Montréal (The Gazette, June 12, 1961, p. 11). (A few weeks later, El Morocco brought Sun Ra and his Arkestra in for July 31, 1961, apparently under the misapprehension that they played rock and roll. The club's management fired them after two days.) In July Howard Berhalter and the other remaining Diplomat worked a two-week show in Minneapolis with a different soprano ("First Rehearsals for Aqua Follies Are This Week," Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, July 2, 1961, p. 4). Howard Berhalter and Bert Hanson, who the paper noted was from Minneapolis, would be accompanying Catherine Emma, who was from Chicago and had been in the Lyric Opera, during the Aqua Follies shows from July 12 through 23. They had to be on hand to rehearse for at least a week before opening night.
Berhalter and Hanson worked at least one Diplomats gig after the Aqua Follies. A review of the group's second run in Orlando that year (Stan Roberts, "Debbie, Diplomats Big Hit", Orlando Evening Star, August 22, 1961, p. 10-A), mentions a rendition of "Down by the Riverside" and describes "Shake Rattle and Roll" as the "show-stopper" (with abundant dancing and acrobatics). Medleys from Flower Drum Song and The Sound of Music were also included. Now what if Stepheny (or RCA Victor, or somebody) had recorded "Down by the Riverside" b/w "Shake Rattle and Roll"?
In October, Stan Howard and Debbie Kelley were once again at El Morocco in Montréal for a couple of weeks (The Gazette, October 21, 1961, p. 23).
We've seen no notices for Debbie and the Diplomats beyond the second Orlando, Florida appearance. The group ran out its string in 1961 without making another record. Some edition of the Diplomats had been performing for nearly 9 years. Debbie and the Diplomats had already together for 5 years according to Bill Myrick ("Lone Gal Adds Zip to Quartet," Atlanta Constitution, June 6, 1960, p. 22-A). On calling it quits, they had worked for close to 7.
In 1962, Howard Berhalter went on tour with vocal group a lot like the old Ambassadors of Song. It presented classical and light opera material, along with an occasional pop or show tune, and logged many miles on the road. The group did include one female singer along with the eight men. The group got excellent reviews, except on the one occasion that the local newspaper critic was a voice teacher. In 1963, Berhalter, still identified as a singer, was living in Florida; he would turn 50 that year. In 1963, any references to the Diplomats were in the past tense: for instance, a singer and voice teacher named Bob Quint had, at different times, been a Jack Halloran Singer and a member of Debbie and the Diplomats (The News Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan), April 10, 1963, p. 11). Howard Berhalter lived in South Florida for many years, moved to Palm Springs, California, for a while, then came back to Florida. He died in Fort Lauderdale on July 2, 1997, at the age of 84. In his obituary, all those years he'd committed to vocal groups rated half of one sentence, which mentioned only an "all-male" group (The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, California, July 7, 1997, p. B2).
Debbie Kelley made a fair numbr of appearances with Stan Howard from 1962 to 1968. A radio apperance in Miami, Florida, in 1966, noted that it was (approximately) their fifth wedding anniversary. Once in a while, Stan was on the bill with another vocalist; we haven't seen any notices on Debbie singing solo without Stan. The last notice we've found is from May 1968.
In 1972, Stan Howard was still doing stand-up when he needed the money, but he'd recovered the identity of Stan Brasloff, spent a fair amount of time (uncompensated) around movie sets learning how they were made, and produced an independent film that was in theatrical release. To publicize the film, a couple of newspapers ran lengthy interviews with him. Debbie was never mentioned, either in today's news or in reminiscence; the implication is that they were no longer together. After his movie failed to run up grosses at the box office, we quit finding press notices on Stan, under either last name. Nothing has shown up until 1995, when Stan was married to the former Cecilia Gallo and his stepdaughter, Dina Gallo, was getting married in Florida. Stan Brasloff died in Philadelphia on April 17, 2003 (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 19, 2003, p. C11).
Stepheny SF1827, by Jack Fascinato and Orchestra, featured two instrumentals and was taken off Fascinato's LP, MF 4004. Right off the LP: the matrix numbers for the single immediately follow those for the two sides of the album. We promise to tell more of the story below. The sides had been recorded by Fascinato in his home studio, most likely in 1956. Fascinato had some success leasing his vocal sides to KaHill and Fraternity. But such companies didn't think his instrumentals would sell, and just two were picked up. "Diggin' Duggan" and "Road Runner" were among those that had to wait until Stepheny elected to make 14 Fascinato tracks into an LP.
"Duggan" brings instant immersion into a world of sound like no other. The theme is stated on tuned bongos. Fascinato's themes often sound like Western Swing (how often did he use some of these lines behind Tennessee Ernie Ford?). But then Fascinato's musicians improvise on them. (We have no way of telling which instruments heard on these sessions were played by other people, or by how many other people, and how many by Fascinato himself.) "Duggan" includes an electric guitar solo that is definitely jazz; there are contributions on string bass, drums, several other percussion instruments, heightened with a couple of splashes of accordion. "Road Runner" uses a similar ensemble. Now the theme is stated on accordion (with the restraint characteristic of Reno Tondelli; again see below), there is a solo on tuned bongos, and other percussion is again spotlighted. Each piece is jukebox operator length: 2 minutes or less.
The Fascinato single was reissed on 45 rpm in the Netherlands, on a label called Delahay (SF5003).
Sun Ra would feature tuned bongos on a memorable session. It was done in New York in November 1965; Sunny and the core of his Arkestra had made their exit from Chicago in 1961. The Ra's esthetic aims were entirely different, but one has to wonder: did the former Sonny Blount ever cross paths with Jack Fascinato, when they were working in Chicago? It seems like the kind of meeting that cosmic forces would have strained and lashed against. But there was time; Sunny and Jack were both on the scene from 1946 through 1956.
Stepheny SF1828, credited to The Sunny Nodaks, aimed at even more of a niche market. Someone had anticipated the nicheness; the single is designated as a Limited First Edition. Steele and Fulton had written a jingly number to promote North Dakota, with the vocal version on Side A and the instrumental version on the flip. To put commercial potential in perspective, in the late 1950s the city of Milwaukee had about 100,000 more people in it than the the entire state of North Dakota.
Like SF1814, this was a record to promote a song: vocal on one side, instrumental version on the other. There are no surprises on the vocal side. Instrumentation is similar to what we've heard from the Bush Leaguers: trumpet, alto sax, accordion, piano, banjo, tuba, drums. There's a male vocal quartet, members of which might have already celebrated the Milwaukee Braves. The song, whose lyrics ("Say hello ta/ North Dakota," etc.) we may describe as uncomplicated, is performed first as a polka, then more slowly as an unaccompanied barbershop quartet (the singers know their business), finally as a fast march, with added piccolo. Corny, but it's got some craft in it.
Then we flip the record over. We're not in North Dakota any more. We've got Dixieland. Dixieland by a serious band: trumpet, trombone, clarinet, piano, banjo, tuba, drums. The clarinetist gets a solo. The banjo player gets a solo (with a worked-out background). he trombonist solos. All are really good. Then there's a final flourish from the drummer. Wait a minute... did Danny Alvin's band take over? To our knowledge, no one's ever said that Alvin and crew played on SF1828. But they did record for Stepheny (see below). Maybe someone talked them into one more quick visit to the studio. For Danny Alvin, it could have been his very last visit; this session seems to postdate the two for his LP.
Stepheny SF1829 consisted of two weepers sung by Bob Laurie and backed by the Allan Webster Orchestra; they'd scored their second session for the label. This time around, the piano part dispensed with no clichés, but was no longer ricky-tick. Three or four backup singers also participated. The only instrument to get any prominence was the guitar; problem was, it needed to be a steel guitar. These songs weren't going to work without whole-hog Nashville production. They didn't get it. Laurie probably didn't have the right vocal quality in any case. "Our Last Dance" still sounds dejected after we learn that that the beloved changed her mind, whispered in his ear, and they're still in their last dance. If you don't listen carefully to the words, you'll miss the twist.
Tommy Nichols was a pop singer who had been active in and around Chicago for around a decade, often accompanying himself on piano. He didn't record often. His only other appearances on singles had been for Chess in January 1953 (the Chess brothers, in an abortive early foray into pop music, hired a violin-laden studio ork to back him), then on one side of a Lee Monti record for Sharp farther into the year. His single on Stepheny SF1830 was in the same Italian vein as his appearance with Lee Monti.
Nichols had a good voice. We regret to say he made substantially better use of it on the Chess session. The Villa Venice Orchestra included, by our estimate, four violins, three trombones, a harp, guitar, piano, bass, and drums, plus a bunch of backup singers. All it lacked was an accordion. "Three Sisters" is an imitation Italian pop number, sung partly in Italian, partly in English. It's cute, but the overproduction wins. "Miss You" is all in English, the choir takes a hike, and trombones and violins play muted. Nichols compensates by going over-the-top melodramatic.
Bevi Wright got a little promotion in Cash Box, as a new artist Stepheny had plans for. She was described as a folk singer and the company was going to give her not one whole LP, but one whole series of LPs. Mort Hillman knew Art Ford, a prominent DJ based in Newark, New Jersey, and Ford had recommended her ("Stepheny to Enter Package Market," Cash Box, May 10, 1958, p. 84). If the Cash Box article is credible, Stepheny had already signed Bevi Wright in May. Meanwhile, there was a little matter to regulate: Ms. Wright had to finish high school. She did not make an appearance in Chicagoland until July, when she was performing at the Gate of Horn on a bill with the Gateway Singers. (The Gate was the ideal venue for a folkie in Chicago in 1958; somebody worked to land this gig for her). At the Gate of Horn she accompanied herself on the guitar. The Tribune scribes liked her. She told one (July 13, 1958, pt. 7 p. 8) that she wasn't sure whether she wanted to be a folk singer, a pop singer, or some combination thereof. She was 18 and had just graduated from high school in New Jersey. Another spot of coverage (Chicago Tribune, July 27, 1958, pt. 3 TV-radio) stated that at age 5, she had been on a Mutual Radio Network children's show out of New York City, that she had been singing folk music in public only for a few months, and that this was her first engagement away from home.
In the end all that materialized was one single, Stepheny SF1831. The single was recorded in August. It looks to us as though Bevi Wright, the enthusiasm of a couple of scribes notwithstanding, didn't stick around Chicago long enough to do another session. Very likely, this was because she didn't find more work in Chicago. Despite early lofty expectations, the company did not release anything else of hers, not even the two further tracks that she might have made at a four-tune session, and probably didn't try to record anything further.
"You Know You Belong to Somebody Else" is a pop tune. It's one that Bevi Wright was comfortable with and that she could deliver while accompanying herself on the acoustic guitar. Stepheny/Spinning wasn't satisfied leaving it to Bevi and her guitar. A good-sized choir edged into the studio, and whoever did the vocal arrangement had them sing "leave me alone" more loudly than any of the other words assigned to them. It's Wright, we think, who wanted to be left alone. Wright's own song, "Lost Love," was an ordinary ballad, but it too would have benefited from a less-is-more policy. Now, in addition to the choir, there was a soap opera organ (Frank Paige again?), plus a rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, and drums in which Wright didn't seem to be participating. At times she seemed to be forcing, just to be heard over the overproduction.
Stepheny SF1831 was released in September, receiving a tepid review in Billboard (October 13, 1958, p. 42) and, as usual, a more favorable review from Cash Box (October 25, 1958, p. 10). We wonder whether Bevi Wright was singing in public when the reviews came out.
She didn't have much more of a run. In January 1959, Bevi Wright was in a stage production of Eugene O'Neill's Desire under the Elms at the North Jersey Playhouse in Fort Lee ("'Desire' Stars Husband, Wife," Bergen Evening Record, January 27, 1959, p. 26). In July 1960, she was singing again, at The Embers in Akron, Ohio, on a bill with Jimmy Boyd, a jazz pianist (Akron Beacon-Journal, July 12, 1960, p. 37). She was billed as a "Lovely Shad Recording Star." The gig was good for a couple of weeks, judging from the ads that the club ran (they're the only ads we've ever seen for Bevi Wright). Shad Records, one of many labels operated at one time or another by industry veteran Bob Shad, was active in 1959 and 1960. It was partial to vocal groups from Long Island or North Jersey, probably also to recommendations from Art Ford. So it's plausible that Shad recorded Bevi Wright; problem is, we can't find a release by her. While in Akron, Bevi Wright was talked into making an ad for Garner Brothers Drive-In, located a couple of blocks from The Embers. How she really felt about being photographed holding up a king-sized It sandwich, we aren't sure we want to know ("Who Is It? What Is It?" Akron Beacon-Journal, July 20, 1960, p. 43).
Unless someone digs up a released 45 on Shad, we can credit Bevi Wright with just one other commercial recording after her Stepheny. It was for Cap Records, a small company that first used an address in the Woods Building in Chicago; the label was fitfully active from 1962 through 1979. Presumably she had to return to Chicago to record Cap C-073, "Teen Dreams" b/w "His Arms Are Open Wide." The songwriters and publishers would have been familiar from her time with Stepheny, and we doubt she brought her guitar. Lew Douglas arranged the session and conducted the studio ork. The year is said to be 1962. C-073 didn't advertise the connection on the label, but some other Cap 45s identify it as a subsidiary of Cha Cha. Cha Cha, run by Don De Lucia, songwriter and proprietor of Don-Del Music, had been assisted at its launch in 1960, when Stepheny brought Cha Cha into a cooperative distribution arrangement called the Discmaker's Group. We haven't found another notice on Bevi Wright anywhere; apparently her career ended when she was 22.
The Four Four's were another male vocal quartet. That's all we know. We're indebted to Dr. Robert Stallworth for a copy of their record, which isn't often found today. Margie Maye, the composer of "Cry and Cry and Cry" for the second Bob Laurie single, reappeared here as the co-composer of "Where Are You." Now she was going as Marji Maye.
The Four Four's aimed at, and achieved, a square ensemble sound. There must have been dissension about the kind of music they were performing. If one focuses on the piano, guitar, bass, and drums, both songs have reliable R&B underpinnings. Had the melody and harmony moved somewhat predictably on top of these, the performances might not have been special, but they would have been good enough to play on popular radio. So how do we explain the trumpet here, the trombone there, the baritone sax somewhere else, throwing out Swing licks? On "Where Are You," we keep hearing from a trombone off to the side, muted, and a baritone sax up front, never dropping below ff. The incongruous elements make for music that's mildly weird, massively unsure of its identity.
Percussionist, bandleader, and composer Bobby Christian had been a Salem artist. We can't rule him out as a session participant in the early going. We suspect it was Mort Hillman who signed him to Stepheny (if so, signing him could have been the last major action that Hillman took before departing for New York). As 1958 began, Christian was recording for other small labels. He also made an LP for Mercury, Mr. Percussion, that was freshly recorded at Universal, in stereo; apparently Christian didn't keep possession of the masters, either. "Crickets on Parade" and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," as they appeared on the Mercury LP, were remakes. "Mr. Percussion" could have been made some months prior, but was released in November 1958. A session for Stepheny, right after the Mercury LP was released, resulted in SF1833, coupling "Caravan" with an original called "Boola." Stepheny got the record out in a hurry. Christian normally employed a regulation big band, with trumpet, trombone, and saxophone sessions; "Boola" and "Caravan" were made without the band. "Boola" seems to be purely the work of Christian and his guitarist, with help from overdubs. "Caravan" adds a string bass and an "obbligato by Vernyle" (we'll explain that later). Judging from the J series numbers, there was a followup session a week or so later, which contributed to at least Stepheny SF1835 out of Christian's 1959 releases.
Christian and band were playing a lot of engagements in 1958, including college and even high school dances. One of their bigger gigs, in the approximate time frame, was at the Martinique restaurant during the holiday season (Southtown Economist, December 24, 1958, p. 10). Stepheny Records also went forward with a Bobby Christian LP, probably planned soon after signing but deferred till early in 1959. "Boola" and "Caravan" would be included on it, along with other tracks almost certainly recorded at the same sessions.
Stepheny and Spinning, as our comment on signing Bobby Christian might have indicated, underwent a major shake-up in November 1958. Mort Hillman was approaching the end of a one-year contract. Instead of renewing it, he moved to New York City, where he'd probably wanted to be for a while. He settled in the Whitestone neighborhood of Queens. Hillman's first gig in the Apple was Vice-President and General Manager of Citation Records, run by arranger Irving Szathmary ("Mort Hillman Joins Citation," Cash Box, November 29, 1958, p. 37). On April 13, 1959, Hillman became the top executive for DJ Art Ford, who had several enterprises to operate when not spinning disks: Ford was making movies, doing music publishing, running jazz festivals, and giving public speeches ("Hillman to Ford Office," Cash Box, April 18, 1959, p. 52). And as we've noted, Hillman and Ford already knew each other (it's possible Hillman had worked for Ford before he moved to Chicago). In September 1959, Hillman took over as general manager for sales and A&R, reporting to Sidney Siegel at Seeco Records. Seeco ("Mort Hillman New Seeco Gen. Mgr." Cash Box, September 19, 1959, p. 33) was expanding from Latin music (which had long been its specialty) into pop, and Hillman was expected to recruit and sign artists; he even got a couple of jazz musicians to record LPs for the label. Mort Hillman settled in at Seeco for three years. He was also able to get his (first?) wife, Marcia, involved in some of the company's projects. Over the next decade, Hillman would change jobs a few more times, but the relocation was permanent.
Norman Forgue took his time before bringing aboard another VP in charge of sales; Ralph Cox, who'd worked for a number of distributors in Chicago, was hired in January 1959. Cox would last a few months, in a more narrowly defined role; he visited distributors and talked to Cash Box, but there is no evidence that he either expected, or was allowed, to do any A&R. Forgue had a backlog of Hillman projects on his hands, so the company's new recording slowed considerably while Cox was in charge of sales.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|J9OW-0359||The Mar-Vellos||Boyee Yoing (Duncan-Johnson-Dapper)||Stepheny SF1818||January 1958||January 1958|
|J9OW-0360||The Mar-Vellos||Come Back My Love (De Lucia-McDonald)||Stepheny SF1818||January 1958||January 1958|
|J9OW-0463||Cheerful Earfuls||The Drag — Number One (Frye or C. Earfuls)||Stepheny SF 1819||January 1958||February 1958|
|J9OW-0464||Cheerful Earfuls||The Drag — Number Two (Frye or C. Earfuls)||Stepheny SF 1819||January 1958||February 1958|
|J9OW-0465||Jerry Jaye||Sugar Dumplin' (Jaye)||Stepheny SF 1820||January 1958||April 1958|
|J9OW-0466||Jerry Jaye||How Could You Lose Your Trust in Me (Jaye)||Stepheny SF 1820||January 1958||April 1958|
|Grant Jones | Mike Simpson's Orchestra||Soda Pop Rock (Les and Toby Weinrott-Mike Simpson)||Stepheny SF 1821||January 1958||February 1958|
|Grant Jones | Mike Simpson's Orchestra||Pinball Machine (Weinrott-Simpson-Jones)||Stepheny SF 1821||January 1958||February 1958|
|J7OW-0498||The Ebon-Knights||First Date (Daniels-Daniels)||Stepheny SF1822||January 1958||February 1958|
|J7OW-0524||The Ebon-Knights||Only Only You (Steele-Fulton)||Stepheny SF1822||January 1958||February 1958|
|J8OW-0593||Bob Laurie | Allan Webster Orchestra||How Much Can a Young Heart Care (Douglas-La Vere-Glazier)||Stepheny SF1824||February 1958||March 1958|
|J8OW-0594||Bob Laurie | Allan Webster Orchestra||Ching-a-Ling-Ling (Douglas-Mellan-La Vere)||Stepheny SF1824||February 1958||March 1958|
|J8OW-2940||The Bush Leaguers||Home Sweet Home of the Braves (Fulton-Steele)||Stepheny SF1825||March 1958||April 1958|
|J8OW-2941||The Bush Leaguers||Vacation Time (Fulton-Steele)||Stepheny SF1825||March 1958||April 1958|
|J8OW-3048||Debbie and the Diplomats||Burnin' the Torch (Mascari-Wenzlaff)||Stepheny SF 1826||March 1958||May 1958|
|J8OW-3049||Debbie and the Diplomats||Unchangeable Heart (Mascari-Wenzlaff)||Stepheny SF 1826||March 1958||May 1958|
|J8OW-3198||Jack Fascinato and Orchestra||Diggin' Duggan (Fascinato-Berke)||Stepheny SF 1827||1956||May 1958|
|J8OW-3199||Jack Fascinato and Orchestra||Road Runner (Fascinato)||Stepheny SF 1827||1956||May 1958|
|J7OW-4939||The Sunny Nodaks||North Dakota | Vocal (Steele-Fulton)||Stepheny SF1828||April 1958||1958|
|J7OW-4940||The Sunny Nodaks||North Dakota | Instrumental (Steele-Fulton)||Stepheny SF1828||April 1958||1958|
|J8OW-5955||Bob Laurie | Allan Webster Orchestra||Our Last Dance (Fox-Douglas)||Stepheny SF 1829||May 1958||August 1958|
|J8OW-5956||Bob Laurie | Allan Webster Orchestra||Cry and Cry and Cry (May)||Stepheny SF 1829||May 1958||August 1958|
|J8OW-7641||Tommy Nichols | Joe De Salvo with the Villa Venice Orchestra||Three Sisters (A-Tiri-Tumba) (De Salvo-Nicolosi)||Stepheny SF1830||July 1958||August 1958|
|J8OW-7642||Tommy Nichols | Joe De Salvo with the Villa Venice Orchestra||Miss You (Tobias)||Stepheny SF1830||July 1958||August 1958|
|J8OW-9411||Bevi Wright||You Know You Belong to Somebody Else (Siras-Monaco-West)||Stepheny SF1831||August 1958||October 1958|
|J8OW-9412||Bevi Wright||Lost Love (Wright)||Stepheny SF1831||August 1958||October 1958|
|JO8W-1192||The Four Four's||Are You Lonely (Burke-Herscher)||Stepheny SF1832||September 1958||October 1958|
|JO8W-1193||The Four Four's||Where Are You (Maye-Spector)||Stepheny SF1832||September 1958||October 1958|
|JO8W-3098||Bobby Christian | The Man with a Sound||Caravan (Mills-Ellington-Tizol)||Stepheny SF1833||November 1958||prob. December 1958|
|JO8W-3099||Bobby Christian | The Man with a Sound||Boola (Sweetwater)||Stepheny SF1833||November 1958||prob. December 1958|
The five LPs weren't the only big launch in May 1958. Stepheny opened a subsidiary called Spinning (unfortunately, kind of an obvious name for a record label). From the J series numbers, we can see that the first Spinning releases were being worked on around the same time as the first Stepheny LPs. The subsidiary's labels were mostly light green or green-blue in color and the logo looked nothing like the Stepheny logo. Release numbers were in an HM6000 series. Mort Hillman's initials, backwards?
Spinning was immediately oriented toward rock and roll (which arrived late at the parent label) and doowop.
First out was a batch of three. Mort Hillman had introduced Salem 45s the same way.
Eddie Thomas, a credible rock and roller, would show up later on Stepheny SF1837; the rationale for trading labels remains opaque to us. One side of Spinning HM6001 was a clever novelty number complaining that his girlfriend wouldn't hold him tight, except when they were watching a horror movie and she was frightened out of her wits. Accompaniment was by piano, electric guitar, string bass, and drums. Lots of shrieking was laid on to create an acceptable Halloween novelty. We've heard "Frankenstein Rock" because it's available online; the flip still eludes us.
The Jim Eddy single on HM6002 also aimed at rock and roll. This time the company was partly successful. The ballad side, "Cry Cry Cry," used Eddy's agreeable tenor to portray a high school boy who had broken up with his girlfriend. Even if Jim Eddy was really 15 years older than the protagonist, he sounded right. Accompaniment was piano, electric guitar, string bass, and drums; enticements to overproduce were stoutly resisted. We wish we could say the same for "The Bells of Love," where the previous ensemble is partly smothered by three extremely busy female backup singers. Maybe the company thought the backup singing would keep the song's scrawny joints from being exposed. The money would have been better expended on a better song...
The Petites were a family vocal ensemble. They were from northwestern Iowa (Emmetsburg) and before they recorded were known as the Pettit Family. The parents were Claude and Marie Pettit. Marie did the initial vocal coaching and training. The group first appeared in public in 1947, at a firemen's ball in Emmetsburg. The oldest newspaper notice we've found, in the Algona Upper Des Moines ("Recent Visitor in Europe to Give Address," October 11, 1951, p. 9) announced the annual meeting of the Kossuth County Farm Bureau, to take place at Burt High School. "Entertainment will be furnished by the Kossuth County Rural Women's Chorus, the Pettit family from Emmetsburg and the German Township Male Quartet." In its earliest edition, the group consisted of the four oldest children, Alice, Bob, Pati, and Mary; their mother provided accompaniment. As children grew up, the personnel shifted; Claudia joined the group some years before the Stepheny/Spinning session. The family moved to Ruthven and then to Spencer. By the mid-1950s, the Pettit Family was drawing lots of press notices from Iowa newspapers. In 1956, the family was living in Des Moines. In 1957 the vocal group was working regularly with a band. For instance, the Pettit Family with Ralph Zarnow and His Orchestra were booked into the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, for July 20, 1957 (Mason City Globe-Gazette, July 12, 1957, p. 8)
On their two singles for Spinning, the blend makes it hard to tell how many by ear, but our best estimate is four female voices. No tricky harmonies, but the girls' ensemble was the kind that could be achieved only from years of working together. In order of age, the girls were Alice, Pati, Mary, and Claudia Pettit. The brother, Bob Pettit, appears in many photos and descriptions of the group, but on Spinning HM6005 he isn't audible. We hear Bob on Spinning HM6003, where he's allotted a few solo lines on "Marguerite." Instrumentation throughout the session is electric guitar, tenor saxophone, piano, bass, and drums; they sound like the group's regular accompanists. he instrumental ensemble is notably tight, with frequent sax-guitar unisons. "Blessed Are" is a song of mild religious sentiment, well executed. "Marguerite" is a teen-girl kind of song, cut to a sturdy pattern that pre-dates rock and roll. "Sweetie Pie" shows the group had roots in Country music; is that really a steel guitar? "Light Plug" is novelty song about someone suddenly taking down the illumination at a party, with a predictable effect on the protagonist's male escort. Again, cute and well executed. One could argue that "Light Plug" wasn't a song for pre-teens, like Claudia.
The Petites cut four sides and, unsually with this company, all four were released; Stepheny/Spinning thought there would be sales. The group certainly attracted attention. After an appearance on Arthur Godfrey's show, where they eventually came in second, The Petites were signed (reportedly it was a $30,000 contract) to appear regularly on George Gobel's TV show, starting on September 23, 1958. Unfortunately for the company, this meant that in August 1958, getting ready for their TV work, the group moved to Southern California. Nonetheless, the release of HM6005 was held till September and the Petites' first televised appearance on the Gobel show. A description of the group that ran in various newspapers (such as the Wisconsin State Journal, sec. 2, p. 11) on September 23 was:
The Petites, a vocal quintet bowing on the George Gobel show tonight (WMTV-NBC), consists of four sisters and a brother whose real name is "Pettit." They are children of a Des Moines, Ia., grocer and his wife, and range in age from 11 to 20.
After a full TV season with Gobel, ending in April 1959, The Petites got an introduction to Columbia Records from his music director, Frank DeVol. Family members stayed in California. The Petites' other two singles were on Columbia, with DeVol leading the studio ork. The first one was released in 1960; the second (much harder to find today) followed more than a year later, in 1961. By the time the second Columbia was released, Alice and Pati had gotten married and left the group. There were two further editions of the Petites, both trios. Bob, Mary, and Claudia worked together in 1961, until Bob was drafted into the Army National Guard. Then Mary, Claudia, and a singer named Judy Gardner toured from February through July 1962, with an instrumental quartet, also hailing from Iowa, called the Musical Wades. There was a bit of imposture going on: Claudia pretended to be Pati, and Judy Gardner went as "Paula Pettit." Claudia got married after the second trio broke up (for a quick biographical sketch and several photos of the group, see http://doo-wop.blogg.org/the-petites-1-a117307724).
Some years later, the Des Moines Tribune thought The Petites needed a "where are they now" column (Fred Pettid, "What Has Happened to Them," February 22, 1967, p. 6). Ages as of February 1967 were given as 30 for Alice, 29 for Robert, 27 for Patricia, 24 for Mary, and 21 for Claudia. Bob Pettit had returned to Spencer, Iowa, where he was working in a bakery. The rest of the family had remained in California. Mary was singing with a band in Los Angeles. Pati, Alice, and Claudia had married and left show business. Claude and Marie Pettit were living in Granada Hills.
Jay Hayes of HM6006 is a mystery to us. We have no idea who he was, how old he was, where he was from. But we can report that Spinning HM6006 is a rock and roll record. Professional songwriters from Chicago wrote both tunes—as rockabilly numbers. Some of the pros (that's Lew Douglas on "Suzy") were beginning to adapt. Hayes doesn't have the strongest voice, but he has the style down. "Suzy" is about a girl at his school who has become a great dancer. "Lovey-Dovey-Love" is meant to be sung with the occasional hiccup. There are two electric guitars, each occasionally featured, there's a string bass, there are drums. The only misstep in the production, which employed no backing vocalists, was the perceived need for another instrument. One tenor sax, if anything had to be there; an alto sax and a tenor sax, if more couldn't have been avoided. Instead, a deluxe model accordion gives the commentary. Sometimes, the accordion sounds like a couple of trumpets with impaired plumbing; other times, like a couple of clarinets or a couple of saxes played with inadequate dexterity; still other times, just like ... an accordion. Jay Hayes needed that accordion the way a fish needs a bicycle.
For some reason, HM6004 didn't materialize in 1958. Maybe the company had something in mind, in between the singles by The Petites, then decided not to release it? There would be an HM6004 in 1959.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|J8OW-3544||Eddie Thomas||So Sincere (Raleigh-Edwards)||Spinning HM6001||March 1958||May 1958|
|J8OW-3546||Eddie Thomas||Frankenstein Rock (Ross-Morris)||Spinning HM6001||March 1958||May 1958|
|J8OW-3437||Jim Eddy||Cry, Cry, Cry (In My Heart) (B. Loomis-C. Loomis-Stevens)||Spinning HM6002||March 1958||May 1958|
|J8OW-3438||Jim Eddy||The Bells of Love (Reed-Korgich)||Spinning HM6002||March 1958||May 1958|
|J7OW-3440||The Petites||Marguerite (Holbrook)||Spinning HM6003||March 1958||May 1958|
|J7OW-3441||The Petites||Blessed Are They (Steele-Fulton)||Spinning HM6003||March 1958||May 1958|
|J7OW-3439||The Petites||Sweetie Pie (And Honey Bee) (Steele-Fulton)||Spinning HM6005||March 1958||September 1958|
|J7OW-3442||The Petites||Who Kicked the Light Plug out of the Socket (Roddie-Brown)||Spinning HM6005||March 1958||September 1958|
|JO8W-1194||Jay Hayes||Lovey-Dovey-Love (Fox-Roberts-Sawyer)||Spinning HM6006||September 1958||October 1958|
|JO7W-1195||Jay Hayes||Suzy (Watson-Douglas)||Spinning HM6006||September 1958||October 1958|
Stepheny announced in March 1958 that it was opening a line of 12-inch LPs. More were mastered and pressed that year than the company was ready to release; albums held back will be listed as LPs for 1959.
The newly recorded LPs were cut in stereo, but just 5 were given stereo releases, in an LR 8000 series that for some reason skips LR 8005. All Stepheny albums got mono releases in an MF 4000 series (Madeline Forgue's initials, on this occasion). LR apparently just stood for Left-Right; when an LP did warrant an LR version it was released after the MF version.
To help push the LP line, Stepheny issued a sampler LP (in mono, not for sale) with cuts from four of the first five to be issued.
First to be numbered in the batch of LPs, at MF 4000, was Jazz in Orbit, by the Bob Davis Quartet. (Not first in order of release: MF 4000 through MF 4004 hit the shelves with perfect simultaneity.) The stereo version, LR 8003, not immediately deemed worthy of such treatment, could have been delayed by several months.
Cash Box (March 15, 1958, p. 18) announced that five LPs were in the works and that Bob Davis had been "pacted" by the firm. The five LPs (MF 4000 through 4004) were out in a batch in the third week of May 1958 ("Stepheny to Enter Package Market," Cash Box, May 10, 1958, p. 84; "Jazz Sets Due on Stepheny," Billboard, May 12, 1958, p. 5). Although the LPs were being released first in mono, stereo tape editions of each would also be put on the market. (Stereo tapes are mentioned on the back liners to the earlier LPS, but it's hard to trace sales for reel-to-reel, and LPs beyond MF 4004 no longer include the pitch for them.) Stereo editions of the LPs would arrive in due time.
Davis was a pianist out of Minneapolis. He'd worked with Herbie Fields, leaving the saxophonist in 1951 to lead combos of his own. With a different lineup, he'd made one previous LP, in 1956. It was titled Jazz from the North Coast, on Zephyr 12001; Zephyr at the time was based in Minneapolis. In 1956, Davis's quartet included Bob Crea on saxophone and Stu Anderson on bass along with Bill Blakkestad on drums.
On MF 4000, "Darn That Dream" and "Sometimes I'm Happy" cut the group back to a trio and featured strong solo work by the leader (most of "Darn That Dream" is done without bass or drums). Dave Karr had been in Boyd Raeburn's band; after military serice he joined Davis's group in Minneapolis. On the Stepheny date, Karr variously played flute, tenor sax, and baritone sax. For instance, flute (-1) on "Buzzy," tenor sax (-2) on "Cherokee," and baritone sax (-3) on "Blues in Orbit." He was an effective soloist on all three instruments, with a similar tone on the two saxes. Bill Blakkestad, the drummer, was a Minneapolis native who had been in Johnny Bothwell's band and joined Davis in 1951. For the Chicago-area gigs around the time of this recording, a well-regarded musician on the Chicago scene, Johnny Frigo, played string bass. (Stepheny got permission from Mercury, which had Frigo under contract at the time, to include him on the recording session.) Since Frigo also played violin, he and Karr formed the front line on "Buzzy."
To the best of our knowledge, Bob Davis made no further recording, either as a leader or as a member of another group, after his Stepheny LP.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
Stepheny LR8003 [stereo]
|Bob Davis Quartet||Jazz in Orbit||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Adams' Evening (Bob Davis) -1||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Windy City (Dave Karr) -2||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Darn That Dream (De Lange-Van Heusen)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Blues in Orbit (Bob Davis) -3||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Dr. Pepper (Bob Davis) -1||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Cherokee (Ray Noble) -2||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Buzzy (Charlie Parker) -1||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Star Eyes (Raye-De Paul) -2||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||I'll Remember April (Raye-De Paul) -1||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Sometimes I'm Happy (Youmans)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Up in Ray's Pad (Bob Davis) -2||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Deedee's Dream (Dave Karr) -2||March 1958||May 1958|
Stepheny MF 4001 (never issued in stereo) was by the Ebon-Knights. Other vocal groups made singles for Stepheny, but First Date is the only doowop LP that the company produced. It has become a sought-after rarity.
MF 4001 looks to have been the first 12-inch album actually pressed for the company, with sleeves prepared and printed for it. The matrix numbers for the two sides come earliest in the RCA Victor J series. The other four LPs are mentioned at the bottom of the back liner for MF 4001, without their release numbers.
Though the liner notes are, well, lengthy, they never give the name of any member of the group. Huh? From the photo included in the Cash Box ad of November 9, 1957 (p. 18), we see there were four Ebon-Knights, but can't say much more about the ensemble than that. The lead is most often taken by a high tenor.
An unusual feature of MF 4001 is that the slower tunes are grouped on one side (though "Georgia" isn't a slow ballad in the Ebon-Knights' rendition, more of a bouncy Swing performance) and the up-tempo pieces are grouped on the other. Stepheny organized a couple of later LPs the same way. If you want to know whether the Ebon-Knights could rock and roll, you have to flip the record over.
"Lonesome Road" is definitely rock and roll (and who else did it that way?). "Lover Come Back" likewise; the booting tenor sax listeners were expecting finally shows up on this track. "Blues in the Night" begins as incantation, nearly unaccompanied, switches to a mambo, morphs into rock and roll, turns back into a mambo (and the tenor sax visits again). "Numma Numma" is a convincing jump; it wouldn't have hurt the group to have one or two more in their repertoire.
Bruce Swedien is credited as the engineer (as on MF 4000 by the Bob Davis quartet), which implies that all tracks were recorded at Universal.
Backing on 6 tracks is provided by piano, electric guitar, bass, and drums. A tenor sax is supplemental on two tracks. "Poor Butterfly" instead adds alto and baritone saxes and two trombones; the same four horns are present on "Do You Know," "Why Don't You Happen to Me" (which includes an alto saxophone solo), and "That's the Way the Ball Bounces" (with a briefer solo by the same altoist, who sounds to us like Joe Friedland from Bob Centano's band). Stepheny had used three trombones on one of its earlier sessions (Jodie Randall/Marsha Winters, above). The four-horn lineup is consistent with a four-tune session in late September 1957; the Cash Box coverage described the group's first session as a four-tune affair. Judging from the RCA Victor numbers on the second single, SF1822, the rest of the album (with rhythm section only or rhythm section plus tenor sax) was recorded at two sessions in January 1958, a few days apart.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4001||The Ebon-Knights||First Date||September 1957 and January 1958||May 1958|
|J7OW-0498||The Ebon-Knights||First Date (Daniels-Daniels)||January 1958||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Stop the World (Stadin)||January 1958||May 1958|
|J7OW-0524||The Ebon-Knights||Only, Only You (Fulton-Steele)||January 1958||May 1958|
|HO7W-0225||The Ebon-Knights||Poor Butterfly (Hubbell-Golden)||September 1957||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||I'm Confessin' (Neiburg-Dougherty-Reynolds)||January 1958||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Do You Know (Stadin)||September 1957||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Georgia (Carmichael)||January 1958||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Lonesome Road (Austin-Shilkret)||January 1958||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Lover Come Back to Me (Hammerstein-Romberg)||January 1958||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Why Don't You Happen to Me (Stadin)||September 1957||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Falling in Love (Williams)||January 1958||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Blues in the Night (Mercer-Arlen)||January 1958||May 1958|
|HO7W-0223||The Ebon-Knights||That's the Way the Ball Bounces (Irwin)||September 1957||May 1958|
|The Ebon-Knights||Numma Numma (Stadin)||January 1958||May 1958|
MF 4002, soon to appear in stereo as LR 8001, was the work of a Dixieland ensemble. The leader was a veteran drummer who had worked and recorded with Sidney Bechet, among other prominent musicians. Danny Alvin was born Daniele Viniello, in New York City on November 29, 1902 (other sources have given a different year). He was a member of Sophie Tucker's band in 1920. He moved to Chicago in 1924, initially to work with Wayne King but, after a while, with hotter musicians such as Bobby Hackett, George Brunies, Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, George Zack, Art Hodes, and many other Dixielanders. In 1950, an earlier edition of his Kings of Dixieland cut four sides for Rondo. Alvin's reputation was strong enough to warrant a British release of the same sides on Esquire.
When the LP was made, Danny Alvin owned Danny's Club Basin Street, which was located at 6971 North Western Avenue in Chicago. The other musicians were all regular members of the house band, though of course the ensemble was not recorded at the club. Since Bruce Swedien, who had sold his studio in Minneapolis and moved to Chicago toward the end of 1957, is credited as the engineer, we know the session or sessions (once again) took place at Universal Recording. According to Raymond W. Mack, who wrote the liner notes, Norman Forgue produced the session and suggested recording "I Used to Love You," which was not in band's repertoire at the time.
In the front line were Ray Daniels (clarinet), Del Lincoln (cornet), and Floyd O'Brien (trombone); Lincoln and O'Brien had been on the scene since the 1920s. Joining the leader in the rhythm section were Andy Johnson (piano), Earl Murphy (banjo), and Joe Johnson (bass). Danny Alvin sang the obligatory vocal on "Bill Bailey"; Earl Murphy sang on "Sunny Side."
No one anticipated it, but this LP would be Danny Alvin's second-to-last recording (we think the last was an uncredited appearance, with the same band, on one side of Stepheny SF1828). He died on December 6, 1958.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4002
Stepheny LR 8001 [stereo]
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||Play Basin Street||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||South Rampart Street Parade (Allen-Bauduc-Haggart)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||Just a Closer Walk with Thee (Winsett)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||Dippermouth Blues (Oliver)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||Bill Bailey (Cannon)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||All of Me (Simmons-Marks)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||Sheik of Arbaby (Smith-Wheeler-Snyder)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||Riverside Blues (Thomas A. Dorsey-Richard M. Jones)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||I Used to Love You (Brown-Van Tilzer)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||High Society (Steele)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||Sunny Side of the Street (McHugh-Fields)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||After You've Gone (Creamer-Layton)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin and his Kings of Dixieland||Basin Street Blues (Williams)||March 1958||May 1958|
A jazz combo on staff at WGN TV, the Starnoters, was responsible for MF 4003. Members of the group appeared on a Stepheny LP under the leadership of Reno Tondelli, a regular member. The LP was titled Reno Plays Nevada. It got a fairly rapid stereo release as LR 8002.
Reno Tondelli, who played accordion and piano, was born in Chicago on August 22, 1912. He served in the US Army during World War II, playing in an army band. Besides WGN, he also worked for ABC and NBC TV stations in Chicago. The Stepheny album would be the only commercial recording under his name. He did occasional session work; for instance, on an LP made by a big band affiliated with the Chicago Bears football team (Ben Arden and the Big Bear Band, released in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Tondelli is credited with "keyboards"). Tondelli died aged 89, on March 9, 2012.
For his LP, Tondelli played accordion, working with Don Kruswick (flute, clarinet, bass clarinet); Howard Stanley (electric guitar, French horn); and Norm Jeffries (drums, vibes). Not too many have doubled on horn and electric guitar; in Stanley we have an approximate jazz counterpart to John Alec Entwistle, who played trumpet, horn, and electric bass. We are told that Jim Palacek played string bass on the first session (whenever that was); when Palacek, who used the bow fairly often, is cited in the liner notes we mark the track with a -1. Jim Atlas played bass on the second session; when he is cited by name we put a -2. The notes, which provide a thorough analysis of each piece (all were tightly arranged for a group of this size), were by Nelson Riddle. Riddle's discussion took up so much room on the back that there was none left to promote stereo or to name the producer and the engineer.
The LP carried a subtitle: "A New Jazz Sound." Tondelli reined his instrument in to meet the requirements of cool chamber jazz. He played chords sparingly and sometimes used the "piccolo shift" to produce a run of startlingly high notes. A casual listener might have trouble realizing what instrument the leader was playing. Jeffries used brushes a lot. Everything was well recorded (Bruce Swedien, at Universal?). Solos were kept short (the longest track times in at 3:50).
As sometimes happened when jazzmen took up "A Portrait of Jennie," from a 1948 movie, the subject's name was misspelled.
The up-tempo numbers were gathered on Side 1; the ballads on Side 2. Stanley picked up his horn only for the ballads.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4003
Stepheny LR 8002 [stereo]
|Reno Tondelli||Nevada (Tondelli)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Love Is Just around the Corner (Robin-Gensler) -2||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Reno-Vated (Tondelli)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Let's Get away from It All (Koehler-Arlen) -2||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||How about You (Burton-Lang-Freed)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Give Me the Simple Life (Bloom)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||I Hadn't Anyone till You (Noble)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Easy Living (Rainger-Robin) -1||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||In a Calm (Farnon)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Nostalgia (Rose)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Deep Purple (De Rose-Parrish)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Portrait of Jenny [sic] (J. Russel Robinson) -1||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Tondelli||Caprice Viennois (Kreisler)||March 1958||May 1958|
Jack Fascinato had been the arranger on Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, a TV puppet show starring Fran Allison, for 8 years, through the end of 1955. He then took over as Tennessee Ernie Ford's music director, which entailed responsibility for Ford's many recording sessions, as well as Ford's radio show, which became Ford's television show. In 1957, Fascinato migrated to Los Angeles. But he didn't have a record contract under his own name yet, and Stepheny gave him the opportunity to compile an album of material he had arranged and recorded.
Jack Fascinato was born in Bevier, Montana, on September 11, 1915. He played piano in the George Barnes Octet in 1946. He arranged for some bandleaders of the period, such as Dick Jurgens. He joined the TV puppet show in 1948, initially accompanying on piano and other instruments that he played. (The liner notes to MF 4004 stated he had command of all the brass instruments, violin, viola, cello, and tympani.) In 1952, the show's budget allowed him to hire other musicians. Fascinato wrote 75 songs for the show. During this period, he also wrote a lot of jingles. Fran Allison (whose occasional pop records also featured Fascinato's arrangements) wrote a congratulatory note for his album.
MF 4004 appeared as Jack Fascinato Arranges Things. It didn't receive a stereo release, for reasons we'll get into. Stepheny MF 4004 is a difficult LP to find today, which we won't blame on poor sales back then; there is definite collector interest in Fascinato's releases. The company also released a single off the album: Stepheny SF1827. (The RCA Victor Custom Pressing matrix numbers for two sides of the single are consecutive with the numbers for two sides of the album). Although the practice was becoming common in 1958, there was no other such case with Stepheny. (The Ebon-Knights album used the group's two prior singles, without leading to a third. The Bobby Christian album on MF 4012 would be a compilation that included 8 previously released sides, including both sides of a Stepheny single. His other two Stepheny singles were recorded after the album was compiled.)
Fran Allison's note on the back of MF 4004 explains that Fascinato was an audio buff and had recorded everything on the album himself, presumably in a home studio. Presumably, too, Fascinato had recorded the tracks in mono. Allison diplomatically avoided mentioning whether any had been released before. Stepheny had selected 14 tracks for the LP, implying that he had recorded more. Bruce Swedien at Universal is credited with "re-recording, from the original tapes."
The Fascinato compilation included a lot of vocals. Six were the work of Doris Drew, a jazz singer who often worked with him on Tennessee Ernie Ford's show. Three of her titles on the LP were the same ones she had released (with backing credited to a Jack Fascinato orchestra) on the KaHill label out of Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1956 (KaHill 1015) and 1957 (KaHill 1025-A). The other KaHill side (1025-B) was released in 1957 but didn't get chosen for the album, maybe because it was Jack Fascinato's idea of a rock and roll number. Two LP tracks featured the Mellowmen, a male vocal quartet that got a ton of studio work during the decade. Fascinato and the Mellowmen had put these songs on Fraternity F-740, a single released in 1956. Out of the instrumental titles, "The Happy Medium" and "Custer's Last One Night Stand" had been on KaHill 1014 in 1956. (Clearly, the companies Fascinato had shopped his tapes to were less interested in instrumentals.) Meanwhile, Fascinato and a vocalist named Dick Williams had released two sacred items ("The Ways of the Lord" b/w "23rd Psalm") on KaHill 1016; these were not chosen for the LP either. Since all but one prior release took place in 1956, it's our best estimate for the year that the tracks were recorded. When we have matrix numbers for prior releases, we include them.
After his Stepheny LP, Jack Fascinato landed a contract with Capitol that led to two LPs in 1959, one a scenic Southern California suite and the other featuring sounds that might emerge from surplus stores. Fascinato's own contract didn't extend beyond a year, but he kept racking up production and arrangement credits anyway. Tennessee Ernie Ford was a Capitol artist, as were some other singers whose albums featured Fascinato's arrangements. Tracks from Fascinato's two Capitol albums would eventually be reissued on a CD, in a Capitol collection of Exotica. Whether Fascinato ever had the esthetic aims of a Les Baxter or a Martin Denny, he did often employ odd instrumental combinations and a lot of miscellaneous percussion.
After Ernie Ford's TV show ended its run, Fascinato sank into obscurity, occasionally doing music for public service announcements. With the Jack Fascinato Singers, he made two final LPs in 1976. They were for a company that promoted amateur tennis. Jack Fascinato died in December 1994, at the age of 79.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4004||Jack Fascinato||arranges things|
|[G9OW-9368]||Jack Fascinato||Happy Medium (Fascinato)||1956||May 1958|
|[G9OW-9365]||Jack Fascinato||Aba Da Aba Du (A. Trace-B. Trace-Quinlan-Fascinato) -DD||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||Drum City (Fascinato)||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||There Will Never Be Another You (Gordon-Warren) -DD||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||Diggin' Duggan (Berke-Fascinato)||1956||May 1958|
|[G9OW-9370]||Jack Fascinato||Be My Lovin' Baby (Hettel-Henderson-Watts) -DD||1956||May 1958|
|[G9OW-5240]||Jack Fascinato||Fifty Fathoms (Fascinato-Watts-Gordon) -M||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||Rainbows in the Sky (Trace-Fascinato)||1956||May 1958|
|[ZTSC-9233]||Jack Fascinato||I'm Alone but Never Lonely (Hoffman-Manning-Watts) -DD||1956||May 1958|
|[G9OW-9369]||Jack Fascinato||Custer's Last One-Night Stand (Fascinato)||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||Tea for Two (Caesar-Youmans) -DD||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||Road Runner (Fascinato)||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||The Moment We Met (Hoffman-Watts) -DD||1956||May 1958|
|[G9OW-5241]||Jack Fascinato||I Love to Sing (Fascinato-Watts) -M||1956||May 1958|
The sampler revealed committed sales effort. It was distributed in a cardboard jacket with the title Stepheny LP Sampler. There were 3 cuts each from four LPs: MF 4000, MF 4002, MF 4003, and MF 4004. The title and cover art to each of the four was shown on the front, track titles flagged to identify the three cuts that had been sampled. The back cover was left blank. It could be that some copies were given to DJs and distributors jacketless. All 12 tracks were from jazz or studio band albums; no Ebon-Knights. Oddly, two of the sampled LPs (cover art already on the front of the sampler) were mastered and pressed after the sampler. Could it be that only cuts from the first recording session for each LP were eligible? Did those two LPs need remastering after the sampler was pressed and ready?
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Dr. Pepper (Davis)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Sometimes I'm Happy (Youmans)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Bob Davis Quartet||Windy City (Carr)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Plays Nevada||In a Calm (Farnon)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Plays Nevada||I Hadn't Anyone till You (Noble)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Reno Plays Nevada||Reno-vated (Tondelli)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin||High Society (Steele)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin||Sheik of Araby (Smith-Wheeler-Snyder)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Danny Alvin||Dippermouth Blues (Oliver)||March 1958||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||The Moment We Met (Hoffman-Watts)||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||Custer's Last One Night Stand (Fascinato)||1956||May 1958|
|Jack Fascinato||Happy Medium (Fascinato)||1956||May 1958|
Stepheny MF 4005 was Mort Hillman's doing. Here was an LP that couldn't be released in stereo, because Hillman had already recorded it. In mono, late in December 1956, at Boulevard Recording Studio, for his defunct Salem label. But it wasn't a straight reissue of Salem SLP 2. Hillman decided Johnny Pate's trio with Floyd Morris at the piano and Wilbur Wynne on guitar needed some drumming. So Stepheny hired a drummer, Johnny Whited, and had him overdub his part in the studio, yielding the hybrid release on MF 4005, Johnnie Pate at the Blue Note. New cover art played up the Blue Note theme and reduced the size of Pate's portrait from the Salem cover. Pate's group had played the Blue Note several times, and its owner, Frank Holzfeind, duly contributed liner notes, but the LP was in reality another studio producion. For more about the conversion of Salem SLP2 into Stepheny MF4005, see Armin Büttner's Crown Propeller site: https://crownpropeller.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/johnnie-pate-at-the-blue-note-overdub/.
Whited, who had been a member of the Pat Moran quartet, knew how to insinuate himself into what was already a complete performance by a trio. When you can hear the drums, you'll have trouble realizing they weren't always there.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4005||Johnnie Pate||At the Blue Note|
|Johnnie Pate||Dancing on the Ceiling (Rodgers-Hart)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||What a Difference a Day Made (Adams-Grever)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||It Might as Well Be Spring (Rodgers-Hammerstein)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||Falling in Love with Love (Rodgers-Hart)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||All the Time (Pate)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||Old Devil Moon (Harburg-Lane)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||I Surrender Dear (Clifford-Barris)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||Yvonne (Pate)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||Tea for Two (Youmans-Caesar)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||Pennies from Heaven (Burke-Johnston)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||Carmen's Chaser (Pate)||late December 1956
|Johnnie Pate||Slaughter on 10th Avenue (Rodgers)||late December 1956
Part of the interest in having a Johnny Pate LP out was that the artist was under contract to King/Federal in 1958, and would have his own LP on King soon.
The LP by Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others was quite the speculative venture. Centano, who led a very large band on the sessions, was 20 years old at the time. He had dreamt of building such a band since he was a 14-year-old alto saxophonist occasionally working with a trio. Centano relied heavily on one of his trumpet players, Bob Ojeda, for arrangements (Ojeda arranged everything on the album except "Centano's Theme," composed and arranged by the band's pianist). A rehearsal band had started coming together around Centano and Ojeda in September 1957 and by the end of the year had grown to near-mammoth proportions. Such a band had to rehearse wherever it could find a place to, and it had to take odd gigs (though an appearance at Roosevelt University, the scene of Joe Segal's earliest efforts, surely didn't happen by chance). The average age of the musicians, according to the notes, was 22. Bob Ojeda was 17 when the recording sessions took place (there were two, around the middle of 1958). Mort Hillman, who had been a trumpet player himself, was the producer, and the sessions were held at Universal Recording with Bruce Swedien in the booth.
The Centano LP appeared as Stepheny MF 4006 in mono, and LR 8004 in stereo. 20 or 21 pieces needed a conductor, so that was Centano's role. There were 5 saxophones, 5 trumpets, 5 trombones, plus an enhanced rhythm section with drums, timbales, and bongos. Saxes: Tom Ayson (alto), Jim di Pasquale (tenor), Jack Foy (tenor), Joe Friedland (alto), Terry Salmon (baritone). Trumpets: Dick Alber, John de Roule, Barbara Gordon, Nate Gordon, Bob Ojeda. Trombones: Rocky Lane, Mike Monaghan, Tom Mulvihill, Bill Porter, Bob Rudolph. Piano: George de Roule. Bass: George Milazzo (session 1) or Ted Harley (session 2). Drums: Don Osborne (session 1) or Pete Castronova (session 2). Timbales: Tony Marino. Bongos: Dan Fidanze. Maracas: Pete Castronova (when not filling in at the traps). The drum solos were taken by Don Osborne, which allows us to flag two items as being from session 1.
The feeling one gets from the recording, which handles such great forces almost perfectly, is of power held in reserve. Five trumpets and five trombones, before the age of omnipresent overamplification, could still have blown the roof off the hall. But that's not what Centano and Ojeda wanted. They extracted waves and swells of sound out of these sections, usually not cresting too high. Although Stepheny Records never wanted to be associated with the style, and the liner notes by Johnny Sippel never mention it, the two alto soloists are boppers (each has an interestingly sour tang, a different tang for Ayson and Friedland, but they've each heard their Bird), and so is the baritonist. So is Bill Porter, the main trombone soloist. So are the trumpet soloists, Ojeda included. There are some surprise endings ("I'm Glad There's You," for instance), but not much surprise harmony (with the exception of a few dissonances that creep into "Secret Love").
One does wonder where the band could have gone. Much was expected from these musicians. It isn't surprising that the band made just one recording as a unit. What's surprising is how few of the participants are known to have recorded anything else anywhere else. They were too good.
George Milazzo reappeared later in 1958 on the Fredie Wayne LP for Stepheny (MF 4008 / LR 8006). We don't know of anything else he did.
Bill Porter had been on a Replica LP (1007, led by Sture Swenson and Jack Noren) and would also appear on the Fredie Wayne LP for Stepheny. We don't know of anything else by Porter until 1969, when he began doing a lot of session work in Chicago (for details, see the entry after the Fredie Wayne listing). Porter would remain active as late as 2003, when he recorded a CD with Butch Miles (and Bob Ojeda) for Nagel Heyer.
Porter's section mate Bob Rudolph resurfaced in 1963 with the Woody Herman Band, appearing on a Philips LP recorded live at Basin Street West in Los Angeles. More sides from these live sessions would make up most of a 1965 LP, Woody's Goodies, variously available on Wing, Limelight, and Philips. A New York studio recording of the same band in December 1963 wasn't released at the time, but eventually showed up on a Vogue Jazz Legacy LP in 1979. A CD of material from the band's summer tour was released in 1991 on Jazz Hour Compact Classics, and more material from a Ralph J Gleason Jazz Casual show appeared on a Koch CD in 2001. To our knowledge, Rudolph took no solos while with Woody Herman. What he did after 1963 we have no idea. (Meanwhile, a Bob Rudolph who played trombone with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind band, The Stereos, in the 1950s and 1960s appears, for a number of reasons, to have been a different musician. The CNIB band was formed in Regina, Saskatchewan, and it mostly recorded Country and polka.)
Don Osborne was clearly the drummer Centano and Ojeda wanted to record with. As we noted, there are no drum solos from the session he missed. Osborne had previously been the drummer with Dick Kress's band, which recorded The Sax Life of Dick Kress (Replica 1005) for Bill Huck's label in 1957. Years later, he resurfaced, as Donny Osborne or Donny Osborne, accompanying singer Mel Tormé. Osborne appears to have been Tormé's regular drummer for at least 20 years, playing on all of the singer's recordings.
Bob Ojeda went on to play and arrange for many bands. A few months after this session, Ojeda was in fast company. He'd joined Stan Kenton's trumpet section; a performance at an Air Force base in Mississippi, on November 11, 1958, was preserved and eventually released on a CD in 1995. Ojeda's next recording opportunity wasn't until 1966, on a Bunky Green album for Cadet. He made scattered appearances at Chicago sessions through 1980. He was in a group called Seventh Avenue, which made one LP in 1984. Ojeda caught his big break later in 1984 when he joined the latter-day Count Basic Orchestra. Under the leadership of Thad Jones, then of Frank Foster, the post-Basie band stayed together for years and did a lot of recording. Ojeda's arrangements were frequently recorded by other bands as well.
Bob Centano never made another record, as a saxophonist or as a leader. Neither did any of his five saxophonists, four members of his trumpet section, three members of the trombone section, the pianist, one of the bassists, or any of the percussionists besides Don Osborne. For Centano and 17 others, it was the first time out and the last time out.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4006
Stepheny LR 8004 [stereo]
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||First Time Out|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||Centano's Theme (George de Roule)||July 1958||1958
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||Taboo (Lecuona) -1||July 1958||1958|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||Something Else (Ojeda)||July 1958||1958|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||I'll Remember April (Raye-De Paul) -1||July 1958||1958|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||Slow Stroll (Holman)||July 1958||1958|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||I'm Always Chasing Rainbows (Carroll)||July 1958||1958|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||Come Rain or Come Shine (Arlen)||July 1958||1958|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||El Sueno de Centano (Ojeda)||July 1958||1958|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||Secret Love (Webster-Fain)||July 1958||1958|
|Bob Centano and Twenty-One Others||I'm Glad There's You (Madeira-Dorsey)||July 1958||1958|
MF 4007 was by a pianist and singer named Amanda Ambrose. It was her first record. Although every stereo release already out on Stepheny was listed across the bottom of the back liner, her LP would never see a stereo version.
Amanda Ambrose was born on April 18, 1925. The liner notes, by Jack McGuire, a DJ at WAAF, tell us that Ambrose was from Saint Louis, had lived in Chicago for a while, and had taken a break from performing in clubs to raise five children (her husband, John Strawn, was a dress designer, originally from Los Angeles). When her oldest child was 12, she started taking nightclub gigs again. She had been working the piano bar in the Junior Room at the Black Orchid for over a year when Stepheny recorded her.
Norman Forgue produced the date, and this time the notes identified the studio (Boulevard) as well as the engineer (Hal Kaitchuck). Johnny Frigo, bass, and Frank Rullo, drums, accompanied Ambrose during the sessions (again, Mercury, which was pretty generous about such things, gave Frigo permission to appear on the album; Rullo was also on a lot of sessions for Mercury but evidently wasn't under contract). The J series matrix numbers are about right for an LP made in September 1958.
We don't know whether such a deal was made for any other Stepheny LP, but Amanda Ambrose Swings at the Black Orchid got a British release, as Starlite STLP.7. (Starlite was a subsidiary of Esquire, a British label known for licensing American jazz and R&B.) The release date on the Starlite is unknown but most likely while Stepheny was still active (i.e., in 1960 or 1961). The British LP is also in mono. Since the UK company had to do its own copyright research on the songs, and did a more thorough job of it, we've gone with Starlite's composer credits where Stepheny's don't seem right.
The British release had the same matrix numbers as the Stepheny but also gave dates for the sessions: September 22 and 29, 1959. Somebody wasn't wise to the ways of RCA Victor Custom Pressings; recording dates have been given for the Miff Mole LP (MF 4011) that are also off by a year.
Stepheny again put all the ballads on one side and all the quicker songs on the other. Consequently, Rullo doesn't get a whole lot of work on Side 1. Side 2 treats him better.
MF 4007 was the last release of the calendar year for Stepheny. We know because Billboard tossed it on the one-star list (which had replaced the under-70s), filing it under "Popular" (December 22, 1958, p. 22). Ambrose's vocal ability, choice of songs, and pianism were way too good for that. Like Ella Fitzgerald, and unlike nearly every other jazz or pop singer during this period, Amanda Ambrose sang the verse as well as the chorus to "Melancholy Baby" and "There Will Never Be Another You." She opened "Honeysuckle Rose" singing over Johnny Frigo's bass, and until she was halfway through it didn't remind anyone that it was written by a pianist. "Taking a Chance on Love" gives listeners a full chorus at the piano before Ambrose sings the second chorus; she could easily have made an album of instrumentals if anyone had wanted her to.
Unlike a lot of other Stepheny artists, Amanda Ambrose most of her recording career in front of her. She signed with RCA Victor in 1963 and cut 2 LPs that year, one of them recorded live. Osie Johnson was at the drums on both, George Duvivier on bass on one. In 1966, she made an LP for Dunwich that used heavier studio production. Her final LP, for Beegee in 1973, went all-out with what was then typical soul production; on the other hand, it included her rendition of "Gimme Shelter". She went into stage acting and established a voice training program called Voicercise. Amanda Ambrose died at the age of 82, on October 26, 2007.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4007||Amanda Ambrose||Swings at the Black Orchid|
|Amanda Ambrose||You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You (Stock-Morgan-Cavanaugh)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||You've Got Me Cryin' Again (Jones-Newman)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||Time after Time (Cahn-Styne)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||My Melancholy Baby (Burnett-Watson-Norton)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||There Will Never Be Another You (Warren-Gordon)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||Everywhere (Vincent-Engel)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||This Can't Be Love (Rodgers-Hart)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||Someday Sweetheart (Spikes-Morton)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||A Good Man Is Hard to Find (Saville)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||Honeysuckle Rose (Waller-Razaf)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||Taking a Chance on Love (Duke-Fetter-LaTouche)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
|Amanda Ambrose||Close Your Eyes (Tennent-Desmond)||September 22 or 29, 1958||December 1958|
Stepheny released 8 LPs in 1958. Four more were recorded, mastered, pressed, probably jacketed, sitting in boxes waiting for release: MF 4008 through MF 4011 were held for the next year. Norman Forgue likely considered all four to be Mort Hillman projects; we're sure that MF 4009 and MF 4010 were. MF 4012 was mastered and pressed in 1959 but it appears all tracks were recorded earlier and the track listing already compiled; those newly made for Stepheny, but not already on an SF single, were most likely cut in November or December 1958.
After Mort Hillman left in November 1958, Stepheny limped along for a couple of months without a sales manager. Norman Forgue eventually made an offer to Ralph Cox, who had experience at several distributors in Chicago ("Stepheny Appts Cox," Cash Box, January 31, 1959, p. 46). Forgue indicated that Cox's first assignment was promoting the the company's latest releases, MF 4007 by Amanda Ambrose and SF1835 by Bobby Christian. He also signaled that there would be several Stepheny LPs in 1959, but that going forward the company was going to focus on 45s.
Cox lasted less than five months. On June 13, 1959, Cash Box (p. 47) announced that Ralph Cox had joined Arnold Distributors (run by Morrie Price and Henry Grossman) with the specific assigmnent to promote Roulette. As Arnold was also distributing Stepheny and Spinning in the Chicago area, Price cushioned the news by including a push for "Pink Cadillac" by Larry Dowd. Cox would remain with Arnold for at least two years. By May 1962, Ralph Cox was working at the distributor that King Records had opened in Chicago, and was happily talking up the latest by James Brown and Freddy King (Cash Box, May 12, 1962, p. 17). Forgue did not hire another sales manager; the company finished out the year without one. Then, as 1960 rolled around, Forgue would try joining a cooperative distribution network.
It does appear that with Cox's departure, Stepheny-Spinning quit doing anything that faintly resembled pushing out 45s. After July 1959, the company probably released two on Stepheny before year's end (an award needs to go to anyone who can figure out the release date on SF1838), and one on Spinning.
About Bob Bell we know he had some association with WGN radio, because an advertisement for the WGN Big 10 Community Party, held in Lombard, Illinois (Chicago Daily Tribune, June 25, 1957, p. 18) put his name below those of several prominent DJs, and just above two house ensembles, Bob Trendler's ork and the Starnoters. The Starnoters (under Reno Tondelli's name) would make an LP for Stepheny in 1958 (see above). One of the added attractions at the Big 10 Party was Bobby Christian, who in November 1958 became a Stepheny artist.
Bell's one release on Stepheny, SF1834, was out in February 1959. Billboard quickly dispatched it, giving it one star on February 2 (p. 49). A blurb in the Suburbanite Economist ("Austin High Grad. New Recording Star," March 18, 1959, p. 20G), besides letting us know where Bell had completed his education, called him Stepheny Records' "latest voice find." It noted that during his military service Bell had become a featured vocalist with the Air Force Band, and that after completing his tour of duty he had sung in clubs in New York and Chicago.
Our thanks to Dr. Robert Stallworth for enabling us to hear SF1834. Bell had a warm baritone voice and might have shone with better songs. "Love in the Mornin'" is jaunty; the lyrics are inane. Lew Douglas had directed endless pop sessions in Chicago during the decade; for Stepheny SF1834 he brought along backup singers (two female, two male is what we hear), string bass and drums for rhythm, electric guitar and vibes to carry the melody. Balance is good, except the backup singers seem too loud. "Strangers" is a lovelorn ballad with somewhat better words than "Mornin'"; no changes to the rest of the ensemble. The single wasn't going to expand Bell's horizons beyond the radio work he had been doing.
The next Stepheny single was by Bobby Christian. This time out he paired a track cut in March 1959, whose title just happens to spell "Boola" backwards, with an arrangement of "Frankie and Johnny" from December 1958, credited (like "Boola") to Robert Sweetwater.
Whatever its relation to "Boola" was supposed to be, "Aloob" is 1920s jazz as seen in a funhouse mirror. The lead instrument is a trumpet, played muted (and really well). Accompaniment is electric guitar, piano, xylophone, marimba, electric bass, and drums. Allowing for overdubs, only the trumpeter had to be added to the ensemble that had made "Boola."
The convincingly Latinized "Frankie and Johnny" appears to be from the second Bobby Christian session in November-December 1958. But the personnel is the same as on "Boola" or "Caravan" (minus the vocal). Now the guitarist plays banjo and mandolin and maybe also electric bass, while Bobby Christian is responsible for xylophone, chimes, piano, and drums.
Could Robert Sweetwater have been Christian's guitarist at the time? The guitar (or steel guitar) often got leads or solos on records where the rest went to Bobby Christian himself. On a single from the Tempus label out of Peoria, probably from early 1959, by George "Stardust" Green, the studio orking is credited to Robert Sweetwater and the instrumentation, as might be expected on a rock and roll record, is lead guitar, rhythm guitar, piano, bass, and drums. (Yes, George Green made a rock and roll record.) On the other hand, a vocal number titled "River's End" (which was included on Bobby Christian's Stepheny LP) was credited by Stepheny to Christian, Reda, and Armentrout. The tune was reused in 1965 for a single on Mal, a label that Bobby Christian operated in the middle of the decade; there it would be credited, solely, to Sweetwater.A 1969 album called Chicago Guitar, Ovation OV-1408, highlighted the contributions of Ron Steele, who had done a lot of session work in Chicago. All vocals thereon were by Vernyle. Her contributions become less surprising when we learn that she was married to Ronald Steele. Could Robert Sweetwater have been Ronald Steele's alter ego? (Meanwhile, we have to wonder about some of Bobby Christian's other collaborators. Sylvester M. Christian was married to the former Josephine M. Reda, and had a bunch of Reda in-laws.)
Colleen Lovett sang with the Teddy Phillips Orchestra. We're not inferring this from her release on Stepheny SF1836, even though a Phillips aggregation is credited on the labels.
Teddy Phillips was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on June 5, 1918. He started playing the saxophone (Phillips was known for his performances on alto and tenor) at Oak Park-River Forest High School, after getting encouragement from the band director. In 1934, he began working with dance bands, including those led by Bill Bardo, Ben Bernie, and (yes) Lawrence Welk. He also spent some time in radio orchestras (for NBC and CBS). After military service in World War II, he started his own big band in 1944. The band was a big draw at venues in Chicago like the Aragon and Trianon Ballrooms, and Phillips was able to keep a big band together for most of the 1950s. During the decade, Phillips recorded a little for several different labels, his biggest production being a 1954 LP for Decca titled Concert in the Sky. He got one single out on Bally (August 1957) and one on Salem (S- 1014, October 1957). Teddy Phillips was also writing a lot of songs; he was sufficiently prolific as to adopt a pseudonym ("Ted Simms"). By the time he got his own single, Salem had recorded three of his songs with other vocalists and bands.
Colleen and Teddy got married in 1957, probably late in the year. She'd started singing with him in 1956, fresh out of high school in Dallas, Texas. An item in the Daily Oklahoman noted she would be performing with Phillips and band at a Mardi Gras ball in Oklahoma City, on February 8, 1958 ("Band Leader Publicizes Annual Mardi Gras Ball," January 19, 1958, p. 2E). Lovett sang on both sides of a Teddy Phillips release on Limelight, a new subsidiary of Mercury; she also helped to write both songs. Limelight Y-3004X was released in April 1958. In May 1958, she sang with the Phillips ork at the annual Back Scratch Show in Tyler, Texas (Tyler Morning Telegraph, May 14, 1958, p. 1). On October 30, 1958, an ad in the Marshall County News of Marysville, Kansas (p. 5) gave her major billing in ad for a Veteran's Day dance that the Phillips band was going to play (one can see from the locations that the band was doing a lot of one-nighters). On January 18, 1959, the Phillips ork with Lovett as featured vocalist was at the Chase Club in Saint Louis (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 18, 1959, p. 88)
For Stepheny SF1836, Teddy Phillips did not bring along a full band; it would be interesting to know the size of ensemble he was touring with in 1959. "Cla-Wence" features Colleen Lovett's somewhat overenthusiastic presentation of a teenage girl protagonist with a slight Southern accent, a not-so-slight Elmer Fudd speech impediment, and a boyfriend who is out of control. "Cla-wence, you'we dwivin' the wong way!" Accompaniment is by organ, electric guitar, string bass, and drums. "Wishin'" (published by Brandom) is a Country ballad given a semi-Country performance. Now we hear piano, electric guitar, string bass, drums, plus a cameo appearance by ... the same soprano saxophonist who'd recorded with Jack Nelson on SF1812 and 1815. The song is credited to the brothers Trace and to Ted Simms (i.e., Teddy Phillips). To enhance the wistfulness, Lovett's vocal line is basted in reverb, then occasionally reinforced with more Colleen Lovetts singing backup while basted in reverb. (At the time, self-mulitracking was fairly new.) Those who came out to dance to the Teddy Phillips band probably liked the record; it's not clear whom else it would have appealed to.
The same year, Teddy Phillips released a quintet record with two different male vocalists. It was on Thanx, an imprint operated for a hot minute by Bud Brandom himself. The arrangements were by Jack Fascinato. All of which seems intertwined, some strange way or other, with the activity covered here.
Before leaving Chicago, Phillips was the featured soloist on a LP for "Lil Wally" Jagiello's company, Jay Jay; Teddy played alto and tenor sax and Lil Wally's polka band accompanied. In the early 1960s, Teddy Phillips and Colleen Lovett moved to California. In 1964, Phillips observed the commercial success of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass and promptly copied it with a band he dubbed The Mexicali Brass. The Brass consisted of 7 or 8 pieces and featured Colleen Lovett on vocals; between 1964 and the end of the decade they made a long string of LPs, first for Crown, then for various small labels in California. Alpert's formula also included releasing his records on his own label (A&M Records); Phillips didn't copy that part. In 1966, Teddy Phillips and Collen Lovett also released a single on Mira, which presumably was their own label; both were credited with producing the session. Teddy Phillips and Colleen Lovett divorced in 1971. Phillips kept performing on the West Coast in the 1970s; in the early 1980s he briefly led a Guy Lombardo tribute band. As his career wound down, he appeared mostly at benefit concerts on the West Coast. Phillips died of kidney failure at the age of 82, in Canoga Park, California, on March 10, 2001 (see James Janega, "Teddy Phillips, Popular Bandleader," Chicago Tribune, March 15, 2001 at https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2001-03-15-0103150172-story.html). He was surived by his ex-wife and two sons, Joe and Ted Jr., plus one grandson.
Eddie Thomas, who was responsible for SF1837, had launched the Spinning series in March 1958, with HM6001. A year or so later, he was recorded for a different imporint in a different studio. But the same songwriters showed up as on his first time around. Same publisher, too; Mort Hillman had once worked for it. On SF1837, we hear the vocalist, two electric guitars (on "Truly, Truly" the guitars get needlessly needly), electric bass, and drums. Two members of the band, which sounds like a working unit, join in to harmonize. The sonics would be great if it weren't for the studio reverb drizzled heavily on each side. "Truly, Truly" is not a good song to begin with, but Thomas doesn't need reverb to lend presence to his voice. "Eight Slow Freights" is catchy and, for a change, offers intelligent lyrics, but every time that refrain comes around, about needing to take eight slow freight trains to get back to his baby, it's blared and misted in more reverb. SF1837 would have been a solid rock and roll record, might have had a shot at becoming a classic, without the inept production.
Genuinely enigmatic, for a label that holds many an enigma, was the duet of Tiger Tom and Tiny. \A listen to Stepheny SF1838 (for which we thank Dr. Robert Stallworth) inspires a few wild conjectures. "I Love You Truly" is mocked, line for line, with "Tiger Tom"'s comic asides. It sounds like the kind of thing Tom Fouts (aka Captain Stubby) did regularly in live performance, but not on records. "Tom and Tiny" just sing their number, "Ready for Me," which is kind of a parody of the Everly Brothers. Tom Fouts and Dwight Stokes? This would give us two members of Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers, recording under a pseudonym. Backing: tenor sax, electric guitar, piano, bass, and drums. Whoever was on these instruments could play serious rhythm and blues (with raspy tenor sax and whomping backbeat). The Buccaneers didn't have a regular drummer. Everything else could have been played by members of the group, though we wonder how much practice Jerry Richards might have put in on the tenor sax. So, Buccaneers plus a drummer? Stubby and Tiny in front of a Lefty Bates combo? Buccaneers join up with Earfuls in the studio? Other peculiar possibilities remain.
We do know The Buccaneers appeared, under their group name, on the strange three-way compilation LP, Be Our Guest (Stepheny MF 4009; see below). We're not totally sure the four Buccaneer sides were newly recorded, but even if they were, the new recording would have happened in 1958. It seems the Tom and Tiny record was done later.
Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers (back to their full billing) made at least one further single, for Janie, a Chicago indie smaller than Stepheny/Spinning. Janie 454 (talked up in Cash Box for June 4, 1960, p. 20; advertised in the same paper on June 11, p. 31) consisted of two titles ("Cryin' Wine" b/w "Love Is My Prison") that could have gotten the Tom and Tiny treatment. Whether they actually did we can't answer; we haven't heard the single.
The company finished the year with another Bobby Christian 45. Both titles were new and one of them was part-credited to Sweetwater. "English Toffee" is by the full band, with Swing writing that features each section but no solos from anyone but the leader. Christian appears to be on xylophone, piano, and drums; his xylophone work is a tour de force. "Jumpin Jack" is attributed to Sweetwater and someone called Neius. The rest of the band was taking another break: it's a near-rock-and-roll piece for organ, piano, electric bass, and drums. If Ron Steele / Robert Sweetwater was Christian's guitarist, he switched instruments this time around. Both sides rely on overdubbing; the overall sonics, from Boulevard, are pretty good, but the record might have sounded better coming out of Universal.
It's quite possible that Bobby Christian, with either small group or full band, recorded more for Stepheny than the company ended up using. But SF1839 would be his final release. Around mid-year, Christian had already put a new single out on Top Rank, a British label then attempting expansion into the United States.
For its singles, the company was starting to rely on other recording, mastering, and pressing operations besides RCA Victor, presumably to save money. Stepheny SF1834 and SF1835 were the last to carry RCA Victor codes. Stepheny SF1837, with matrices in an SW-40000 series, and Stepheny SF1839 and SF1840, with B-5450 matrices, show "BRS" in the trailoff vinyl. Stepheny SF1836 has matrices in a DC-5450 series, but no BRS is incised. SF1838 uses U-7600 numbers, in a series that looks like something out of Universal Recording but, to make matters more enigmatic, almost certainly isn't.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|K8OW-0732||Bob Bell | Orchestra conducted by Lew Douglas||Strangers (O'Flynn-Coots)||Stepheny SF1834||January 1959||February 1959|
|K8OW-0733||Bob Bell | Orchestra conducted by Lew Douglas||Love in the Mornin' (Roberts-Sawyer)||Stepheny SF1834||January 1959||February 1959|
|K7OW-2867||Bobby Christian | The Man with a Sound||Aloob (Christian)||Stepheny SF1835||March 1959||April 1959|
|JO7W-3211||Bobby Christian | The Man with a Sound||Frankie and Johnny Cha, Cha (Sweetwater)||Stepheny SF1835||December 1958||April 1959|
|DC-5453||Colleen Lovett with Teddy Phillips and Orchestra||Cla-Wence (Manuel-Jentes-Henshaw)||Stepheny SF1836||April 1959||May 1959|
|DC-5454||Colleen Lovett with Teddy Phillips and Orchestra||Wishin' (Trace-Trace-Simms)||Stepheny SF1836||April 1959||May 1959|
|SW-40001||Eddie Thomas||Truly, Truly, I Do (Raleigh-Edwards)||Stepheny SF1837||1959||July 1959|
|SW-40002||Eddie Thomas||Eight Slow Freights (Ross-Morris-Dixon)||Stepheny SF1837||1959||July 1959|
|U-7674||Tiger Tom||I Love You Truly (Sam Hill)||Stepheny SF 1838||1959||1959|
|U-7673||Tom and Tiny||Is the World Ready for Me (Sam Hill)||Stepheny SF 1838||1959||1959|
|B-5458||Bobby Christian and Orchestra||English Toffee (Christian-Walker)||Stepheny SF1839||1959||October 1959|
|B-5459||Bobby Christian and Orchestra||Jumpin Jack (Sweetwater-Neius)||Stepheny SF1839||1959||October 1959|
The Spinning operation continued, now committed to rock and roll. Through a connection that someone must know more about, the search was on for rock and rollers outside of Chicagoland. Did Norm Forgue think that with rockabilly having one foot in Country music, the artists would be easier to find away from city lights? Mort Hillman knew a few DJs in Des Moines, Iowa. Maybe Ralph Cox did, too.
The Spinning items with the DC matrix numbers were recorded in Des Moines. (DC-5453 on a Larry Dowd side steps on the matrix number for one side of the Colleen Lovett single, Stepheny SF1836, which was recorded around the same time but, we're inclined to think, not in Des Moines.) One of Larry Dowd's singles was inserted, after the fact, into a gap in the HM6000 series (here, we've listed them in their order of release). Stepheny and Spinning's rock and roll singles have attracted a following, leading to modest reissue interest and to a paucity of 45s in clean condition still on the market. HM6010 has become one of the harder ones to get hold of.
Again, sides recorded in 1958 for release in 1959 will be covered here. The Lee Talboys 45, HM-6007, appears to have been recorded in December 1958. The full billing on this single is to Lee Talboys and the Sing-Chronizers, the latter consisting of three female backup singers. For once on the company's sessions, the backing vocalists sound really good and don't try to dominate the proceedings. Accompaniment is by piano, electric guitar, string bass, and drums; guitar licks are tasteful; and everything's cleanly recorded. Talboys, a baritone, does a couple of semi-rock and roll numbers. "Baby, Baby" (his own song) has a structure to it that was already familiar in the 1920s, and the lyrics are merely OK, but his performance is convincing. Even the hand claps are appropriate. "Does It Mean" is a pretty good ballad. The semi-rocking and semi-rolling aren't a studio construct; they're the way Talboys often performed.
Billboard handed HM6007 a (guess what?) tepid review on January 19, 1959 (p. 53). The Cash Box reviewer liked "Baby, Baby" (January 17, 1959, p. 12)
For most Stepheny/Spinning artists, we're lucky to find the merest scrap of biography. But in 1958 Talboys, long out of high school and always working a day job, was merely getting started as a recording artist. The singer was born Homer Talboys on May 13, 1930, in Stockton, Illinois. He moved with his parents to Boyne City, Michigan, where they operated a restaurant. At age 15, he began playing the saxophone in various Michigan big bands. After graduation from Boyne City High School, he attended Michigan State University. Talboys served in the army during the Korean War, then settled in Mason, Michigan. His main axes were organ and tenor saxophone, neither of which is heard on his Spinning release. His first single was done for the Blue-Chip label out of Lansing, Michigan, with a group called the Merri-Men; it was an early 1958 release. "Gradually" sold well locally and Blue-Chip got a plug for it into Cash Box on April 15, 1958 (p. 17); Cash Box unfortunately forgot the artist's name. The Stepheny session was Talboys' second.
Talboys probably thought Stepheny/Spinning would give him a step up. He must have been disappointed with the sales on HM-6007, home in Michigan and elsewhere. He redid "Does It Mean" in 1959, as one side of a 45 on Rocket Records, an extremely short-lived label. The Sing-Chronizers must have been from the Lansing area because they also appeared on the Rocket release. In the middle of 1960, Talboys cut what would be his biggest hit (in regional terms), "Lovin' Lies," for the Palladium label. It was a Country number with catchy words and a boogie piano backing. The Don Lee Orchestra (directed by Don Lee Bloomquist) provided accompaniment.
For many years after "Lovin' Lies," Talboys was affiliated with Royalty, a label out of Lansing at least partly owned by Don Lee Bloomquist. The exception was a return to Palladium, for two 45s, in 1962. During the mid-1960s, Talboys and Bloomquist often entertained at halftime during Harlem Globetrotter exhibitions. Talboys occasionally did comedy, on late-night talk shows and on such series as "Mayberry R. F. D." and "Hee Haw," going as Homer T. Barfarkle. He even landed a recurring role, as a doctor, on a TV soap opera. From 1971 to 1981, he owned the Coventry Inn, in Mason, Michigan, where he often entertained diners; one of his LPs was recorded live there. In his later years, he recorded several CDs of standards and older pop hits, in his home studio where he often played every instrumental track himself. Talboys continued to perform until he became ill early in 2009.
Lee Talboys was often described as a supper-club singer. He was, literally, when he ran the Coventry Inn. But he always retained a connection with Country music that displaced him a little from the easy listening lane. Homer Talboys died in Lansing, Michigan, on December 1, 2009; he was 79 years old (see Rich Tupica, "A Look Back at the Late, Great Lee Talboys," City Pulse (Lansing, Michigan), June 2, 2021; https://lansingcitypulse.com/stories/a-look-back-at-the-late-great-lee-talboys,17248.
The Jimmy Doyle record, HM6008, looks from the tunes and the composers to be the work of a pop vocalist, the last to record for Spinning. It was probably made shortly before the six rock and roll sides that completed Spinning's offerings for the year.
"Five Minutes More" was really a pop-rock performance, Bobby Darinish. Doyle, who had a really good voice, might have fared better without the three backing vocalists who unshakably dogged his every step. Otherwise, piano, electric guitar, bass, and drums are heard, all recorded cleanly. There was enough rock and roll content in "Five Minutes" to warrant a release in the Netherlands, as the flip to Delahay DS5005 (see below for the A side).
The flip to Spinning HM6008 features the last tune by Steele and Fulton that the company would pick up. An organ is added (this might be Frank Paige's final appearance for the company). "My Gypsy Love" is strictly a pop performance, one that invites Doyle into Tommy Nichols territory (OK, maybe it's Freddie Montell territory). A bit much, and the organ and the backing vocalists are starting to muck up the sound.
We haven't found any reviews on HM6008. However, Norman Forgue was talking it up at the MOA convention in April (Cash Box, April 18, 1959, p. 28). Wherever the sales rose to, they didn't enable Doyle to give up his day job. In October 1959, he was working as a bank teller. A Chicago Tribune item noted that Doyle was 26 years old, had won on Arthur Godfrey's show, and had sung with Russ Carlyle's band. His release on Spinning went unmentioned.
For the Rock-a-Tones and the Rhythm Steppers, our information is that all were recorded in Des Moines during the spring of 1959. Going with the DC series matrix numbers, we infer that Larry Dowd and the Rock-a-Tones were recorded first. They got two singles: first HM6009, then the long-delayed HM6004. The Mitchell who gets part credit on three of four songs was Forrest "Frosty" Mitchell, then the program director and a leading DJ on WIOA in Des Moines (see https://www.desmoinesbroadcasting.com/frostymitchell/frostymitchell-profile.html).
Larry Dowd knew his Elvis and knew his rockabilly, too. "Pink Cadillac" even incorporates the "I'm a Man" lick (from Willie Dixon via Bo Diddley). Accompaniment is by two guitars (one doing a bit of solo work), piano, string bass, and drums. (This lineup is confirmed by a surviving photo of the band at a WIOA-sponsored event.) The Rock-a-Tones had made some quality rock and roll. Both sides also conformed to the jukebox operators' imperative: they time in just under 2:00. The congested sonics are the only drawback; a Chicago studio would have been able to establish a better balance between the amplified and unamplified instruments.
Spinning HM6009 was rushed into release. Norman Forgue and Ralph Cox were already talking the record up at the end of April (Cash Box, May 2, 1959, p. 35; the periodical couldn't spell "Rock-A-Tones"). They talked it up again two weeks later (Cash Box, May 16, 1959, p. 26; now the group name was spelled correctly). The company even bought a display ad for the record (the only display ad ever for Spinning; the last that we know of from the company, Cash Box, May 30, 1959, p. 101); "Blue Swingin' Mama" even got a release in the Netherlands, on the A side of Delahay DS5005.The display ad gives a Chicago street address for Spinning, at 510 North Dearborn. The same address was occasionally used for Stepheny and for Spinning thenceforward.
Billboard gave HM6009 a highly unaccustomed three stars out of four (June 8, 1959, p. 41); Cash Box was enthusiastic (June 13, 1959, p. 20).
Spinning HM6004 shows us the lovelorn side of Larry Dowd. It was released in July, given a tepid review in Billboard on August 3, 1959 (p. 48), and a more encouraging review in Cash Box (September 5, 1959, p. 16). "Why, Oh, Why" is another excellent performance, and "Forbidden Love" (apparently Marji Maye's last songwriting effort for the company) is nearly as good. Dowd's singing is balanced better, but the sonics are still less than ideal. Did the thought ever cross Norman Forgue's mind to put an LP out on this group?
The lone Rhythm Steppers offering, HM6010, was also a product of the Des Moines sessions. We hear the assured tenor vocals of Fred Horrell in front of a tenor sax, a piano, two electric guitars, a bass, and drums. On "Hey Little Lola," Horrell lets us know he's listened to his Buddy Holly. The side is vintage rockabilly and deserves acclaim as such. "First Broken" is not quite as good a song, but Horrell puts everything he has into it, over the inevitable redundant piano triplets. The only fault (besides a final note on "First" that should have been rerecorded) is, once again, less-than-ideal balance; Horrell deserved a little more presence on "Lola." HM6010 was reviewed in Cash Box on October 24, 1959 (p. 10).
We don't know how long this particular band worked together, just that it was long enough before they went into the studio. We also don't know how much of a future they were facing; Spinning HM6010 would be their only known recording. Fred Horrell remained active in the region as a rockabilly performer, later adding to his résumé an occasional single on a label called Cape Town (it was out of Cape Girardeau, Missouri).
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|JO8W-3110||Lee Talboys and the Sing-Chronizers||Baby, Baby (Talboys)||Spinning HM-6007||December 1958||January 1959|
|JO8W-3111||Lee Talboys and the Sing-Chronizers||Does It Mean Anything to You? (Spencer)||Spinning HM-6007||December 1958||January 1959|
|K9OW-3607||Jimmy Doyle||Five Minutes More (Styne-Cahn)||Spinning HM6008||March 1959||April 1959|
|K9OW-3608||Jimmy Doyle||My Gypsy Love (Steele-Fulton)||Spinning HM6008||March 1959||April 1959|
|DC-5451||Larry Dowd and the Rock-a-Tones||Pink Cadillac (Dowd-Mitchell)||Spinning HM6009||April 1959
|late April 1959|
|DC-5452||Larry Dowd and the Rock-a-Tones||Blue Swingin' Mama (Fiscel-Dowd-Mitchell)||Spinning HM6009||April 1959
|late April 1959|
|DC-5453||Larry Dowd and the Rock-a-Tones||Why, Oh, Why (Fiscel-Dowd-Mitchell)||Spinning HM6004||April 1959
|DC-5455||Larry Dowd and the Rock-a-Tones||Forbidden Love (Marji Maye)||Spinning HM6004||April 1959
|DC-5456||The Rhythm Steppers Featuring Fred Horrell||Hey Little Lola (Barnett)||Spinning HM6010||April 1959
|DC-5457||The Rhythm Steppers Featuring Fred Horrell||My First Broken Heart (Tuttle)||Spinning HM6010||April 1959
Because the company had built up a backlog of LPs in 1958, most of those released in 1959 had been made the previous year. It looks as though they'd already been put in their jackets and were sitting in boxes waiting to be shipped to disributors. This also meant that Mort Hillman's stamp was on several of these albums (for instance, MF 4010), even though he'd left the company months before they hit the shelves.
The album was the work of a band director, Fredie Wayne, and an arranger, Jerry Nowak. They assembled a rehearsal band that cut 10 tracks over two recording sessions (we can't tell you when each took place, but the liners indicate who was replaced on the second session). Trumpets were John Howell (replaced by Dom Geraci on session 2); George Bean; Rudy Stauber (replaced by Andy Marchese on the second session); and Bob Haddick. The trombone section consisted of Ed Poggensee (Bill Corti took his place on the second outing); Bill Porter; Bob Gates; and Larry Ransom. Saxes were Lenny Gagliardi, alto sax; Phil Bova (with Hank Stanley taking over on the second session), alto; Tom Hilliard, tenor; Dick Kress, tenor; and Art Langille, baritone. There was a little doubling on clarinets. The rhythm section was Art Quinn, piano; George Milazzo, bass; and Mickey Simmetta, drums. The discerning reader will have noted that Bill Porter had played trombone on the Bob Centano LP, and George Milazzo had played bass on Centano's first session. Mickey Carroll sang on "In the Blue of Evening" and "Shine." George Bean took all the trumpet solos; Bill Porter handled the trombone solos. Tom Hilliard, Lenny Gagliardi, and Dick Kress soloed; Hank Stanley's one solo, on "Shine," tells us this number was from Session 2.
Wayne's contributions were composing some of the originals, selecting some of the other pieces, and conducting at the sessions. Nowak also did some composing, and arranged every track. The band is best described as a late Swing ensemble with modernistic tendencies. Except for Dick Kress, who was close to a pure Lestorian, the soloists all leaned bopward.
The originals were good; the band must have had fun with "Harlem Mambo." The choice of pops and show tunes favored the nonobvious (with the exception of "My Funny Valentine," done purely an ensemble piece). "Cherry" was from the repertoire of McKinney's Cotton Pickers; "Evelina" wasn't the Harold Arlen tune most bands would have played, and "The Golddigger's Song" (aka "We're in the Money") wasn't the Harry Warren tune most would have picked. Mickey Carroll (who seems to have listened to a lot of Billie Holiday records) wasn't a belter, so the band had to play softly on her two features, managing this with no evidence of strain.
George Bean was a tremendous trumpet soloist; how many other solos did he get to record? Tom Hilliard and Dick Kress were both brilliant tenor sax soloists, Bill Porter kept up his excellent work from the Centano sessions, and Art Quinn made the most out his quick piano commentary. The studio and engineer are not identified on the back (though the liner notes, by a jazz DJ from Evanston, left enough room), but the LP's superior sonics point to Universal.
To our knowledge, Fredie Wayne never made another record as a leader, or in any capacity.
For several other participants, there are no other known recordings: Bob Haddick, Bob Gates, Lenny Gagliardi, Hank Stanley, Art Quinn, Mickey Simmetta, Mickey Carroll. It's hard to believe, particularly regarding Art Quinn, Mickey Simmetta, and Mickey Carroll, and we'll be happy to be proved wrong about any of them. George Milazzo's only other known recording (see above) was one session with Bob Centano.
Some did have longer careers.
Between 1947 and 1956, John Howell worked on the West Coast. At various times he was in the bands of Stan Kenton, Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman, Cal Tjader, Dick Collins, and Shorty Rogers. As a result, Howell was recorded frequently (and the records he was on have often been reissued). He'd made one early appearance in Chicago, on Bill Russo's Experiment in Jazz for Universal (it was released as a two 78 package in 1948). On moving back to Chicago, Howell picked up some session work. In January 1958, Howell was in a large group accompanying tenor and alto saxophonist Vito Price on one side of his Argo LP Swinging the Loop (LP 631). The first Fredie Wayne session could have been his next studio job. We're not sure where Howell was working the next few years, but he resurfaced on a Woody Herman LP for Verve in 1963. In Chicago, he popped up on a Sonny Cox LP for Cadet in 1966, in a brass section that otherwise consisted of Paul Serrano, John Avant, and Art Hoyle. In 1968, he was in the horn section for an album by a rock group, The American Breed. Art Hoyle and Bobby Lewis were the other trumpeters. Subsequently, John Howell played on LPs by the Impressions (1970), Curtis Mayfield (1970), Terry Callier (1973), Bobby Bryant (1974)The Chicago Gangsters (1975), Kenny Burrell (1976), and a joint effort by Joe Morello, Gary Burton, and Bobby Christian (1976); he rejoined Bill Porter on the last LP. Subsequently Howell rejoined Bill Porter and George Bean on an album produced by a Madison Avenue company (Leo Burnett) for Kellogg's cereal (1977); Dick Marx led the band, Ron Steele and Johnny Frigo were on hand, and the the trumpet section was filled out by Bobby Lewis and Porky Panico. Also in 1977, Howell played on a Walter Bryant album that featured a huge orchestra (including Floyd Morris, Cliff Davis, Art Hoyle, John Avant, Morris Ellis, and Bobby Christian). His last known appearance was on a 1979 album by the Valentine Brothers, whose slightly less enormous orchestra put him alongside Art Hoyle, John Avant, and Morris Ellis. John Howell died on May 17, 1980.
Dom Geraci was born Dominick R. Geraci in 1923. His first appearance on a record, so far as we know, was on Chubby Jackson's big band outing, Argo LP 614, recorded in 1957. The album, Chubby's Back, is best known today for a number called "Keister Parade," featuring Cy Touff. Also in 1957, Geraci recorded with the Latin band led by "Pancho" (real name Jack Medell). Medell leased two sides to the United/States operation, which had them out briefly as United 213. Geraci was credited for the trumpt solo on "Enchantment." After his Fredie Wayne session, Geraci was tapped for a Mercury "in hi-fi" LP, David Carroll's Let's Dance Again!. The 1959 release also included Rudy Stauber (trumpet, from the Wayne session), Mike Simpson, Caesar Giovanini (piano), Earl Backus, Johnny Frigo, Frank Rullo, and Bobby Christian. Geraci also appeared on David Carroll's Latin Percussion LP (1960) and Mike Simpson's album Discussion in Percussion (1961); for more about these projects, see below. Dom Geraci died in 1992.
George Clifford Bean was born in Detroit, Michigan, on January 19, 1930. Probably his first appearance on record was on Dick Kress's big band LP for Replica (see below); Bean soloed on "Andalucia". The Fredie Wayne LP looks to have been his second. By 1965, if not earlier, Bean was in demand for session work in Chicago. Bean and Art Hoyle made up the trumpet section on more than one occasion. His period of peak activity (jazz, soul, and pop sessions) ran from 1972 to 1982. He made an LP and a CD as a member of Franz Jackson's Dixieland band. George Bean died in Oak Lawn, Illinois, on January 19, 2015.
To our knowledge, his Fredie Wayne session was Rudy Stauber's first. Stauber was subsequently in demand for several of Mercury's "in hi-fi" productions. He played on David Carroll's LP, Let's Dance Again!, in 1959, alongside Dom Geraci from these sessions. Other prominent musicians on the album included Caesar Giovanini (piano), Earl Backus (guitar), Johnny Frigo (bass), and Frank Rullo and Bobby Christian (percussion). On a followup LP from David Carroll, Solo Encores (1960), Stauber was featured on "Sugar Blues." Other soloists included Shay Torrent (organ), Paul Severson (trombone), Mike Simpson (tenor sax), Earl Backus (guitar), and Frank Rullo (drums). Stauber subsequently appeared on David Carroll's Latin Percussion (1960) and Mike Simpson's Discussion in Percussion (1961); see below for further details. He even participated on a short LP, cut in October 1962, of Budweiser promotional material that included Elaine Rodgers as the vocalist. It was the soundtrack of a short film shown to Budweiser sales representatives, The Look of the Leader. Cy Touff, Mike Simpson (flute), Earl Backus, Johnny Frigo, Frank Rullo, and Bobby Christian were all there. In 1970, Stauber was in the horn section for a Curtis Mayfield album, titled simply Curtis; John Howell from the Wayne LP was also present, along with Phil Upchurch (guitar) and Cliff Davis (sax). That same year, essentially the same lineup backed the Impressions on their LP Check Out Your Mind! When Dick Schory did another Percussion Pops Orchestra LP in 1971, for Ovation, Ron Steele produced it and played guitar; Bill Porter was on hand from the Fredie Wayne sessions. Earl Backus, Jim Atlas (bass), Frank Rullo, and Bobby Christian were in the rhythm section; Sun Ra alumnus John Avant was on trombone; Kenny Soderblom was in the wind section; Gary Burton guested. A second LP from 1971, on the Realistic label, featured Keith Droste playing the mini-Moog synthesizer in front of a brass-heavy big band that included Stauber and Bill Porter again. Other contributors included Johnny Frigo, Lenny Druss (baritone sax), and James Slaughter (drums).
Andy Marchese had been a member of Jack Teagarden's band around 1945. The Fredie Wayne LP is his only other known recording.
Of Ed Poggensee, we know that he played trombone on a Urania LP by Henry Brandon's dance band (1957) and on this Fredie Wayne outing.
William Corti was a veteran when he got the call for the second Fredie Wayne session. He'd been the second trombonist in Will Bradley's band when it cut such tunes as "Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar)." Corti is on the original Columbia 78s (from 1940, 1941, and 1944) as well as the abundant reissues of this material and of airchecks of the Bradley band. After his appearance on the Stepheny LP Corti did occasional session work in Chicago. He was on two "in hi-fi" LPs for Mercury. Latin Percussion by David Carroll and Orchestra came out in 1960 and was also released in several other countries. Corti played alongside Dom Geraci and Rudy Stauber from the Wayne session, as well as Chicago luminaries Porky Panico (trumpet), Paul Severson (trombone), Mike Simpson (reeds), Dick Marx (piano), Earl Backus (guitar) Johnny Frigo (bass), Jerry Slosberg (percussion), Frank Rullo (percussion), and Bobby Christian (percussion). A 1961 project, Discussion in Percussion, was credited to Mike Simpson and produced by David Carroll. Here Corti (on bass trombone) joined Rudy Stauber and Dom Geraci again. Cy Touff played bass trombone, and Backus, Frigo, Rullo, Slosberg, and Christian were in the rhythm section. In 1963, Ronald Steele recorded an LP in Chicago by Dick Schory's Percussion Pops Orchestra for RCA Victor. Corti worked with Rudy Stauber from the Wayne session, and such other musicians as Mike Simpson, Kenny Soderblom, Bobby Christian, and Gary Burton. Corti was on the final Jazz Ltd. release in 1968, one of four musicians added to the working ensemble at the club. Possibly later was a Bobby Christian LP, In Action, for Golden Era, which actually credited everyone on the sessions. Ron Steele produced it, and Corti was on at least some tracks, as was John Howell from the Wayne sessions. They worked with, among others, Frank Rullo, Johnny Frigo, Ron Steele, Earl Backus, Mike Simpson, Cy Touff, and Art Hoyle (trumpet).
Bill Porter was the trombonist on one of Replica's last LPs (1007, from 1958). It was called The Exhibit and featured two visiting musicians from Sweden, Sture Swenson on baritone sax and Jack Noren at the drums. Porter played on three tracks; Howard Stanley (of Reno Plays Nevada fame) played guitar on two others. orter also appeared on the Bob Centano LP for Stepheny (see above). It's hard to believe, but we don't know of anything else that Porter played on until 1969, when Joe Morello made Another Step Forward in Chicago for Ovation. John Howell from one of the Wayne sessions was on trumpet and Bob Ojeda (trumpet and arrangements for Bob Centano) played valve trombone. Porter subsequently recorded in Chicago with Dick Schory (Ovation, 1970), Keith Droste (Realistic, 1971), Bobby Bryant (A World of Jazz, 1974), Morello-Burton-Christian (1976), J. R. Waters (Well-Waters, 1976), Dick Marx and his Orchestra for Kellogg's cereal (1977), Curtis Mayfield (RSO, 1980), Roger Pemberton (Curtis Publishing Company, 1980; Porter was in the two smaller groups that Pemberton led); and Bruce Robins (CharLo, 1986). An outlier is a small group CD, for Nagel Heyer, recorded in Texas in 2003. Drummer Butch Miles was the leader, Bob Ojeda was on trumpet, Bill Porter on trombone, and Frank Wess made a guest appearance on tenor sax and flute. Ojeda also did most of the arranging.
Larry Ransom had been in Ralph Marterie's band, appearing on recording sessions for Mercury in 1953 and 1954. Kenny Mann played tenor sax for Marterie and Paul Severson was one of his section mates. He next appeared on the Dick Kress big band LP for Replica (Replica 1005, 1957); the 17 musicians included Phil Bova, George Bean, and, of course, Kress himself. Ransom was a featured soloist on "Goofy Blues," a Bova composition. Apparently the Wayne LP was Ransom's last.
Philip Bova, born around 1931, played alto sax and flute. Bova was on three LPs that we know of. Henry Swings by Henry Brandon and his Orchestra (Urania UJ-1210) was recorded at Universal in 1957. Bova wrote four of the tunes, played alto sax in the band, and was joined by Ed Poggensee and Art Langille, among others. While still a member of Brandon's ork, Bova appeared on Dick Kress's LP for Replica, playing the flute, writing two tunes, and doing all of the arrangements (Replica 1005 appears to be from 1957); out of the present cast, George Bean was also on the sessions. The last album Bova's known to have played on was Fredie Wayne's. The last album known to use Bova's arrangements is one by Ben Arden and the Big Bear Band, which was affiliated at the time with the Chicago Bears football team. It appears to be from the late 1970s or the early 1980s.
For Tom Hilliard, we know of three recordings. In 1957, he'd directed the studio ork on Bally 1031, a single by Bob Anderson. MF 4008 / LR 8006 was the first LP he played on. In August 1957, Hilliard had put together a rehearsal band, The Metropolitan Jazz Octet, which began to make some appearances in public. In August 1959, the octet recorded The Legend of Bix, which was released as Argo LP 659. One side consisted of pieces composed by Hilliard commemorating the great cornetists who served as models to Bix Beiderbecke; Hilliard did some narrating over portions of them. The other side of the album presented the group's arrangements of pieces that Bix composed. Sadly, this is all we have on Tom Hilliard.
Dick Kress, originally named Richard M. Kreiss, was born in 1929. He'd been on one LP prior to this outing: The Sax Life of Dick Kress, Replica 1005. On Bill Huck's audiophile label out of Des Plaines, this was a 1957 release. Kress's paying gigs at the time were with Gay Claridge's society band and with a music store (where he was a salesman). Kress led a 16-piece orchestra that he had been rehearsing for a while; the liners called it a dance band and the front cover called it a jazz band. Phil Bova and George Bean were also on it. Although the emphasis was not on soloing, Kress can be heard to advantage on "Lover Man," "Goofy Blues," and "The Lady Is a Tramp." Otherwise, Kress played on a 1989 cassette EP, recorded at Universal, of two tunes composed and arranged by one Siegfried Dux. If he was on anything else, we don't know what it was. Kress died in 2002.
Art Langille, who didn't solo on this LP, had previously, along with Phil Bova and Ed Poggensee, been on the Henry Brandon LP for Urania (1957, recorded at Universal); there he played baritone sax and flute. His only other appearance that we know of was as co-leader of a big band pointlessly attempting to record rock and roll, for Tommy Jones' Mad label not long after the Wayne session.
Jerry Nowak would lead bands on a few records, and see a multitude of other bands record his arrangements. He was born Gerald Chester Nowak in Detroit, Michigan, on April 16, 1936. It's possible that the Stepheny LP was his first recording project; a couple of years later, a Nowak arrangement was used on an LP by Chicago bandleader Art Kassel. Nowak could arrange for jazz bands, concert bands, marching bands, and wind chamber ensembles; between 1972 and 2020, his arrangements were used countless times on jazz and marching band LPs and CDs, some of them by ensembles from Sweden, Finland, and various countries in Eastern Europe. He published more than 1,100 compositions or arrangements. Jerry Nowak died in Flemington, New Jersey, on December 14, 2015.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4008
Stepheny LR 8006 [stereo]
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||Fredie's Blues (Wayne-Novak)||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||Paladium Swing (Wayne-Novak)||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||In the Blue of Evening (Adair-d'Artega) -MC||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||Harlem Mambo (Wayne-Novak)||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||Cherry (Redman-Gilbert)||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||Evelina (Arlen-Harburg)||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||My Funny Valentine (Rodgers-Hart)||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||Shine (Mack-Dabney-Brown) -MC||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||One for Janet (Wayne)||July 1958||1959|
|Fredie Wayne and his orchestra||The Gold Digger's Song (Dubin-Warren)||July 1958||1959|
The plan behind Stepheny MF 4009 was an odd one. Be Our Guest is divided three ways: four tracks each by two vocal groups, four more tracks by a solo vocalist. Each side of the record is divided three ways, with two tracks by each in the same order. The conceit (as depicted on the cover) is that The Buccaneers were presently affiliated with WBKB, an ABC station in Chicago, Martha Tilton was affiliated with NBC, and the Jack Halloran Quartet was with CBS. Was each originally to get a 4-tune session, leading to two Stepheny singles? The lengthy liner notes (without a byline) work hard to sell the album concept, so maybe it was the plan all along. Because Mort Hillman had been in a vocal group, and had also worked for a TV station, we figure he wrote the notes (which are so long, they again leave no room to talk up the hi-fi recording or the engineer). References to George Bigger, who was the program director for WLW in Cincinnati, and later for WLS in Chicago, also point to Hillman; who else at Stepheny knew the first thing about radio and TV in Cincinnati? Although it may have been released earlier, the album was probably recorded shortly after MF 4010, by Harvey Ellington.
Those curious about The Buccaneers may find a more detailed biography on our Rondo page. Originally from Indiana, the vocal/instrumental group became known as Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers while they had a program at WDAN radio in Danville, Illinois. Tom Fouts (aka Captain Stubby) was still with them when Stepheny recorded them, but the group's name had been (temporarily) abbreviated. Fouts sang in several vocal registers (including a cavernous basso that made him a mainstay of Roto-Rooter commercials) and played the group's novelty instruments. Dwight "Tiny" Stokes took the other lead vocals in his high tenor, and played string bass (Hillman mentions "Tiny," forgetting to include his last name). Jerry Richards, a classically trained clarinetist, also played the bass clarinet and the ocarina. The two latecomers (since 1944) were John "Sonny" Fleming (guitar, banjo) and Tony Walberg (piano, accordion). The group had settled in Chicago in 1949, after getting a regular spot on WLS, where they worked for 9 1/2 years. They then moved to WBKB, where they were appearing daily, and to the Polka-Go-Round show on ABC TV.
The Buccaneers had a checkered recording history, probably because most companies didn't know what to do with a Country and Western group that performed much of its material satirically. The Buccaneers first recorded for Majestic in New York, in 1946 and 1947. Majestic gave the Buccaneers novelty songs, which usually worked for them. When Majestic folded in 1949 Stubby and the Bucs signed with Decca, staying for three years. Decca wanted them to record sentimental and religious numbers. In June 1952, their last contract with Decca had expired, and they were picked up by Rondo, a Chicago-based label that wanted to benefit from their presence at WLS. Rondo, hoping for rejuvenating sales out of the Buccaneers, released 5 singles on them, one after another, then dropped them after a single year. Rondo had thought they should do the sentimental stuff. The group next signed with Mercury, which made little use of their services and dropped them after another single year. A company called Cole put two of their sacred numbers on a single, with RCA Victor numbers indicating one was from 1952 and the other from 1954 (these might have been sides that Rondo and Mercury didn't want). A short-lived company called Tiffany picked them up for one single in 1954. In 1956, the group got one single (two more sacred numbers) on KaHill. When invited onto the Stepheny LP, the Buccaneers had recently left WLS but had TV exposure around Chicago, and hadn't recorded for a little while.
Martha Tilton was born in Corpus Christi, Texas (November 14, 1915), grew up in Los Angeles, and found work as a singer as soon as she graduated from high school. She was a vocalist with Hal Grayson's band for two years, then spent 2 1/2 years with Benny Goodman's band, in his vocal group Three Hits and a Miss (1937-1939). "When the Angels Sing" was a major hit. She subsequently sang with Artie Shaw and Bob Crosby's bands. Landing her own radio show in LA led to guest spots on many network radio programs. She was also the real voice when certain actresses made a semblance of singing on screen. She entertained troops during World War II, in a touring variety show led by Jack Benny; when not on V Discs, she recorded regularly for Decca, Capitol, and then Coral. Martha Tilton was held a regular spot on Curt Massey's radio show, which ran from 1949 to 1955; she would make 3 LPs with Massey, the first of which came out in 1957. When Stepheny picked her up, she was no longer a hitmaker (the hit records under her own name had been in the 1940s) but still had a substantial following.
The Jack Halloran Quartet with Bob Tebow, Bill Kanady, and Bill Cole came together in Chicago in 1948. They could contribute in virtually any pop setting and immediately picked up a lot of radio work. They also did backup vocals on countless pop recording sessions. 1954 saw the Jack Halloran Quartet contributing to a rather grandiose Teddy Phillips album on Decca, Concert in the Sky. When other vocalists were added, the group was billed as the Jack Halloran Singers. The JHQ didn't frequently have opportunities to record under its own name. Halloran and the other quartet members left Chicago in December 1956, when a show they were featured on moved to Hollywood. However, in 1957 they got a contract with Dot, leading to two LPs (one of which was recommended by name on the back liner to Be Our Guest); another Dot LP would follow in 1959.
Another motive (we think it was the major motive) for the LP sessions emerges as one scans the song credits on the back cover (composer attributions are reproduced below, without decryption). Two of the Buccaneers' numbers were published by Windy City Music and give part credit to persons variously identified as A. Trace, B. Trace, and Watts. The other two were published by other companies, but each give half credit to Watts. In other words, Al Trace, prolific songwriter and leader of sweet bands in Chicago, owned a piece of all four songs. Being so prolific, Trace often wrote under pseudonyms. One of the most commonly used was Clem Watts. (We've never seen a complete list.) Meanwhile, Al's older brother Ben Trace also got a piece of "Be Our Guest." The Halloran numbers, all four, were published by Windy City and, once again, Al Trace owned a chunk of each. Martha Tilton recorded two songs published by Christopher, which to our knowledge had no Trace elements, and two published by Brandom, which did have some.
"I'm Alone but Never Lonely" had previously appeared on a KaHill single, by Doris Drew and the Jack Fascinato Orchestra, then on the Jack Fascinato LP, Stepheny MF 4004.
The Buccaneers, the Country band that didn't take Country music too seriously, were known for their goofy presentation, which extended to a tuned hat rack and an electric guitar made out of a toilet seat. They knew how to keep radio listeners tuning in, even though the audience couldn't see the silly instruments. On record, Captain Stubby and crew had usually been hobbled with material they couldn't have fun with (or didn't dare to). The mediocre songs they were handed on this occasion didn't give them much to have fun with. Are the interpolated monologues solemn or mock-solemn? At least the Buccaneers played their own instruments (Jerry Richards even throws in some alto saxophone). A special demerit must be awarded to "Let's Drink to Happiness," which filches its melody from Giuseppe Verdi (the Buccaneers "honored" its Italian origin by working in a mandolin part). The Buccaneers had already done the same number for Tiffany.
It looks as though at least two of the Buccaneers would record again for Stepheny. See our comments above, on "Tiger Tom" and "Tom and Tiny." They had fun with their material on Stepheny SF1838.
Martha Tilton is accompanied by a studio ork of some size, and male backup singers (who have to imitate dogs on a certain number). On sections of "Gotta Be" Tilton is double-tracked. Stepheny-Spinning liked to double-track some of their singers, never because they seemed to need it. The two Brandom songs suit Tilton better and the double-tracking is dispensed with.
The Halloran Quartet is accompanied by what sounds like the same studio ork. The quartet is well recorded. Their ensemble and execution are flawless; the material isn't. The idea might have been to make "Willing" into a doowop ballad; neither the song nor the group's style are suited. On "I Guess It Must Be Love," the quartet is more believable. Out in California, the Jack Halloran Singers would eventually appear on two Ray Charles LPs for ABC Paramount, so one has to assume that with more time to prepare, and better songs... Their performance of "I'm Alone but Never Lonely" makes one wonder whether to turn to the Doris Drew/Jack Fascinato version. The ork, on this one track, features a solo flute, vibes, and chimes. Were Bobby Christian and some of his bandsmen hanging around the studio?
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4009||The Buccaneers - Martha Tilton - Jack Halloran Quartet||Be Our Guest||September 1958||1959|
|The Buccaneers||Be My Guest (Watts-B. Trace-Martin)||September 1958||1959|
|The Buccaneers||Over and Over Again (Hoffman-A. Trace)||September 1958||1959|
|Martha Tilton||My Dog Has Fleas (Dant-Amateau)||September 1958||1959|
|Martha Tilton||That's the Way It's Gotta Be (Dant-Copeland-Lloyd)||September 1958||1959|
|Jack Halloran Quartet||Just because You're Mine (Watts-Herman)||September 1958||1959|
|Jack Halloran Quartet||If the Good Lord's Willing (Hoffman-Gimbel-A. Trace)||September 1958||1959|
|The Buccaneers||If My Heart Could Only Talk (Watts-Flick)||September 1958||1959|
|The Buccaneers||Let's Drink to Happiness (Hoffman-Watts)||September 1958||1959|
|Martha Tilton||The Knockin' Song (Hoffman-Freed-Watts)||September 1958||1959|
|Martha Tilton||Dancing by Myself (Brees-Edwards-A. Trace)||September 1958||1959|
|Jack Halloran Quartet||I Guess It Must Be Love (Hettel-Henderson-Watts)||September 1958||1959|
|Jack Halloran Quartet||I'm Alone but Never Lonely (Hoffman-Manning-A. Trace)||September 1958||1959|
Harvey Ellington's LP, MF 4010, has already received some attention on our King Kolax page. Ellington was a lounge singer of some talent, though not a nominee for greatness. He had a lot of range, but his registers didn't entirely blend, and he was occasionally imprecise with intonation. This may explain why the liner notes to the LP are brief and are credited to one Edward C. Hillman, Jr., a disk jockey for a radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio. It looks as though Mort Hillman talked a family member into doing the honors. That, in turn, suggests that the LP was Hillman's project. But when MF 4010 was released, Mort Hillman was in New York City, at his second, possibly even his third job after leaving Stepheny.
What makes the LP interesting today is the presence of a King Kolax quintet on every track, with King K and Prentice McCarey doing the arrangements. McCarey wrote three of the songs. Both of the blues on the date ("One Way Ticket", "Squeeze Me in Somewhere") are his. The leader gets several solos. It sure doesn't hurt to have Eddie Chamblee guesting on tenor sax. Chamblee was under contract to Mercury for a year (he got the contract on account of his marriage to Dinah Washington, which probably lasted less than a year), but the time frame apparently didn't include these sessions.
Harvey Ellington (vocals, plus whistling -1) was accompanied by King Kolax (trumpet), Eddie Chamblee (tenor sax), Prentice McCarey (piano), Mentho "Cowboy" Martin (bass), and Paul Gusman (spelled Gussman in the notes, drums). Cowboy Martin had been a regular member of the Kolax quintet in the past, and Paul Gusman was in demand for recording sessions in Chicago.
Norman Forgue produced the session, and Hal Kaitchuck got the engineering credit. The company was starting to rely on Boulevard, which cost less than Universal Recording.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4010||Harvey Ellington||I Can't Hide the Blues||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||I Can't Hide the Blues (Larry Gilbert)||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||Why Was I Born (Kern-Hammerstein)||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||Powder Your Face with Sunshine (Lombardo-Rochinski) -1||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||Maybe You'll Be There (Gallup-Bloom)||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||Then I Saw You (McCarey)||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||One Way Ticket (McCarey)||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||Moonlight Becomes You (Van Heusen-Burke)||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||Wonderful One (Grofé-Whiteman-Morris)||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||Sunday, Monday, or Always (Van Heusen-Burke)||September 1958||1959|
|Harvey Ellington||Squeeze Me in Somewhere (McCarey)||September 1958||1959|
The Miff Mole LP, MF 4011, came from sessions that discographies have placed on November 14 and 15, 1959. The dates are obviously off, we think exactly by a year. The Stepheny LP masters (J08P-3100 for Side 1) carry numbers in the J series from RCA Victor, not the K series. Recording dates late in 1958 led, maybe after a deal between two record companies, to a release at some point in 1959. If the deal was made right before or right after the sessions, Mort Hillman could have brokered it, on his way into New York City.Irving Milfred Mole was born in Roosevelt, New York, on March 11, 1898. While in his teens, Miff Mole made a switch from his first instrument (the violin) to the trombone, which he is said to have learned with extreme rapidity. Mole was one of the leading white jazz musicians in New York in the 1920s, appearing on many recordings; he often collaborated with Red Nichols. Truly an elder statesman by the time of this LP, Mole moved to Chicago in 1948 and worked regularly around town with Dixieland ensembles. He cut four sides as a leader for Premium in 1950 (after absorbing what was left of Premium, the Chess brothers eventually reissued them on an Argo LP). He was a member of at least one house ensemble at Jazz Ltd., appearing on a 10-inch Jazz Ltd. LP in 1951 (it was picked up the next year by Atlantic). He worked the Blue Note and the Bee Hive when those clubs booked Dixieland bands.
Mole of course played his own instrument on the sessions, which included a few tunes that he had written. Lee Castle played trumpet on one session (which produced 4 of the tracks; we mark it with a -1) and Jack Palmer played trumpet on the other (-2). Jimmy Lytell played clarinet alongside Castle and Joseph Dixon was on the session with Palmer. Rhythm on both outings consisted of Frank Signorelli at the piano, Jack Lesberg on bass, and Chauncey Morehouse at the drums. Some of these musicians (we're thinking of Signorelli, Morehouse, and Lytell in particular) had been on the scene nearly as long as the leader. All were accustomed to the genre and there was no disruption from changing two thirds of the front line.
Aboard the Dixie Hi-Flyer appeared in mono only. By the time MF 4011 reached store shelves, the company's appetite for stereo versions was gone. There's some chance (we don't know how much of one) that the sessions weren't recorded in stereo to begin with. They weren't cut in Chicago. As the back liner, which refrains from boasting about stereo production, makes clear, the tracks were made at Beltone Studios in New York City, and produced by Natt Hale, who was said to be "courtesy of Am-Par Record Corporation." Am-Par was the parent company of ABC-Paramount records, which often bought masters (particularly of soul or rock and roll performers) from independent labels. Had Stepheny conducted a swap? If so, we'd like to know whose masters had gone from Stepheny to Am-Par.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|MF4011||Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Aboard the Dixie Hi-Flyer||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Fidgety Feet (LaRocca-Shields) -2||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||For Me and My Gal (Goetz-Leslie-Meyer) -1||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||There'll Come a Time (Mole-Mannone) -2||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Exactly like You (McHugh-Fields) -1||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Dreaming by the River (Mole-Wells-Jarvis) -1||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||St. Louis Blues (Handy) -2||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Miffany (Mole) -2||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Jimtown Blues (Davis-Rose) -2||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Who's Sorry Now? (Snyder-Ruby-Kalmar) -2||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Wolverine Blues (Spikes-Spikes-Morton) -2||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Dixieland One-Step (LaRocca) -1||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
|Miff Mole and His Dixieland Band||Haunting Blues (Mole) -2||November 14-15, 1958||1959|
The Bobby Christian album, MF 4012, came out in 1959. From the little that we know about release dates for Stepheny LPs during the year, MF 4012 jumped the queue on as many as four that were ready for release earlier. Ralph Cox was talking about its airplay and sales on Feburary 14, 1959 (Cash Box, p. 25). MF 4008 through MF 4011 were still supposed to appear at some time in the spring. It also has master numbers from 1959. Yet we suspect none of the tracks were recorded in 1959 (there are two that we know were done for Stepheny in 1958, and those not previously released on Stepheny look like products of one or another sessions in December of that year). Unlike any other Stepheny LP, Smooth Man (title to be inflected as "Smooth, Man!") was a compendium of old and new material: eight tracks that were new and six that were older, according to Bob Budler's notes. Because the vault sides had been made as far back as 1956, there was nothing in the back liner about recording in stereo, and there was no stereo release. Also for this reason, the liners did not give personnel for the band, which must have changed many times; on the other hand, we've never seen a Bobby Christian release that did identify the other band members. We merely learn that the leader can be heard on drums, vibes, piano, chimes, tympani, xylophone, and bongos (surely also on percussion instruments not otherwise mentioned). However, we are told (unusually for Stepheny, which didn't like to name the studios it used) that the tracks were recorded either at RCA Victor or at Boulevard in Chicago.
Budler's liners mention that Christian (who returned to Chicago from New York early in 1956, and promptly formed a new band) started doing regular college appearances on October 27, 1956, at St. Joseph's in Collegeville, Indiana, and that prior to each gig he would prepare a mixed concert and dance arrangement of the fight song peculiar to the venue. He donated the arrangement to the college afterwards. Budler also mentions that Christian had six children—while shaving 11 years off his age.
"Boola" and "Caravan" were from Stepheny SF1833, Christian's first single for the label. The non-appearance of sides from his second single, Stepheny SF1835, suggests that tracks for the compilation were all chosen by the end of 1958, even though mastering took longer. Working backwards from Stepheny SF1833, "Tootie Flootie" b/w "East Avenue Express" had been on Phonograph 1023 (reviewed in Billboard on May 26, 1958, p. 42). Phonograph was a short-lived indie operated by Paul Gallis and Porky Panico. Mort Hillman didn't have to strain himself reaching for "My Theme" and "Indian Hop," which had been released in July 1957 on Salem S- 1010. Hillman's departure from Stepheny in November 1958 posed no obstacle to using them on the LP (it's unlikely that Hillman's new employer wanted to reuse anything that had been on Salem). There was no attempt to revive "Crickets on Parade" (Salem S- 1001), maybe because it was the only Salem single to tally a few sales; Christian's 1956 single on Formal FR-1002, with "Grasshopper Jump" and "Blowing Bubbles," was included instead.
The practice, peculiar to Stepheny (it started with MF 4001), of grouping all the slow tracks on one side of an LP and all the up-tempo numbers on the other, did Christian no favors here. The up-tempo tracks employ several Bobby Christian gimmicks (for instance, enunciating the melody on the vibes in unison with another solo instrument, such as a flute, a trumpet, or a tenor saxophone). Christian normally used a regular big band, with trumpet, trombone, and sax sections. But there are never solos for other band members, with the exception of the electric guitarist (who sometimes seems to be playing a steel guitar). Still, the arrangements generally hold the listener's interest. On "Boola" it appears that Christian kept the guitarist and sent the other band members out on a break. All other instruments heard thereon are played by Bobby Christian (Mercury swore not a single overdub was used on his LP, but we very much doubt that was the policy for these tracks). This makes us curious as to the identity of the Robert Sweetwater who took the composer credit. "Caravan" is similar, except it includes a part for string bass and an obbligato for Vernyle.
On some of the slower items Christian fell back on his experience with Mickey Mouse bands (he had been in Paul Whiteman's orchestra and written arrangements for Dick Jurgens, et al.). On "Always," the sap drips heavily from the slow sections; when the tempo picks up the entire band starts swinging and so does Christian's solo on the vibes. A frequent device is a high soprano vocalise, heard on "My Theme." On the Salem release of "My Theme" (S- 1010), there was a credit for "obbligato by Vernyle." Vernyle was Vernyle Christian, Bobby's daughter. She was born on November 21, 1935 in Chicago; the 1940 census record gives her father's first name as Sylvester, which we know he never used in show biz. Vernyle can also be heard on "Yesterdays," "Always," and "Caravan." "River's End" breaks with the formula. It has a vocal with words; the singer handles a jazz ballad credibly. We wondered whether this could be Vernyle on "River's End," but the matter appears settled by a 1965 single on Mal 879M-1012. Mal was a label, with an address in Oak Park, that Bobby Christian owned in the mid-1960s. Mal 1012 is credited to "Vernyle" and "River's End" takes up one side. On "Caravan," with polyrhythms aplenty but no drum solo, Christian comes up with a sound nothing like Duke Ellington's. The prominent, jangly electric guitar makes it sound like a James Bond theme before its time (in case you're curious, Dr. No was released in 1962).
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|MF4012||Bobby Christian and His Orchestra||Smooth Man||February 1959|
|[H7OW-0469]||Bobby Christian||My Theme (Christian-Armentrout)||February 1957||February 1959|
|Bobby Christian||Yesterdays (Kern-Harbach)||1958||February 1959|
|Bobby Christian||Misirlou (Pina-Tauber-Wise-Roubanis)||1958||February 1959|
|Bobby Christian||River's End (Christian-Reda-Armentrout)||1958||February 1959|
|[JO8W-3098]||Bobby Christian||Caravan (Mills-Ellington-Tizol)||November 1958||February 1959|
|Bobby Christian||Figments (Christian)||1958||February 1959|
|Bobby Christian||Always (Berlin)||1958||February 1959|
|[J7OW-3314]||Bobby Christian||Tootie Flootie (Christian-Louis)||April 1958||February 1959|
|[J7OW-3315]||Bobby Christian||East Avenue Express (Reda)||April 1958||February 1959|
|Bobby Christian||Noodlin & Doodlin (Christian-Louis)||1958||February 1959|
|[JO8W-3099]||Bobby Christian||Boola (Sweetwater)||November 1958||February 1959|
|[G8OB-4115]||Bobby Christian||I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles (Kendis-Brockman-Vincent-Kellette)||March 1956||February 1959|
|[G8OB-4116]||Bobby Christian||Grasshopper Jump (Christian-Mazza-Mangus-Lata)||March 1956||February 1959|
|[H7OW-0470]||Bobby Christian||Indian Hop (Christian)||February 1957||February 1959|
The company was still recording big bands, though the commercial prospects grew dimmer with each one. Stepheny MF 4014 featured a band led by one Dale Hamilton. The ensemble, leader included, was made up entirely of undergraduate musicians from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The Hamilton band had been performing at other campuses. All but one arrangement was the work of a current member. This not being a Bobby Christian band, the back liner tells us who was in it. Trumpets: Tom Prickett, Art Motycka, Bob James, and Jack Stettler. Trombones: Dennis Galle, Jerry Grose, and Frank Hammond. Saxophones: Dale Hamilton and Jim Fleisher, altos; Franz Roehmann and Bill Lauderdale, tenors; Elton Curry, baritone. Rhythm: Bob Kafka, piano; Ernie Taylor, guitar; Bill Tisdall, bass; Tom Goodwin, drums.
The album was titled Campus Queens and three female students from UIUC were chosen to appear on the cover (in beauty contest poses) as well as on the back liner (peering admiringly at Dale Hamilton). Did any other college band LP ever employ the same packaging strategy? We'd expect a reasonable standard of performance out of these musicians, for whom the band was strictly a club activity (university jazz programs scarcely existed in 1959, and UIUC wasn't among the pioneers). It's because they played in public a lot. One might expect the overall style to be more conservative than what we hear from Bob Centano or Fredie Wayne, and this turns out to be true. The Hamilton band's style was late Swing, with Count Basie as a detectable influence. There was a preference for simple arrangements and danceable tempi. If the 10 tracks are representative, the band's book didn't call for doubling by the reeds (we don't hear clarinets or flutes). Top-grade standards were programmed, the same ones that other jazz musicians favored at the time. The Dale Hamilton band played a lot of college dances (and high school dances) in Illinois around the time that its one recording was made. In one respect, it wasn't terribly different from Bobby Christian's band, which also played a lot of college and (yes) high school dances, albeit with more visits to neighboring states.
It appears the Hamilton LP was recorded just as the Bobby Christian LP was being compiled. The matrix numbers almost immediately follow the matrix numbers on the Christian compilation. The difference is that Norman Forgue and Ralph Cox talked up the Bobby Christian LP to the trades; they may even have released it ahead of some other LPs that were waiting in the queue. We haven't seen a lick of publicity on MF 4014. It's also noteworthy that no other Stepheny LPs are mentioned along the bottom of the back liner. It's possible that MF 4014 joined MF 4012 in jumping the queue and was released before one or more albums held over from 1958.
The band was comfortable with its material, which had most likely been in the book for a while, and was (once again) very well recorded. Nothing in the skeletal notes about the studio or the engineer, but Universal seems likely. Solo duties belonged to two trumpeters (Tom Prickett and Art Motycka), one trombonist (Dennis Galle), the leader (Dale Hamilton, alto sax), one tenor saxophonist (Franz Roehmann), the pianist (Bob Kafka), and the guitarist (Ernie Taylor). Most were proficient Swing or mainstream musicians. Roehmann, who got the most solo time, was basically a Cool Jazz artist; he was into Lester Young. Bob Kafka was the only one to flirt with bop. His short solo on "What a Difference" lets us know he'd listened to Bud Powell. The LP appears to have gone absolutely nowhere, yet is quite listenable today.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|MF 4014||Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||Campus Queens||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||Soft Winds (Jackson)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||You Go to My Head (Coots-Gillespie)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||Satin Doll (Strayhorn)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||Our Love Is Here to Stay (Gershwin-Gershwin)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||Cry Me a River (Hamilton)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||Sandy (Taylor)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||They Can't Take That away from Me (Gershwin-Gershwin)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||What's New (Burke-Haggart)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||What a Difference a Day Made (Grever-Adams)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||Jaywalk (Taylor)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||My Funny Valentine (Rodgers-Hart)||February 1959||1959|
|Dale Hamilton and His Orchestra||Barney's Blues (Kessel)||February 1959||1959|
We've seen no evidence that the band lasted beyond graduation day for Hamilon and the other musicians. We wonder whether a few of the cats became band teachers. It looks as though two of them were eventually pulled into the Kentonian orbit. A Franz Roehmann showed up, playing baritone sax, in a neo-Kentonian ensemble variously called the New York Neophonic Orchestra and the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra. Joel Kaye directed and the sessions took place in 1997 and 2001. The material appeared as the second CD in a set called New Horizons, from a company called Tantara in 2014; the first CD captured a 1965 concert with Stan Kenton directing the Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra. If this was our Franz Roehmann, it was his only other recording. A Bob Kafka played piano, replacing the late Bob Florence, on half of a CD by a big band directed by Mike Vax "featuring alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchesta." Sounds from the Road Live was recorded in the spring of 2008 and released by Summit Records in 2009.
As 1960 rolled around, Stepheny Records was on the way out. On November 1, 1959, the Louisville Courier Journal ran an engagement announcement for Stepheny Eveline Forgue and Robert Wadlington White (section 3 p. 2). They had met at the University of Kentucky. The wedding took place in Evanston in January 1960. Stepheny's portrait was no longer on the 45-rpm labels. The background color was now burnt orange and along the bottom the new labels carried the logo of a cooperative distribution organization that the company had joined. It was called the Discmaker's Group, or the Discmaker's Production Company, located in New York City, and run by one Alan Hartwell (Cash Box, October 29, 1960, p. 20).
Stepheny still had a few distributors scattered around the country, but the Discmaker's Group was expected to take the place of a regular distributor in New York. It was also expected to take the place of a director of sales and promotion, which the company hadn't had since June 1959. Stepheny did what was presumably its part, helping to bring such labels as VEM (which Norman Forgue talked up in Cash Box, June 4, 1960, p. 20; Cash Box misspelled it as BEM) and Cha Cha into the cooperative. The cooperative was expected to publicize releases from its member labels, but its efforts were distinctly undernourished: there was one ad in Cash Box while the Discmaker's Production Company was active.
Where the portrait had been, a 3-dimensional sound emblem (previously employed on the front cover of the company's stereo LPs) was visible (the numeral 3, somewhat angled in the frontal plane, over a waveform looked a lot like the logo for Am-Par, which superimposed a Möbius strip over its waveform). It wasn't meant to signify that the 45s were in stereo. There would be one final label variation, when the company issued a Christmas 45 (black on burnt orange wasn't festive).
The first 45, with two pop ballads by Don Norton, was recorded in 1959 and had maybe once been intended to hit the shelves before year's end. Stepheny SF1840 was the last to use the 1958-1959 labels. Accompaniment was managed by Mike Simpson, now in charge of an orchestra and chorus. To be exact, in charge of an organ, a piano, a guitar, a bass, drums, and three or four backup singers. Here was a session on which Simpson didn't play any of his own instruments. Don Norton sang in a somewhat ponderous basso. "Hold Me" might have succeeded with a soul singer and a soul production; neither was on hand, so it came out stodgy. The backup vocalists did so little, one might imagine they were just members of the band. On "Trees" they were more obtrusive, though singing wordlessly. Arrangements were trite. Al Hibbler could sing "Trees" and be believed (his recording for Sunrise made money for Miracle and more money for Chess). Don Norton couldn't.
There were just 3 further releases in 1960. The company had gotten busy shopping for studios. Stepheny SF1840 had carried matrix numbers from Boulevard. SF1841 had a Sheldon imprint (Sheldon was the Chess brothers' operation that offered recording, mastering and pressing services to other companies). The SHE series numbers probably indicate use of the Chess Studio at 2120 South Michigan Avenue. SF1842, for the first and only time, used A and B master numbers exclusively (OK, 1 and 2 master numbers). SF1843 marked a return to Sheldon.
The Danny Janssen 45s, SF1841 and SF1843, are usually described as doowop. Janssen sang lead for a vocal group; stylistically, what they were producing wasn't doowop. Copies of SF1841 are extant with autographs from a Carl Pagel and a Johnny Sax, as well as from Danny himself. Danny Janssen had a pleasant, rather thin tenor voice of the type that was selling on other pop-rock records at the time. There appear to be three other male vocalists; no individual credits are provided, no group name either. "Mirror" could be dated to 1960 from ensemble sound alone. As was then modish, Danny makes a monologue out of one of the choruses. We hear two guitars, electric bass, and bongos. "Blue Moon" (a song that's close to indestructible) gets an acceptable treatment, adapted to the rhythm then prevailing for lovelorn ballads. Backing consists of piano (lots of repeated notes), two guitars, electric bass, and vibraphone (somebody purposely didn't bring a drum kit to this session). Wherever the record was cut, it doesn't sound like a Stepheny made at Universal; the balance isn't great.
Stepheny's valedictory single, SF1843, employs similar vocal and instrumental forces. "Christmas All Alone" (which we've heard) resembles "Mirror" (though the protagonist looks forward to getting married in a few months). It could have sold in 1960, though we're not saying that it did (the single is hard to find today). We haven't heard Danny Janssen's rendition of "Winter Wonderland," though we can predict the approach used. This time only, the Stepheny labels were printed in red on light green.
The Rockin' R's were a rockabilly group from Peoria, Illinois. A major influence was Duane Eddy, and the band liked instrumentals. Ron Volz played lead guitar, Ron Wernsman played rhythm guitar, Ted Minar was the drummer, and Rick Bressick played tenor sax. The first Rockin' R release appeared in 1958 on the local Tempus label (first with no release number at all, then with a release number [TR 7541] based on the matrix numbers, it carried all the marks of the first effort that ends up making a label). It was licensed for release in Canada and in France. Two further Tempus 45s followed in 1959; TR-1507 has Columbia Custom Pressing numbers on it, along with a BRS in the vinyl. Then the owner of Tempus got hired by Vee-Jay, making the Rs' fourth Tempus single their first for Vee-Jay. A second Vee-Jay followed (also in 1959).
Stepheny was the group's last stop; it's quite possible that the sides had been done earlier and A and B matrices were employed to conceal when the band was recorded. (From Tempus onward, the group recorded in Chicago; if there was a studio in Peoria, Tempus didn't use it.) Hence, we've put 1959 down as the year of recording. Without another commercial release, the Rockin' R's broke up in 1962. They've drawn enough retrospective attention from rockabilly fans to warrant an LP on Norton (issued in 1988) that combined all of their released sides with tapes made at parties. Such attention has made clean copies of SF1842 rather expensive.
What we can discern, even from a less than pristine copy of SF1842, is that the band was well recorded (not to be taken for granted with rock and roll bands, then or later). "Walking You to School" was about the coming of fall and its impact on high schoolers; the lyrics are authentic, the vocal style is typical for the period, nothing pretends to be anything else, everything fits. Packed into two minutes are all the lessons that Mike Simpson and other rock and roll counterfeiters never learned. "Bewitched" is a standard, not famed for rock and roll interpretations. The R's don't force anything on it; Rick Bressick finds his way through a tune with a bridge. If Stepheny had picked up the Rockin R's a little earlier, the company might have lasted a little longer.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|BS-5460||Don Norton | Mike Simpson Orchestra and Choral Group||Hold Me (Shuster-Oppenheim-Little)||Stepheny SF1840||1959||February 1960|
|BS-5461||Don Norton | Mike Simpson Orchestra and Choral Group||Trees (David-Kilmer)||Stepheny SF1840||1959||February 1960|
|SHE-834||Danny Janssen||Mirror on the Wall (Janssen)||Stepheny SF 1841||1960||June 1960|
|SHE-835||Danny Janssen||Blue Moon (Rodgers-Hart)||Stepheny SF 1841||1960||June 1960|
|SF-1842-1||The Rockin' R's||Walkin' You to School (Volz)||Stepheny SF 1842||1959||September 1960|
|SF-1842-2||The Rockin' R's||Bewitched (Rodgers-Hart)||Stepheny SF 1842||1959||September 1960|
|SH-6050||Danny Janssen||Winter Wonderland (Bernard-Smith)||Stepheny SF1843||1960||November 1960|
|SH-6051||Danny Janssen||Christmas All Alone (Janssen)||Stepheny SF1843||1960||November 1960|
The Spinning subsidiary was powering down as well. The same basic label design was in use, now with the Discmaker's logo at the bottom. There were just two releases in 1960, the second and final one coming in July. Matrix numbers for both were in a BST 4000 series. Gaps therein make us wonder whether further sides were made and never released. First pressings still carried labels in different shades of green; later pressings used pale blue labels.
The Suades were a rockabilly quartet from Iowa. Rosie Stevens sang in a modified Country manner. The group acknowledged getting "Everybody's Trying" from Carl Perkins, and did it up proud. It's not clear who Asbury music thought should get credit for "Wrong Yo Yo," but the number was also done along lines laid down by Carl Perkins. Its origins go back to the 1920s and to blues pianist Rufus Perryman (aka Speckled Red, 1892-1973). That's assuming, of course, that Speckled Red didn't get it from someone else. It was first recorded by Willie Perryman (Piano Red, Rufus's younger brother) in 1930. Already a classic, in other words. The collector interest in HM 011 isn't hard to explain.
There are two label varieties for HM6011. What seems to be the earlier variety shows the BST-4000 matrix numbers from Boulevard on the label. The later variant leaves the BST number off the label and carries only HM6011-1 and HM6011-2 in the trailoff area. The company might have switched to another pressing plant, especially if its last releases were still being sold in 1961 (we suspect this was happening).
For some reason, one of the best late releases from Stepheny-Spinning didn't get reviewed anywhere. It was advertised by Discmaker's Production Company, the cooperative distributor in New York that Stepheny had joined, in its lone ad in Cash Box on October 15, 1960 (p. 28). The ad won't let us pin down a release date for HM6011; Stepheny SF1841 and SF1842 were listed in it, along with Spinning HM6012. Without further evidence of activity on Discmaker's part, it seems likely that Stepheny and Spinning singles still in stock got sold through the distributors the company still had, well into 1961. The Cash Box directory from August 1961 includes Stepheny and Spinning (both with the 510 North Dearborn address) and credits a handful of companies with distributing them. It's true that Stepheny and Spinning also showed up in the August 1962 directory, but by then we figure 45s for sale had run out.
The Idylls, who recorded the final entry on Spinning, were a vocal group, probably 2 males and 2 females, accompanied by trumpet, tenor sax, piano/organ, guitar, bass, and drums. The tenor saxophonist solos on "Love Me Again" and the electric guitarist is heard from on "Annette." The keyboardist plays piano on "Again" and organ on "Annette." The lyrics, as Captain Beefheart once said, are self-explanatory. Not a classic like the Suades record, but not the worst one to sign off with. HM6012 received a tepid review in Billboard (July 25, 1960, p. 46) and slightly more positive notice from Cash Box (August 6, 1960, p. 18).
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|BST-4015||The Suades Featuring Rosie Stevens||Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby (Perkins)||Spinning HM 6011||1960||1960|
|BST-4016||The Suades Featuring Rosie Stevens||Wrong Yo Yo (Alan)||Spinning HM 6011||1960||1960|
|BST-4021||The Idylls||Love Me Again (Burns)||Spinning HM 6012||1960||July 1960|
|BST-4022||The Idylls||Annette (Mertes)||Spinning HM 6012||1960||July 1960|
Stepheny LPs continued for a while past the singles, but as release numbers rose, fewer LPs were pressed and sales declined. In 1959, the company had caught up on its backlog from the previous year (MF 4008 through MF 4011), released a Bobby Christian compilation (MF 4012) planned at the end of 1958, and put out one new LP actually recorded that year (MF 4014). Six LPs in one year may have been more than the company could adequately promote. And LPs were not included in the Discmaker's cooperative that Norman Forgue joined in 1960. After MF 4014, Stepheny spun way down, averaging one LP per year thereafter. The company kept using its LP label stock (which included the 1958 portrait) until it ran out of blanks—we think that was in 1962.
The Stepheny label seemed to end as it had begun. The first 45, from 1956, looked like a project done as a favor to friends. The last three LPs look like favors done for an organization. The jackets still make MF 4015 and MF 4016 look like Stepheny products; on the final LP, MF 4027, the Stepheny look and feel are just partly retained. On these late offerings other Stepheny LPs are no longer mentioned on the back of the jacket. There's an address at the bottom of the back cover. Instead of 1800 Asbury in Evanston, or 510 North Dearborn in Chicago, it belongs to Orchestras, Inc., at 332 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Russ Carlyle and Don Glasser were both long-time clients of Orchestras, Inc.
The first in this twilight series was by a fairly prominent singer and leader of big bands, Russ Carlyle. Yet MF 4015 tests even those who seek the most obscure material. He might have been past his commercial peak, but Carlyle still had a following, landed plenty of engagements in 1960, and had been recording with some regularity during the past few years. But Stepheny was making its move when no Swing or Sweet band revival was in sight. We also suspect that Carlyle didn't sell LPs at his band's appearances.
Russ Carlyle had been on the scene, first as a singer, then as a bandleader, since the 1930s. He would be in demand again, making albums for dancers, in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of his recorded output is still out there. Our dating of MF 4015 to 1960 is strictly based on the listing on the BSN site. The back liners and the labels don't give us an indication of the year (there's some chance it was 1961). The secondary matrix numbers in the trailoff area may give us greater precision; more research is needed.
Russ Carlyle was born Phillip Gantose, in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 3, 1914. He got his start as a nightclub singer in Cleveland, then spent three years as the lead vocalist for the Blue Barron Orchestra, which was also based there (1936-1939). In 1940 he became a bandleader, at the helm of Russ Carlyle and his ABC Paramount Recording Orchestra. After service in the military during World War II, he re-formed his band in 1946, enjoying commercial success. Carlyle reorganized his band again in the mid-1950s. Before his one-off venture with Stepheny, Carlyle and band recorded singles on RCA Victor's X subsidiary (1955), ABC Paramount (1956), Fraternity (1958), and Mercury (1959).
Carlyle also made an appearance (probably in the first quarter of 1959) on Tempus. Tempus, based in Peoria, we have already met, as it was the original home of the Rockin' R's. Tempus recorded its artists in Chicago, probably using the same studios as Stepheny/Spinning, but what kind of business relationship existed we have no idea. It's odd that Carlyle's single on Tempus TR-1513 has been described as rockabilly. Having confirmed that Lois Costello did two rock and roll ballads for Tempus, we'll admit this could be true. What's odder is that Orchestras, Inc., Carlyle's band management company, reported to Cash Box that he had a single on Tempus. What was the nexus between a manager of sweet bands, located in Chicago, and a label that wanted to record rock and roll, located in Peoria?
In 1960, Carlyle was relying heavily on the contributions of his pianist and music director, Michael Caranda, who had been with him since 1946, and his regular female vocalist, Dorothy Ferguson. Patty Clayton, who would take over from Ferguson, made her first appearance with the band in late November 1960. If a female vocalist were on the the LP, we could use her identity to help date it. No such luck; two tracks on Stepheny MF 4015 are instrumentals, and the other 12 all feature Russ Carlyle himself.
Stepheny MF 4015 still used the portrait label that had appeared on all previous Stepheny LPs. Unlike any other LP from the company, even MF 4016, the sides did not carry RCA Victor matrix numbers. Instead there were numbers on the labels in a B33T series. We've taken this to indicate recording and mastering at Boulevard Recording Studios, which is confirmed by the BRS also incised into the trailoff area on each side. In addition, the trailoff area carries XCTV numbers from Columbia's custom pressing operation.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4015||Russ Carlyle||The Romantic Style of Russ Carlyle||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||I've Waited Oh So Long (Carlyle-Caranda-Washbaugh)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Happy and Free (Carlyle-Caranda-Washbaugh)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Strangers in Paradise (Borodin-Wright-Forrest)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Think of Pleasant Things (Carlyle-Caranda-Washbaugh)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Only One (Krohnengold)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||I May Be Wrong (Sullivan-Rushin)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Where You Belong (Carlyle-Caranda-Washbaugh)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Imagine (Carlyle-Caranda-Washbaugh)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||You're Keeping a Secret (Carlyle-Caranda-Washbaugh)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Dreaming of Love (Barlow)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Josephine (Kahn-King-Burke)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Donna Mia (Franklin-Spadachene-Carlyle)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Ready to Fall in Love (Carlyle-Caranda-Washbaugh)||1960||1960|
|Russ Carlyle||Moonglow (Hudson-Mills-DeLange)||1960||1960|
Russ Carlyle's next LP, in 1962, was for ABC Paramount. He made a couple of album on which he shared credit with Patty Clayton; the dates are unclear, but later in the decade. Two LPs, now clearly intended for tea dancers and nostalgia buffs, were released in 1977, one on GRT and one on Sunnyvale. Carlyle retired from the music scene in 1990. He died in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, on May 3, 2011.
The last two LPs were by a second client of Orchestras, Inc., Don Glasser's band. Don's wife, Lois Costello, handled most of the vocals. (Supposedly, they weren't married until 1964, but publicity for their appearances made them look like an item long before that. Could they have been married in 1954?) The band, operating out of Chicago since its inception in 1953, had played lots of ballrooms and swanky hotels and supper clubs, often the same ones where Russ Carlyle appeared. But it hadn't recorded before.
Stepheny MF 4016 also did away with the MF vs. LR distinction: MF 4016 was released in stereo only. The nonconsecutively numbered MF 4027 (hard to find today) has a much more crudely designed front cover. Early pressings of MF 4016 still used the old label stock; later pressings substituted new labels with a different color scheme, no portrait, and a different layout overall. We suspect only the latter-day labels were used on MF 4027, but it would help to see them.
Roy Don Glasser was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on August 28, 1920. He grew up in Derry, Pennsylvania. After working in several dance bands, operating one of his own and serving in the US Army during World War II, Glasser returned to the dance band scene, starting another band of his own in 1946, then spending four years with Ray Pearl. Establishing a base in Chicago, he launched his final band in 1953. Lois Costello, who had also been with Ray Pearl, was apparently a founding member of this band, though there may have been some gaps in its bookings; for a stretch in the summer of 1953 she was with Art Kassel. Otherwise we don't know of her being absent for long. By the time it recorded for Stepheny, the Glasser band had a settled pattern of periodic hotel and ballroom appearances in Chicago, interspersed with road trips through a lot of one-nighters interspersed with longer stays at swanky venues.
Lois Costello had been on two earlier recordings. She got one side of a JEB 78 in 1952 or 1953, not too surprising for a pop singer based in Chicago. Her other, however, was a single made in December 1958 and released in February 1959, for Tempus. Here she was identified as Lois Costello, "Miss Energy", and accompanists were not designated. It turns out that Ms. Costello was singing two rock and roll ballads, with help from piano, electric guitar, string bass, and drums. She told a reporter in Memphis, Tennessee, that the experience was entirely different from working with the Don Glasser band, because most of the musicians on her Tempus session (which took place in Chicago) didn't read. She was subjected to some double tracking, for which there was no discernible call, on "Goodnight Sweetheart." Lois Costello nonetheless sounded convincing on both songs. But where, may we ask, was the market for a big band singer doing rock and roll? Russ Carlyle probably asked himself the same quetion.
After Stepheny closed, The Glassers recorded for Cha Cha Records. Cha Cha was operated by Don DeLucia, a songwriter and music publisher (Don-Del Music); when Cha Cha opened, Stepheny brought it into Discmaker's, the cooperative distribution effort that Forgue joined after he'd given up on hiring sales and promotion people. The address that Cha Cha often used, 54 West Randolph in the Loop, was identical with the address of Don-Del Music. Don Glasser and Lois Costello released three further LPs on Cha Cha: one in 1965, a second in 1968 or later, and a 25th anniversary LP in 1978. Cha Cha, on this occasion using an address in South Holland, Illinois, also reissued Stepheny SF1818 by the Mar-Vellos; when it took place we don't know, but after June 1963. Why? Both of the Mar-Vellos' songs were published by Don-Del.
The labels to MF 4016 revert to the previous custom at Stepheny: they show M series matrix numbers from RCA Victor. The album was recorded and released in 1961. Copies with the original Stepheny labels carry matrix numbers in the M7OP series, suggesting a mono pressing, and copies with the replacement labels use matrix numbers in the M7OY series, indicating a stereo pressing. Further research is needed on that. Labels printed for the LP after the old Stepheny stock ran out carry a second number, the same on each side, which we've placed beneath the RCA Victor M7OY number.
Don Glasser proudly referred to his ensemble as a sweet band. He told reporters that the Glasser band was modeled on Guy Lombardo's and Hal Kemp's. Shown holding an alto sax on the back cover (in a photo he had been using since 1955), Glasser presumably took Carmen Lombardo as one of his models, but there is not one alto sax solo on the LP. No other members of the band are identified by name. Vocals by Lois Costello or Don Glasser are hereinafter designated with their initials ("Charley, My Boy" adds a tiny bit of call and response with members of the ensemble). The band executes its arrangements to perfection, not a note, rest, or expression mark out of place. Except for one trumpet player, one trombonist, and the pianist, nobody gets a prominent lead or a solo on MF 4016 (and, as far as we're concerned, the pianist shouldn't have gotten any). Except for "Charley, My Boy," where a real 1920s spirit is momentarily felt, and "Maryland, My Maryland," which lends a touch of Dixieland, everything's too smooth.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4016 [stereo]||Don Glasser and His Orchestra||Music Smooth as Glass||1961||1961|
|Don Glasser and His Orchestra||Anything Goes (Porter)||1961||1961|
|Don Glasser and His Orchestra||Medley:
Tell Me that You Love Me Tonight (Silverman-Bixio)
I Really Don't Want to Know (Robertson-Barnes) -LC
|Don Glasser and His Orchestra||Skirts (Roberts-Randall) -DG||1961||1961|
|Don Glasser and His Orchestra||Medley:
Because of You (Hammerstein-Wilkinson)
Your Eyes Have Told Me So (Blaufuss-Kahn-Van Alstyne)
|Don Glasser and His Orchestra||Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey? (Cannon) -LC||1961||1961|
|Don Glasser and His Orchestra||Tea for Two Cha Cha (Caesar-Youmans)||1961||1961|
|Don Glasser and his Orchestra||Sweet Georgia Brown (Bernie-Pinkard-Casey)||1961||1961|
|Don Glasser and his Orchestra||Medley:
Yours Is My Heart Alone (Lehár)
Everywhere You Go (Shay-Goodwin-Fischer) -LC
It's a Lonesome Old Town (Tobias-Kisco)
|Don Glasser and his Orchestra||Charley My Boy (FioRito-Kahn) -LC, ens||1961||1961|
|Don Glasser and his Orchestra||Medley:
Pretty Baby (Jackson-Kahn-Van Alstyne) -DG
You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me (Dubin-Warren)
Was That the Human Thing to Do (Fain-Young)
|Don Glasser and his Orchestra||Maryland My Maryland (trad.)||1961||1961|
|Don Glasser and his Orchestra||Tango of the Roses (Schreies-Bottero)||1961||1961|
In the fullness of time there was a single off MF 4016, Stepheny SF 2100. Issued in 1964, perhaps the last pressing of MF 4016 ran out, it carried a variant of the post-portrait label as used on the Glasser LPs, with script lettering for "Stepheny Records" too crude to have met Norman Forgue's standards. We're putting it here, between the two Glasser LPs, for the sake of completeness. Forgue was out of the business when SF2100 was released.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|R3KM-3815||Stepheny SF 2100||Don Glasser and his orchestra||Skirts (Roberts-Randall) (Vocal-Don Glasser)||1961||1964|
|R3KM-3816||Stepheny SF 2100||Don Glasser and his orchestra||Medley:
Yours Is My Heart Alone (Lehár; Instrumental)
Everywhere You Go (Shay-Goodwin-Fischer) (Vocal-Lois Costello)
It's a Lonesome Old Town (Tobias-Kisco; Instrumental)
The second and last Don Glasser LP on Stepheny was nonconsecutively numbered, at MF 4027. It also had a front cover consisting of a photo of Don Glasser and Lois Costello set against a solid color background, nothing else on it. The LP was credited to Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra.
We will be able to give a year for MF 4027 when we have a chance to see Stepheny labels (and their matrix numbers). In the interim, we'll put 1962 for the year of recording, simply because it was the last full year before Norman Forgue shut the company down. The LP was reissued as Cha Cha C-1451, with A and B matrix numbers, as soon as the replacement Stepheny label stock had run out. The Cha Cha LPs use the same jackets, with skinny strips carrying the Cha Cha number pasted over the Stepheny number on each side of the back jacket. (We haven't seen Cha Cha numbers pasted over the spine. That might have been too tricky an operation.) Courtesy of Cha Cha, we can supply the label copy; unfortunately, the Cha Cha matrix numbers were strictly A and B. Cha Cha didn't put the composers on its LP labels, though they were still on the pasted over Stepheny back liner.
|Matrix||Stepheny #||Artist||Title||Recording Year||Release Year|
|Stepheny MF 4027
Cha Cha C-1451
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Come ... Spend an Evening with Us ... and Dance Dance Dance|
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Theme: You Call It Madness
Ain't She Sweet
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Medley:
Anema e Core
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Exactly like You||1962|
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Medley:
Melody of Love
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Mack the Knife||1962|
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Cocktails for Two Cha Cha||1962|
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Makin' Whopee [sic]||1962|
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||12th Street Rag||1962|
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Frankie||1962|
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Wolverine Blues||1962|
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Rumba Medley:
Petticoats of Portugal
|Don Glasser Lois Costello and Orchestra||Medley:
The Party's Over
Presumably the Glasser LPs were offered to dance goers until inventory was exhausted. Different methods of distribution would explain why Glasser LPs (often autographed) show up today and Carlyle LPs hardly ever do. The first Glasser LP went through multiple pressing runs, judging from the change of labels on MF 4016. MF 4027 probably had fewer and shorter pressing runs and the initial pressing used replacement Stepheny labels. MF 4016 did not see reissue with another company, whereas MF 4027 made a quick transition to Cha Cha.
Though its final LP came out in 1978, the Don Glasser band performed and toured for many more years. In 1995, Don Glasser suffered a stroke; he could no longer sing or play his alto sax, but he still appeared with the band. A second stroke in 2000 left him wheelchair-bound; Lois Costello took over leadership of the band for a while. Don Costello, at the age of 83, died at the Mt. Clare Bapist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 26, 2004. He was buried in Arlington, Illinois, leaving behind Lois, their son Donald Glasser, and his brothers Bill and Gene, who still lived in Derry, Pennsylvania ("Glasser, Roy Don," Chicago Tribune, April 28, 2004, sec. 2, p. 11).
Mort Hillman, as we've noted, wasn't around for the slowdown. He'd relocated to New York City after a year with the company, leaving his uncompleted projects, notably four or five LPs that were ready for release, for Norman Forgue to take care of. After 3 straight years at Seeco, Hillman moved over in September 1962 to Jerry Blaine's Cosnat, an established distributor that also operated record labels, such as Jubilee and Josie. Hillman was expected to develop relationships between Cosnat's 9 offices (the number had grown before he was hired and would shrink while he was there) and rack jobbers, whose role in getting the company's product onto store shelves was growing in importance. The company also wanted to launch a line of budget-priced LPs, which Hillman would oversee ("Cosnat Forms Rack Division; Mort Hillman Named Mgr.; Bows New Budget Label," Cash Box, September 22, 1962, p. 8).
Hillman left Cosnat in June 1964, to head sales and promotion at Regina, an indie with expansion plans. A major assignment, quite familiar to Hillman by then, was building up the company's newtwork of distributors ("Regina Expansion Brings in Mort Hillman to Sales-Promo," Cash Box, June 6, 1964, p. 7). In January 1965, Hillman's travels with artists who recorded on Regina, including Jack LaForge, the pianist who was also president of the label, took him back through his home town (James Wilber, "the Popular Beat," Cincinnati Enquirer, January 24, 1965, p. 13-E). Like some of Hillman's other jobs, this lasted one year.
From selling records, and from squeezing as much A&R into his job description as his current employer would allow, Hillman took some time off, to sell ad space in Record World magazine ("Mort Hillman to Record World," Record World, June 26, 1965, p. 11). A rebranded version of Music Vendor, the magazine had previously not wielded much clout in the industry. Now it was laying some major rivalry on Billboard, which had scorned him, and on Cash Box, which had published his press releases but hadn't pulled in the record sales he so often thought he was going to get. For three years, Mort Hillman's name was on the masthead (e.g., Record World, December 25, 1965, p. 4) as Advertising Manager, Eastern Division. Record World's head office was in New York City, but it maintained a separate West Coast Division, later opening offices in other parts of the US and in Europe. In March 1966, he was wedded to Ruth Herbst, a medical technician (New York Daily News, March 3, 1966, p. C16). This was probably his second marriage.
In June 1968, Hillman was hired as Vice President for Sales and Promotion at Audio Fidelity Records ("Hillman Named Audio Fi VP, Sales & Promotion," Record World, June 22, 1968, pp. 3, 31; James Wilber, "The Popular Beat," Cincinnati Enquirer, June 30, 1968, p. 9-G). Audio Fidelity never became a major label, but it would be the highest-profile company he ever worked for. udio Fi underwent a major reorganization in 1971, before slumping at the end of 1970s and going inactive around 1984; more research is still needed on the length of Hillman's tenure.
In 1980, Mort Hillman went into politics. He ran as a Democrat for a seat in the New York State Assembly, winning it and holding it for 6 terms. In 1992, he lost narrowly when redistricting put him up against a Republican incumbent from a formerly adjoining district ("New York Legislature: Leaders Buck National Anti-Incumbent Trend," Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, November 5, 1992, p. 8A).
Hillman retired to Delray Beach, Florida, where he could be heard from during local political controversies. Mort Hillman died in Florida on February 3, 2014, at the age of 87 (Cincinnati Enquirer, February 26, 2014, p. 14). His wife Ruth died in a nursing home in Newtown, Connecticut, on January 9, 2017 (Cincinnati Enquirer, January 11, 2017, p. 6B). She was 98.
In 1974, Norman Forgue sold his interest in the Norman Press, which relieved him of most management duties. But he kept Black Cat going. A number of newspapers picked up a feature article on him from the Chicago Sun-Times (Gary Wisby, "The Incredible Shrinking Books," San Francisco Examiner, November 18, 1982, p. E5; nearly a year later it showed up as "Tiny Books Are a Tall Order," Central New Jersey Home News, October 20, 1983, p. A23). Black Cat Press was about to publish its 90th book. Forgue was spending a good part of his time crafting other miniatures, such as 1/8 inch tall human figures carved from matchsticks, and toy dollhouse rooms cast in lead, complete with even tinier doll dishes. He used a saw that could cut to one thousandth of an inch. A somewhat updated version from the Associated Press (Charles Chamberlain, "Craftsman Is, in a Nutshell, a Giant among Miniatures," Elmira Star-Gazette, March 21, 1983, p. 12A) mentioned that Forgue had 150,000 miniatures in his home in Skokie. Many he had carved or molded himself; the rest he had assembled from parts and painted.
On May 18, 1984, the Chicago Tribune published Madeline Forgue's obituary (section 4 p. 12). The terse item indicated that Stepheny had remarried and was now Stepheny Houghtlin—also, that Stepheny had six children (some could have been stepchildren). On October 20, 1985, Norman Forgue's obituary followed (Chicago Tribune, section 2 p. 15). He was 80 years old. We're not aware of any retrospectives on his record company.
Norman Forgue's papers are in the Chicago Public Library (see https://www.chipublib.org/fa-norman-w-forgue-collection/). We learned a little more about him and about Black Cat Press from a 2014 article available at Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin's website: https://stephenyhoughtlin.com/2014/03/17/the-black-cat-press-remembering-norman-w-forgue-1904-1983/. As we noted above, the ending date in the URL should be 1985.
We benefited from the 45 rpm discography on Stepheny at http://www.globaldogproductions.info/s/stepheny.html as well as the 45cat.com listing for the label. However, Global Dog was interested only in the SF1801 series. Discussions at 45cat.com have recognized some relationship between the 45-01s and the SF1801s, but not the company's magical rebirth in the pages of Cash Box. For Stepheny LPs, the 1999 discography by Both Sides Now is still helpful, though it left out the Don Glasser records and used a prefix for the stereo releases that is incorrect. Spinning was an unfortunately obvious name for a record label, but 45cat.com shows its complete output. So does discogs, where the Stepheny subsidiary is the seventh label to be called Spinning.
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