The Early Years (1950-1955)
Randolph C. Wood, born in 1918 in McMinnville, Tennessee, was the force behind Dot Records. After serving in the Army in World War II, Wood settled in Gallatin, Tennessee, a small town near Nashville. He started an electrical appliance store called Randy's, and as an afterthought, started carrying records in 1947. At first, he stocked classical music and popular music of the day, but they rarely sold any copies at all. Those that came into the store looking for records were asking for the records by rhythm and blues artists like Joe Liggins, Roosevelt Sykes, or Cecil Gant, records that were being played on WLAC in Nashville. Wood discovered that these records were available, but only in limited quantities, and not in his area. He started a 78rpm mail-order business in 1948 by placing a short advertisement with "Hoss" Allen and Gene Nobles on WLAC, and the orders poured in. By 1950, the mail order business had swamped his electrical appliance sales. He was stocking 20,000 titles, and the store had become "Randy's Record Shop." He and Gene Nobles started a business relationship which resulted in Wood's own label, Randy's, on which he put out a few records like "Gene Nobles' Boogie" by Richard Armstrong, and the Record Shop Special label, which recorded Cecil Gant. Basically, these were just an extension of the record store. Then came Dot.
When Wood also became part owner of a local daylight-only radio station, he and Nobles decided to form a "real" record label with much wider distribution, and record local artists in the radio station after hours. One of the first artists he recorded was a young man who packed records for him at the store, Johnny Maddox. Maddox and his honky tonk piano style graced Dot Records for almost twenty years. Early singles show he also recorded gospel artists like the Fairfield 4 ("Jesus Met the Woman at the Well," Dot 1003), In addition to the Fairfield 4, the Gateway Quartet, the Golden Voice Trio, Rosa Shaw, Joe Warren, the Singing Stars, and the Brewsteraires. And of course, there were rhythm and blues artists.
One of the first R&B groups he recorded was a combo called the Griffin Brothers, which featured Margie Day and Tommy Brown. Five of his early Griffin Brothers recordings made the Billboard R&B top- 10 in 1950-51. The first three (Dot 1010, 1019, and 1060) were issued on 78 rpm records only, while the last two (Dot 1070, 1071) were also issued on 45 rpm. The biggest of these hits was "Weepin' & Cryin'" (Dot 1071), which made #1 on the Rhythm and Blues charts in early 1951.
Other early R&B artists on Dot included Ivory Joe Hunter, Joe Liggins, the Four Dots, the Big Three Trio, Brownie McGhee, Shorty Long, and the Counts. The Counts racked up a top-10 R&B hit in the spring of 1954 with "Darling Dear" (Dot 1188), but their followup failed to chart. The Counts were a group of five black teenagers from Indianapolis (Robert Wesley, Robert Penik, James Lee, lead singer Chester Brown, and Robert Young).
In addition to R&B and gospel, early singles included country artists Big Jeff, Mac Wiseman, Bob Lamm, Andy Wilson, Tommy Jackson, Jam Up & Honey, the Tennessee Drifters, Lonzo and Oscar, and Jimmy Newman. Mac Wiseman, an ex-deejay from Virginia, was one of the first artists for Dot, signing in 1951. His records sold well enough for him to remain employed, and in 1955 he had the first of his two top-10 country records for Dot, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" (Dot 1240, #10). He had a top-5 country record in 1959 with "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy" (Dot 15946). After that he recorded for several labels, and although he placed seven other sides on the country charts between 1963 and 1979, didn't reach the top 10 again. Dot has repackaged his early material in reissue albums many times over the years.
Jimmy "C." Newman had been recording since 1946, and was also an early artist for Dot. Even though his middle name is Yeve, he used "C." for "Cajun" in his stage name. He broke into the country charts with "Cry, Cry, Darling" (Dot 1195), which made #4 in 1954. A half-dozen additional country hits (5 of them top-10 and the other #13) over the next three years entitled Newman to wear the mantle of Dot's legitimate country star. He left for the MGM label in 1958, and placed country hits on the charts for the next dozen years for MGM and Decca.
Randy Wood got his first pop chart hit with a white vocal group called the Hilltoppers, lead by songwriter- musician Billy Vaughn and lead singer Jimmy Sacca. The others in the group were Don McGuire and Seymour Spiegelman. The four were students at Western Kentucky College in Bowling Green, and they took their name from the college's basketball team. They recorded a song called "Trying", and Bill Stamps, a local disc jockey, sent the song to Randy Wood. Wood signed them to Dot and re-recorded the song, which was issued as Dot 15018 in the summer of 1952. It rose slowly in the charts until it was given a big boost by an appearance on the Ed Sullivan national TV show. It eventually reached #7 on the national pop charts. Their biggest hit was "P.S. I Love You" in 1953, which made #4, but they scored eight other sides on the top 20 between 1952 and 1954. During their appearance on Ed Sullivan, they wore college sweaters and caps with a big "W" on them, and it became their trademark for years.
Although Billy Vaughn was a member of the Hilltoppers for the first few years, his musical tastes ran toward orchestral arrangements more than vocal quartets. He tried a single as a solo artist in late 1954, a remake of an old tune called "Melody of Love" that Wayne King had recorded for Victor in 1940 (Victor 26695). When it became a #2 smash in early 1955, Vaughn decided that his future was as an orchestra leader, and he left the Hilltoppers to became the musical director for Dot, and to start a career as an orchestra leader with many more chart hits. He also was the leader of the orchestra that backed many of the other Dot pop acts, such as Pat Boone, Gale Storm, the Fontane Sisters, and others. He charted an astonishing 36 albums with his orchestra from 1958 to 1970.
The Cover Records, 1955-1957
By 1955, Randy Wood was alert to the growing demand for rhythm and blues music from white listeners and was one of the prime movers in making "cover records". During the early 1950s, music played on the radio was quite compartmentalized (much as it is today), and unlike the rock and roll years of 1956- 1970 when "top 40" stations played all genres of music. There were Popular music stations ("pop" stations), which limited their airplay mostly to white artists such as Jo Stafford, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, etc. There were country stations, which played hits by Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Johnny & Jack, Webb Pierce, and the like. To round out the big three, there were R&B stations (as WLAC), devoted to records by the Royals, Drifters, Dominoes, Ruth Brown, and other artists, mostly black. Other genres included gospel, farm-related news, polka shows, and other specialties, but these latter genres usually wound up sharing time on small stations, rarely being popular enough to command the programming of a radio station by themselves. The big three formats, though, were quite popular... and totally isolated from one another. If a great song appeared on the country stations, those listening to pop or R&B stations would never hear it.
The "cover record" was an attempt by artists in one of these big three genres to record a big hit in another genre for their own format, thus "covering" the song, or bringing it to their own audience. Pop hits like Georgia Gibbs' "Seven Lonely Days" was "covered" for the R&B market by the Crows, for instance. Pop singer Jo Stafford "covered" Hank Williams' "Jambalaya," and country artists Johnny & Jack covered the pop group Four Knights' hit "(Oh Baby Mine) I Get So Lonely." Before 1955 or so, "cover records" were an accepted part of the business and little thought was given to it. By 1955, with the breakthrough of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino onto the pop charts, and the radio shows of Alan Freed playing R&B records for audiences that were mostly white youngsters, a big demand for R&B records (an outgrowth of the phenomenon that Randy Wood had observed back in 1947) caused a big change in the music industry.
This change was not without acrimony. The pop stations, which were programming for predominately white audiences, considered their music much more "refined" than the "hillbilly" country and western or the "sexually-oriented" rhythm and blues music, and resisted playing any of it. Instead, they programmed white cover versions of the hits, such as those offered by singers like Dot's Pat Boone. Since the pop audience was quite large, these artists sold many more records than their counterparts in the other fields. This would not have been a problem if the public had been given a chance to hear the R&B or country records in their original form and spend their dollars on a real choice, but these original records were shut out of the mainstream airwaves. The controversial era of the cover record, approximately 1955-1957, came to a crashing end when pop stations lost their audiences to a new type of format, "Top 40," which played all the types and genres of music, as long as it was selling well. Pop stations drifted into the 1960s with vastly reduced audiences, and spent the next decades as "Easy Listening" and "Adult Contemporary" stations.
Back in 1955, when Randy Wood was trying to get his records played on the radio, he had been recording music of all genres. But he was shrewd enough to realize that making pop cover records could be the ticket to the game that was then being played in radio. He signed a clean-cut college crooner named Pat Boone, and had him sing cover versions of rhythm and blues records. Boone was not eager to sing these songs, which he considered "lowbrow," but he did his best. In some cases, he revised the songs with more "acceptable" or "refined" lyrics when he recorded them. His recordings smothered the sales of the original recordings including the Charms' "Two Hearts," Fats Domino's "Ain't It a Shame" (which Boone changed to the slightly more grammatically correct "Ain't That a Shame," although he admittedly suggested "Isn't It a Shame"), the Five Keys' "Gee Whittakers!," Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally," the El Dorados' "At My Front Door," and Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Almost Lost My Mind." All of these records were released within about a one-year period from early spring of 1955 to late spring of 1956, after which Boone stopped this practice in favor of standard ballads, becoming a crooner in the Bing Crosby/Perry Como mold. But because he was so successful (and because he was so obviously ill at ease in the uptempo performances), Boone became the Poster Boy for the cover record practice and all its ills. Even today, Boone is still remembered as the Cover Record King, despite over 50 other records he charted and dozens of other artists who were doing the same thing.
Starting in 1957, Boone had a very successful career singing teen oriented songs such as "Don't Forbid Me", "April Love" and "Love Letters in the Sand". Pat Boone was with Randy Wood's Dot Records for many years, charting over 60 hits for Dot, even as late as 1968. In fact, it was only after Randy Wood left Dot to form Ranwood Records that Boone left the label and moved on.
In fact, one of the most prominent aspects of Dot Records was the loyalty of its artists. Many artists, like Johnny Maddox, Pat Boone, Billy Vaughn, the Fontane Sisters, and Lawrence Welk, spent decades with Dot. One of the reasons for this loyalty was that Randy Wood had a reputation for being "fair minded." None of the scandals of the late 1950s - - the payola, the failure to pay royalties on records sold - - touched Dot Records. Randy Wood told the 1959 Congressional investigation into payola that his books were open.
Another mid-1950s group on Dot that was very successful with cover songs was the Fontane Sisters (Marge, Bea, and Geri Rosse). They were three sisters from Milford, New Jersey, who had been a background vocal group for Perry Como since the late 1940s. They had a gold record with "Hearts of Stone" in 1955. The original of "Hearts of Stone" was by the Jewels (R&B 1301, 1954), which was itself covered by Otis Williams and the Charms (DeLuxe 6062, late 1954). The Fontane Sisters also had hits with the Teen Queens' "Eddie My Love," the Drifters' "Adorable," the Marigolds' "Rollin' Stone," and Fats Domino's "Please Don't Leave Me," all in the 1955-1956 cover record period. In 1956-1958, they put out a song with Pat Boone called "Voices," along with competing versions of Jimmy Bowen's "I'm Stickin' With You," the Tarriers' "Banana Boat Song," and Art & Dottie Todd's "Chanson D'Amour." Although they were fine singers, the lack of original material eventually led to their decline in the charts.
Another artist known for cover records was Snooky Lanson (Roy Landman, b. 1914 in Memphis). If for artists like Pat Boone and the Fontane Sisters, covering R&B records was something new, it was a natural for Lanson, who had been singing other artists' songs on Your Hit Parade since 1950. Along with Dorothy Collins, Gisele MacKenzie, Russel Arms, and Raymond Scott & The Lucky Strike Orchestra, Lanson would appear on television each week to count down the top seven tunes of the week (along with a "Lucky Strike Extra" or two). His two chart entries for Dot were both cover records, "Why Don't You Write Me" from the Jacks (RPM 428) and "It's Almost Tomorrow," from the Dream Weavers (Decca 29683), whose members included the song's authors, Gene Adkinson and Wade Buff. He also had a cover of "Seven Days" which didn't chart.
Wood signed actress Gale Storm to a recording contract in 1955. Gale was the popular lead in the TV series "My Little Margie" starting in 1952. Wood recorded her singing "I Hear You Knockin'" and it became a #2 national hit (the song was a cover of the original by Smiley Lewis). She had a very successful singing career on Dot covering many other songs including "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." Her hit record "Ivory Tower" in the spring of 1956 (Dot 15458) was not a cover record, but a Tin Pan Alley tune which was also simultaneously snapped up by Cathy Carr (Fraternity 734) and Otis Williams & His Charms (DeLuxe 6093), who both had their own versions of the song chart. Although Storm's version made #6, Carr won the three way race with a #2 showing, while the Charms checked in at #11 pop and #5 R&B.
Other cover records on Dot during this period included the Hilltoppers' "Only You" (Dot 15423), "Ka- Ding-Dong" (Dot 15489), and "Marianne" (Dot 15537), Nick Todd's "Plaything" (Dot 14643) and "At The Hop" (Dot 15675), and Jim Lowe's "Blue Suede Shoes" (Dot 15456) and "Maybelline" (Dot 15407).
Missourian Jim Lowe was working in Chicago as a disc jockey, trying to find his niche in music, in 1954. That year, he was signed to Chicago's Mercury label, and wrote and recorded country and western material. One of his songs was the original version of the self-penned "Gambler's Guitar." The flip side of "Gambler's Guitar" was a wonderful version of the old standard, "The Martins and the Coys," done in a delightful country style. Both received airplay in Chicago, but "Gambler's Guitar" was covered by established singer Rusty Draper, making #6 and relegating Lowe's original to a #26 showing. Cover records were one thing, but Draper was on Lowe's own label, Mercury! Lowe soon moved to New York to continue his radio career, and switched to Dot Records in 1955. His first successful attempt with Dot was the novelty "Close the Door (They're Coming in the Windows)," a vaguely obnoxious tune if only because once heard, it absolutely could not be eradicated from the mind ("Those UH-uh-UH-uh, UH-uh- UH-uh, are everywhere!"). A few months later, he recorded another novelty, "Green Door," in a Greenwich Village apartment. This time, it was pure gold, rising to #1. After a few more moderate hits for Dot, Lowe concentrated on his radio career. Dot released two albums by Jim Lowe.
In late 1956, Wood signed Tab Hunter, a popular young Warner Brothers actor, to his label. Chicago disc jockey Howard Miller suggested to Wood that he might want to sign Hunter, who was enormously popular and had just packed a stage show in Chicago with screaming girls. Wood asked if Hunter could sing, but Miller replied, "I don't know, it doesn't matter, I guess." Tab Hunter was the first to tell Randy Wood, "I can't sing, I really can't." Wood had recently heard Sonny James' remake of a Ric Cartey song, "Young Love," and told producer Milt Rogers to teach Hunter to sing the song and not to stop rehearsing until he could sing it. The record rocketed to #1 nationally, pushing out Sonny James' version, and stayed on the pop charts for six months. When Hunter followed up with "Ninety-Nine Ways," Warner Brothers went ballistic. WB wanted to cry foul, that Paramount Pictures was making money off their star, but Warner Brothers didn't have a record label, so it was tough to convince anyone with this argument. But seeing the huge sales potential, they started the Warner Brothers label primarily to get Hunter's recordings back into the fold. Tab Hunter only stayed with Dot for a few but memorable months, and by early 1958 he was recording for the new Warner Brothers Records. Dot finally got around to issuing an album by Tab Hunter in 1961, titled "Young Love" (DLP- 3370).
Independent Producers, Rock & Roll, and Other Necessary Evils, 1956-1959
Also in 1956 Randy Wood moved his company from Tennessee to Hollywood, and at the same time moved the company away from recording rhythm & blues music toward straight pop. From this point on, Dot was rarely a musical innovator in areas other than pop, and when they released R&B or R&R, they usually obtained the masters from others. Apparently, with the cover record era coming to an end in 1956, Wood found a better way to get into the rock and roll market: buy or lease the masters from independent producers. One of the first of these songs was Lee Hazlewood's production of his own composition, "The Fool," with Sanford Clark singing. The record was recorded in a small studio under primitive conditions in Phoenix, Hazlewood's base of operations. Originally issued on MCI 1003, Hazlewood had written the song as a country tune, but to his surprise, none of the country distributors bought it, probably because of the obviously-non-country guitar riff that Al Casey played. But it broke pop, and Wood picked up the master and reissued it as Dot 15481, and it made #7 nationally. Although Clark had one more chart record ("A Cheat," Dot 15516), he felt ill-at-ease with the material Randy Wood was asking him to record, and soon left the label. Hazelwood, meanwhile, continued in Phoenix recording Al Casey and a Jamie Records guitarist named Duane Eddy. Eventually, Hazelwood's songwriting prowess led him west, where in the 1960s he had success writing for (and singing with) Nancy Sinatra. In fact, it was Duane Eddy's prominent bass in the Hazelwood tune "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" that put Nancy on the musical map in 1966.
The mid-to-late-1950s were prime time for novelty songs. In addition to the Jim Lowe novelties, in 1956 Dot signed a truck driver from Oakland named Jimmy Drake, based on Wood's hearing a warped demo of "Transfusion." Recording under the alias Nervous Norvus, Drake's "Transfusion" (Dot 15470), complete with car crash sound effects, made top-10, although it was banned on many radio stations both in the US and in the UK. The six sides Drake cut for Dot as Nervous Norvus, including "Dig" (the flip of "Transfusion"), "Ape Call"/"Wild Dog of Kentucky" (Dot 15485), and "The Fang"/"The Bullfrog" (Dot 15500), have become novelty "cult classics" and are still featured on novelty radio shows. "Ape Call," featuring Drake's friend Red Blanchard's Tarzan-like calls, also made the top-25 in 1956. After a short moment of fame, Drake recorded for a few other labels, then went back to obscurity.
In early 1957, Randy Wood obtained a record from the Fabor label's owner, Fabor Robison (sometimes spelled Robinson). Bonnie Buckingham had been born in Seattle 33 years earlier, and had spent some time fronting her own band in Seattle as Bonnie Tutmarc (her married name), playing western swing, jazz, and anything else that came along. It was Robison that suggested that she change her name, and it was Bonnie that suggested "Bonnie Guitar." She was hired as a studio guitarist for the Fabor record label in California, and also began to record her own records. When a demo tape of Ned Miller's composition, "Dark Moon" came in, she knew the song would be perfect for her, and although Robison was going to give the song to Dorsey Burnette, Bonnie struck a deal with him to get the song. Robison released it as Fabor 4018 (with Miller himself playing acoustic guitar), then shopped the record to Dot, who reissued it as Dot 15550. It made #6 nationally, even though Gale Storm covered it (her version made #4, making it a double top-10 for Randy Wood). Bonnie's followup, "Mister Fire Eyes" (Dot 15612), was a collaboration with Ned Miller. It made top-15 on the country charts, but the hits stopped there, mainly because Fabor Robison and Bonnie Guitar had a disagreement over her career and she quit. She went back to Seattle and co-founded Dolton Records (Fleetwoods, Ventures, Vic Dana, etc.) . Eventually, she sold Dolton to Liberty, and went back to recording with Dot in 1966. She was on the country charts from 1966 to 1989.
About the same time Wood picked up "Dark Moon," he also got a record called "From a Jack to a King" from Robison, sung by its writer, Ned Miller, who had penned "Dark Moon." Dot issued it as Dot 15601 in 1957, but it did nothing. It was five years later that Miller persuaded Robison to reissue the song on Fabor 114, and it went to #2 country and #6 pop. Miller, from the Salt Lake City area, had worked as a pipe fitter and installed air conditioners before his songwriting talent brought him to the attention of Fabor Robison. Quite stage-shy, Miller preferred to write songs to be recorded by others, and rarely made appearances. His other songwriting successes included "Do What You Do Do Well" and "Invisible Tears." He didn't get around to doing his own version of "Dark Moon" until the early 1960s, when he recorded it for Capitol.
Also in 1957, Wood obtained a master from the Fee Bee record company in Pittsburgh. The Del Vikings were group that formed in 1955 when the members were in the US Air Force. They were Corinthian "Krips" Johnson, Norman Wright, Donald "Gus" Backus, David Lerchey, and Clarence Quick. They were one of the first racially integrated rock and roll groups, as Johnson, Wright, and Quick are black, and Backus and Lerchey white. They had earlier recorded for the Luniverse label, then Fee Bee. The original recording of "Come Go With Me" appeared on Fee Bee 205 in 1956. The song was a big hit in Pittsburgh and Dot purchased the recording, along with their other Fee Bee recordings. Dot released "Come Go With Me" nationally (Dot 15538), and signed the group to the label. After "Come Go With Me" was a big success on Dot, Mercury records tried to get the group to sign with them. The way Mercury figured it, since all the members of the group signing with Dot were under 21, except lead singer Krips Johnson, the contract they signed was not binding. All the group members except Johnson left for the big money Mercury offered them. Johnson stayed with Dot and recruited new members, including Chuck Jackson (later a hit pop/soul artist for the Wand label). Dot reissued another Fee Bee side, "Whispering Bells" (Fee Bee 214, Dot 15592) as the followup, billed as "The Dell-Vikings featuring Krips Johnson," while Mercury countered with a new recording, "Cool Shake" (Mercury 71132), billed as "The Del Vikings featuring Gus Backus." Both charted at the same time during summer 1957, with "Whispering Bells" making #9 and "Cool Shake" making #12. The whole mess ended up in court, and by December, Mercury was given all rights to the group. Dot did maintain ownership of the original Fee Bee recordings. The court case didn't enhance either group's career, as neither ever charted again. Not prone to hasty action, Dot procrastinated until 1966 before they issued an album by the group (Dot DLP-3695), mostly made up of previously released material from Fee Bee. By the time the Dot album came out, the Dell-Vikings/Del Vikings were long past their hit-making days and the album sold poorly, making it a very collectable record today.
Another master obtained from an independent producer in the 1950s included a #49 hit, "Henrietta," by Jimmy Dee and the Offbeats (Dot 15664). The record had originally appeared on Bob Tanner's TNT label out of Austin, Texas (TNT 148, 1957). At the time it was recorded, Dee and his group were regular performers at the Tiffany Lounge in San Antonio. The record has an interesting historical footnote, as it was the first record Bob Dylan ever bought. Jimmy Dee (Fore) later left music and ended up managing the Houston Astrodome.
Robin Luke, a Los Angeles-born transplant to Hawaii, recorded "Susie Darlin" in a bedroom and adjoining bathroom (echo chamber), with mono-to-mono overdubs and percussion courtesy of a couple of sticks hitting a fountain pen in Bob Bertram's pocket. The inspiration for "Susie Darlin'" was said to be Robin Luke's little sister, Susie. Art Freeman, a Dot distributor from Cleveland, heard the record in Hawaii on his honeymoon and brought it back to Wood. It was reissued from its original Bertram International 206 as Dot 15781. Several followups on Dot were excellent, but Luke failed to recapture the chart smash of "Susie Darlin'," which hit #5 nationally. In bringing over the masters from Hawaii, Wood was faced with union problems, as Bertram's label was non-union. Wood re-recorded "Susie Darlin'" with union musicians and singers backing Luke, but it wasn't the same, so Randy surreptitiously slipped the original master to the pressing plant. Although we haven't heard the Dot remake (it was unreleased), the extra vocals Dot added to "Five Minutes More" can be compared on Bear Family's vinyl (original) and CD (overdub) versions of their Robin Luke packages (see related albums discography). Robin Luke eventually became a university professor.
Other rock and roll masters purchased in the late 1950s didn't fare as well in the charts, but included some interesting artists, such as Mickey Gilley, Ray Campi, Leroy Van Dyke, Bob Denton, Jimmy Ringo, Dick Lory, Danny Wolfe, Gene Brown, Keith Courvale, Niki Sullivan (of Buddy Holly's Crickets), Kay Cee Jones, Tommy Danton, Joyce Paul, Billy Adams, the Five Bops, and Ray Sharpe. Generally, Randy Wood gave a lot of unknown, would-be stars a fighting chance to succeed, with his excellent national promotion and distribution. Even Milwaukee Braves pitcher Lew Burdette was signed for a disc ("Three Strikes and You're Out", Dot 15672), after being the pitching hero of the 1957 World Series. One of the interesting aspects of this relationship with independent producers, however, was that an agreement was usually struck for one or two records at a time. If the first ones stiffed, the artists were history with Dot, even though a few of these artists became better known later with other labels.
Mickey Gilley, of course, is Jerry Lee Lewis' cousin, and the piano style was similar. He had one single for Dot, "Call Me Shorty"/"Come On Baby" (Dot 15706) in 1958, but that was all. He spent a lot of time in the 1950s and 1960s looking for success without finding much. By the start of the 1970s, he had had only one minor country charter ("Now I Can Live Again", Paula 1200 in 1968) to show for his trouble. He founded Gilley's, a nightclub in Houston, along with Sherwood Cryer in 1971, and played there often. By 1974, he began to be a regular on the national country charts, racking up almost 50 sides by 1989. Gilley's nightclub was so well known that it was featured in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy. Coincidently, the year the nightclub closed, 1989, was his last year on the charts.
Ray Campi was another of 1950s music's minor leaguers who gained some fame decades later. Campi had been leader of a country band since 1948, billing himself as Rambling Ray. In 1957, he recorded "It Ain't Me"/"Give That Love To Me" (Dot 15617) in Dallas, and it promptly sank without a trace. When the rockabilly retro craze hit in the 1980s, Ray Campi was still performing, and became one of the best known performers in that genre, having both old material reissued and recording new albums. Today, "It Ain't Me," the single they almost couldn't give away in 1957, brings big bucks on the collectors market.
Leroy Van Dyke had served in the army in the Korean "conflict," and while there wrote a song based on his cousin's occupation. "The Auctioneer" won him an Amateur Hour victory and a spot in the national top 20 (#9 country) in early 1957 (Dot 15503). His success bought him a bit more patience with Dot than the usual new artist, and he released four other unsuccessful singles before the curtain came down. His real success was several years in the future, with the #1 country record "Walk On By" (Mercury 71834) in late 1961 that established him on the counrty charts. He had 17 other records on the country charts between 1962 and 1977. Ironically, it was back with Dot Records in 1975-77 that he finished his chart career.
Ray Sharpe's "That's the Way I Feel" was issued on a new subsidiary label, Hamilton, which was started in 1958 (Hamilton 50002). The label was named for Christine Hamilton, Randy Wood's Director of Operations at Dot. For several years, Hamilton was used sporadically for issuing singles, primarily rockabilly or R&B singles that didn't fit the pop mold. The label was converted to an album reissue label in 1964 for budget reissues of Dot albums (see accompanying discography). Sharpe, who was characterized by producer Major Bill Smith as "the greatest white-sounding black dude ever," grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. He cut a demo of "That's the Way I Feel" at Artie Glenn's studio in Fort Worth, and Glenn (whose claim to fame was as writer of "Crying in the Chapel") sent the tape around to people in the industry, including Lee Hazelwood in Phoenix. Hazlewood rerecorded the song and peddled it to Dot, who issued it on Hamilton. It didn't sell at all, so Dot took a pass on further product. Sharpe later recorded "Linda Lu" for Hazelwood, and Lee sent it to Jamie Records in Philadelphia, the label that was handling Duane Eddy's hits. Backed by Al Casey and Duane Eddy on guitars, "Linda Lu" made #46 (Jamie 1128) in the summer of 1959. Dot reissued "That's The Way I Feel" in 1959 (Dot 15974) after the success of "Linda Lu," but to no avail.
Then, of course, there was "The Phantom." Marty Lott, a country music guitarist, was impressed by the music explosion called Elvis Presley, and it helped him find his "true self" as a screaming rockabilly artist. He recorded "Love Me" in Mobile in 1958, and in a 1980 interview with Derek Glenister, Lott recalls the recording session this way: "I didn't yell on the first take, but I yelled on the second, and blew one of the controls off the wall.... I'm telling you, It was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over, the guitar player's glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes..." This bundle of energy was pitched to ... PAT BOONE!! Boone, who has always confessed to a liking of rock and roll, put it on his own label, and eventually it was picked up by Dot (Dot 16056). Although it didn't chart, it remains a rockabilly classic, if nothing else than for sheer energy. Lott's "The Phantom" persona wore a black Halloween mask years before Orion (Jimmy Ellis) did it in the seventies.
There are not a lot of high-priced collectable albums on Dot, although early singles are quite rare. The rarest album on the label is DLP-3154, Poetry For the Beat Generation by Jack Kerouac with background music by Steve Allen. The reason the record is so rare is because some months after it was recorded, and shortly before it was to be placed on sale, Randy Wood stopped both pressing and distribution, declaring that certain passages were "in bad taste," certain lines "off color." As reported in Variety magazine, he would not permit his children to listen to it, and that "his diskery would never distribute a product that's not clean family entertainment." Prior to the actual release, 130 of the albums were distributed to reviewers and others, so the record does exist. After Dot refused to release the recording, it was released by the Hanover label, as HML-5000.
Dot Records, A Division of Paramount Pictures, 1957
Randy Wood sold Dot Records to Paramount Pictures in 1957 for three million dollars, but stayed on as the President of the label for another ten years. The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) was wanting a major label for their record division (CBS had Columbia and NBC had RCA), and were approaching Wood to buy Dot. Paramount Pictures offered a nice package, and won the bidding. ABC had to make due with their own ABC-Paramount label, which they had started in 1955. Even though both companies used the name "Paramount," Paramount Pictures was not related to ABC/Paramount. This curiosity in names was due to a 1950 antitrust action that forced Paramount Pictures to divest themselves of their chain of theaters, Paramount Theaters. The latter became United Paramount Theaters, and in 1954 merged with the American Broadcasting Company to form ABC-Paramount. Even though paramount Pictures now owned Dot, they kept a rather low profile during the years Randy Wood was President, letting him run the show. The Paramount name would occasionally show up in the Dot logo, but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to which albums it graced. After Gulf+Western bought Paramount in 1968, the Paramount name was much more visible.
The Pop Powerhouse Goes Surfing, 1960-1963
If pop radio had lost its audience to Top-40 stations in the late 1950s, that didn't seem to faze Dot Records at all. In the 1960s, as in the 1950s, Dot's bread and butter was pop music. And they did it well. They sold millions of albums by their "big three" artists, Pat Boone, Lawrence Welk, and Billy Vaughn. Dot issued (seemingly hundreds!) of albums by Lawrence Welk and members of the Welk show. Although these artists had occasional big single hits, their real selling power was in the albums they sold. Welk and Vaughn, in particular, were rarely out of the album top-20. In addition to Welk regulars like the Lennon Sisters, Jo Ann Castle, Bob Ralston, and the like, Dot issued many albums by Johnny Maddox, banjo player Eddie Peabody, Steve Allen, and the Mills Brothers. In the 1960s, they were a powerhouse of pop music.
In 1959, Dot signed Louis Prima and Keely Smith, who had been putting records on the charts for decades. The next year, Prima hit the top 20 with a vocal version of Bert Kaempfert's "Wonderland By Night" (Dot 16151). Dot re-recorded Louis and Keely's hits for previous labels. Dot also signed Dodie Stevens from the Crystalette label. Dodie had recorded the novelty song "Pink Shoelaces" in 1959 when she was 13 years old. Crystalette (which Dot distributed) made #3 with the song (Crystalette 724). After a followup, Dot signed her to a contract and in the early 1960s, she had two minor hits ("No," Dot 16103, and "Yes I'm Lonesome Tonight," Dot 16167.). She made three albums on Dot, one of which featured a new recording of "Pink Shoelaces." Dot also signed Debbie Reynolds about the same time, and had two chart hits ("Am I That Easy to Forget," Dot 15985, and "City Lights," Dot 16071). They also re-recorded her 1957 hit "Tammy," which she had recorded for Coral. A pattern developed at Dot in the early 1960s. Sign an artist, re-record their previous hits; it happened again and again. Eddie Fisher, Vaughn Monroe, Gene Austin, Jimmie Rodgers, the Andrews Sisters.... By 1968, Dot could (and did!) put out a various artists album full of seemingly million selling hit singles, yet most of them were actually remakes.
In 1961, Dot was the beneficiary of a totally unexpected hit. In early 1959, they had leased a master from England called "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight)?" by a British skiffle group headed by Lonnie Donegan (Dot 15911). The record, an early live recording, did nothing when released, but by late summer, 1961, was firmly in the top 10 as a novelty, eventually reaching #5. Although Dot never received a stereo master for the song, it did exist, and years later turned up on a British various artists album. Shortly after the Donegan hit, Jack Ross scored a couple of chart singles with two more left field offerings. "Happy Jose (Ching Ching)" (Dot 16302, #57, 1962) was mostly instrumental, but broken up by short outbursts of laughter. "Cinderella" (Dot 16333, #16, 1962), though, was impossible. Ross told the story of Cinderella to a live audience via the use of Spoonerisms, e.g., "sistie uglers" instead of "ugly sisters." It was funny, but guaranteed to drive people nuts.
Pat Boone was still a force on the pop charts in the early 1960s, registering a #1 hit in 1961 with "Moody River" (Dot 16209), then coming back in 1962 with a #6 hit with "Speedy Gonzales" (Dot 16368). The latter featured the voice of Mel Blanc doing Speedy. Most have never heard the original version of the song, done in 1961 by David Dante (RCA 8056), but Boone heard it while he was on tour and decided to record it. Most of the dialog for Speedy was written on the spot, as there had been very little dialog in the original.
In the 1960s, Dot was still in the business of obtaining non-pop masters from independent producers. After singing drummer Matt Lucas had a bluesy remake of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" hit the mid-charts in 1962 on Smash 1813, producer Roland James offered a later master to Dot. It was "Put Me Down" (Dot 16564), which unlike the bluesy train feel of "I'm Movin' On," was a screamer complete with Jerry Lee Lewis-type piano. It didn't chart, and neither did the followup, ("Turn On Your Lovelight"/"Water Moccasin," Dot 16614). True to their "sell or else" policy, there were no more followups. Dot did much better, however, in leasing masters in the surf genre.
In 1963, Randy Wood bought the rights to the local California hit "Boss" by the Rumblers (Dot 16421) from Bill and Jack Wenzel's Downey label. The group, from Norwalk, California, consisted of Bob Jones (sax), Johnny Kirkland (guitar), Mike Kelishes (guitar), Wayne Matteson (bass), and Adrian Lloyd (drums). Although it only made #87 nationally, it was a much bigger hit in certain cities.
Continuing with Downey, Dot obtained "Pipeline" by the Chantays (spelled "Chantay's" on the label) and released it nationally as Dot 16440. It rode the wave to #4, prompting Dot to re-release the Chantays' Downey 1002 album as Dot DLP-3516/25516. The Chantays were from Santa Ana, California, and included Bob Spickard on lead guitar, Brian Carmen on rhythm guitar, Rob Marshall on piano, Warren Walters on bass, and drummer Bob Welch. Spickard and Carmen had originally titled the song "44 Magnum," but renamed it after seeing a surfing film in 1962. After Dot obtained the single, they put on a PR press, and arranged for the group to appear on the Lawrence Welk television show. In 1966, the song became popular again, making top-10 in some cities like Chicago. Dot issued a second album by the Chantays that year called Two Sides of the Chantays, Dot DLP-3771/25771, which featured one instrumental side and one vocal side.
The Surfaris had a huge hit with "Wipe Out" in 1963. The song was originally the B-side to "Surfer Joe," released on the tiny DFS label (DFS 11), then reissued on Princess 50. The group was Ron Wilson (drums), Jim Fuller (lead guitar), Bob Berryhill (rhythm guitar), Pat Connolly (bass), and Jim Pash (sax, clarinet), and it is their manager, Dale Smallin, who is heard laughing at the start of "Wipe Out." DFS was Smallin's own label, and he had only 500 copies of the single pressed. Dot obtained the master of the single from John Marascalco, owner of Princess Records, but Marascalco's deal also included an album recorded by studio musicians instead of the original group. So the one album on Dot, DLP-3535/12535, features the single plus other songs by a studio group
If surfing music was good to Dot, why not push it to the limit? In 1964, Pat Boone got Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher to write, produce, and sing backgrounds for a song called "Beach Girl" (Dot 16658). It was a totally left-field sound for Boone, and many believe it to be one of his best records, but it was just too different for radio to program and fans to buy. It died at #72.
About the same time that Dot was signing the surf groups, he arranged with producer Norman Petty of Clovis, New Mexico, to sign the Fireballs. The Fireballs, from Raton, New mexico, had been recording since 1958 ("Fireball" on Kapp), but had mostly recorded instrumentals for the Top Rank label. When Top Rank folded, they went looking for a home and found it at Dot. Originally the group consisted of George Tomsco (lead guitar), Dan Trammell (rhythm guitar), Stan Lark (bass), Eric Budd (drums), and Chuck Tharp (vocals), but Trammell left the group in 1959, Jimmy Gilmer replaced Tharp in 1960, and Doug Roberts replaced Budd in 1962. The now-quartet started by re-recording some of their hits for Dot (naturally), but in fall 1963 came up with a powerhouse vocal called "Sugar Shack" (Dot 16487), which made #1. Their followup, "Daisy Petal Pickin'" (Dot 16539) made #15, but they slipped out of the top 40 after that. They finally moved on to Atco in 1967 where they regained the top 10 with "Bottle of Wine" (Atco 6491). George Tomsco and Chuck Tharp have more recently reunited for a new version of the Fireballs, and in 1995 they put out a CD called Fireball Country (Calf Creek Records CCR- 95012).
1963 was also the tail-end of the twist/dance craze, and Dot picked up a good dance number from the Arlen label (Arlen 509) called "Hot Pastrami," by the Dartells (Dot 16453, #11). Dot also issued an album of the same name, Dot DLP-3522/25522. The group was from Oxnard, California. They were Doug Phillips, Dick Burns, Corky Wilkie, Rich Peil, Randy Ray, and Gary Peeler. Their followup, "Dance Everyone Dance" (Dot 16502, Arlen 513), barely made the top 100, as the public was tiring of dance songs.
Jackie Ward, who used her daughter's name Robin, had been a backup singer for years when she recorded "Wonderful Summer" (Dot 16530) in Los Angeles in 1963. Dot bought the record and it made the top 15. The Robin Ward album Wonderful Summer, DLP-3555/25555. is particularly sought after in the stereo format.
The Beatles and Beyond: 1964-1967
In 1964, the Beatles and the British Invasion presented a stark contrast to the top-40 music that had been popular in 1963. Dot Records, always a bastion of the traditional pop sound, was pushed further out of the mainstream Top 40 charts, although the pop albums kept on selling. The period from 1964 to 1967 was mainly a holding pattern in the Dot history, and there were times during this period when Dot did not have a single song in the top 100, or even on the 30 "bubbling under the top 100" records.
In 1967, Wood left Dot and formed a label called Ranwood with Lawrence Welk. Welk bought back all his masters from Dot and Coral, and Ranwood became the outlet for all of Welk's many artists. They started with a huge reissue of old Dot albums in 1968 to get them started on the right foot. Ranwood is still in business today as part of the Welk Music Group, and still issues CDs.
The Gulf+Western Years: "Let's delete the whole catalog..."
In 1968, Gulf+Western bought Paramount, and changed the Dot label design, as well as the focus of the label. The G+W logo started appearing on Dot albums about at record DLP-25852. Shortly after, they went to stereo-only issues. As for new product, Dot started drifting more to country under Gulf+Western, and by the time Dot was merged with ABC in 1974, was more or less exclusively a country label.
Not that from a "bottom line" standpoint, this was bad. Dot had been in the doldrums ever since 1964, and the emphasis on country music brought a lot of fresh new talent to the label. Dot was back in the charts on a regular basis, even if it was the country charts. The roster from 1968-1975 reads like a chapter out of a C&W Who's Who: Freddy Fender, Roy Clark, Barbara Mandrell, Billy "Crash" Craddock, Narvel Felts, the Oak Ridge Boys, Don Williams, Tommy Overstreet, John Wesley Ryles, Johnny Carver, Donna Fargo, Red Steagall, Ray Price, Joe Stampley, Buck Trent, Sue Richards, Eddy Raven, Diana Trask, Ray Griff, and Ray Pillow. For the ones who grew up with rock and roll, there was even a few rock and roll alumni-turned-country: Doug Sahm (Sir Douglas Quintet), Joe Barry ("I'm a Fool to Care"), and Freddy Weller (ex-Paul Revere & the Raiders).
Somewhere along the way in this country transition, seemingly overnight, Gulf+Western deleted the entire Dot back catalog. At the beginning of 1972, the usual corporate shifting put Paramount under the distribution of "Famous Music, a Gulf+Western Company." Famous Music was the music publishing arm of Paramount Pictures. The logo changed again, this time only slightly, and the Dot back catalog was shifted to the new Paramount label (also under Famous Music) in a series of two-record sets which eventually became known as the "Famous Twinset" series (see Paramount discography).
Early in 1974, Dot Records, having put out a staggering total of over 1000 albums continuously since 1955, was sold to the ABC label and became ABC-Dot Records. The Paramount label was discontinued. With the switch, the Gulf+Western notations on the Dot label ceased. A new series (DOSD-2001 series) was started on ABC-Dot that lasted for three years. At the end of 1977, the Dot label was discontinued altogether in favor of simply ABC Records.
The 1970s was a particularly bad decade for reissues of old material. Oldies were not selling well, and didn't look like they ever would again. Nobody could have anticipated the invention of the compact disc, with the concomitant demand for session masters. And the 1970s at ABC Records, particularly, were not kind to master tapes. Stories within the industry abound that in a move to save space (after all, space is money, heh, heh...), a general purge of old master tapes and session tapes took place. If the master wasn't used for an album or single, it was "disposed of." For this reason, it is unlikely that a lot of unreleased material will surface from sources that went through the ABC tape library. Fortunately, however, much of the Dot material was at least part of the time stored elsewhere. The rock and roll hits tended to have been leased masters, which reverted to the producers. For example, many unreleased Dot-era Fireballs tracks have come out of the Norman Petty Studio. The Lawrence Welk masters were long gone, having been bought when Ranwood was set up in 1967. Others had been sent to the Paramount label when the back catalog was deleted.
In 1979, ABC (and the Dot catalog) were sold to MCA. The ABC-Dot/ABC artists were shifted to the MCA label, and future issues with the Dot imprint were limited to reissues of the country material.
In 1998, MCA merged with PolyGram to form Universal Music Group. Universal owns the Dot master tapes today. And the beat goes on...
This discography covers the Dot label and its successor, ABC-Dot, and its companion label, Paramount. Also covered are 1964-66 Hamilton subsidiary, four labels distributed by Dot: Acta, Dyno-Voice, Steed and Todd, and the Randy Wood-Lawrence Welk label, Ranwood. It also covers some of the compact disc reissues on various labels.
This discography and label history were compiled using Schwann catalog's from 1954 to 1980, a Phono- Log from 1962, The American Record Label Directory and Dating Guide, 1940-1959 by Galen Gart, Rob Finnis' fine essays in the liner notes of the Ace CD CDCHD 609, Cover to Cover...Hit Upon Hit and Ace CDCHD 592, Dot Rock and Roll, Bill Millar's liner notes to That'll Flat Git It, Vol. 5 (Bear Family CD BCD 15711 AH), various of Joel Whitburn's reference books on the Billboard charts, and our record collections.
We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this discography. Just send them to us via e-mail at email@example.com. Both Sides Now Publications is an information web page. We are not a catalog, nor can we provide the records listed below. We have no association with Dot Records, which is currently owned by Universal Music Group. Should you want to contact Universal, or should you be interested in acquiring albums listed in this discography (which are all out of print), we suggest you see our Frequently Asked Questions page and follow the instructions found there. This story and discography are copyright 1999 by Mike Callahan.