Colonial Records was founded in 1951 by Orville B. Campbell in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They
were located at 504 W. Franklin Street in the center of Chapel Hill, near the University of North Carolina
campus. They had considerable regional success and had several records that made the national
charts. They issued two known albums, but also released at least two others on the Campbell label.
Orville Campbell was a journalist by trade. In 1949, he wrote a song about a football star at UNC, Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice, called "All the Way Choo Choo." It was recorded by Johnny Long and His Orchestra on King 15030, sold some 30,000 copies according to Campbell, and the royalties allowed him to establish Colonial Records about a year later. The first single on Colonial [Colonial 1], the Belltones' "Way Up In North Carolina," also did well regionally, and Campbell sold it to Mercury for national distribution [Mercury 5692], where it made #30 in September, 1951.
Colonial's next success was a 1953 record [Colonial 3] by a young Andy Griffith, who had graduated with a music degree a few years earlier from UNC and was teaching nearby. Billed as "Deacon Andy Griffith," the record was a monologue describing a backwoods preacher going to his first college football game. "What It Was, Was Football" sold 50,000 copies regionally, but at that time Colonial was in no position to distribute a national hit, so they sold the masters to Capitol, who reissued it as Capitol 2693. Capitol's version charted in January, 1954, and rose to #9 nationally. Shortly thereafter, Campbell recorded former baseball star and then announcer Dizzy Dean on a country single [Colonial 4], but that one stiffed.
Campbell started a new singles series, the 400 series in 1955, which started as a bluegrass series. The first few singles in the series were by Hack Johnson and the Tennesseeans, with his star banjo player Allen Shelton also getting his own single. By #408, Campbell was recording what would turn out to be the "house band" for the label, the Blue Notes with guitarist Joe Tanner. Hack Johnson's "Home Sweet Home" was probably the label's biggest seller in 1955.
Campbell tried another monologue in the summer of 1956, "Hospitality Blues" by Doug Harrell, which was released on an EP, but this proved to be far less popular than the Andy Griffith record. But Campbell found an excellent songwriter in 1956, a local named John D. Loudermilk, a cousin of Ira and Charlie Loudermilk who performed as the Louvin Brothers. John had written a song called "A Rose and a Baby Ruth," which Campbell thought would be good for another singer he just signed, a UNC student named George Hamilton IV. Hamilton didn't like the song, and Loudermilk didn't like the way he sang it, but Campbell did like the result, and somehow they all got past it when the song began to sell. After selling about 50,000 copies regionally [Colonial 420], Campbell sold the record and Hamilton's contract to ABC-Paramount, where after reissuing the song [ABC-Paramount 9765], it shot to #6 nationally selling close to a million copies. The Hamilton deal also set up a two-year arrangement for Am-Par, the ABC-Paramount distribution arm, to distribute Colonial Records.
With the success of the George Hamilton IV record, Campbell decided to give Loudermilk his own shot at recording. The result was "Sittin' in the Balcony" [Colonial 430], released by "Johnny Dee" in February, 1957. With the new Am-Par distribution, the record reached the national Top-40 at #38. It would have done even better, but a young Eddie Cochran covered the record and reached #18 with his own version on Liberty 55056. Loudermilk didn't chart again for Colonial, but after signing with RCA a few years later, went on to several moderate RCA hits and a huge career as a songwriter, penning dozens of top hits for others.
With the added success of "Sittin' in the Balcony," Campbell branched out in 1957. He started a gospel series with the Melody Masters Quartet [Colonial 111], and a country series with Hoke Simpson [Colonial 530], but these were abandoned in favor of a new series in November starting with "Bird Doggin'" [Colonial 721], a record by another local singer, Bill Craddock, backed by the Bluenotes (who had shortened their name to one word). Over a dozen years later, this same Billy "Crash" Craddock would start two decades of country chart hits, over 40 altogether.
Also near the end of 1957, Campbell signed a 62-year old grandmother who had been singing since the 1920s, Lucile ('Cile) Barrow Turner. Interestingly, 'Cile Turner didn't sound like a grandmother. She also didn't sound like the white society lady that she was. Back in her childhood, Turner became enamored with the sound of black music, and brought those songs to her audiences over the years in the style that she knew them. She sounded like a black singer singing traditional black songs. She had a minor hit in late 1959 with "The Golden Rule" [Colonial 7004], which reached #84 on the Cashbox charts. The flip, "Crap Shootin' Sinner," a gospel-like song about a crap-shooter trying to get into heaven, is probably her best-known side. It was 'Cile Turner that merited the first album Colonial put out, but they put it out twice: once in 1958 while still distributed by ABC-Paramount (unnumbered except for the matrix number), and then again in late 1959 under a different title and cover when London was distributing.
In 1958, Campbell got really inventive with his numbering system for singles, making a discography difficult. The 721 series went to 723, when it jumped to 731-2, then jumped to 777, then 7777, then 8888, then 9999. This haphazard system came to a halt when his Am-Par distribution agreement came to an end and he signed with London as a distributor in early 1959. The numbering system changed to a normal 7000 series.
Colonial had only two more chart singles. Doug Franklin and the Blue Notes scored a #73 hit with "My Lucky Love" [Colonial 7777] in September, 1958, and E.C. Beatty made #50 with the story of "Ski King" [Colonial 7003] in September, 1959.
Campbell released singles in the 7000 series until 1961, when the distribution agreement with London expired, and he began jumping numbers again. He eventually went back to the Colonial 1 series he started with in 1951, with a single as Colonial 18 then starting with 44 when he signed a new distribution deal with Tollie Records in 1964.
The Tollie deal had it's own brand of discographic insanity. Singer Johnny Randell's first single, "You're Gone But Still In My Heart"/"Do Right" [Colonial 44/45], had four different labels, was billed as both Johnny Randell and Johnny Randel, and had the title of the A side shortened to "Still in My Heart" on some labels. The next single was credited to Johnny Randall.
Although Colonial stopped issuing new material around 1965, they didn't go out of business, putting out reissues at least until the late 1970s. Orville B. Campbell died in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on June 6, 1989 at the age of 69.
As a side note, one of the reasons it has been so difficult to put together a discography for Colonial Records of North Carolina is that there have been numerous different labels with that same name, some of which with similar numerical series. For example, Colonial Records of Monterey Park, California, a label that specialized in Latin music, had a long series that ran in the 400s and 500s also, and these are often confused with the releases by the North Carolina label. There was a Colonial Records based in Berkeley Springs, WV, and another one that was distributed by Superior Record Distribution Corp. out of Nashville. Moreover, there was a Colonial Records based in Boston in the 1940s, one in Hollywood in the 1940s, and one in New York City in the late 1950s. We have researched Orville Campbell's label extensively enough to present the following discography which we believe to be fairly accurate.
|The 1958 Colonial album had a black label with silver print (far left). (When reissued in late 1959, it probably had the green and white London label.) Early Colonial singles labels did not have specific numbers on them other than the master number. Colonial 1 (near left) has a master number that starts with E1.|
|Colonial 3, the Andy Griffith hit (far left), had a master number starting with E3. These early singles had a black label with gold print, with the label name in block letters at the top. By the time Colonial reached single #4 (far left), they changed to silver print and added the record number on the left side of the center hole (although some issues of this record omit that designation and are usually identified as "Colonial 2118" for the master number). The black label with block letters continued until 1957.|
|Starting with Colonial 433 (some of which had the old label and some of which had the new label), the logo changed to something akin to an antique shadowbox, with "Colonial" in a silver oval (far left). This label was used until 1959, when the distribution changed to London. The brief gospel series also used this label (near left).|
|When the distribution shifted from Am-Par to London in early 1959, the label changed color to a white label with green print (far left), with the same basic design as before. This label was used in 1959 and 1960 from Colonial 7000 to Colonial 7005. Starting in 1960 with Colonial 7006, the colors changed to silver print on a green background, with the same design. This green label was used until the end of the 7000 series.|
|The first copies of Johnny Randell's 1964 single Colonial 44/45 had his name spelled correctly and the song title spelled out. The first commercial copy (far left) did not mention Tollie, and had the same design that had been used since 1957, but with a red label. Promotional copies (near left) had a tan label, and eventually noted that Tollie was the distributor.|
|After Tollie took over distribution, the artist's name was mistakenly spelled "Randel", and the labels were red with "Colonial" in block letters, much like the very early labels. Here are two different examples of the label.|
|Tollie also put out copies of the single on a blue label (far left). On these, the song title for the A side was shortened. At near left, a 1977 'Cile Turner reissue on Colonial.|
|Covers for the 1956 EP releases by Doug Harrell (far left) and Phil Ellis (near left).|
Number - Title - Artist - [Release Date] Contents
Colonial JO8P Series (Distributed by ABC-Paramount):
JO8P-1686 - 'Cile Sings - 'Cile Turner [12/58] Full O' The Moon/Midnight
Train/All Night Long/Thousand Years/One Arm Tom//Crap Shootin' Sinner/Sultry/Drizzlin' Rain/John
Henry/Didn't It Rain/Old History's Walkin'
Colonial 17000 Series (Distributed by London):
C 17001 - 'Cile Sings Songs of the American South - Lucile Turner [11/59] Full O'
The Moon/Midnight Train/All Night Long/Thousand Years/One Arm Tom//Crap Shootin'
Sinner/Sultry/Drizzlin' Rain/John Henry/Didn't It Rain/Old History's Walkin'
CR 17002 - A Song for Anita - Tom O'Neil, His Orchestra & Chorus  Harmonica
instrumentals. St. James Infirmary/As Time Goes By/Mood Indigo/Lonesome Road/A Song For
Anita//Apple Blossom Time/It Had To Be You/Sugar Blues/I Ain't Got Nobody/I Get The Blues When It
Rains/Little White Lies/St. Louis Blues
Campbell Records CR-2000 - Laugh a Spell with Doug Harrell - Doug Harrell 
Label is red and black. Logo has the same shadow-box as Colonial. The First Year/The Second
Year/The Hospitality Blues//The Clinical Years/Exsanguination Blues/Nurse's Lament
ABC-Paramount ABC-364 - Laugh a Spell with Doug Harrell - Doug Harrell 
Reissue of Campbell CR 2000. The First Year/The Second Year/The Hospitality Blues//The Clinical
Years/Exsanguination Blues/Nurse's Lament
Campbell Records CR-606C - On the Move - Town Criers [1963?] This is a folk LP.
Rivermont BSW-3135 - Makin' Glory - 'Cile Turner  (2-CD set) Disc 1
(Complete recordings): Prayer/Hammerin'/Full o' the Moon (78 rpm version)/Crap Shootin' Sinner
(78 rpm version)/One-Arm Tom (78 rpm version)/Sat'day Night/Drizzlin' Rain (45 rpm version)/Full o' the
Moon (45 rpm version)/Full o' the Moon (LP version)/Midnight Train/All Night Long/A Thousand
Years/One-Arm Tom (LP version)/Sultry/Drizzlin' Rain (LP version)/John Henry/Didn't it Rain/Crap
Shootin' Sinner (LP
version)/Old History's Walkin'/Crap Shootin' Sinner (45 rpm version)/The Golden Rule/Going Down to
Town/Don't Fool Around with the Blues/Joe Sweeney/In Virginia/The Happy Song/The Winds Call it
Home/I'm Walking That Lonesome Road; Disc 2: Special and Previously Unreleased
Recordings: Introduction by 'Cile Turner/In Virginia (Alternative version)/Songs of the South
(9/14/1933 Radio broadcast)/Full o' the Moon (Private recording)/Mississippi Streamline (Version
1)/Mississippi Streamline (Version 2)/Prayer (Private recording)/Down by the Riverside/Mary Don't You
Weep/Skunks/Don't Fool Around with the Blues (Demo)/Going Down to Town (Demo)/Crap Shootin'
Sinner (Live)/One-Arm Tom (Private recording)/Workin' on the Building/Oh, Mammy! Look at Sam/Lay
This Body Down-I Want to Go Home/Lo Cotton/Drizzlin' Rain (Private recording)Go Down Death/Old