By 1990, Betty Chiapetta had been the head of Vee-Jay International for 23 years, more than half of the
37 years that Vee-Jay had been in existence. And before that, she had served as Comptroller of
Vee-Jay Records for several years before the 1966 bankruptcy. She and Randall Wood had bought
Vee-Jay from the bankruptcy trustee July 3, 1967, and she bought out Wood's interest in late October,
1968. She had changed the name to Vee-Jay International to try to make a clean break with the
problems of the past, and over the years worked to resurrect the label's reputation. In the 1970s, she
had reissued many of the old albums and pressed up dozens of new ones. She had a grand vision of
putting the label back in the spotlight and reissuing all the 400-some albums of the past. But by the end
of the 1970s, it became obvious that there just wasn't enough money to accomplish that. So in the
1980s, Betty Chiapetta was content to sell the vinyl stock at hand and lease the masters to other labels.
One of the other labels was Chameleon Records, run by Chief Operations Officer Daniel Pritzker.
Chameleon was a part of Rockwood Music, of which Pritzker was President. Chameleon's output of
Vee-Jay albums in the 1980s, billed as Vee-Jay/Chameleon, were pressed on good vinyl and had
excellent jacket quality. When they started in on compact discs, however, the initial results were quite
rocky, as it became obvious that many of the source tapes had gone through a vinyl phase at some
point. In 1990, the record industry effectively discontinued vinyl records in favor of compact discs and
cassettes. With the problems with Vee-Jay's compact discs, Betty Chiapetta was looking at starting a
whole new deal with CDs, finding pristine master tapes for her leasing customers. After decades in the
music business, she decided to retire.
Daniel Pritzker formed a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) and bought the company from Betty
Chiapetta in December, 1990. The first thing he did was find the original master tapes to all the John
Lee Hooker albums, and reissue them on compact disc on Vee-Jay/Chameleon. With the masters in
hand, the new 1991 CDs were a vast improvement. They were even — surprisingly — often in true stereo.
It was a good sign for the future.
By 1992, Pritzker and his LLP had big plans. Take stock of the tapes at hand, try to find the missing
tapes, initiate an aggressive release schedule of CD reissue product, and set up a fund to pay artists
royalties on the old material. The master tapes would be stored in Chicago, while the offices of the new
Vee-Jay would be at 71 Popple Swamp Road, Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut. Pritzker hired Gordon
Bossin as Chief Operations Officer, and hired Billy Vera and Gordon Skene to put together a series of
reissues, with quality in mind. Again, the schedule was ambitious: 10 new releases per quarter, with a
3-CD commemorative box set (with extensive liner notes and a red-wax reproduction of "Goodnite,
Sweetheart, Goodnite" by the Spaniels) also on the schedule.
On July 11, 1992, Billboard ran a short column by Deborah Russell announcing that Vee-Jay was
soon to be back reissuing their catalog. "Vee-Jay Catalog Reactivated Via Rockwood Music" was the
title, and in part, it said,
"The historic Vee-Jay Records catalog will be reactivated this fall, following a 1990 acquisition by
Rockwood Music Group president Daniel Pritzker. . . .
"Vee-Jay titles will be released through independent distribution on a quarterly basis, says Bossin,
formerly VP of marketing and sales for Vestron Video and Lightning Video, before moving to Vee-Jay.
The company's initial release schedule, set for September/October, will include some 12 titles by the
Dells, Jerry Butler, the El Dorados, the Original Five Blind Boys, Wynton Kelly, Lee Morgan, among
"Vee-Jay will release about 10 titles per quarter, says Bossin. In addition, a three- or four-CD boxed
historical retrospective is in the planning stages, Bossin says.
"Singer/songwriter Billy Vera will compile and produce the reissues with sound mixer/music director
Gordon Skene. In addition, Bob Fisher, a musician and engineer for GNP-Crescendo and Rhino, will
To start the reactivated label off with a bang, Vee-Jay Limited Liability Partnership held a celebration in
Chicago on Tuesday, October 27, 1992. Cook County Commissioner Jerry "The Iceman" Butler was
there. "Pop" Staples was there. Gene Chandler was there. So were the Dells. Johnny Keyes of the
Magnificents was there, too. A few newspaper clippings, included with the first Vee-Jay Press Kit,
showed that a good time was had by all:
From the Chicago Sun Times:
Compact discs started rolling out in October, 1992, and at least at first, most were also available on
cassette (which lasted about the first two quarters before cassettes were dropped altogether). They
continued on schedule for five successive quarters, and got the box set out, before things ground to a
halt. The January, 1994, scheduled releases never came. Vee-Jay Limited Partnership, at that point,
"was in a period of transition," and by March, 1994, went inactive.
All in all, it was quite an effort, and for the most part a successful one for record collectors. A full fifty
CDs were issued (and 7 more scheduled), plus a box set and two sampler CDs. New stereo showed up,
hard-to-find stereo songs like "Duke of Earl" were released again, and lots of obscure 45s that hadn't
seen the light of day since the mid-1950s were available in excellent sound. Unfortunately, many of the
master tapes from Vee-Jay were gone. Some had been misplaced and lost, others lent to record
companies for licensing and never returned. Some were probably gone by 1966, when the original
company went bankrupt. Many times, only a mono master was left for albums that had been issued in
stereo. But it was a great try with what was left, and we got many great CDs out of it.
We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this story. Just send them to us via e-mail. Both Sides Now Publications is an information
web page. We are not a catalog, nor can we provide the records mentioned above. We have no
association with Vee-Jay Records, which is currently inactive. Should you be interested in acquiring
Vee-Jay products, we suggest you go to the Vee-Jay Home
Page or see our Frequently Asked Questions
page and Follow the instructions found there. This story and discography are copyright 2006 by Mike
Callahan. All rights reserved.
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