A wind of change blew through the music industry in the post-WWII era; it was called rock ‘n’ roll. With it came a new breed of entrepreneurs, chancers even, who saw this vibrant new music as an opportunity to make a name for themselves and, perhaps more importantly, a lot of money.
New record companies sprang up all over America in the mid to late 50s. Some were offshoots of companies already established in other entertainment fields like 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers whose record divisions opened in 1958; others like Swan, Cameo and Jamie, which opened their doors in Philadelphia in late ’57, were owned by songwriters and distributors; while in New York, Sue, Time and Scepter were set up by a former real estate executive, an ex- a’n’r head of Mercury Records and an artist manager respectively.
Another was Joy Records, founded in 1958 by Edward Joy, an impresario, artist manager and publisher who made himself at home in the famed Brill Building at 1619 Broadway. Like most of the other new boys on the block, Eddie Joy’s label tried its hand at all kinds of music, from teen pop to novelty, from soul to m-o- r. This is the first time its tape vault has been trawled in any depth, starting with what might have been the first release.
The Gorman Sisters were, in fact, the Grossman sisters, Barbara and Vivian, who made their debut on vinyl in 1957 on fellow-NY label Arrow with Jesus Is My Santa Claus. In May 1958, they were to be found on Joy with Sock Hop (Joy 222) and later that year on a re-working of their Arrow release, this time called Daddy Is My Santa Claus (Joy 224). The youngsters never appeared on vinyl again.
Bernie Nee came to Joy Records soon after scoring a Top 40 hit on US Columbia, though you won’t find him listed in any American chart book. He’d recorded for Kapp Records as early as 1956 and had had several releases on Columbia before he was asked to record a track to be used in the Steve McQueen movie, The Blob. The resulting novelty, with Nee’s voice multi-tracked, was issued under the name The Five Blobs which promptly made The Top 40. Irked at not getting his due recognition, he took out advertisements in the American music press announcing his involvement but all that seemed to do was get him dropped by Columbia and early 1959 saw him record for Joy both as the Five Blobs with From The Top Of Your Guggle (Joy 226) and under his own name on Through A Prayer (Joy 225). His real future, however, lay on the stage where he appeared in musicals including Gypsy with Ethel Merman.
Eddie Joy’s showbiz background further influenced early releases when he signed ventriloquist Senor Wences. Wences, born Wenceslao Moreno in Penrada, Spain in 1896 (he died in New York at the age of 103 in 1999) was a much loved TV star in 50s America owing to the popularity of “Johnny”, a character created just by scrunching up his hand, drawing a mouth on it and draping it with a blond wig and “Pedro”, a severed head in a box. Both had catch phrases that featured on either side of his sole Joy single, S’Allright, S’Allright and Deefeecult For You, Easy For Me (Joy 228). Wences entertained four presidents, appeared on BBC TV, played Las Vegas and appeared on The Muppet Show as late as 1980 in a career that spanned sixty years.
The Upbeats were no strangers to record buyers, or the charts, when they joined Joy Records in late 1958. John and James MacGillivary, Paul de Witt and David Starkey had records released on Prep in 1957, made the charts with Just Like In The Movies on Swan in August 1958 and beat Brian Hyland to the bikini theme, but without success, when they released their second Joy single, Teenie Weenie Bikini (Joy 229) in early 1959. By this time the label had a British outlet and “Bikini” was the first of a dozen Joy releases to gain a release on Pye International.
The arrival of Mindy Carson on the label was no surprise. In her private life she was Mrs. Eddie Joy and her husband was also her manager but she’d been a star since 1946. Carson (born in New York in 1927) had a career that spanned hits on RCA and Columbia, her own radio show on CBS, a TV show on NBC and work on Broadway. When I Fall In Love dates from 1960.
Sixteen year old Jamie Horton gave the Joy label its first chart placing when My Little Marine (Joy 234) made #84 on Billboard’s pop chart in early 1960. As Gayla Peevey (her real name) she’d been a child star, when at the age of eleven in 1953, she’d made a Christmas hit out of I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas, a song originally written as a promo stunt for her home state’s, Oklahoma Zoo! She was never able to follow-up either hit, even when she recorded Robot Man, a UK hit for Connie Francis. While British record buyers put Connie’s version into their Top 3, Americans did not respond anywhere near as well to Jamie’s version.
Freddie Scott had to wait some time before achieving chart recognition. Steeped in gospel music, Scott made his first secular recordings for Zell Sanders’ J&S label in 1956 quickly moving on to Bow, Arrow and Enrica over the next two years before fetching up on Joy in 1961. Under Danny Davis’ guidance he recorded four tracks including When The Wind Changes which was released twice, first in 1961 on Joy 255 and again in ’63 on Joy 280 after Freddie had cracked it with Hey Girl on Col-Pix.
Sleepy King was another journeyman singer and organist who’d been heard on Felsted, Sue and Symbol before moving over to Joy in 1962 and becoming a one hit wonder with Pushin’ Your Luck which made #27 on Billboard’s R & B charts and #92 on the magazine’s pop listings. Little is known about the artist, except that his real name was David Parker.
An American Top 40 hit finally came the label’s way in the spring of 1962 when Ronnie and the Hi-Lites made it to #16 on the Hot 100 with I Wish That We Were Married. A second Top 40 hit followed soon afterwards courtesy of Little Joey and The Flips who made it up to #33 with Bongo Stomp (Joy 262). Joey Angarano (who used the surname Hall as his stage name), James Meagher, John Smith, Jeff Leonard and Fred Gerace had just one more outing on Joy, Bongo Gully (Joy 268) which didn’t get off the ground before they were next heard on Cameo a year or so later.
After twelve years, and more hits than you could shake a stick at, Columbia Records dropped Guy Mitchell in April 1962. Mitchell was another artist that Eddie Joy managed and so it was that he joined his manager’s label debuting with Charley’s Shoes (Joy 264) in mid-1962 and following that six months later with Go Tiger Go (Joy 270). To be fair to Columbia, Mitchell’s records hadn’t been making the charts since 1960 and his stay on Joy wasn’t going to change that, though Go Tiger Go came closest, peaking at #101. It was enough to persuade Pye in Britain to issue it,
but again there was no return to chart fame.
In the early 60s New York was awash with independent producers, among them a trio of writers and producers who would, before long, become a hit factory all on their own. In late ’62 though, they were still trying to make their mark and it wasn’t proving an easy thing to do. Bob Feldman remembers a disc jockey friend in Florida bringing Karol Kelly to the fledgling production outfit of Feldman-Goldstein-Gottehrer. “She was a Senator or Congressman’s daughter,” Feldman remembers, “who not only couldn’t sing, she talked flat! We had her talk the record and even that was tough for her.” Still, Slow Dance got its release on Joy 272 and remains interesting today even if only because The Angels are singing back-up. Though Bob Feldman doubtless remembers the session, Karol Kelly was, in fact, Karol Lasobic whose dad owned Florida radio station WPAS and who would later earn a living as a TV weather girl.
1963 would prove to be the Joy label’s best year, though its successes were still modest by anybody’s reckoning. Twenty-three year old James Gilreath from Prairie, Mississippi looked like he could be a big star when his Little Band Of Gold (Joy 274) became a hit, not only in America where it stalled just outside Billboard’s Top 20, but also in Britain where it made the Top 30. It was also a hit in Canada and in several European countries. Once again, though, a promising debut led to little else and his follow-up, Lollipops, Lace and Lipstick went nowhere. All was not lost though, Sonny James took Gilreath’s hit song to # 5 on the Billboard Country Charts in 1975.
Frank Virtuoso was a leading light in Philadelphia’s music scene. A trained musician, he played violin, guitar and double bass. After a stint in the US Navy and now calling himself Virtue he had a hit with Guitar Boogie Shuffle in 1959 and opened his own studios in Philly in 1962. Joy picked up The Frank Virtue Combo’s Midnight Hassle (Joy 275) in 1963. Virtue would remain active as a producer, studio and label owner well into the 70s and he was to be responsible for another hit on Joy’s sister label Select.
The Philadelphia connection continues with The Fabulous Dials who had their shot at glory with Bossa Nova Stomp (Joy 276) in early ’63. Edward Lee Smith, James Tindal, Raymond Eskridge and Michael Franklin came from Paoli on the outskirts of Philly and can perhaps count themselves lucky to even have got a UK release in view of sales being restricted to the immediate Philadelphia area.
A UK release was also forthcoming for The Brandywine Singers whose Summer’s Come And Gone (Joy 281) bubbled under on Billboard’s pop charts in 1963 at 129. Brothers Rick and Ron Shaw, along with Frederick Corbett, Hal Brown and David Craig formed a folk group called The Tradewinds while at The University of New Hampshire and were spotted by agent Charles Kearns after winning a music competition at a college in Williamsport, PA. He took them to Joy Records where they recorded under Al Ham’s supervision. “The name of our group was taken from a Revolutionary War battle, the Battle of Brandywine, in Pennsylvania. We thought it had the qualities we were looking for i.e. historical and folky” Ron Shaw told the writer. Ron remembers the record selling best in the Chicago, Boston and New York areas thanks, he thinks, mostly due to support from ABC.TV’s Hootenanny show on which the group appeared twice. Before the group split up in 1966 Van Dyke Parks became a member but he didn’t feature on any of their recordings for Joy. Later, and still under Al Ham’s direction, Rick and Ron were members of The Hillside Singers who scored with the Coca-Cola song I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.
Canonsburg in Pennsylvania gave us Perry Como and Bobby Vinton and it was as a result of working in the same group as Vinton that the The Four Coins had their chance to shine. Between 1955 and 1959 they racked up half a dozen or so hits for Epic Records. Original members James Gregorakis and George Mantalis were still in the group when they released Boys Cry (Joy 284) in early 1964 and were still managed by veteran record and publishing man Danny Kessler who not only managed the group through their hit years but also managed Chuck Willis, had worked at Okeh and RCA Victor, was a partner with Lieber and Stoller in their publishing business and was co-owner of Seville Records. In Britain, the song was covered and became a hit for Eden Kane.
Stan Kesler (no relation to Danny) was an engineer at Sun Studios in Memphis and was the producer responsible for Sam The Sham’s Wooly Bully. In 1964 Kesler helped get pianist and singer Bobby Wood’s career off the ground when he recorded If I’m A Fool For Loving You (Joy 285), originally for Kesler’s Pen Records in Memphis. Then came That’s All I Need To Know (Joy 288) which made #46 on Billboard’s country chart and bubbled under the pop list at #130. A car accident curtailed his performing career but he moved into session work, working with Chips Moman at AGP and then in Nashville where he worked with George Jones and Tammy Wynette, wrote Talkin’ In Your Sleep for Crystal Gayle and was later part of Garth Brooks’ recording crew.
By 1965 things were slowing down at Joy Records but there was one more throw of the dice via a group who were originally called The Four Winds. With the release of Last Exit To Brooklyn (Joy 296), Lewis Resh, William Barlip, Richard Kane and John Diproperzio became The Scott Bedford Four and made some noise in the New York area, enough to push the record to #129 nationally, thanks mainly to considerable plays on WMCA.