It is perhaps surprising that President Records wasn’t launched in Britain until the last week of July 1966. Its parent company Kassner Music had been in the record business in America since the mid-fifties, first with the President label, and a couple of years later had added the Seville label to its ever-growing music and record activities.
Initial distribution in Britain was via Selecta, the distribution subsidiary of Decca Records, but it was the BIRD Network, a loose aggregation of independent wholesaling companies such as Lugton (in London), H. R. Taylor (Birmingham), Clyde Factors (Glasgow) and Solomon & Peres (Northern Ireland) that were the label’s long-term distributors, even after the Kassner organisation had purchased Enterprise Records in 1973 which then became an in-house distributorship.
Within just a few releases, and thanks to Ed Kassner’s contacts book that contained anybody and everybody worth knowing in America, President Records would not only nurture British talent, but would also release a plethora of recordings from some of America’s most successful record labels.
Home Grown Talent
The first record to reach the shops on the British President label came about only because Kassner Music boss, Ed Kassner, had purchased the publishing rights to an American hit (by The Happenings), “See You In September”, but was having difficulty placing it with a British label. He decided to find a British group to record it and landed on a four-piece pop / harmony group from Essex, called The Symbols who’d started life as Johnny Milton & The Condors and had made a couple of unsuccessful records with Mickie Most for the Columbia label. Although “See You In September” wasn’t a hit, The Symbols would give President Records hit records with remakes of “Bye Bye Baby” and “(The Best Part Of) Breaking Up”, songs originally recorded by The Four Seasons and The Ronettes.
Britain’s first multi-racial pop group led by Eddy Grant, who would go on to international solo stardom, flew the flag for Britain and the President label from the off. Even though the group’s first record wasn’t a U.K. hit, it did well enough in Germany and Holland to give the group a solid international following. Their British breakthrough came with their second release, “Baby Come Back” which would be a U.K. chart-topper in 1968. They would follow that with six other hits in Britain, including “Viva Bobby Joe” (#6 – 1969) and “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” (#9 – 1970). Their first LP “Unequalled” was also a big hit, making number 10 on the LP charts in 1967. Eddy Grant also wrote and produced several other releases on the label including by The Four Gees, The Pyramids (“Train Tour To Rainbow City” made # 37 in 1967), Sundae Times, Little Grants & Eddie, The West Indians, The Jamaican Cousins and The Original Africans, many of which included Grant and / or other members of The Equals.
Born in south west Wales, Dorothy (Edna May) Squires was working as a nurse when she found evening work as a singer in London clubs in the 1930s. She made her first record (for Parlophone) in 1945, but between then and when she signed to President Records in 1968, she’d only made the U.K. charts twice, in 1953 with “I’m Walking Behind You” (written by her first husband, bandleader Billy Reid) and with “Say It With Flowers” which she wrote in 1961. During her time with President, Squires had three Top 30 hits , one in 1969 and two in 1970.
This is just a random selection of President label releases by British groups who weren’t lucky enough to ‘make it’ back then, but have left behind interesting and collectable releases.
In mid-October 1967 The Lloyd Alexander Real Estate made their debut on the label with “Gonna Live Again”. This seven-piece band, fronted by Billy Cox, gigged up and down the country, but split up in early 1969 after which guitarist Howard Werth, Keith Gemmell (sax) and Trevor Williams (bass) formed the noted prog rock band Audience. The Exception came from Birmingham and their first two records were from the Welbeck Productions unit of President Records and were released on CBS. The leading light in the group was Alan ‘Bugsy’ Eastwood who wrote most of the songs on the group’s five singles on President. Original members Dave Pegg and Roger Hill later joined Fairport Convention. Australians Harry Vanda and George Young were in The Easybeats of “Friday On My Mind” fame and then created Paintbox as a vehicle for their songs. When they went off to concentrate on Flash And The Pan, Keith Wilford, Mick Eastman, Paul Bonner and Dave Hacker all ex-of Katch 22 kept the name alive, releasing “Come On Round” (written by Vanda & Young) in 1972 and “Let Your Love Go” (a David Gates song) the following year. London group The Explosive released half a dozen records on President, first with Trinidadian Watson T. Browne then Del Taylor handling lead vocals. The group’s music veered from soul to reggae to psych over their two year period with the label. Britain was awash with places people could see groups play ‘live’ in the sixties and into the early seventies which meant there was a ready demand for groups that could put on a show. Such a one was the nine-piece The Interstate Road Show which released just the one single, “Grindy Grind” on President in 1969.
This highlights just a few of the British girl singers that had records released on President.
Thirty girls turned up at a London rehearsal studio to audition for a place in The Butterflies, a four-piece girl group whose lead singer was Veronica Casey. They were the first British girls to appear on the label, releasing “Love Me Forever” (PT 192) in June 1968.. Dorothy Squires and Barbara Ruskin have entries elsewhere on this website while among other President Girls are North Londoner Jan Panter (one single in April 1969) who’d had releases on Oriole, CBS and Pye before coming to the label. Eileen Woodman, Robyn Yorke, Pauline Moran (who became an actress and played Miss Lemon in the TV series “Poirot) and Inger Jonnsson were She Trinity when they joined President for one single in 1970 and “My Boy Lollipop” hitmaker Millie was also a one-off artist on the label the same year. Long-time favourite of British audiences since the 1950s, Ruby Murray also joined the label in 1970, releasing three singles, the first of which “Change Your Mind” only narrowly missed the British charts. Maria Morgan came along in 1975 and had four singles released on President. Maria now designs wedding dresses, but has also been an actress and TV presenter, fronting Granada TV’s “A Handful Of Songs” and starred in the title role of the musical “Evita”. Records by Kathy Kirby, Adrienne Posta and Lena Zavaroni are also to be found in the catalogue as is one release by Gaynor Wild who released “Blue Guitar” in 1977, but has also recorded as Gaynor Jones (Morgan label 1968, Decca in 1969 and York Records in the early 70s), as Gay Wild for RCA (1979) and Rocket (1980) and has worked as a backing vocalist for Shakatak. Twinkle who had a top 5 hit in 1964 with “Terry” is one who got away when her single for President, produced by Ivor Raymonde, and scheduled for release in 1971 remained on the shelf. It did however finally see the light of day when the tape was found and the recordings licensed to son Simon Raymonde for a 45 vinyl release through his Bella Union label in 2019.
The American Connection
It was barely half a dozen releases before the first record from an American label was issued on President and although the label would eventually issue recordings from highly successful U.S. labels like Bang, Vee-Jay and TK, the first one, “Summer Kisses” by Floyd & Jerry came from a tiny independent label based in Phoenix, Arizona called Presta Records. Despite huge support from Billboard, Cashbox and Record World, the most popular of the American music trade magazines at the time, Floyd & Jerry failed to make the charts, but it’s one that deserved to do better on both sides of the Atlantic. The first major acquisition was the Bronco and Mustang labels owned by Bob Keene which gave the label artists like Viola Wills, The Bobby Fuller Four and Felice Taylor who would be a President hit maker with “I Feel Love Comin’ On” in late 1967 (an early Barry White record also came with this deal), but the first Americans to have a hit here on President were The Casinos with “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” which entered the U.K. charts in February 1967 and came via an agreement to represent the Fraternity label of Cincinnati here. Chicago labels One-Der-Ful and Mat-V-Lus were next to come on board bringing Otis Clay, Alvin Cash and The Five Du-Tones to the label. Little Richard records came to President as a result of the label licensing the Vee-Jay label’s catalogue along with music from Betty Everett, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler and The Dells. In January 1971 President started re-issuing material from Bert Berns’ Bang* label. This brought Neil Diamond and Van Morrison records to the label, but it was with the arrival of records from the TK group of companies in Florida that President enjoyed its greatest successes thanks to records by George McCrae and K.C. & The Sunshine Band in the mid-70s. To complete the picture, the label also released records from the Kassner owned Seville label, Lloyd Price Productions (the artist plus Wilson Pickett), the Mira and Mirwood labels, Sims, Excello, Silver Blue and Del-Fi (Ritchie Valens) as well as labels based in Europe, South Africa, Australia and Canada.
* Music from Bang and its sister label Shout were also released on the Jay Boy label. See entry elsewhere on this website.