President Records – through the decades
Edward Kassner and the President record label
As a teenager in April 1939 Edward Kassner was lucky to escape with his life from Nazi Austria and find refuge in Britain. Having met, fallen in love with and married an Englishwoman during the war, Edward pursued his dreams of becoming a music publisher and in 1944 he and his wife together founded The Edward Kassner Music Co Ltd. Over 60 years on, the company publishes some of the most enduring popular songs of the modern era. The President record label grew up alongside this business and the history of the two companies became inextricably intertwined.
President Records Inc was a record label founded on June 6, 1955 in the midst of the burgeoning independent music scene of New York and with which Kassner became involved through one of his publishing contacts. A corresponding UK company was established by Kassner in May 1957, though its activities were initially limited to licensing some of the productions made in the name of the US company to major UK labels such as Decca.
Seville Records launched in the US
One of the biggest problems facing a music publisher in the 1950s – and it is no different now – was how to get your song heard. The heydays of sheet music were fading fast. Getting an established artist to record your composition was possible if you had the right song and the right connections but competition was fierce. Kassner could see that, if you had your own label, you could publish a song, record it and get it released, thereby having at least some control over your own destiny. With this in mind, he launched Seville Records in the US, and had a hit in 1961 with Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out), a song written and performed by Ernie Maresca, and followed that with the sensational Bobby’s Girl, written by two college students (Hank Hoffman and Gary Klein), sung by Marcie Blane on release in the US and covered by Susan Maughan in the UK.
President Records established on both sides of the Atlantic
After his initial success with Seville Records, Kassner chose to revitalise the President label in 1963, as a tribute to the assassinated American President John F Kennedy. New energy was put into its US release schedule with a series of rock’n’roll acts, notably Dave Appell and his Applejacks, Charlie Gracie and The Jodimars (formerly Bill Haley’s backing group) and the outstanding R’n’B singer Millie Foster, who recorded the exquisite Love Wheel.
Around this time, however, the global music scene began to change. The centrality of rock’n’roll began to diminish and the emphasis shifted from the US to the UK. London was the place to be in the summer of ’66 and as the trend towards groups and singers writing their own material impacted significantly on the publishing world, Kassner took the decision to launch the President label in the UK as an active business unreliant on its US counterpart. It was a ground-breaking move. Up to then in the UK there were only a few major labels and one other independent, Immediate.
The first UK hits
Over the next few years President became something of a hit machine. Early highlights included The Symbols, who broke through with covers of Bye Bye Baby and The Best Part of Breaking Up, and Felice Taylor, whose chart hit I Feel Love Comin’ On represented a first success for talented songwriter and arranger, Barry White.
The Equals top the charts with Baby Come Back
The label’s first number 1 came in 1968, as Britain’s first mixed race band, The Equals, stormed to the top of the charts with Baby Come Back. The leader of the band was a teenage Eddy Grant whose father wanted him to become a doctor. Grant’s father asked ‘EK’ (as Eddy affectionately called him) if he really felt that his son had a career in music. Not one to sit on the fence, Kassner convinced the young man’s father that indeed he did and then watched with pride as Grant’s career went from strength to strength. Shortly after, the label also had a series of top 30 hits with Welsh vocalist Dorothy Squires, who charted with For Once In My Life, Till and My Way.
Kassner brings the Miami sound to the UK
Having learned early on in his publishing career about the benefits of bringing American songs to Europe, Kassner followed a similar pattern for his label by licensing in recordings from the States. Kassner found that there was a ready and waiting market, in particular for r’n’b music, and healthy sales could be had catering to the burgeoning Northern Soul scene, for which market a sister label, Jayboy, was set up specifically. Seeking to find more of this type of music, Kassner met with his former distributor from the Seville Records days, Henry Stone, based in Florida. Henry’s big artists, Betty Wright and Timmy Thomas, were signed to a major label but the major had passed on his other acts. Kassner did a deal for the ‘rejects’, and these included the husband and wife team, George and Gwen McCrae. Within a few months, a record like no other started to climb the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Rock Your Baby by George McCrae went straight to number 1 and stayed there for most of the summer of 1974. The Miami Sound was born.
KC and The Sunshine Band continue the run of success
With their first collaboration an unmitigated success, Kassner continued to visit his new partner in Florida in the hope of discovering other product that might have a similar impact in the UK. On one of these trips, Stone introduced Kassner to a band which had begun to develop a profile in the black clubs of Miami. Hearing one of their ‘B’ sides, Kassner recognised another surefire UK hit. Tapes were rushed over to England, the record came out and sure enough Queen of Clubs went straight in to the Top Ten, giving KC and the Sunshine Band the breakthrough they needed to go on to build an international career. A string of hits followed, including Get Down Tonight, That’s the Way (I Like It) and (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.
The President operation expanded to handle this sudden influx of success, but the hits dried up towards the end of the 70s and a rationalization of the business was required. A rearguard action had to be undertaken and for a while this meant concentrating on back catalogue, reissues and compilations.
40 albums with Rick Wakeman
The business increased its activities again in 1984, when a chance meeting between Edward’s son, David, who had joined the business in 1972, and an American from W Virginia Tommy Boyce had long-term consequences. Boyce’s idea was to start a label with its own studio and an all-star line up of artists. With names like Rick Wakeman, Denny Laine, Ringo Starr, Eddie Hardin, Mike d’Abo and Maggie Bell, it sounded pretty good on paper but a backer was needed.
Rock artists required much bigger budgets to record and expected bigger personal advances than the sort of act that President had been used to signing thus far but in a bold move an album deal was done with Rick Wakeman and, despite the fact that Boyce lost interest in the project and headed back to the States, President Records gradually worked its way though the roster of names he proposed. Ultimately, the company recorded and released albums by all of them except Ringo Starr. In particular, the relationship with Wakeman took on a life of its own. To date, Rick has made almost 40 albums for the company and President Records has also overseen the first releases of his sons Adam and Oliver.
Recently renamed The London Swing Orchestra, Graham Dalby’s orchestra is a jazz age swing band, leading exponents in the re-creation and interpretation of original arrangements of popular music from the great dance band days. In 1987 Graham and his orchestra signed a deal with President Records and released four albums We’re Tops On Saturday Night , Mad Dogs and Englishmen (1988), Let’s Do It Again (1990) and Transatlantique (1993). Graham and The Gramaphones were filmed performing his original composition ‘I Would Sooner Be A Crooner’ in the Alec Guiness film A Handful Of Dust (though the soundtrack is a George Fenton overdub). BBC and film sessions for Graham since have included Hans Zimmer’s Crimson Tide and The Peacemaker, Evita with Madonna and The Muppet Treasure Island.
Dansan Records catalogue acquired
Over the recent decades the label group has further expanded through the acquisition of other master catalogues. An important addition to the President master list in 1991 was the catalogue of Dansan Records. The label was set up by Tommy Sanderson in the late 1970s and is renowned for having produced some of the best recordings ever made for ballroom dancing. Recordings by Andy Ross & His Orchestra, Bryan Smith & The Dixieland Seven and the Eric Winstone Orchestra (amongst others) are still popular today. The music continues to be heard frequently today through extensive plays in ballroom dance clubs and on specialist radio.
Robots In Disguise
After hearing the cover by electro-punk band, Robots in Disguise of a Kassner held copyright ‘You really Got Me’ President signed the band in 2006 and released three successful albums with the group (Disguises, Get Rid! and We’re In The Music Biz). Dee and Sue from the group appeared several times in the British Television series The Mighty Boosh as electro band members and goth girls. Robots In Disguise toured with The Mighty Boosh Live for their 2008–09 tour.
60 years and counting
President Records can lay claim to being one of the oldest independent labels / label groups in the UK. In the last decade, physical releases have become more infrequent, but the label is still an important part of the Kassner group, controlling in excess of eight thousand masters which touch upon virtually every known genre of music. Shifting with the music business in general the recording catalogue now thrives in the digital marketplace, and the increase in third party licensing. President always has an open ear to new opportunities, be they new artists or masters catalogues, to new ways devised for music to be heard. Thus the President story is set to continue…