- THIS PAGE CONTAINS -
- Meteor Records -
- Meteor Studio -
- The Bihari Brothers -
- Meteor The Burn Out -
- Located at 1794 Chelsea Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, which was
another self-contained entire recording studio and office, all under one roof, exists today
physically currently in an industrial part of town. Meteor opened in 1952 by founders and
owners the brother Lester and Jules Bihari. Meteor Records released some legendary
recordings cut by Elmore James, Rufus Thomas, and Malcolm Yelvington among great others.
Meteor was pickin'up Sun Records' rejects.
When Sun Studio would not put out Malcolm
Yelvinton's follow-up recordings, he did what any true rockabilly cat would do: he slipped
over to Meteor Records and recorded under the pseudonym "Mac Sales" to avoid his Sun
contract. Charlie Feathers, another so-called "Sun reject", cut here by Meteor Records, the
hiccuping classic "Tongue-tied Jill" here in 1956.
The label started in November of 1952 the first recording session for the new label took
place and four sides were cut in just a half hour.
Elmo (Elmore) James on (Meteor 5000) with The Broomdusters which included J.T. (Big Boy)
Brown on tenor sax, Johnny Jones on piano, and Odie Payne on drums records "I Believe" / "I
Held My baby Last Night". Bep Brown is on (Meteor 5001) with two sax instrumentals, "Round
House Boogie" and "Kickin' The Blues Around". Carl Green is the performer on (Meteor 5002)
with the tunes "My Best Friend" and "Four Years Seven Days".
In late February of 1953 Elmore James record in Chicago for the label. The result is "Baby
What's Wrong" and "Sinful Woman" on (Meteor 5003). In May of that year a recording session
is held in North Little Rock, Arkansas with a blues combo that includes Sunny Blair on
harmonica, Baby Face Turner on guitar, Junior Brooks on bass, and Bill Rissell on drums. The
result is (Meteor 5006), "Please Send My Baby Back" with Sunny Blair on vocal, and "Gonna
Let You Go" with Baby Face Turner on vocal. Jimmy Wright did two sax instrumentals on
(Meteor 5007), "Porky Pine" and "Scotch Mist".
Buster Smith recorded a blues version of the hit song "Crying In The Chapel" and it was
coupled with "Leapin' in Chicago" on (Meteor 5010). In 1954 Al Smith recorded "Beale Street
Stomp" and the swing era classic "Slidin' Home" on (Meteor 5013). The very first Meteor
Records release that gets any airplay or sales outside the South is (Meteor 5016), a blistering
instrumental that is listed on the label as by Sax Man Brown with Elmo James Broomdusters,
but is in reality the combo of J.T. (Big Boy) Brown. "Saxony Boogie" gets a boost from
Moondog Freed in New York and is the label's biggest seller. The flip side is a slow blues sung
by Brown called "Dumb Woman Blues".
In 1955 Woodrow Adams & The Boogie Blues Blasters which include Joe Hill Louis on guitar,
and Joe Martin on drums recorded "Wine Head Woman" and "Baby You Just Don't Know" on
(Meteor 5018). "You Will Have To Pray" / "As Lonely As I Can Be" by Haward Swords is
released on (Meteor 5019). A session with well known blues performer Andrew "Smokey"
Hogg done in Los Angeles is released by Meteor on (Meteor 5021) (also on Crown 122) on the
songs "I Declare" and "Dark Clouds". The last record issued by the label in 1955 is an attempt
to duplicate their one big hit (Meteor 5016) and so Sax Man Brown & The Broomdusters
record "Sax Symphonic Boogie". The flip side is "Flaming Blues".
By 1956 it is apparent that Southern based blues is not going to be a big sell among the
growing teenage rock and roll market, but Meteor hangs in. Mary Edwards & The Saxons
record "Chilly Willy" and "Uh Oh Mama" on (Meteor 5031). Later in the year the oddly named
combo Minnie Thomas & Slim Waters Lagoons record "What Can The Matter Be?" and "I Know
What You Need" on (Meteor 5036). "Standing On The Highway" and "My Last Mile" are
recorded by Walter Miller on (Meteor 5037). Memphis radio personality and rhythm and
blues performer Rufus Thomas records "The Easy Living Plan" and "I'm Holding On" on
(Meteor 5039). Rhythm and blues stalwart Little Milton (Campbell) records "Let's Boogie
Baby" and "Love At First Sight" on (Meteor 5040).
In 1957 the label is barely alive as the Bihari Brothers consolidate their labels in Los Angeles.
The last issue by Meteor is (Meteor 5046) in late 1957. And so a bold experiment did not
really work out for the Biharis, although they kept at it for five years. Their many successes
with Modern, RPM, and Flair, gave them the opportunity to try and search out talent in the
mid-South and have the recording facilities locally to produce the music. It did not succeed
economically, but it remains a valiant effort as part of the story of the music.
Its amazing that the building of Meteor Records stands still today.
THE BIHARI BROTHERS
- Lester, Jules, Saul and Joe, were American music entrepreneurs and
the founders of Modern Records in Los Angeles and its subsidiaries such as Meteor Records
based in Memphis, Tennessee
The brothers were of Hungarian Jewish descent. Their father, Edward Bihari (1882-1930),
was born in Budapest and migrated to the United States. Their mother, Esther "Esti" Taub
(1886-1950), was born in Homonna, Hungary (now Humenné, Slovakia). The pair were
married in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States in 1911. There were also four
sisters in the family.
The brothers were, Lester Louis Bihari born on May 12, 1912 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania,
and died on September 5, 1983 in Los Angeles. Julius Jeramiah Bihari born on September 9, 1913 in
Pottstown, Pennsylvania and died on November 17, 1984 in Los Angeles. Saul Samuel Bihari
born on March 9, 1918, in St. Louis, Missouri, and died on February 22, 1975. Joseph Bihari
born on May 30, 1925 in Memphis, Tennessee, and died Los Angeles on November 28, 2013.
After living for a period in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Bihari family moved to Los Angeles in 1941.
Jules got a job servicing and operating jukeboxes in the Watts district, and found difficulty
in locating and stocking the blues records his customers wanted to hear.
With his younger brothers Saul and Joe, he decided to set up a new label, Modern Records in
1945. The brothers built Modern into a major blues and rhythm and blues label, their first
success coming with "Swingin' the Boogie" by Hadda Brooks. They bought a pressing plant,
and divided tasks among them equally, with Jules responsible for talent spotting and
recording, Saul for manufacturing, and Lester for distribution. Joe worked with Ike Turner as
a talent scout in the Memphis area, discovering Johnny "Guitar" Watson among others.
In the early 1950s the Biharis launched several subsidiaries, RPM Records, Flair Records and
Meteor Records, which was set up in Memphis in 1952 and was headed by Lester Bihari.
Successful artists on the Biharis' labels included B. B. King, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker,
Etta James, Lightnin' Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, Rufus Thomas and Charlie Feathers.
Lester Bihari and possible his secretary Leona Wynn, mid-1950s. >
The companies always remained small and personally run. B. B. King has said that he always
felt the brothers were accessible: "The company was never bigger than the artist. I could
always talk to them''. Later they launched more subsidiaries, Crown Records featuring artists
like Johnny Cole, Vic Damone, Trini Lopez with Johnny Torres, Jerry Cole, Dave Clark Five,
and United/Superior Records.
In the sixties they launched a subsidiary Yuletide Records,
which specialized in Christmas records (mostly with Johnny Cole and the Robert Evans
In the mid 1960s Modern records went bankrupt and stopped operating, but the catalogue
went with the management into what would become Kent Records. After the deaths of Saul,
Lester and Jules Bihari, the labels' back catalogue was licensed to Ace Records (United
Kingdom) in the mid 1980s, and then later purchased by them during the 1990s.
Though they were not songwriters, the Biharis often purchased or claimed co-authorship of
songs that appeared on their own labels, thus securing songwriting royalties for themselves,
in addition to their other sources of income. Sometimes these songs were older standards
renamed. B. B. King's rendition of "Rock Me Baby" was such a tune; anonymous jams, as with
"B. B.'s Boogie" or songs by employees, such as bandleader Vince Weaver. The Biharis used a
number of pseudonyms for songwriting credits: Jules was credited as Jules Taub; Joe as Joe
Josea; and Sam as Sam Ling. One song by John Lee Hooker, "Down Child" is solely credited to
"Taub", with Hooker receiving no credit for the song whatsoever. Another, "Turn Over A New
Leaf" is credited to Hooker and "Ling". Taub was the Biharis' mother's maiden name.
Commonly known among music circles but not publicly acknowledged is that Jules and the
Bihari brothers would effectively steal music from up and coming black artists by taking
advantage of the artists financial situation. The Bihari's would have their name added to
writing credits when they had nothing to do with the creation of the music in any way.
B. B. King has said: "The company I was with knew a lot of things they didn’t tell me, that I
didn’t learn about until later... Some of the songs I wrote, they added a name when I
copyrighted it,"..."Like 'King and Ling' or 'King and Josea.' There was no such thing as Ling,
or Josea. No such thing. That way, the company could claim half of your song.
METEOR - THE BURN OUT
- The people who knew Lester Bihari in Memphis all agree on several things.
He was a nice guy, he was a real personality, he was often drinking and broke, and he was always somewhat
strange. He tried really hard to be a record producer, but he was no Joe Bihari or Sam Phillips. Lester was in
the right place at the right time but he was unable to develop the careers of his artists.
What Lester did do was to capture the white working man's music of Memphis and its rural hinterland
exactly as it was being played through 1954 to 1957 before television and the Interstate highways
homogenised America. This music is real. It is unfettered and fresh. It is the reason why Meteor has
subsequently become one of the most collectable of the independent record labels, commanding
extraordinarily high prices whenever copies come up for sale.
Lester had financial problems. His distribution beyond the local area was mainly linked to his brothers'
Modern network, which focused on rhythm and blues and blues. Lester didn't have the network of stores,
jukeboxes, and radio play to successfully self country and rockabilly music outside the mid-South. Apart
from ''Daydreamin''', none of the mid-1950s Meteor saw much chart action. Many received good trade paper
reviews, and it seems that the Junior Thompson and Charlie Feathers singles went into decent second
pressings and did quite well over a period of time. While many of the white Meteors sizzled musically, they
fizzled out commercial.
Sales of black music on Meteor had been good right at the start, and in Lester's last two years in Memphis he
resumed issuing blues and rhythm and blues - perhaps because Sam Phillips had almost stopped recording
black music and more of the talent was looking in his direction. Local recordings included those by Rufus
Thomas, Little Milton, Fention Robinson, and the Del Rios, a group that included the young William Bell. It
is likely that Rufus Thomas, in his local disc jockey mode, acted as a conduit for talent at that time.
Meteor's demise was reported in Cash Box in May 1957. Just one more, fluke, record would appear, by Minnesota rock and roller Steve Carl, who bought in his own excellent demo recordings after being rejected by Sun. From non-functioning equipment to snakes in the control room, Steve was unimpressed by what he found at Meteor, although an enthusiastic Lester promised big things, including an LP release. With his demos being of a quality far above anything that Carl could envisage recording at Meteor, he agreed to leave the tape of six songs. His guitarist returned in mid-1958; Lester Bihari was still there and filled a request to re-press the band's record. Just how long Bihari remained in Memphis after that is not exactly known, but Jim O'Neil reports that he became a sales representative for his brothers' Crown budget LP label around the time that Meteor folded, first in Memphis and then in Texas. Frank Scott found him back on the West Coast in the stockroom when he visited the Kent/Modern offices in 1969. Lester Bihari, who was born on May 12, 1914 in Philadelphia, died on September 5, 1983 in Los Angeles.
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