MEMPHIS INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN AS RECORDING CENTER
by Edwin Howard, Press-
Scimitar Amusement Editor, April 28, 1959.
On Jack Paar's Tonight show on TV last week, Broadway producer Leonard Stillman talked about the new edition of his periodic New faces revues coming
up next fall.
going to audition in Memphis next week'', he told Paar. ''There's a lot of talent there''. The statement probably surprised no one in the vast television audience except Memphians.
For, altho most Memphians are now aware that Elvis Presley is a person of some importance in the entertainment world, few realize that the city itself has, during the past five years, become one of the capitals of that world.
Cotton, hardwood flooring, plywood, mules, chemicals – these are the products traditionally mentioned in connection with Memphis. Not even the Chamber of Commerce seems to realize yet that recording and record manufacturing have given Memphis
a major new industry with a total annual gross business of close to $10 million.
Since it is a popular art as well as an industry, it also brings Memphis priceless international publicity. It
makes people such as producer Sillman talk about Memphis on network television. It has so influenced musical
styles the world over that in Europe and Japan, record labels – as on the German version of ''Raunchy'' by Heinz Lips and the Seven Robins – often carry a line which
says, ''As recorded in Memphis by Sun''.
SUN THE FIRST - Sun Records, established six years ago by Sam C. Phillips, was Memphis' first record
label. Today there are 14 active labels, and the business is growing so fast there may be more tomorrow. (As a
matter of fact, one was added today, Elston Leanard read yesterday's story and called to say he and Hillburn ''Pappy'' Graves are going to start releasing records next week on
the Fonofox, TV and commercial film producing firm at 1447 Union Avenue). To the size and importance of the recording business in Memphis is not generally realized, most Memphians do know that recording is done in Memphis. Very few know, however, that Memphis has the largest
independent record manufacturing plant in the country.
Plastic Products Co., 1746 Chelsea, was established by Robert E. ''Buster'' Williams in 1949 in one Quonset hut at a cost of about $40,000. In 1959,
Plastic Products it is bulging at the seams of four connected Quonsets, and Williams is building a branch plant in Coldwater, Mississippi, which will be twice the size of
the present one. That last year, despite the recession, the company produced 15 million records for some 30 different
companies, with a retail value of more than $20 million. Buster Williams, who lives with his family at 203 Lombardy, expects to press 25 million disks of all types - singles, LPs,
EPs, and stereo. The growth of the recording business in Memphis has, of course, stimulated the growth of Plastic Products, but the Memphis labels account for only 10% of the company's volume.
Among the independent Eastern and Chicago the Memphis firm presses for are ABC Paramount, Cadence, Carleton,
Chess, Checker, Argo, and Atlantic. Besides pressing for practically all the Memphis firms, it also produces records for labels in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Mobile, Shreveport,
Jackson, Mississippi (home of Ace Records, which has had a couple of recent hits), Houston, Dallas, and Nashville.
130,000 CAPACITY - In 1959, the
capacity of the Memphis plant is 80,000 records daily, and the Coldwater plant, altho unfinished, can already turn out an additional 50,000 a day. The Memphis plant employs about
100 persons. Plastic Products' records are distributed everywhere this side of the rocky Mountains and sometimes
west of them, too. About 60% of its volume leaves the Memphis trade area.
Buster Williams, who started salting and selling peanuts at the age of 12 in his home town of Enterprise, Mississippi, and was the
nation largest jukebox operator (18,000 machines) before going into record manufacture and distribution, also owns Music Sales in Memphis. It is the oldest independent record
distributing firm in the country. Prior to that, the record business was dominated by the four ''major'' - RCA, Columbia,
Decca and Capitol, which had their own distributors. There are a few other so called ''majors'' in 1959, but most of the companies established sine then are called independents.
Williams, of course, is a champion of the independent recording companies. It was they, he points out, who developed
vinyl as a disk material. ''And don't let anybody tell you RCA found Elvis'', he says with a note of hometown pride. ''Elvis wasn't lost. Sam Phillips had already made him a big
star when they bought him''.
OF COMPETITION – Altho the Sun and Phillips International labels have produced the longest string of hits of any Memphis
company, several of the newer companies are coming up fest. Pepper Records, which also records under Diane and Tom-Tom labels, is expecting big things for two disks released, ''Little
Ole Man In The Well'' b/w ''Ooh Yeah, Baby'' by deep voiced Wayne Hefner on Tom-Tom, and ''Eight Wonder Of The World''
b/w Mary Me'' by Gerald Nelson on Diane. ''Build A Mountain'' by the Keynotes on Pepper has gotten good play and the girls' quartet is booked for an appearance on the Ed Sullivan
show this Sunday. John Pepper, head of this company, is one of Memphis' best-known businessmen, and Floyd Huddleston, artist and repertoire director is composer of such hits as ''Island Queen''.
Fernwood ''Tragedy'' by Thomas Wayne is Memphis most recent million-seller, and the company has a new one out
by Wayne titled ''Eternally'' which is off to a fast start. The Hi label is making an impressive showing with disks by three local lads – Kimball Coburn, Tommy Tucker and
the newest Memphis labels, Summer, has a promising disk going in ''Motorcycle Michael'' by the Achers. Lee, Cover, Albe, Meteor, and Stomper Time might score any time, and Bill
Justis, who produced many of Sun and Phillips International's best sellers besides those he made with his own band, is almost certain to click with the something on his new Play Me label.
There have been a number of other Memphis labels which for one reason or another are no longer active. OJ Records
had a national hit in \\White Silver Sands'', which sent Dave Gardner soaring to fame. A local wrangle over authorship of the song has tied up profits from it, however, and suspended
OJ activities. OJ also launched former Memphis disc jockey Wink Martindale as a recording artist. His first record was featured in a movie and Dot records later bought his contract. King, Kay and Crystal are other Memphis labels no longer Spinning.
4 RECORDING STUDIOS – Altho there are 14 active labels, there are only 4 recording studios in Memphis. Still, this is a high ration when you consider such top eastern
independents as ABC-Paramount and Mercury do not own studios but rent space in other companies. The Memphis studios are Pepper at 62 Diane Street;
Sun Records at 706 Union Avenue; Royal Recording Studio (the Hi label) at 1320 South Lauderdale Street; and American Studio (the
Albe label) on Second Street at Beale. The other Memphis companies use these facilities for their recording session on a rental basis. The newest Memphis studio is Pepper's last-word
$50,000 facility. It is equipment to record -three-channel tape masters and with in a month will be cutting acetate
masters on a German-made Nueman lathe, the best there is. Memphis companies now sent their tape masters to Chicago to have the acetate master cut. With this equipment, Pepper engineer
Welton Jetton will be able take the three-channel tape masters and balance and mix them into one monaural master or into two masters for stereophonic reproduction.
SUN IS BUILDING – Work is nearing completion on new studios for Sun and Phillips International which will even larger than Pepper's and will also include multi-channel tape equipment and Neuman acetate cutting facilities. The recording business has,
of course, been a boom to the Memphis Federation of Musicians. Up to now, more guitar players have been employed than anything else, but piano players,
drummers and bass players have benefitted, too. And Bill Justis' band has become nationally known thru its recordings. Future Memphis
recording promises to utilize even more and a greater variety of musicians. Jamison Brant's arrangements for Jack Hales' band, which provides most of the background for the Pepper,
Diane and Tom-Tom labels, liberally utilize Nick Vergos' oboe and Jim Terry's flute. And that's a long way from
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