BILL McCALL - Born as William Aubrey McCall, Jr.
in 1900, Allen, Oklahoma, was the owner of 4-Star Records. A hard-nosed businessman with no musical background, McCall was notorious for exploiting the acts on his roster and routinely awarding himself a co-writing credit on every song he published. It is highly doubtful that McCall ever wrote a complete song on his own. Yet he managed
to achieve a total of 620 entries in the BMI database, under the pseudonym W.S Stevenson. Not only did he buy many songs outright, he
also made extra money by purchasing controlling rights to songs by struggling songwriters, changing a lyric or two, and making himself co-writer. Furthermore, he would claim composer credits on
any Public Domain songs that his artists recorded. Sometimes he would put his wife's name, Ethel Bassey on songs. Plus, the recording
contracts his 4-Star Music Sales offered had the legal boilerplate that bound artists to record only material that 4-Star published. Needless to say, all session costs were deducted from the meager
percentage the artists received (if any).
The 4-Star label was formed in 1945 in Los Angeles, by Richard A. ''Dick'' Nelson, with his partners Bill McCall and Cliff McDonald, as a subsidiary to their already
established Gilt-Edge label. By late 1946, when the label was on the brink of bankruptcy, the ambitious McCall invested $5,000 and acquired full control of the company. He quickly cornered the early post-war market in the burgeoning fields of country and western (4-Star) and rhythm and blues (Gilt-Edge). McCall moved the label
out to Pasadena, California, during the 1948 AFM recording strike, employing such effective collaborators as Pappy Daily in Texas, and John R. Fullbright and Bob Geddins, in the Bay Area, as well as sales manager Don Pierce.
Among 4-Star's early acts were T. Texas Tyler, who gave the label its first substantial hits (like "Deck Of Cards", a number 2 country hit in 1948), the Maddox Brothers
and Rose (1946-1951), Ferlin Husky (1949- 1951), Webb Pierce (1950) and Slim Willet (1952). Patsy Cline was signed to 4-Star from 1954 to 1960, though
her records appeared on Decca and Coral as the result of a licensing agreement. McCall's contractual stipulation that Cline record only songs from the 4-Star publishing catalogue is generally perceived
as having hobbled the singer's career early on. Patsy called McCall "The Snake" and in the various Patsy Cline biographies, numerous
people who knew McCall get to have their say about him.
1950 McCall made the shrewd move of launching a custom pressing service whereby artists without a record contract could pay to have 4-Star press up a limited run of discs, which they could then
sell at their gigs; this was a no-risk venture for McCall as he wouldn't lose money if the records didn't sell, but he was in prime
position to take advantage if the custom release looked like taking off. It was in this way that artists such as Texas Bill Strength, Tommy Kizziah and Slim Willet became 4-Star signees following
releases on the "OP" (Other People) series. Other artists who recorded for 4-Star include Sammy Masters, Jimmy Dean, Hank Locklin, Eddie
Miller, Roy Clark and Charlie Ryan. Singer-songwriter Carl Belew was contracted in 1955 and introduced the standards "Am I That Easy To Forget", "Lonely Street" and "Stop The World And
Let Me Off", on all of which W.S. Stevenson is listed as co-writer. Other songs co-credited to him include "Release Me", "Three Cigarettes In An
Ashtray", "Stop Look And Listen", "Hot Rod Lincoln" and "There He Goes" (recorded by Jerry Wallace as "There She Goes").
While 4-Star's stable of talent was impressive, most acts left the label as soon as possible because, as Webb
Pierce said, "he (McCall) thought it was a sin to pay anybody". McCall made it a regular practice not to pay or release from contractual obligation any 4-Star artist,
unless he was compelled to do so by circumstance (such as Union intervention or physical harm). In the second half of the fifties Bill McCall relocated to Nashville to concentrate on publishing. Gene Autry and Joe Johnson (owners of Challenge Records) bought 4-Star Records in 1961 and subsequently leased the masters to Pickwick for several
years. Current ownership is unclear. It is thought that Autry only purchased a part of the catalogue and that when Acuff-Rose Music purchased
McCall's publishing company 4-Star Sales they acquired the rest of the 4-Star master recordings. Sony who now own Acuff-Rose certainly believe they own the label, although enquiries at their Nashville
office by Tony Rounce and Dave Penny (when Ace were issuing Hickory compilations) hit a wall when they admitted that the 4-Star master tapes were
not apparently amongst the Acuff-Rose purchase, only a hustler like Bill McCall could sell a usually shrewd, major corporation Scotch Mist! He could do it while alive and
he is still doing it over 25 years after his death in 1978.
Copyright Dik de Heer, 2013