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
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.
In 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