Thursday, April 14, 2011

R.I.P.: Randy Wood

(born Randolph Clay Wood on March 30, 1917, in Morrison, Tenn., USA;
died on April 09, 2011, in San Diego, CA, USA)

I became aware of many stories about Dot Records and its founder Randy Wood through Luiz Bonfá, who was Randy's friend for over three decades. Their story began in 1965, when Bonfá wrote and recorded the gorgeous "The Gentle Rain" soundtrack, that came out on the Mercury label. But the film had been directed by Burt Balaban, son of Paramount's chairman, Barney Balaban, the big boss of the company that had purchased Dot. The film was a complete fiasco, but the soundtrack became legendary. All that led Bonfá to sign with Dot Records in 1966. The contract allowed Bonfá to bring one arranger from Brazil to work with him on the projects, and Eumir Deodato was the lucky one.

Their pairing resulted in four easy listening-oriented albums: "Luiz Bonfá" (DLP 25804, which yielded the hit single "Summer Summer Wind," later covered by Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gormé), "Luiz Bonfá Plays Great Songs" (DLP 25825, with Nick Perito sharing the scores with Deodato), "Black Orpheus Impressions" (DLP 25848, the only one reissued on CD, with arrangements by Deodato, Arnold Goland and Bonfá himself), and "Bonfá" (DLP 25881). All these albums were reissued on vinyl many times, with different covers, and generated several compilations released in different countries.

Besides Bonfá, the only other Brazilian musician who ever recorded for Dot was organist Djalma Ferreira, whose album "Help Yourself To The Brazilliance of Djalma" (DLP 25905) became his only date for the label. Around that time, another giant on Dot's cast was the Argentinian maestro Lalo Schifrin, who cut "Music from Mission: Impossible" (DLP 25831) and the psychedelic "There's A Whole Lalo Scifrin Goin' On" (DLP 25852), both reissued on CD only in Japan.

Curiously, the obituaries reproduced below don't mention that the Dot label now belongs to the Universal Music Group (UMG).

After three great albums for RCA between 1970 and 1972, Bonfá resumed his association with Randy Wood through the Ranwood label, which released Bonfa's fusion masterpiece, "Jacarandá," produced by jazz keyboardist John Wood (Randy's son) and orchestrated by Deodato. Featuring a stellar cast which included Stanley Clarke, Idris Muhammad, Airto Moreira, John Tropea, Sonny Boyer, Phil Bodner and Maria Toledo, plus a symphony orchestra, "Jacaranda" was produced for CD reissue by Arnaldo DeSouteiro, digitally remixed from the original multi-track tapes under Bonfá's assistance.

Dot Records founder, industry pioneer
Los Angeles Times - April 14, 2011 - Valerie J. Nelson

His practice of having white singers record black artists' hits is credited by some with helping black musicians — and early rock music — break into the commercial mainstream.

Dot Records founder Randy Wood was looking for a song for a young Pat Boone to record in 1955 and found it in the Fats Domino hit "Ain't That a Shame?" Except Boone, then an English major, wanted to sing "Isn't That a Shame?" After a few run-throughs, Wood insisted, "It's got to be 'ain't'," and Boone soon had his first No. 1single.

Wood's practice of having white singers such as Boone cover rhythm and blues hits by black artists is credited by some with helping black musicians -- and early rock music -- break into the commercial mainstream. Pop stations that had limited airplay mainly to white artists found room for the remakes, which helped introduce the black R&B sound to a white audience.

Wood died Saturday at his La Jolla home of complications from injuries suffered in a fall down stairs in his house, said his son John Wood. He was 94.

Calling him "one of the people I owe my career to," singer Pat Boone said Wood "picked out all my early hits."

"He was just my mentor, my angel," Boone, who stayed with Dot Records for 13 years, told The Times in 2005.

The R&B remakes were not without controversy. Dot Records, Boone and other singers were accused of stealing music and success from the black artists.

"That's a perversion of history," Boone said. "The recording directors at the small R&B labels wanted to attract attention to their artists, and the covers expanded the impact of the song. Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry were all thrilled because it made it possible for their songs to finally get heard, and Randy knew that."

At one point in the mid-1950s, Dot had five of the top 10 hits on the Billboard charts, said Larry Welk, who is the son of the late band leader Lawrence Welk and first worked with Wood in 1960.

"He was a true pioneer in the music business," Welk said in a 2005 Times interview. "He put in effect a lot of policies in the music business that will outlive him."

One innovation included automatically shipping large numbers of a record to distributors if Wood thought the song was a hit and guaranteeing that the unsold ones could be returned, Welk said.

When Wood opened a small appliance store in 1945 in Gallatin, Tenn., he stocked pop records, but customers kept asking for R&B. So Wood started a mail-order business for the hard-to-find records and advertised it on a late-night R&B show he put together for WLAC, a Nashville radio station with a national presence.

"Randy's radio show played what were called 'race records' in those days, and he knew what the huge black hits were," Welk said. "Since whites weren't buying black hits, he'd be selling stuff through his record shop and then he'd cover the same song with a white artist."

By 1950, the store had become Randy's Record Shop and soon was selling almost 500,000 records a month. Wood also launched an independent record label and named it Dot because it was "simple and easy to remember," his son said.

The first group to put Dot on the pop charts, in 1952, was a group made up of mostly Western Kentucky College students who went by the school's nickname, the Hilltoppers. Their first Dot record, " 'Tryin'," made it to No. 7.

Boone moved beyond recording covers and became Dot's most successful artist, rivaling Elvis Presley's chart dominance.

The company also had other hits in the 1950s and '60s, including "Pipeline" by the Surfaris, "Calcutta" by Lawrence Welk and "Melody of Love" by Billy Vaughn, a Hilltopper who became Dot's musical director.

Dot's catalog was "totally eclectic," Wood's son said, and included a "tremendous" number of black artists. "It went from Liberace to Louis Armstrong, T-Bone Walker to Lawrence Welk."

Lawrence Welk told The Times in 1961 that his success as a recording artist came only after Wood advised him "to record music that is more for listening than dancing."

Wood's "radar" for hits was ever-present, Boone said. At recording sessions, Wood would show up with three or four songs for Boone to record. "Most of them were pretty simple," Boone said. "Three hours later, we were through and at least one of the records would be a million-seller."

From 1954 to 1956, Dot specialized in R&B cover records. The Fontane Sisters, who had sung backup for Perry Como, had a gold record with "Hearts of Stone," which had been recorded by several black artists. Among Boone's hits were remakes of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and the Charms' "Two Hearts."

After Wood saw actress Gale Storm sing on television, he had her record R&B covers, including Smiley Lewis' "I Hear You Knocking," which reached No. 2 in 1955.

Wood walked out of a Tab Hunter movie convinced that the actor's looks and teen idol status would sell records. He had Hunter record "Young Love," which was soon a No. 1 single in 1957. (Warner Bros. refused to let Hunter make any more records for Dot because the studio said the actor, and his voice, were under contract.)

Artists were loyal to Wood, who was known for being fair-minded. "He certainly was one of the most ethical people I've ever met," Larry Welk said. "He really cared about people and seeing them succeed."

Randolph Clay Wood was born March 30, 1917, in Morrison, Tenn. The only child of two teachers, he built a crystal radio set when he was about 15 and radio became "the love of his life," his son said.

He earned a bachelor's degree at Middle Tennessee State University in 1937 and served as a radio communications officer in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

Dot Records and the Wood family moved to Hollywood in 1956, and the company became known for reissuing recordings by small independent labels, including "Come Go With Me" by the Del Vikings and "From a Jack to a King" by Ned Miller.

In 1957, Paramount Pictures bought Dot, and Wood stayed on as president for a decade. ABC bought Dot in 1974 and discontinued the label three years later.

Wood started another label, Ranwood Records, with Larry Welk in 1968. It became the outlet for many artists associated with Lawrence Welk and remains in business in Santa Monica.

Randy's Record Shop, which closed in 1991, has been designated a historical site in Tennessee.

In addition to his son John, a jazz pianist in Los Angeles, Wood is survived by his wife of 69 years, Lois; another son, Larry, a teacher in Los Angeles; a daughter, Linda, a book publisher in La Jolla; three grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Services will be private.

Randy Wood, Founder of Dot Records, Dies at 94
New York Times - Douglas Martin - April 14, 2011

Randy Wood, who started out stocking records in a nook of his electrical appliance store before going on to found Dot Records, a label that found success in the 1950s recording white artists like Pat Boone singing black artists’ rhythm-and-blues songs, died on Saturday at his home in the La Jolla section of San Diego. He was 94.

The cause was complications of a fall, his wife, Lois, said.

The store Mr. Wood opened in 1944, in Gallatin, Tenn., spawned a mail-order record business that by 1950 was selling 500,000 records a year and claiming, without much apparent question, to be the world’s largest. By the time the label disappeared in 1978, it had produced more than 1,000 albums.

In addition to Mr. Boone, Dot — with its distinctive label featuring a yellow “D”, red “O” and blue “T” — recorded artists like Gale Storm, the Fontane Sisters and Billy Vaughn performing compositions originated by black artists. Some condemned the practice as white colonialism, while others contended that the renditions — called covers in the music business — brought many new listeners to the form.

In a 2005 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Boone called it a “perversion of history” to say Dot stole music and success.

“The recording directors at the small R&B labels wanted to attract attention to their artists, and the covers expanded the impact of a song,” he said. “Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry were all thrilled because it made it possible for their songs to finally get heard.”

Mr. Boone’s take on Fat’s Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” is often credited with propelling both singers. Both versions entered the charts in July 1955, with Mr. Domino’s reaching No. 10 and Mr. Boone’s No. 1. (The order might easily have been reversed had Mr. Wood accepted Mr. Boone’s suggestion that the lyric be changed to “Isn’t That a Shame.”)

For Dot, Mr. Boone also recorded Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” the Five Keys’ “Gee Whittakers!” and Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Almost Lost My Mind,” making the charts with these and other covers.

Mr. Wood recorded music from other genres as well, often encouraging a country artist to do a pop song and vice versa. His concentration on R&B covers reflected the popularity of the music. He recognized trends from personal observation: he invited teenagers to his store for parties, letting them play records and drink free sodas. And what song do you like, son?

Randolph Clay Wood, the child of two teachers, was born on March 30, 1917, in Morrison, Tenn. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1937, and served in the Army in World War II. He set up a small record section in his appliance store after noticing that customers liked to check out new releases. Soon the appliances were gone, and the place became Randy’s Record Shop.

In 1947 Mr. Wood invested in a new radio station, WHIN-AM, which broadcast only in the daytime. At night, when it was off the air, he used it for recording sessions. He also started a mail-order business to sell all manner of records, many by black R&B artists, advertising them on another radio station, WLAC-AM in Nashville, whose signal reached 20 states. Customers called in orders, and he delivered C.O.D.

Johnny Maddox, an aspiring pianist who had been a clerk in the store, cut Dot’s first single, “Crazy Bone Rag.” It sold 22,000 copies in a month, hugely surprising Mr. Wood. More records by Mr. Maddox followed. The blues pioneer W. C. Handy called Mr. Maddox “the white boy with colored fingers.”

Mr. Boone said Mr. Wood had a “radar sense” for finding talent. After hearing Gale Storm sing on a television show, he called her and nailed down a verbal agreement before she had left her dressing room. He saw another actor, Tab Hunter, in a movie and signed him, without knowing if he could sing, because he was handsome. Mr. Hunter’s rendition of “Young Love” went to No. 1 in January 1957 after weeks of practice and 20 excruciating takes in the studio.

He could also give useful advice. He told Lawrence Welk, a longtime Dot artist, that he wouldn’t make it until he learned to “record music that is more for listening than dancing,” according to The Los Angeles Times in 1961. Mr. Wood recorded artists like Louis Armstrong, Liberace and Mickey Gilley.

He sold Dot to Paramount Pictures in 1957 for $3 million, then stayed on as president for a decade. ABC Records bought Dot in 1974 and discontinued the label at the start of 1978.

Mr. Wood is survived by his wife of 69 years, the former Lois Henry; his sons, John and Larry; his daughter, Linda Wood; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Among the many albums Mr. Wood recorded was Jack Kerouac’s “Poetry for the Beat Generation,” accompanied by Steve Allen at the piano. He then refused to release it — though it has been called a crowning recording achievement — because he found it in bad taste. The Hanover label later did release it.

But he did give the world the performer known as Nervous Norvus, who in 1956 recorded “Transfusion,” a creepy song about the aftermath of a car accident. Some lyrics: “Transfusion, transfusion, I’m just a solid mess of contusions.” It sold a half-million copies in two weeks.

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