Vee-Jay Records

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Vee-Jay Records , or Vee-Jay for short , was an American music label that, as an independent label, successfully released records in the rhythm and blues , blues , jazz , gospel and pop sectors from 1953 .

Founder and creation

When the radio announcer Vivian Carter saw the doo-wop group The Spaniels performing, she had the idea of ​​starting a record label. Together with her partner Jimmy Bracken and a loan of 500 US dollars, she finally founded Vee-Jay Records in Gary ( Indiana ) in April 1953 , named after the first letters of their first names Vivian and Jimmy. Her brother Calvin Carter served as producer and promoter, while from 1955 Ewart Abner from Chance Records, which was liquidated in December 1954, managed the business side of the new record company. Gary was not a center for talent, and the recording studios were also the reason for the decision to move to Chicago.

In Chicago, a studio band was put together, the core of which was William "Lefty" Bates (guitar) and Al Smith / Quinn B. Wilson (bass) and Horace Palm or Norman Simmons as pianists. James “Red” Holloway started out as a tenor saxophonist, later joined by Lucius Washington (“Little Wash”) and Cliff Davis. The baritone saxophone was usually played by McKinley "Mac" Easton. Paul Gusman, Vernel Fournier and Alrock "Al" Duncan took turns on the drums.

Jimmy Reed - High And Lonesome

First recording for Vee-Jay came with the spaniels in Bill Putnam belonging recording studios Universal Recording Corporation in Chicago already on 4 May 1953 with the single Baby It's You / Bounce (Vee-Jay # 101) following its publication in June 1953 as the highest ranking took a respectable tenth place in the rhythm and blues hit parade. The first record in the catalog, but not added until December 29, 1953, was Jimmy Reed's High and Lonesome / Roll and Rhumba (Vee-Jay # 100), which was not listed on the chart after its publication in July 1953. Reed's neat presentation - mostly he played guitar and harmonica - inspired later interpreters to cover his compositions.

The label founders married on December 16, 1953. Before that, the Spaniels were again in the recording studio on September 23, 1953, where Goodnite / You Don't Move Me was created with Goodnite Sweetheart , which in May 1954 advanced to fifth place on the rhythm and blues chart. The first top hit for the young label was At My Front Door / What's Buggin 'You Baby , recorded on April 24, 1954 with the El Dorados , which was released in September 1954 and achieved a considerable crossover success with 17th place in the pop hit parade could. On October 19, 1955, blues legend John Lee Hooker first entered the Vee Jay recording studios in Chicago to record Mambo Chillun / Time Is Marching On (# 164), released in December 1955. Hooker has already had two top hits on Modern Records ( Boogie Chillen ' and I'm In The Mood ) before joining Vee Jay in October 1955. Hooker was unusual in the studio: he couldn't find good rhymes in lyrics, only played well solo, everything was only recorded in one take because he couldn't repeat identically. The label was unable to repeat its earlier successes - also due to the lack of convincing song material - with 14 singles released. The only thing worth mentioning is his classic, often covered composition Dimples (with guitarist Eddie Taylor), recorded on March 17, 1956 and published in August 1956 (Vee-Jay # 205). Vee-Jay won other well-known blues greats. Billy Boy Arnold recorded his composition I Wish You Would on May 5, 1955 , Elmore James published Coming Home in May 1957 , Jerry Butler & The Impressions recorded their classic For Your Precious Love in April 1958. The unusual soul-like ballad did not repeat the song title and had a slight gospel undertone. Completed with Jerry Butler's tenor, the song reached third place on the R and B charts and 11th on the pop charts. And that despite the organizational confusion, because the record was released by three record companies at the same time: except for Vee-Jay also by Falcon (a subsidiary label of Vee-Jay) and by Abner, which belonged to the commercial director of Vee-Jay.

First million seller

Gene Chandler - Duke of Earl

Almost ten years had passed since Gene Chandler's Duke of Earl / Kissin 'in the Kitchen (# 416), the label's first million seller , i.e. the first single to sell a million copies. The piece with the unusual bass voice intro ("Duke duke duke of Earl ...") was released on November 5, 1961, just ten days after Chandler had signed a record deal. The song, recorded on August 30, 1961 at Universal Studios , stayed at number one on the pop charts for three weeks. In just four weeks of its release, the song passed the million dollar mark and, according to Gene Chandler, has sold four million times. In the same year Abner rose to the label's president.

More hits

The first white group for Vee-Jay was the Four Seasons with their famous falsetto voices. Group member Bob Gaudio had written a song within 15 minutes, which he initially named "Jackie" (after Jackie Kennedy ). Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe renamed the song Sherry and introduced it to Vee-Jay. The piece was produced in August 1962 and released that same month. The day after appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show , the song sold 180,000 times, stayed number one on the pop charts for five weeks, and had two million hits. On September 22, 1962, the Four Seasons was awarded a gold record on the television program "American Bandstand" . Her next hit, Big Girls Don't Cry / Connie-O (Vee-Jay # 465), released on October 20, 1962, came from the same recording session . He also made No. 1 and became another single, of which a million records were sold. The third hit was Walk Like a Man , which also topped the charts when it was released in January 1963. The Four Seasons sold a total of 175 million records, but part of it also with the record label Philips , to which they had switched in November 1963.

Beatles US distribution rights

The Beatles - Please Please Me

After Capitol Records had turned down the offer to take over the EMI distribution rights for the USA for the Beatles , Vee-Jay secured the five-year contract in August 1962. The first US release of a Beatles single was on February 25, 1963 with Please Please Me (Vee-Jay # 498), then From Me to You (# 522) was released on May 27 , 1963, followed by the LP Introducing… The Beatles on July 22, 1963 , which initially remained unsuccessful after the Beatles' breakthrough was published again on January 27, 1964 - with slightly different content - and then sold over a million times. On February 26, 1964, Vee-Jay released the album Jolly What! The Beatles & Frank Ifield on Stage . It contained four previously released studio recordings by the Beatles. The remaining tracks were live recordings by Frank Ifield. On October 1, 1964, the double LP The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons , which contained no new material but was just another release of Introducing… The Beatles and a compilation of the Four Seasons. The Beatles, initially viewed with skepticism in the USA, also became an enormous success here. Vee-Jay sold a total of 2.6 million Beatles records within one month in March 1964. The Capitol Records, otherwise exclusively responsible for the US distribution of EMI records, were not enthusiastic about the unexpected success and their wrong decision and sued Vee-Jay on January 15, 1964 for injunctive relief, but Capitol failed in mid-February 1964. The disputes escalated, and because of this legal uncertainty, Beatles records were released on four other labels in addition to Vee-Jay. The newly founded Vee Jay subsidiary label Tollie also took part, on which Twist and Shout (Tollie 9001) appeared on March 2, 1964 . Vee-Jay was granted the right to publish Beatles records until October 15, 1964. Entangled in many legal proceedings and confronted with a powerful label like Capitol Records, Vee-Jay waived the performance of the five-year contract.

During a period of three and a half months in 1964, the Beatles had ten major hits on seven singles from four record labels in the United States, a circumstance that had never happened and never happened again. In retrospect it can be stated that the poorly planned and uncoordinated label competition to skim off a lot of profit as quickly as possible with Beatles records prevented further sales and also harmed the Beatles themselves.

Cooperation with Ace Records

In July 1962 the smaller label Ace Records approached Vee-Jay for the purpose of cooperation . An advertising and distribution agreement was signed that guaranteed Ace Records $ 500,000 a year for five years. This allowed Ace to concentrate fully on the search for talent and the production of records, while Vee-Jay made his distribution network available. The first test case was Venus in blue jeans with Jimmy Clanton in August 1962. Vee-Jay denied the number of 1.5 million copies sold and passed on lower sales. Vee-Jay also did not transfer the proceeds from new local distributors. And the old sales companies stopped paying because they suspected Ace was already in the crisis. Although Vee-Jay marketed its own successful catalog, the contract with Ace could no longer be fulfilled due to its own financial difficulties.


Even the “million sellers” could not prevent the corporate crisis that began to emerge at Vee-Jay in 1963. Abner and other Vee Jay employees were fired in August 1963 when the Four Seasons allegedly failed to get their due royalties and their manager, Bob Crewe, sued the record company for this. No fewer than 64 lawsuits against Vee-Jay were pending at the time.

In October 1965, Little Richards I Don't Know What You've Got (But It's Got Me) (Parts I & II) (composed by Don Covay ) was released, but remained in the charts without any major resonance. Further singles from the Vee Jay catalog are also unsuccessful, and with catalog number 715 the last record is For Your Precious Love / Give It Up by Jerry Butler. The Four Seasons had already left the label in November 1963.

In December 1965 an attempt was made to eliminate the liquidity bottleneck that had occurred by selling the lucrative Vee Jay music publishers Conrad Publishing, Tollie Music and Gladstone Music to Arc Music. It didn't help anymore, because in May 1966 Vee-Jay had to file for bankruptcy. The remaining assets were auctioned in 1967.


Vee-Jay was the first major independent black-run record label and the most successful of its kind prior to the founding of Motown Records . With over 700 singles and over 160 albums in almost all music genres, the company was considered undercapitalized and did not have the financial means to press and market records quickly - the typical weakness of independent labels in the USA. Certainly, the crisis at Vee-Jay at least exacerbated, if not caused, the bankruptcy of Ace Records.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Note: The Jackson Five with Michael Jackson and siblings from Gary did not become famous until 1968.
  2. Note: Ain't That Lovin 'You Baby by Elvis Presley , Honest I Do by the Rolling Stones , Bright Lights, Big City by the Animals
  3. Note: Dee Clarks Raindrops from May 1961 remained just under a million sales
  4. Gary James interview with Gene Chandler on classic bands .
  5. Pat Browne: The Guide to United States Popular Culture . 2001, p. 296.
  6. Note: The Beatles' EMI recording date for Love Me Do was not planned until September 4, 1962; it was not until October 5, 1962 that the record appeared on the British market.
  7. Goldmine Magazine: The Vee-Jay Story , May 1981.
  8. ^ William Emmett Studwell and David F. Lonergan: The Classic Rock and Roll Reader . 1999, p. 68.
  9. Calvin Carter: “Vee Jay got into financial difficulties only because of the record deal with the Four Seasons. They received 16 cents per record sold, equivalent to a loss of two cents per record (royalties were usually 14 cents). With three million sellers in a row we made a loss through the Four Seasons ”; Interview with Calvin Carter in Goldmine Magazine, Mike Callahan: The Vee-Jay Story . May 1981, p. 171ff.