HISTORY AND DISCOGRAPHY


A much reviled independent record label for their part in the white pop cover craze that infested rock ‘n’ roll in mid-1950’s America, the company actually had a colorful start and more important role in authentic rock than its legacy has afforded it.

In 1947 Randy Wood had bought a few ads on Gene Nobles radio show on WLAC in Nashville in an effort to unload a couple of boxes of unsold records he’d purchased to demonstrate the Hi-Fi sets he’d built and was selling out of the small appliance store he and a partner operated in Gallatin, Tennessee, the response was tremendous… but not for for the pop records he’d been stuck with, but rather he was getting requests for the rock songs that Nobles featured on the show.

Seeing the potential in the vast number of black listeners across the country that had no local outlets of their own to buy these records, he began packaging them together and made a fortune, quickly overwhelming the electrical business the store was founded on. In 1950 Wood decided to start his own record label to further his profits, choosing the name Dot, which was easy to remember and quick and to the point, coming up with the tagline “Hot On Dot!“.

At first the records made reflected both the local country and gospel scene in Tennessee as well as the rock market he’d inadvertently stumbled on through the ads for “Randy’s Record Shop” and with The Griffin Brothers anchoring the musical side, he had two star vocalists in Margie Day and Tommy Brown giving them a number of hits. But when records by The Hilltoppers, a white group from Kentucky, began breaking into the pop charts Wood saw the added sales in this realm and soon moved into the pop field by making The Hilltoppers’ Billy Vaughn the label’s new musical director.

Vaughn and Wood signed clean-cut college student Pat Boone from Texas and began covering black rock songs, scoring massive hits in 1955 as rock itself had begun to cross over but was met with widespread resistance on radio (ironically not on WLAC which continued to program black music exclusively) and in Boone’s watered down covers Dot had found a way around that problem.

More artists followed on Dot including The Fontane Sisters and television actress Gale Storm, both of whom scored huge pop hits with this formula. To be fair Wood was following the same practice than had been done for decades in the record industry wherein hot songs were immediately covered by countless artists on every label, all looking for a hit. But whereas in the past those had largely been pop acts covering other pop acts, or in the late 40’s and early 50’s covering country artists whose originals weren’t acceptable for pop radio, the added racial implications of rock ‘n’ roll made this practice far more onerous, as it was seen as eliminating the chance for black artists to break through to a wider audience. The fact that the pop covers toned down all of the suggestiveness in the singers deliveries only added to the idea that they were bleaching the music for mainstream consumption because the originals were taboo.

Dot didn’t discriminate though, signing actor Tab Hunter to cover white country-rock artist Sonny James’s 1956 hit “Young Love” and getting a #1 hit out of it.

Ironically the short-lived success of the rock cover craze in 1955 and ’56 may have fueled the demise of the entire concept of widespread covers in all types of music as the rock audience rebelled against the imitators and demanded the original recordings which no doubt pleased the record companies and pop artists who had largely resented having to stoop so low as to record such undignified music in the first place.

Dot Records didn’t suffer much from this change, as Wood moved into leasing records from small labels unable to handle the demands of a potential hit, allowing Dot to distribute such genuine rock classics in the late 1950’s from The Del-Vikings (one of the first integrated rock groups ever) while putting out everything from rockabilly sides (Sanford Clark’s “The Fool”) to surf-rock in the early 60’s (The Surfaris timeless “Wipe Out”), though perhaps their most consistent seller after Boone was easy listening bandleader Lawrence Welk.

Wood sold Dot Records in 1957 to Paramount, the movie studio looking to get into music, making it the first purchase of an independent label in the rock era by a major company, but Wood agreed to stay on as President, finally stepping aside in 1967. A year later Paramount sold Dot to Gulf And Western where it mainly operated as a country label.

Because of its conflicted history in terms of the type of output it became famous for, their role in rock has been widely criticized – and for good reason – but right to the end of his life Randy Wood spoke fondly of his true rock ‘n’ roll origins and the artists like Margie Day and The Griffin Brothers who got the label off the ground.
 
 

DOT RECORDS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

MARGIE DAY (with THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS): Street Walkin’ Daddy (7) (Dot 1010; August, 1950)
THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS: Riffin’ With Griffin (5) (Dot 1010; August, 1950)
CECIL GANT: Cryin’ To Myself (4) (Dot 1016; November, 1950)