Philadelphia based label started by Dave Miller who previously operated Holiday Records where his only releases that drew slight curiosity were the first half-hearted attempts at rock ‘n’ roll by local singer Bill Haley.

In winter 1952 when Miller folded Holiday he immediately started Essex Records as it replacement, either to dodge creditors or to try and stir the interests of distributors who had ignored the previous label. He kept the same orange and black color scheme and kept Haley as well.

Their first release, “Rock The Joint”, became their best selling release on either label to date and solidified the move of the former country yodeler to rock ‘n’ roll. As a sign of just how tied Miller was to his budding star, he named Haley’s manager and partner in a publishing firm, Jack Howard, as the label’s promotion manager.

While Haley’s output were the company’s primary commercial successes, they did have a wider roster than just one artist, including easy listening bandleader Monty Kelly who had a long career in music. Their only other attempt at courting the rock market however was blonde bombshell Bunny Paul who straddled the line between the typical white cover artist of the mid-1950’s and a more legitimate early white rock act thanks to her enthusiastic vocals and some authentic instrumental backing – and one case where the vocal backing was done by The Harptones.

With Haley’s rising success in 1953, three national hits including one that nearly cracked the Top Ten, he should’ve been locked up with Essex for the foreseeable future, but Miller made a series of terrible decisions that cost him his star and eventually the health of his company starting with the fact that Haley was anxious to record a new song called “Rock Around The Clock” which had been written expressly for him by Jimmy (DeKnight) Myers and Max Freedman.

Myers, a publishing associate of Jack Howard, had been involved in some disputes with his and Howard’s Cowboy Records line that involved Miller and whenever Haley brought up the new song Miller flat out refused to record it, going so far as to tear up the sheet music for what would eventually become one of the biggest selling records in history.

Still determined to have Haley cut the song Myers, though not officially representing him, shopped it and the artist to the major labels and found a receptive audience at Decca where Milt Gabler thought it had potential and wanted to sign the band, even going so far as to be willing to negotiate a buyout of his contract with Essex.

But upon looking into it, they discovered that Haley’s contract expired in early April 1954 and the right to renew – one month earlier – had just passed without Miller having done so. That mistake, along with the fluky timing of their courting by Decca, meant Haley was free to sign with the major label while Miller and Essex Records were left with nothing.

The label continued on with Bunny Paul taking up most of their attention by mid-decade, but while she did gain some notice for her records she never scored a hit, primarily because rather than record quality originals they had her cover other people’s hits done in better fashion.

They tried to capitalize on Haley’s subsequent superstardom achieved on Decca by releasing a long playing album of his sides done for them in 1956, but the label folded by the next year having never realized it wasn’t simply one artist that had given them the chance to succeed, but the genre itself which they otherwise largely neglected.
ESSEX RECORDS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

BILL HALEY & THE SADDLEMEN: Rock The Joint (8) (Essex 303; March, 1952)
BILL HALEY & THE SADDLEMEN: Rocking Chair On The Moon (5) (Essex 305; August, 1952)
BILL HALEY & THE SADDLEMEN: Dance With A Dolly (With A Hole In Her Stockin’) (3) (Essex 305; August, 1952)
BILL HALEY & THE COMETS: Stop Beatin’ Round The Mulberry Bush (2) (Essex 310; October, 1952)
BILL HALEY & THE COMETS: Real Rock Drive (2) (Essex 310; October, 1952)