The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography And Videography:
The Early History Of Capitol Records

by Iván Santiago Mercado

Page generated on Sep 11, 2016


I. Scope And Contents

The present bio-discography aims at establishing a close connection between the career of Peggy Lee and the history of Capitol Records. (Lee ranks as the leading lady among the label's longest-lasting acts.)  This miscellaneous page should be understood as an outgrowth of such an aim.  The page provides an overview of the company's earliest days, which predate Lee's integration into its roster.
 
This overview of Capitol's early years should not be perceived as a chapter detached from the history of Peggy Lee's own career. Far from it. Because Capitol was less than two years old when the singer began to record for the label, its foundational ethos naturally informed the work that she did under its premises.  

As a corollary to the points that have just been made, viewers should also realize that this page serves as a supplement to the singer's sessionography.  Hence, if you want to see photos from (or read further data about) Capitol's earliest years, an inspection of the notes at the end of the Peggy Lee 1944-1945 session page is highly recommended. Similarly, data about Capitol's post-1945 history can be found in the 1946-1952 pages of Lee's sessionography.


II. The Foundation Of Capitol Records, Inc.

Legally incorporated on April 9, 1942 (according to all authoritative accounts but one, which gives the date as April 8, 1942), Capitol would become a big record company in a short span of time.  For many years, it would also hold the distinction of being the only major label with headquarters in the West Coast.  

Territorial pride was among the forces that drove the company's foundation and development.  At that time, all three major labels (Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor) had their respective headquarters in Manhattan. Despite the abundance of talent in the Hollywood area, no local record label had managed to make a national impact. That state of affairs elicited -- according to Capitol's earliest music publisher, Michael Goldsen -- feelings of wounded pride among West Coast music business types.  

A naked ambition to compete with the almighty Easterners and improve on the quality of their product can certainly be detected in extant commentary from Capitol's founders. Wallichs was vexed by the fact that his music story could never be sufficiently stocked with records from Columbia, Decca, and Victor, because all three majors naturally prioritized their own local outlets. Mercer's perspective will be quoted down below.

The first blow against the West Coast hopeful was struck not by one of the majors, though, but by an East Coast "minor."  The New York-based label Liberty Music Shop Records unequivocally objected to the name "Liberty Records," under which the prospective California label had filed its aforementioned April 9, 1942 incorporation. The California hopefuls had no choice but to capitulate and give up on their nom de guerre.  

Hence, on June 1, 1942, the label's founders filed a Certificate of Amendment which allowed them to exchange the label's initial trade name for the less militant but more magisterial Capitol Records. The process that led to choosing that name was recounted by Mercer during a 1967 interview: "We were sitting at Chasen's [n.b.: a well-known celebrity restaurant of yore, located at 9039 Beverly Boulevard, not far from Beverly Hills) one night at dinner, trying to decide on a name. I had tried to clear Liberty from the Liberty Music Shops in New York City, but they were reluctant to let us have it and seemed steamed at the suggestion. Gosh knows how many we had been through. Victory was popular at the time, but we decided it was mighty close to Victor. Then Ginger [n.b.: Mercer's wife] came up with Capitol. Well, it certainly seemed solid enough, and dignified. And when Glenn [Wallichs] came up with the four stars around the dome [for the label's logo], that was it. Of course, that didn't hurt us with the military either -- all those four-star generals took us for their very own." The name and the logo were thus meant to signal that the label was a top-ranking, dignified, and preeminent enterprise. As for the symbolism behind the logo itself, I agree with the following glossing or opinion, offered by Capitol's marketing and promotion manager Don Hassler during an interview conducted by Nori Muster: "Hollywood was considered the entertainment capitol of the world. The logo looked like the Capitol dome in Washington, but it really meant the entertainment capitol. I'm sure that's where it came from."  Indeed. For many decades, Hollywood and Los Angeles have competed with Las Vegas for the rights to the slogan "entertainment capital of the world."

(A general note. Some accounts of Capitol's foundation assign misguiding dates to the events mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. To clarify:  May 27, 1942 is the date on which the founders submitted the amendment certificate; June the 1st is the day on which it was stamped as approved.  Similarly, March 27, 1942 was not the date on which the then-named Liberty Records was legally approved or incorporated, but the court day on which the founders signed paperwork stating that they had fulfilled all the required articles of incorporation.  As for any earlier documents in which a request for incorporation might have been originally submitted, I have no details on the matter; I can only assume that the earliest, original submission was made in February or earlier in March.)


III. The Three Founders

The venture of forming the Hollywood-based Capitol Records was jointly undertaken by Glenn Wallichs (owner of the Music City record store at 1501 N. Vine Street, and essentially the label's executive president, although over the years he would go through various titles, beginning with that of general manager), Johnny Mercer (a well-known songwriter who would serve not only as Capitol's nominal president but also, during the company's earliest days, as de facto A&R man and so-called vice-president), and George "Buddy" DeSylva (a vice-president and production head at Paramount Pictures as well as a songwriter of note, who would be initially labeled Capitol's president and eventually named chairman of the board).  


IV. George Gard DeSylva

By all accounts, Buddy DeSylva was more of a financial contributor than an active partner.  According to Mercer, he had first gone to DeSylva to ask "if he would let us sell our [prospective] recordings in the lobby of the Paramount theaters.  Buddy wasn't crazy about the idea but said that he'd like to join the business with us." [Found in Gene Lees' book Portrait Of Johnny Mercer:  The Life of Johnny Hendon Mercer, that quote is from a 1944 interview conducted by celebrity columnist Lloyd Shearer.]  DeSylva's profession of interest must have seemed heaven-sent; Mercer had previously sought and failed to clinch the financial backing of his former boss, Paul Whiteman.  The wealthy but wary bandleader had made a point of mentioning the failure of many another company that had tried to compete with the major labels. 

Having now earned the attention of a similarly affluent but more receptive prospect, Johnny Mercer and Glenn Wallichs made arrangements for an informal pitch meeting in front of Buddy DeSylva.  As told by music journalist and Capitol A&R man Dave Dexter, Jr. on Billboard magazine (January 8, 1972 issue), "DeSylva was a wealthy ex-songwriter and production boss at Paramount Pictures.  Meeting at Lucey's Restaurant, he wrote a check for $10,000 and was allocated a one third in the firm.  Wallichs pocketed the check and, with Mercer in accord, warned DeSylva that it was a big, big risk trying to butt butts with Decca, RCA and Columbia.  That ten grand, Wallichs told [me] a few months later, when [I] signed on as a Cap employee after moving East from New York, was the most money I'd ever handled.  Buddy concentrated on making movies and left us alone.  [N.B.: The date of this meeting is given as Saturday, February 7, 1942 in some sources, as Monday, February 2, 1942 in other sources.  Moreover, a few accounts present Mercer's inquiry into selling records at Paramount lobbies as happening during the meeting, too.  Still further, the sum amount varies as well, with alternate sources reporting it as either $15,000 or $25,000.  Mercer himself  once remembered the sum amount as being $25,000. For her part, Capitol artist Margaret Whiting claims in her autobiography that Mercer asked for $15,000 but DeSylva gave $25,000 on his own volition.  The sources that I have found most reliable state that DeSylva gave $10,000 at the time, and added a $15,000 contribution later. That combined amount of $25,000 makes the most sense to me, especially when we consider that each partner held an one-third interest, and that the label reportedly started with funds totaling $75,000.]

Though not overtly active in the everyday handling of the label, it must be clarified that DeSylva's contributions went beyond the financial scope. His name brought in fame and prestige to the firm.  By establishing a connection with the prestigious film industry, it expanded the horizons to which Capitol's artists could aspire. Around 1945, DeSylva actually left his executive Paramount position to become a film producer, and began to actively look into Capitol's roster to appear in his films -- Peggy Lee being among those tested.  Conversely, he brought some of Paramount's film talent into Capitol's roster of recording artists -- e.g., Betty Hutton, Johnnie Johnston.  In what might have been perceived as his main role, the executive served as a problem solver and on-call facilitator as well. For instance, he made it possible for Capitol to hold a few late 1944 and early 1945 dates at the Paramount studios.  (Those sessions took place at a time when the label was probably facing something of a bind.  Utterly unhappy with a sudden change in the acoustics of the independent recording studio that had been hitherto leased on a regular basis, Mercer et al were in the process of permanently moving to another independent studio that could accommodate its ever-increasing ratio of session work.) Buddy DeSylva's contributions did not extend over a long period of time, however.  There is scant evidence of any active DeSylva involvement with Capitol Records after the mid-1940s. He would pass away in 1950, only eight years after the creation of the record label.


V. John Herndon Mercer

Glenn Wallichs and Johnny Mercer were thus the company's active founders, with the former concentrating on the business side of the enterprise, and the latter on its artistic side.  In published interviews and also in his unpublished autobiography, Mercer took credit for coming up with the original kernel of the idea.  Specifically, he made reference to a short period of time, presumably in or around 1941, during which he was momentarily jobless.  His own status elicited the idea of creating a co-operative that he thought could be called The Angelinos [n.b.:  Angelenos?], and whose membership would have consisted of Hollywood talent then out of work.  In his imagination, the co-operative's initial project could be a radio program, created and prepared with the participation of all members.  He even had specific talent in mind:  "Martha Tilton had left Benny [Goodman], Freddie Slack, whom I had known with Jimmy Dorsey, had split from Will Bradley, Nat Cole's record company had folded, Stan Kenton was 'at liberty,' Jo Stafford had left Dorsey, and I wasn't doing anything.  Though I fortunately was not out of work for very long ... my program idea was still kicking around in the back of my mind when I dropped by Music City one day to buy some records." (The artists that he mentions would be among the first to be signed by Capitol.  Also worth noting is the connection that Mercer makes between one of his fellow artists and the phrase "at liberty."  Perhaps the notion of being jobless and thus "at liberty" inspired the original name given to the label, Liberty Records.  Mercer's wife, Ginger, would subsequently propose the alternative name "Capitol Records," predicated on the basis of his husband's goal to have a company that would operate at an all-around top quality level.)  

An account different from the one mentioned above suggests that Mercer had long had thoughts of founding a record label.  One of the occasions in which Mercer allegedly voiced such thoughts was while at the Hillcrest Golf Course, playing with Harold Arlen (the famous composer) and Bobby Sherwood (one of Capitol's aforementioned debut artists, who would hold his first season with the label on May 5, 1942).  The source for this account is Margaret Whiting, also present at the game, at a time when she was 17 years old (1941).  She quotes Mercer as having said the following to Arlen and Sherwood: "I’ve got this idea of starting a record company. I get so tired of listening to the way everyone treats music. I keep feeling they’re selling out. And I don’t like the way artists are treated either. Bing Crosby isn’t the only one who can make records. I don’t know, I think it would be fun.  Harold, you and I could write some songs.  Bobby, I'd use your band, and I'd get Paul Weston to write orchestrations.  I've always wanted to use Jo Stafford.  Maybe I could get Billie Holiday.  And we'll let The Kid here sing."  There is some reason to question the strict accuracy of this statement of purpose, which has been passed along as gospel in various Mercer biographies (along with subsequent passages of probably made-up dialogue between Mercer and Wallichs). Nearly 50 years had passed since Mercer had supposedly made the statement, which is extant in an autobiographical text that Whiting co-authored with the fine professional lyricist-librettist-novelist-singer Will Holt ... Still, the seemingly vivid recollection of Mercer's words could be faithful in spirit, at the very least.  

Be that as it may, Johnny Mercer's pivotal role in the forging of early Capitol Records is not a matter of contention.  His encouragement of a flexible and relaxed atmosphere, in which artistic creativity thrived more freely than at competing labels, has been amply documented.  And his guidance is known to have been behind the majority of the pop sessions recorded by the label within its first few years.  According to musical director Paul Weston, who had become his right hand by 1943, Mercer believed in working and releasing only music that he [and presumably, his musical partners] liked.  In the additional words of his protégée Margaret Whiting:  “His door was always open to anybody who wrote songs, sang songs, or just wanted to see him. I think that’s why Capitol Records was such a successful record company right from the beginning. Capitol was Johnny.”

There is good reason to qualify the protegée's last sentence, however.  Capitol was not just Johnny Mercer, but also Glenn Wallichs.   Both of "[t]hose guys had guts,"  Whiting herself acknowledges elsewhere in her 1987 autobiography.  A parallel outlook on the matter of the two men's worth has been provided by one of the men who succeeded Mercer and Wallichs to Capitol's presidency. "Both Glenn and Johnny were especially wonderful to work for because they encouraged all of us to seek out the unusual and to take chances -- always with the assurance that we had the right to make mistakes," James Conkling in 1967, on the occasion of the label's 50th anniversary.


VI. Glenn Everett Wallichs

But, if the contributions of one of the two men must be singled out above the other's, it would be fairer to say that "Capitol was Glenn."  Such seems to have been the implicit assessment of Peggy Lee, as conveyed to Fred Hall during an interview transcribed in his 1989 book Dialogues In Swing:  "[D]ear Glenn was really -- I compare him in my mind a bit to Walt Disney.  He had the same leadership quality.  Such great character and enthusiasm ... Glenn really was the man [at the top of Capitol], and of course Johnny always contributed in so many ways -- artistically of course, and creatively in his own writing, as well as helping others."   On the occasion of the company's 50th anniversary (1992), she was moreover quoted as follows:  "I hope Capitol never loses the soul of its founders, those such as Glenn Wallichs, Johnny Mercer, Buddy DeSylva, Jim Conkling, Dave Cavanaugh, Alan Livingston and many wonderful men and women who followed.  They truly had the interest of the artist at heart." 

The above-given representation of Mercer's and Wallichs' personalities is humorously reinforced by various anecdotes which music director Paul Weston shared with Gene Lees, author of Portrait of Johnny: The Life of John Herndon Mercer.  In Weston's recollection, a typical get together in the label's original executive office went on as follows:  "Glenn Wallichs was on the telephone.  Mercer and I were in the same room, listening to a record we had made a couple of nights before, and Johnny liked to hear it at pretty good volume, and Glenn was hunched over, trying to make his phone call.  Finally Glenn said, 'Can you guys turn it down a bit?'  And Johnny said, 'we've gotta listen to these things.  What are you doing, anyway?'  And Glenn said, 'I'm trying to get a distributor in Pittsburgh,' and Mercer said, 'Ah, the hell with that.  Don't worry about that kind of stuff.  Let's listen to the music.'  That was really John's attitude [at] the record company."
   
Of the three founding Capitol members, Glenn Wallichs (1910-1971) was indeed the one with the most solid record as an entrepreneur (and also as a record producer, a matter which will be discussed in subsequent paragraphs).  In his role as the label's operational activator, Wallichs' activities are succinctly listed in the obituary that his friend and employee, Dave Dexter, Jr., wrote for Billboard magazine (January 8, 1972 issue).  "Wallichs craftily quarterbacked the business end," Dexter states, "bringing in sales, promotion, advertising, production, technical legal and other vital personnel -- most of them young and unknown -- with an unerring, uncanny knack for choosing the right man ... His dealings with artists, agents, and those who worked for Capitol were unfailingly fair."  Unlike DeSylva, who was not regularly involved in the label's day-to-day activities and would resign in 1947, or Mercer, who would sell his financial interest in 1950 (after four years of dwindling involvement, creative or otherwise), Wallichs remained involved with Capitol Records in one capacity or another from 1942 to his post-retirement days in the late 1960s.  (He would serve as chairman of the board from October 1962 onwards.)

The Nebraskan son of an Union Pacific Railway accountant, Glenn Everett Wallichs had been interested in electronics since his childhood -- focusing on the design of radio sets and the mechanics of train railroads.  A North Hollywood transplant (at 16 years of age, in his family's company), he started his adult workdays locally, as a radio station technician (at WFWB) and then as the owner of a car-radio repair shop (at Ivar Avenue).  Wallichs' small shop evolved into a radio and electronics store, and that one store brought enough profit to allow for its multiplication into a chain (a total of five stores, all of them in the Hollywood area).  In 1938, Wallichs took his business ventures even further.  Accompanied by his brother Clyde, he joined forces with former WFWB co-worker Al Jarvis (the pioneering disc jockey, who also happened to be an LA record shop owner) to create Hollywood House of Music, a compound that merged Jarvis' record shop with the fifth, youngest of Wallichs' electronics stores.  The most noteworthy aspect of the merger was that the latter was no longer just a retail store:  it was converted into a small specialty recording studio, whose specialty became  custom recordings.  Though "normal civilian" requests for recordings of events such as weddings or parties were certainly taken, the studio primarily catered to artists' requests of airchecks from radio broadcasts.  It also chiefly became the place from which Jarvis' legendary creation, the Make Believe Ballroom show, was broadcast during the late 1930s.  Known to have been recorded there in 1938 is a novelty tune that featured Wallichs himself along with Stan Kenton, Paul Weston, Jo Stafford and others (all of them playing instruments, Stafford included, and some of them under pseudonyms).  The resulting instrumental number was chucklingly titled "The World's Worst Record." 

Next, the not-yet-30-years-old Wallichs sold his full chain of stores in order to lease one single, large space in the northwest corner of Sunset and Vine.  Therein he opened Music City, the record establishment with which his last name would become most publicly associated during their lifetime.  Inaugurated in July of 1940, this record store also counted with its own recording studio, a small facility set up either before the store's inauguration or within the five months that immediately followed it.  In the words of the previously quoted Michael Goldsen (Capitol's first music publisher)  Wallichs had made the decision "to have a little booth where he could record people."  Around November and December of 1940, Stan Kenton' just-formed orchestra waxed a series of recordings there.  (The band's very first waxings, most of them appear to have been conceived as rehearsal tests, rather than material meant for release.  Accordingly, nearly all of them have remained commercially unissued, though they are -- or were -- extant in the form of acetates.  The sole exception is a version of "Étude For Saxophones" that was included in the Capitol retrospective The Kenton Era.  "Two Moods," another track featured in that 1955 retrospective, is wrongly dated as coming from these 1940 dates; it is instead a 1941 NBC broadcast.  Factual data about the 1940 numbers, including the dates in which they were recorded, still needs further confirmation. For that reason, I would not discard the secondary possibility of the location being Hollywood House Of Music instead of Music City.)

Perhaps the recording studio (or recording booth) idea led in turn to one of Wallichs' various innovative record store concepts:  the installation of listening booths where his customers could sample the store's platters.  Over the years, other original Wallichs Music City concepts included the use of cellophane plastic wrap for album covers and the display of records on racks or bins -- thus leaving behind the olden practice of behind-the-desk record safeguarding. Music City itself would in time evolve into a chain of LA stores primarily run by Wallichs' brother Clyde, while Glenn tended to his Capitol duties.

About a year after the opening of Wallichs' Music City, the idea of forming Capitol Records began to take shape.  In Johnny Mercer's recollection, "Glenn had fixed my car radio when he had his repair shop, and we were friendly acquaintances.  One word led to another, and, though I can't remember to this day who put it into words, one of us suggested that we 'put out a few records.'  I do remember  Glenn suggesting that we sell them in the lobbies of movie houses."  Mercer must have then followed up on Wallichs' idea by making the previously mentioned inquiry at Paramount's DeSylva.   Besides the one just quoted, other accounts reinforce the claim that, at the seminal Mercer-Wallichs meeting, Wallichs was the person who proposed the creation of a record label, thus redirecting Mercer's concept of a cooperative and radio show.  For instance, Capitol historian and online blogger Mark Heimback-Nielsen states that, "[f]ed up with having to get his records from franchised dealers, Glenn Wallichs suggested to Johnny Mercer the idea of starting their own record company.  Mercer, tired of gearing his songs poorly recorded, agree[d]."


VII. Executive And Administrative Offices
 
With all three founders firmly committed to the financing and development of the label, Mercer set out to sign and record artists, while Wallichs sought out to find office space and set up record distribution deals.  According to Heimback-Nielsen, their meetings were initially held at the Chateau, a location which I assume to be the Chateau Marmont Hotel (at 8221 Sunset Boulevard).  

Starting on June 4, the label finally occupied its own executive space in the southwest side of the same two-story corner building that housed, among other stores, Wallichs' Music City.  Peggy Lee reminisces in her autobiography that "those fellows were conducting business upstairs over Sy's tailor shop on Vine, just below Sunset." (She further calls Sy Devore "the leading tailor of the day.") 

Capitol's LA executive offices would remain circumscribed to the above-mentioned location until the second quarter of 1947, when their core would be moved to the northwest side of the same corner building, taking up the entire second floor above Wallichs' music store. Concurrently, Wallichs himself would take over the title of company president.   

An annex of sorts was added to the Sunset and Vine offices, too. This so-called annex consisted of two floors at the four-story Palmer Building on 6362 Hollywood Boulevard, leased for the purpose of housing the company's accounting, advertising, promotion, and mailing departments. Comprising 10,000 square feet in total, Palmer's third and fourth floors received their new Capitol tenants in September of 1947 and January of 1948, respectively. The second floor's 8,000 square feet would be additionally leased by Capitol later on -- starting in April of 1950. It would house the label's distribution department and, by 1953, Capitol's own photo studio.

Right from the start of its existence, Capitol also sought out to have offices in New York.  The July 4, 1942 issue of The Cash Box stated that, during his visit to New York, Glenn Wallichs had not only made a local record distribution deal with the owners of the Modern Vending Company but also "signed a lease for a large local office."  Unfortunately, the location's address is not revealed. The earliest Manhattan space address of which I am aware dates from 1943. It is for a sales branch, at 629 Tenth Avenue.  The next address, culled from mid-1940s articles, is for an executive office on Fifth Avenue, at 1 East 57th Street.  I do not know when that latter space was first occupied; Capitol's occupation could conceivably date back to 1942.  

In May 1947, both the executive and local distribution offices moved to 250 West 57th Street.  They are presumed to have stayed there until July of 1951, when the record company took over the first floor of the Victory Building (aka New York Mutual Life Insurance Building), on the 56th Street corner of 1740 Broadway.  The move to that space was part of a geographical reconfiguration of the label:  its National Sales And Promotions department was migrating from Los Angeles to New York.

For photos and more details about Capitol's executive offices in Hollywood as well as Manhattan, see the end notes to this discography's 1944-1945, 1946-1947, and 1948-1952 pages. (Readers searching for details about the famous Capitol Tower should bear in mind that it was not built until the mid-1950s. Hence it falls outside of the purview of this page, which concerns itself with the company's earlier, seldom documented pre-Tower years.)


VIII. Lead Officers And The Board Of Directors (1948)

A Glenn Wallichs letter sent to stockholders in mid-1948 lists Capitol's then-current leadership as follows:

Board Of Directors - George D. DeSylvia [sic; DeSylva], Charles E. Driver, John W. Griffin, Jonathan B. Lovelace, John Mercer, Donald Royce, Glenn E. Wallichs.
President - Glenn E. Wallichs
Vice Presidents - Floyd A. Bittaker, James B. Conkling, William H. Fowler, Roy C. Marquadt
Treasurer (and Assistant Secretary) - Paul Ludman
Assistant Treasurer - Daniel C. Bonbright

Floyd Bittaker had been the first person formally hired by Wallichs and Mercer, back in April 1942.
David Shelley, who might have been Buddy DeSylva's stepson, had also been hired by June of 1942, and put "in charge of artists." Shelley moved on to Majestic Records in mid-1947, while Bittaker stayed with Capitol until his death from cardiac arrest, in 1955. Previously a sales supervisor at a record distribution company, Bittaker initial held the title of Pacific Coast sales (and distribution) manager at Capitol. By 1947, the name of his position had changed to "national sales chief." At the time of his passing (while away in Germany, on work duty), he was the West Coast manager of the label's international department.

William Fowler had preceded Paul Ludman in the treasurer position. He had joined Capitol in 1944, essentially as Glenn Wallichs' right-hand man. Their previous connection stemmed from their charter membership, since around 1935, in the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. After a few years, both had been asked to join the Chamber's board of directors, of which Wallichs in due time was appointed president, Fowler vice-president. During Capitol's early years, Fowler was most notably involved not only in the systematic organization and budget allocation of the company but also in the label's management of record production at its Scranton pressing plant. It is no surprise then, that he was asked to move to New York in 1951, when Capitol made the decision to relocate its National Sales and Promotion offices to the Big Apple. Therein, Fowler served as head of operations and vice-president for the company's sales department. He left Capitol in 1956, lured by a third-in-command, general manager position at the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company's mail-order record club, which was then about to be inaugurated (with offerings from the Urania Records catalogue).

A lawyer by trade, Daniel Bonbright had joined Capitol in 1946, as general legal counsel and secretary. He is said to have been particularly instrumental in obtaining government clearance for Capitol's partnership deal with Telefunken Records in Germany. In 1951, the record company bestowed on him the title of vice-president in chafe of finance[s]. During the 1950s, Bonbright was also in charge of (according to the recollections of Capitol's marketing and promotion manager, Don Hassler) "getting all the records made and out and into the distributing branches." He was still ridin' high at Capitol in 1962, when he was elected to the positions of vice-chairman of the board, president of the Capitol Record Club, and president of the label's electronic subsidiary, the so-called EMI Corporation. In 1964, after the label solid its interests in the electronic subsidiary, Bonbright acquired yet another title: Capitol's chief financial officer. However, the October 1964 of Billboard announced was sounded like a premature retirement on his part, although it was added that he would continue to be a member of the board.

A man of many trades (commercial artist, minor-league musician, copywriter, scriptwriter, sales promoter and, primarily, ad man) Lloyd W. Dunn came into direct contact with the world of Capitol Records in 1946, when his ad agency Dunn-Fenwick acquired the label's account. After a merger of his firm with a better-known one (Abbott-Kimball), he became even more heavily involved in the handling of Capitol merchandise and promotion. He finally joined Capitol in 1950, initially taking on the position of merchandising manager. By 1952, he was already holding the more sizable title of vice-president in charge of advertising, sales promotion, and merchandising. By 1964, he was the head of Angel Records, Capitol's classical music subsidiary and president of Capitol Record Club's Canadian branch. Other positions over the years included president of Capitol Records International Corporation and vice-president of Capitol's artists and repertoire. (Elsewhere, Dunn has been characterized as a very straitlaced man whose sense of ethics came off as old fashioned to employees who had joined the company in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, he seems to have frowned upon any displays or comments that showed a lack of humility.) Dunn held the distinction of being one of the five executives who founded the Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences on May 29, 1957. (The other four: Columbia's Paul Weston, Decca's Sonny Burke, MGM's Jesse Kaye, and RCA's Dennis Farnon.)

Photos featuring some of these Capitol officers can be found amidst the final notes of this discography's 1948-1952 page. For some comments about Capitol's producing and creative talent, see also final notes of the 1944-1945 and 1946-1947 pages.


IX. The Earliest Artists And Singles

On April 8, 1942, Johnny Mercer went to the studio in the company of Paul Weston (serving as arranger and right hand), Gordon Jenkins (scheduled to conduct the orchestra) and Martha Tilton.  They were the main participants at Capitol's very first studio date.  The session musicians included yet another man who would go on to become renowned as a songwriter, pianist Jimmy Van Heusen.  Except for the in-house vocal group The Mellowaires and Bumps Meyers on tenor sax, the rest of the personnel is unknown.

Said to have been the second artist signed by Mercer, Martha Tilton was certainly the very first that he took to the recording studio. She recorded  two Mercer compositions under his supervision, one of them being "Moondreams" (matrix 1-A), co-written with pianist Chummy MacGregor, the other "And The Angels Cried" (with whose title Mercer was perhaps referencing their greatest joint hit of years past). 

Mercer then recorded his "Strip Polka" at this same split session, along with the tellingly titled standard "They Didn't Believe Me."  The location is usually given as the C. P. MacGregor studio, but official or solid confirmation on the matter is missing, and sources in which Radio Recorders is instead listed can also be found.  

More artists were promptly signed within this gestation period, when the label had yet to acquire even its permanent name. In one of Billboard's earliest references to the brand new company, we are told that "Liberty Records, the platters to be made by the new company headed by Buddy DeSylva, Johnny Mercer and Glenn Wallichs, has signed Paul Whiteman, Freddie Slack and Ronnie Kemper orchestras. These are the first bands to sign with the new firm, Deal was set by Ed Fishman of the the Williams Morris Agency" (May 9, 1942 byline). An ensuing Billboard notice (June 20, 1942) identified Ray McKinley as another addition to the roster of artists signed to the by-then-renamed Capitol label, and reiterated the involvement of the William Morris Agency.

Capitol's very first self-promotional ad might have been the one which ran on the July 11, 1942 issue of Billboard magazine, and which I have incorporated to the final notes of this discography's 1944-1945 sessions page. In addition to those already mentioned the label names Dennis Day, Connie Haines, Johnnie Johnston, Bobby Sherwood, and Tex Ritter. Out on June 29 in the LA area and on July 6 in the NY area, the first batch of releases is also listed in the same advertisement, and receives some additional discussion in section XI below.

But the July 4, 1942 issue of Billboard was the one that marked Capitol's full incorporation to the national network of music news. The issue dedicated three articles or notices to matters pertaining to the new label ("Capitol Puts Out First Disk Release;" "Modern Distribs. Capitol Records;" "Modern Handles Capitol Records").


X. The Formative Years:  1942-1943

The label did very well right from the start of its infant life, and not just locally. Less than a month after the very first batch of Capitol singles was out on the market (street date: July 1, 1942), the company's distributor for the New York area was already reporting overwhelming demand. "Since we became the exclusive distributors for Capitol Records in three states, we have been receiving orders for staggering amounts of this new label," declared Nat Cohn, who co-owned the distributing company with another man, named Harry Rosen. While being interviewed for a Billboard article which ran under a July 11, 1942 byline, Cohn reported the following: "[t]he local operators who visited our showrooms the day the first Capitol record shipment arrived listened to them and ordered large quantities. The releases made quite a hit and we were sold out the first day. Glenn Wallichs ... sent out another batch and promises to keep them coming in so that we can handle all requests, both local and out of town, and from retail and department stores as well as music machine operators. I sincerely believe this new label has a great future ahead of it."

Subsequently, in a Billboard article with a July 25, 1942 byline, Cohn further remarked that "[t]his week we ran out of records and couldn't fill all the orders. Capitol graciously consented to withhold their new [batch of] release[s] one week and send along a large quantity of those records now in demand so that we could please our customers." To expedite the mailing of such records, Cohn's Modern Music Sales Company had already needed to convert its former showroom space into a shipping room. (In early 1943, Capitol ended its arrangement with Cohn opened its own New York distribution branch.)

Demand would remain steady well into next year. In fact, Capitol ended its second year (1943) with a significant increase in its financial grosses. The $200,000 earnings reported in connection to the 25 Capitol singles issued in 1942 paled in comparison to the $750,00 total that the label would earn in 1943, despite a reduced total number of releases (18; probably a consequence of an ongoing AFM union ban on recording activity).  

Within this same 1942-1943 period, arrangements were promptly made to establish a New York-based music publishing company (Capitol Songs, formed in the last quarter of 1943) and to open (as already mentioned) sales management branches in the large markets of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.  Mention has also been already made of the many other such branches that opened across the country in subsequent years. (Those early branches can be best described as small outfits, at that point in time.  Some of them were actually record stores already in existence, whose employees had been enlisted or hired to carry out these extra duties.)  

When the tribulations faced by all record companies during the Second World War are taken into account, the continued growth of Mercer and Wallichs' West Coast label is all the more remarkable.  Most pressing among such tribulations was the combined effect of an AFM recording ban and a shellac resin shortening.  The former forbade the participation of unionized musicians in any recording session, unless record labels agreed to the union's demand of a royalty share on all sold records.  The latter was the result of both the US government's need to hoard said resin during the Second World War (being as it was used for waterproofing the wiring of tanks, airplanes, missiles, and other military paraphernalia) and the US' ongoing conflict with Japan (which curtailed the import of the tree-sourced substance from its native Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian lands).  Fortunately for Capitol, the label had enjoyed its first hits in the two months before the AFM ban went into effect (August 1, 1942), thereby earning popular, national attention before the upcoming obstacles could force it into ruin and oblivion.  During those same two months, the label also went into high gear (as most other labels would, too), scheduling a large number of recording sessions in order to build a library of masters whose release could be parceled out through the duration of the ban. The effect of the ban were thus counteracted in this manner (and with a few other strategies, to which Capitol resorted as the ban continued to stretch beyond its foreseen limits).  

It was the scarcity of shellac, then, that posed the greatest challenge to the continued activation of the label.  Capitol had had to face while it was still in the process of coming out of the womb: The War Production Board's hoarding of a 70 percent of the publicly available shellac stock had gone into effect in April of 1942. To overcome the obstacle, the ever-resourceful Wallichs put various ingenious plans into action.  As recalled by Margaret Whiting in her autobiography, he placed ads in local  newspapers which read, more or less, as follows:  "Come one, come all.  Trade unwanted records for new.  We welcome your shellac."  Paying as much as six cents a pound, Wallichs bought five hundred pounds of old records, which were then ground and turned into twenty thousand pounds of new shellac.  Wallichs and Mercer also signed a San Diego shellac distributor's son -- and his band -- to a short-term, one-session Capitol contract that did not result in hits, but certainly turned in lots pf gppd-quality shellac. 


XI. The Formative Years:  1944 

After the lifting of the aforementioned ban, and with the world war moving toward its resolution, the year 1944 became more of a solid success for Capitol on various fronts.

Record pressing was one of such fronts. During its earliest months, the demand for Capitol singles had caused the label to hire the services of not one nor two but three pressing plants. According to the writer of an article published by Billboard on its August 22, 1942 issue, one of the plants was the Clark Phonograph Company, owned by George H. Clark. The identity of the other two plants remains unknown to me.

On March 30, 1944, the label signed an exclusivity contract with the largest existing manufacturing record plant of that era, the formerly called Brunswick Records Plant, located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.   (Locally, Capitol had made additional, temporary arrangements with Hollywood's Allied Record Manufacturing Company, whose address was 1041 North Las Palmas Avenue.) Capitol kept hold of this plant until 1973. The location became famous among insiders for not only its production capacity and historical significance but also because of its promotional tie-ins, devised by the adjacent record distribution branch that Capitol had opened on May 7, 1947. Originally a tiny entity situated at 411 Mulberry, it moved to a larger space (500 Wyoming Avenue) in 1950. This Scranton branch was responsible for the preparation of many a nationwide dealer meetings, devised to preview upcoming Capitol releases and discuss business matters of common interest.

Then there were the end-of-1944 figures ($2,250,000 in record sales, 39 singles and six albums released), the opening of additional sales management branches across the nation (Cleveland and Washington this year, Dallas and Atlanta on the previous year), and the ever-growing roster of attention-grabbing artists that were signing with the label.  


XII. Capitol's Earliest Bestsellers, Part I

During its infancy, the label's best-selling artist was, first and foremost, Johnny Mercer himself, thanks to his top-charting renditions of "Strip Tease Polka" (1942), "I Lost My Sugar On Salt Lake City (1942), "G. I. Jive" (1943), and "Ac-cent-chua-ate The Positive" (1944).  Mercer's winning streak would actually continue past 1944, for two more years.  Songstress Ella Mae Morse would have to be ranked second on the strength and significance of one particular best seller:  her version of "Cow Cow Boogie," which had been Capitol's very first top ten hit.  Numbered 102, it was among the nine singles with which the label made its retail debut on June 29, 1942.  Mercer's "Strip Polka," numbered 103, would similarly attain top 10 chart status, one week after Morse's.  

Thus "Cow Cow Boogie" and "Strip Polka" placed Capitol Records on the public's map of labels worthy of attention.  In the heels of those two singles' footsteps was an additional couple of lesser-though-still healthy-selling top ten hits: a version of "Elk Parade" by Bobby Sherwood And His Orchestra on Capitol #107, and the Morse follow-up "Mr. Five By Five" on Capitol #115, for which she was once again accompanied by Freddie Slack And His Orchestra.  

Sales were said to be fine, though not groundbreaking, for some of the other singles which held the distinction of being part of Capitol's debut releases.  The artists who had recorded them were Martha Tilton, Dennis Day, Connie Haines, Gordon Jenkins, Johnnie Johnston, and Paul Whiteman.

Capitol #101, the primeval item in Capitol's numerical sequence of issues, was a single whose main side bore the suitable title "I Found A New Baby." The artist was Paul Whiteman And His Orchestra, said to have been the very first act that the label signed.  (Country-oriented accounts give the honor to Tex Ritter -- a claim that I tend to find less trustworthy.) Be that as true or false as it may, Whiteman sadly did not achieve any significant commercial success with Capitol #101.  Its two sides had been recorded at his earliest Capitol session, which did not take place until June 5 and 12, 1942.  Incidentally, that Whiteman session is erroneously given April or May of 1942 dates in various texts, including some discographically oriented ones, which also declare it Capitol's earliest studio date.  It was not.  June 5, 1942 is the date found in Capitol's official paperwork.  (A June 12 follow-up brought  Billie Holiday into the equation, as the pseudonymously recruited guest vocalist on one of Whiteman's sides that Mercer had co-written, "Travelin' Light.") 


XIII. Capitol's Earliest Bestsellers, Part II

Along with Johnny Mercer and Ella Mae Morse, there were about ten other popular artists of notice in Capitol's early roster.  Benny Carter, The Pied Pipers, Andy Russell, Jo Stafford, Betty Hutton, and Tex Ritter qualify as part of this select group, though none of those acts would have their first sizable hits until 1944. (Respectively: "Hurry Hurry," from Capitol #144; "Mairzy Doats," from single #148; "Bésame Mucho," from single #149; "I Love You" and "Long Ago And Far Away," both from single #153; "His Rocking Horse Ran Away," from single #155; and "I'm Wasting My Tears On You," from Capitol #174).  Martha Tilton would score a bit hit in 1944, too, with her rendition of "I'll Walk Alone."  Then there were Stan Kenton ("And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine," "Eager Beaver"), The Nat King Cole Trio ("All For You"), and Margaret Whiting ("My Ideal"), whose just-listed hits enjoyed a considerable amount of success during the year before Peggy Lee made her solo debut date with The Capitol Jazzmen (January 7, 1944).  


XIV. Recording Studios And Pressing Plants

During its earliest years, Capitol rented recording studio space.  From 1942 to 1944, the company's roster primarily recorded at the C. P. MacGregor studio, located on 729 South Western Avenue (LA).  Occasional dates at the Paramount movie studios are also known to have taken place during those early years. By January of 1945, Capitol had left MacGregor, transferring its record dates to Radio Recorders, situated at that point in time on 932 N. Western Avenue.  Capitol Records finally bought its own LA studio space in late 1948, and began to use it in January of 1949.  Known as the Capitol Melrose Studios, these facilities were at 5515 Melrose Avenue.  The record company held its local sessions there until 1956, when the newly built Capitol Tower became ready for use and occupation.  Meanwhile, in New York, Capitol had additional studio space on the first floor of 151 West 46th Street. It operated from 1953 to around 1971. 

More detailed information about Capitol's occupation of the above-mentioned LA record studios has been provided in the final notes for the following pages of the Peggy Lee sessionography:  1944-1945,  1946-1947, and 1948-1952.  For commentary about Capitol's early musical directors (e.g., Paul Weston), record producers (e.g., Dave Dexter), engineers (e.g., John Palladino) and other behind-the-scenes talent, see also those pages'  final notes. 

Similarly, Capitol initially hired the services of various established pressing plants (at least three of them).  In March of 1944, the label finalized an arrangement to have the bulk of its records pressed at the famous Scranton Plant (Pennsylvania), which it ended purchasing in early 1946 -- and keeping until 1973.  Locally, a temporary arrangement had been reached with Hollywood's Allied Record Manufacturing Company around 1944.  

In late 1945, and under the consultation of officers from the Scranton plant, Capitol opened its own LA pressing plant at 2121 North San Fernando Road. Their local recourse to that facility continued until 1960, when a more up-to-date plant was opened at 3061 Fletcher Drive, and kept in use until 1982.  Capitol's two other pressing plants were opened much later, one in 1965 (Jacksonville, Illinois) and the other in 1969 (Winchester, Virginia).

More data about the LA and Scranton plants can be found in the 1946-1947 page of Peggy Lee's sessionography. See also section above, The Formative Years: 1944.


XV. Sales And Distribution Centers

Not surprisingly, Capitol's earliest distribution-and-sales centers were set up in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. Initially, record distribution for the LA area was conducted from the executive offices. In early 1945, the first and main of various local distribution offices was opened. Located in the downtown area, that main office was under the direction of Floyd Bittaker, a key Capitol executive that will be profiled in another section of this page. Among the other men who managed the branch in the late 1940s was Voyle Gilmore, who would later ascend to the position of Capitol artists A&R man, or Capitol record producer. (Earlier on a salesman at the San Francisco branch, Gilmore's career trajectory exemplifies Capitol's policy of promoting worthy employees from its distribution centers to sizable executive and artistic positions.) This Los Angeles branch was naturally a significant one in the label's history. It inaugurated Capitol's strategy of sending record samples to disc jockeys, a practice that has been credited as one of the key elements in radio's transition from broadcasting remotes and transcriptions to playing commercial records.

Extensive details about the early days of the New York branch will be given in the next paragraphs, along with a few specifics about the Chicago branch. The last paragraph will list the additional branches that were founded immediately after those located in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

Indiana Avenue was the original location of the Chicago distribution office, which consisted of just three employees and a manager. In 1943, it moved to Michigan Avenue and recruited four additional employees. At that point, the branch served a very large area (the Dakotas, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnessota, Ohio, Wisconsin) and thus handled a large volume of stock (8,000 records). After 1945, it acquired six more hires and moved to a larger space within Michigan Avenue.

For the New York area, Glenn Wallichs had originally hired just one man, Al Levine. He was tasked with selling, bookkeeping and packing all records.  Such one-man operation obviously proved inadequate within the first weeks of the label's foundation, as it faced a healthy quantity of pre-orders for its very first batch of commercial releases. Hence Wallichs promptly entered into a pact with two men from the  jukebox business world, Nat Cohn and Harry Rosen, co-owners of the Modern Vending Company, which had been in operation since the 1930s. (Irv Summer, a third partner, had left to take care of his business in Florida, but had reintegrated by the early 1950s.)  An agreement had been reached by the end of May 1942.  Anticipating the arrival of stock in mid-June, the vending company's record department was increased from four to six employees, and its holding capacity from half s million to a million records.  Promotional records sent by Capitol led to substantial pre-orders from operators.  

By early July (shortly before the postponed release of the first batch of stock), Cohn and Rosen had agreed to create a subsidiary, Modern Music Sales Company, for the exclusive purpose of doing distribution on behalf of Capitol Records in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. According to the July 11, 1942 issue of Billboard, a painter was currently "repainting the name on the outside of the building to read:  Modern Music Sales  Co - the Home Of Capitol Records."  Unfortunately for Cohn and Rosen, their pact with the LA label was short-lived.  

Nine months after its foundation, Capitol began to handle its very own New York distribution branch at 629 Tenth Avenue.  Levine remained in charge only for a while, until military duty forced him to leave; after his return in 1945 he reintegrated to the label. He opened a New Jersey (Newark?) branch in 1946 and a Brooklyn branch in February of 1947 (at 156 Prospect Avenue. (In the 1950s, Levine became a vice-president for ABC Records.)
 
Another trusted Capitol manager, John Coveney, was in charge of the Manhattan branch in January of 1948, when a five-alarm fire at an adjacent building reportedly "spread to International Recording Studio, and then to Capitol Distribution Co.," with the result that "over 70 independent record manufacturers were completely destroyed."  The Brooklyn office would close within the next three years, but at this point in time its existence could have not been more handy:  it temporarily took over the record distribution business for which the 629 Tenth Avenue office had been responsible.   In May, a new Manhattan branch was finally opened, at 109 East 116th Street, under the management of H.H. Crowell Jr, formerly an office at the Pittsburgh distribution branch.

Following the 1942 opening of those three pioneer branches (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles), Capitol opened distribution branches in Dallas (1943), Atlanta (fall 1943), Cleveland (1944), and Washington (1944). January of 1945 saw the establishment of the eighth and ninth branches, in Philadelphia and Boston, though one contradictory account dates the Philadelphia branch back to November of 1943. Seven others either popped later that year (Kansas City, Memphis, San Francisco, Seattle, Buffalo, and St. Louis) or, according to another contradictory account, had already popped up in 1944 (Detroit). Still more openings took place between 1946 and 1948, when Capitol had amassed a total of 30 distribution branches. That fact notwithstanding, the demand for product was so high that Capitol still had to further sub-contract 14 independent distributors to supplement the work being carried out in its branches.

Internal changes were made in mid-1948. Qualifying by then as a firmly established company across the nation, the company decided to consolidate all its regional distribution business into five district branches located in California, New York, Chicago, Texas, and Georgia, which in turn would serve as sub-divisions of a larger corporate entity known as Capitol Records Distributing Co. Regional branches continued to be opened, however. For instance, May the first of 1950 was the inaugural opening of a Seattle branch.

As the years went by, Capitol's regional distribution centers also became sites for local appearances of Capitol artists who were on promotional tours, or who were promoting upcoming records. Conducted in the late 1950s or early 1960s, one such promotional project was described by Capitol's marketing sales and promotion manager, Don Hassler, during an interview conducted by his stepdaughter, Nor Muster: "One year when they were introducing the fall albums [n.b.: according to Hassler himself, Capitol's annual schedule of releases was divided back then into fall and spring], there were some artists that were going to perform for the sales force, so they divided them into three regions - the east, the west, and the south. The south [distribution] branches had all the country artists. We took a show on the road and we played at the Capitol branches in about four or five cities ... We had Tex Ritter ... Faron Young, Hank Thompson ... We just took a regular concert tour on the road and we flew all over the place. Capitol was backing it because at every stop, all the dealers in that general area were invited to come and hear the Capitol artists and have a party and have dinner and hear what all the new albums were going to be. They had one in the east and one in the west, in addition. It was really cool. "