[This post was originally written as part of the 2021 post, Happy Birthday Mr. Taylor and also continues and replaces an earlier post on the specialty recording period of Creed Taylor’s career.]
After graduating from Duke University, 2-years in the Army, one year of which was spent in Korea, Creed Taylor arrived in New York City in 1954, aged 24-years old, with no experience or history recording and producing records. Within a few weeks he’d land a job as artist and repertoire man for Bethlehem records. Within two years, he’d produced a amazing set of artists, including Oscar Pettiford, Carmen McRae, Charlie Mingus, Herbie Mann, Charlie Shavers, and the J.J. Johnson-Kai Winding Quintet and famously, Chris Conner, and her albums Sings “Lullabys Of Birdland”, “Lullabys For Lovers” and “This is Chris”.
To listen , press play and read on.
It was announced in August 1955 that Creed had left BethlehemBillboard Magazine August 20th, 1955 P16. The announcement that Creed was joining ABC Paramount came in December that year. Interestingly, despite what had previously been thought, Billboard from 12th of December 1955Billboard from 12th of December 1955 P39 announced:
Creed Taylor has been signed to set up a jazz department for the new ABC-Paramount label. He will concentrate on building a jazz LP catalog for Am-Par and an extensive roster of jazz artists. Artists already signed in this category include trombonist Urbie Green, pianist- singer Bobby Scott and pianist Dave McKenna. Taylor, who reports to Am-Par’s artist and repertoire chief, Sid Feller, formerly ‘served as a.&r. head at Bethlehem Records.Billboard Magazine – Dec. 12th, 1955 – P39
The new startup recording division of the ABC Corporation, ABC-Paramount or the AM-Par Record Corp. as it was known until 1962. AM-Par, which had only started earlier(1955) that year was already recording pop-music, Creed was bought on board as an experienced producer with an eye for something new. Creed himself saw it as an opportunity to have a more broad impact in a large corporation with funding to do more recordings.
Was specialty recordings an actual name?
The name “specialty recordings”, came from the actual business line at AM-Par, best described in this article from the June 20th, 1960 issue of Billboard magazine.
Specialty means just what its name implies; albums that are geared for steady sales in specific markets.
According to Creed Taylor, who Is album and repertoire supervisor for the company. the leading members in the specialty group are the company’s Sing Along and Polka albums.
Taylor notes that “Music to Break a Lease” was one of the first sing along albums in the field, and since that time “College Drinking Songs” and “More College Drinking Songs” have done consistent business. The company has now instituted a foreign sing along series with its Spanish and Italian albumsBillboard Magazine, June 20th, 1960 P13
While Creed was bought on for his jazz work, Impulse!! would come later, Creed would produce a mix of jazz and dozens of specialty recordings as popular sellers, tracking culture, events and buyers in the USA. It appears that between leaving Bethlehem and being announced as the new jazz division head for Am-Par, Creed recorded his earliest Am-Par jazz albums.
It’s not clear how the Jazz recordings made between the time Creed left Bethlehem, and started at ABC, were funded. In private email, Marc Myers speculated that ABC had Creed recorded them as some form of try-out, which ABC funded. If that were the case, Creed would likely have been encouraged and supported by AM-Par Executive VP and co-founder Harry Levine. Harry was later instrumental with Taylor in the creation of Impulse!! in 1960.The initial version of this post suggested these albums were funded by Bethlehem and bought out by ABC. Subsequent research turned up the dates for Creed’s departure and signing which make … Continue reading
The first of the albums to be recorded were Bobby Scott’s “Scott Free” (ABC-102) on September 19, 1955. Urbie Green (ABC-101) was October 12, 1955, and Dave McKenna (ABC-104) was October 31, 1955.
Creed went on to record Lucky Thompson (ABC-111) and Billy Taylor (ABC-112) in January 1956. Janet Brace (ABC-116), Tom Stewart (ABC-117) and Don Stratton (ABC-118) were February 1956. The Jackie Cain/Roy Kral was also March 1956. Oddly, the Don Elliott ABC-106 was June 1956.recording dates from in private email from Doug Payne.
The next four years would prove to be a phenomenally productive period, full of album releases, which today you wouldn’t recognize, with music styles, and music you’d never associate with Creed. However, it was the baptism of record production fire that Taylor needed, to later become a multi-GRAMMY award winning producer. Arguably a period that would teach him the skills and market awareness that would allow him to be one of the producers that would redefine jazz and drive jazz forward in the seventies. Interestingly, one of these recordings would be nominated for the first ever Grammy awards.
While Creed was producing these popular mass market albums, he would also continue recording jazz musicians and new talent. Some of these artists, Jackie and Roy, Urbie Green, Kai Winding, Quincy Jones and others would become recurring artists in the Creed Taylor pantheon.
Many of the skills Taylor would learn during this period would serve him well for the rest of his career. Using a core arranger to develop a music style and approach; using a common recording studios, design for album sleeves, and photographer as part of a process to make recording and production as frictionless as possible.
JazzWax: When you joined ABC-Paramount Records in 1956, were you pressured to produce pop records?Marc Myers Interview with Creed Taylor, Interview: Creed Taylor (Part 5) – JazzWax – July 14th, 2008
Creed Taylor: No pressure at all. You have to remember, ABC-Paramount was a startup even though a major corporation owned it. The label began in 1955, a year before I arrived. I knew as much or more about the record business as everyone else who was there. Sam Clark was the label’s president and Larry Newton was in charge of sales. Both had been in the record distribution business and knew virtually nothing about producing.
So what were the specialty recordings?
Broadly they were actually all popular music, cashing in in popular culture. It’s important to remember that music, especially popular and thus profitable music, typically follows culture, it doesn’t lead it. The recordings can be categorized into four main areas. Each of these targeted at the a different area of society.
A society at a time the was in a boom. The end of the World War II, troops returning home from Europe, from Korea and by the time the G.I. Bill expired min 1956, 7.8 million veterans had used its education benefits; Elvis Presley would have his #1 hit, “Heart Break Hotel” In March of 1956; NTSC Color TV had only just debuted, and color TV wouldn’t outsell black and white until the 1970’sColor television – Wikipedia; commercial flight had taken off in a big way after World War II, off the back of former military aircraft and airports, while still the domain of the wealthy, commercial international flights were fast becoming aspirational; the space race had started in 1955Space Race – Wikipedia; and finally, the first true stereo album as we know it today was released in 1957, with the popular releases starting in 1958 and stereo singles playing an increasing role in the market starting in 1959.Stereophonic sound – Wikipedia What a time to be a record producer!
In addition to the specialty recordings, and the jazz albums, there were Cowboy/folk/country recordings featuring Elton Britt and Pete Brady and a number of other popular music albums that I will cover separately.
What was amazing, is the quality and production, as well as the presentation of these albums. Even today, digitized from their original vinyl recordings, the sound remarkably crisp and clear.
JazzWax: How did you rationalize producing albums like More College Drinking Songs along with albums by Oscar Pettiford?Marc Myers Interview with Creed Taylor, Interview: Creed Taylor (Part 5) – JazzWax – July 14th, 2008
Creed Taylor: I produced what I liked. While I was never a fan of barbershop quartets, I was familiar with that kind of music. Having graduated from Duke a few years earlier, I fully understood the appeal of drinking songs and the audience for the records. And they sold well.
The Hot Line for ’59
By late 1958, the auto-industry had coined the term “The Hot line for ’59”, Mercury was advertising it’s new range on in-line engines using it, Pontiac adopted the phrase and ran with it for their 1959 Pontiac Bonneville. It was truly the Mad(ison Avenue) Men era.
In early 1959, AM-Par cut a double album in a gatefold sleeve that would become a trademark of Creed Taylor. The album, promotion copy only, with no ABC catalog number was recorded in late 1958, and pressed to support a major sales campaign of the same name, and ran from February 9th to March 31st, 1959. The sales campaign was both to support the stereo release of the older albums, as well as some 17 new albums, with more to follow for a fall campaign. Many, but not all would be part of the Aristocrat Series which would retail for $4.98 and feature “new deluxe double-fold sleeves”.Billboard – January 1959, P3
The sales campaign included albums with an OBI-like strip that could be removed after the 30-day promotional period starting February 9, the $4.98 stereo package was sold for $2.98, after which dealers could remove the strip and return the albums to full price, even though the purchased them at a reduced rate. That combined with a set of distributor meetings around the country, and you have the “Hot Line For ’59” sales campaign.
Another new trend in 1959 was Pay-For-PlayBillboard February 2nd, 1959 Cover Story, In a move to get away from deejay payola scandal’s, where labels would bribe deejays to play there discs, under pay-for-play distributors could formally buy plays and airtime from stations. I have no evidence to support it, but I can imagine the “The Hot Line for ’59” disc-1 playing as a late night, pay-for-play informercial.
I’d long looked for a copy of this album, there was only one discogs user who had a copy, I became the second. In the same way that you wait forever for a bus in London, and then two come along at the same time, as of Creed’s 92nd birthday, there is a copy for sale on ebay for $19.99.
The track list for disc-2 was documented, little was available about disc-1. I’d heard it contained spoken word tracks. I was really hoping that it would include interviews with Creed and other AM-Par executives and producers, it doesn’t. What it does contain is an amazing piece of 1950’s Americana. It’s a Mad Men special it’s features an AM-Par sales executive Harry and his beleaguered wife Lavern stuck on an island with the Chief, who is an impersonator who covers Liberace, Harry Truman and his wife Bess, and apparently cooks coconut pancakes.
It includes nods to drinking, sexism, misogyny and is racist, in so much as it’s promoting the Minstrel shows and music via Bill Cullen’s Minstrel Spectacular, an album Creed produced. It’s possible that Harry is either actually, or based on then AM-Par Executive VP and co-founder, Harry Levine. Listening to it now, it’s hard to believe the script wasn’t written as a spoof, meant only to be used at the distributor meetings.
Harry Levine, along with other executives Don Costa, Irwin Garr, Allen Parker, Dave Berger, Natt Hale, Lee Palmer, Al Genovese, and National Sales Director Larry Newton would attend the distributor conference along with “Prexy” Sam Clark. Creed had attended the 1958 conference/meetings Billboard July 21, 1958 P3 and the Florida conference in 1960Billboard June 6th, 1960 P21.
Whatever else was going on, things at AM-Par couldn’t be better. By early 1959, their gross sales had hit $5.5 million dollars, “Prexy” Sam Clark said albums represent 50% of the label’s overall dollar volume. Clark said the “diskery” was planning to release 50-albums in 1959, giving it a catalog of 200-albums.Billboard 2nd Feb. 1959, P3, P19. For the labels 5th Anniversary in 1960, Clarke is quoted as saying the label expected to gross $12,000,000Billboard June 20th, 1960.
There is no evidence that Creed produced the Hot-line double album, there were at least 3-producers at the time at AM-Par, Creed, Don Costa and Sid Feller, and tracks from all three were included, with even more if you count the samples introduced on disc-1.
Drinking songs and Ballads
Much of what we know about the studio musicians and singers from the specialty recordings come from the “drinking song” albums. “Bawdy Barracks Ballads“, “College Drinking Songs“, “Drinking Songs Around The World“, “More College Drinking Songs”, “Drinking Songs Under The Table“.
Many of these recordings featured The Blazers. I can find no record of them as an independent act outside of these recordings, which suggests they were a studio vocal group put together specifically for these recordings. Something that seems to be common for the specialty recordings.
Perhaps the primary contributor to these albums was James N. Peterson. Peterson arranged and conducted, many of the specialty recordings. Peterson would go on to become the musical director for the Ice Capades until his death in 1967, age 56. While I was able to establish and correct many entries on the recording and record database, discogs, in relation to Peterson, I was never able to find a picture of him.
Also from the ‘Barracks album credits we learn that the other vocalists included Frank Raye, Nelson Starr, Carter Farriss and Henry Clarke. With John M. Fay, Bud Christian, Bucky Pizzarelli, Eddy Manson as musicians. Peterson, Raye, Starr and Clarke were also members of the Four Sergeants, Raye a lead in Bill Cullen’s Minstrel Spetacular, and possibly the last specialty album Creed produced, The Four Counsellors And The Scouts – “Sing Along Around The Campfire“, which was again arranged by Peterson.
1960 saw the release of “The Best Of The Barrack Ballads”. ABCS-317. This was important as it was billed to Creed Taylor Orchestra and spawned a single release – arranged by Maury Laws. Laws had his own orchestra and was likely signed elsewhere. The year before, Taylor had used the same technique with Kenyon Hopkins and his orchestra, Hopkins was at the time signed to Capitol Records. The single “Johnny b/w Diane” was the only single release by Creed Taylor the artist.
A 1961 album “Bawdy Barracks Ballads Volume-2” was released by AM-Par, ABCS-381, it’s not clear that Creed had anything to do with this, or if it features the same core group of singers.
Marching Bands and Military
Perhaps the most obvious area for specialty sales were those that would appeal to the G.I. bill graduates and former servicemen, now with jobs in the post war economy and with money to spend. A studio group called the Four Sergeants where the main production vehicle for these albums. The recordings included:
“World War I Songs in Hi Fi“, and “More World War II Songs“. These were typically either traditional battlefield, military style chant/verse songs, or in the case of “Songs Of Freedom“, by the Four Sergeants and Massed Chorus, traditional patriotic American songs.
For most of the releases, like the Blazers albums, the albums contained no credits, some included recording dates, but true to their purpose, they included lyrics printed on the back cover. Almost without fail, the bottom right of the back cover contained the words “Produced by” and the now legendary Creed Taylor signature.
Perhaps the best of these albums technically, was “The Parade Field” featuring the First Army Honor Guard, then based on Governors Island in New York, and recorded on May 6th, 8-9th 1958. The album is a full on military band album, including a drill team, call and return, complete with whistle. The stereo release of this really needs to be heard to be appreciated, especially given the recording technology available at the time. Again arrangement and adaption was by James Peterson.
The Empire City Six “Salutes The Colleges” ABCS-210 was reviewed in Billboard magazine in December 1957
Here’s a fairly commercial package which could generate some sales action around college campuses and with old grads. The boys stir up a bouncy batch of instrumentals in Dixieland style on 12 college themes . . . “Washington and Lee Swing,” “Notre Dame Victory March,” “On Wisconsin,” etc.Billboard – December 16th, 1957.
A footnote in this category is “The Eisenhower Story” ABC-128. The album includes the credit for producer for Creed Taylor, but does not carry the telltale signature bottom right.
Travel and International
The travel albums are dominated by international themed albums, but perhaps the best known of all of them these days is “The Sound Of New York” – A musical portraitThe Sound Of New York — A Music-Sound Portrait | Discogs. The album featured actual sounds of New York, either real or recreated and featured the music and arrangements of Kenyon Hopkins. Around this time, Taylor and Hopkins collaborated on more than a dozen albums.
Unlike the other targeted albums, travel and international was not dominated by studio only collaborations. The featured artists like Roy Smeck, and his Hawaiian themed “Hi-Fi Paradise” and “The Haunting Hawaiian Guitar“; The Lombardi Singers and “Sing Along in Italian” and the follow-up “Sing Along In Spanish” by Los Campeneros – where each album included an English translation. Also in the classification was The Lecuona Cuban Boys Featuring Candido and their album– “Dance Along With The Lecuona Cuban Boys“.
For me, the best albums in this target market, the Sabicas flamenco albums shine. The recording and production are excellent, and given flamenco as a style hasn’t really changed, you could be listening to tracks by the Gypsy Kings. There was one album in 1958, “Gypsy Flamenco” and two albums in 1959, “Solo Famenco” ABCS-304, and “The Day Of The Bullfight” ABCS-2265. Hopkins again provided additional orchestration for the ‘Bullfight album, recorded in September and October of 1958.
There were also a few outlier albums, Tony Scott’s “South Pacific Jazz”, which was a jazz album, and the “Adventures In Paradise“, Vol. 2” compilation album, which was a follow-up to the Sid Feller produced “Adventures In Paradise” compilation. Perhaps the unusual album in this category is “Hi-Fi In An Oriental Garden”. Arranged again by Peterson, with backing vocals by the Frank Raye singers, it includes authentic Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Filipino vocals/lyrics sung in traditional style. The album heavily leant on Chinese-American actor/singer Stephen Chung-Tao Cheng, who was also a featured track artist. Cheng went on to write the best selling book “The Tao Of Voice“.
In 1962, Creed would revisit the travel theme for Verve, with the Sound Tour albumsSound Tour Label | Releases | Discogs. A series of four albums and a compilation that took the listener on a tour of Italy, Spain, Hawaii and France. They were complete with the same sort of sound effects Creed first used in the 1959 AM-Par musical portrait “The Sound Of New York”. As in 1959, the musical side of the sound tour albums was provided by Kenyon Hopkins.
Horror and Suspense
The final category, also probably the best known are the shock, horror albums. These must have sold well, purely by measure of how many can be bought online and in stores today. Again the albums feature Kenyon Hopkins and his orchestra, often unbilled with just a writing credit. Many of the albums also featured work by award winning sound effects man, Keene Crockett. Creed expressly said these were released before Halloween and aimed at kids
JW: How did they do?Jazzwax Interview JW= Marc Myers, CT= Creed Taylor, Interview: Creed Taylor (Part 5) – JazzWax
CT: Quite well. They were in print for years, and some even made it to CD.
The first album was “Shock“, followed by “Lonelyville – The Nervous Beat“, then “Panic – Son of Shock“, and the 1962 “Nightmare!!” album which was released on MGM. I wrote briefly about Shock for Halloween 2020Happy Halloween – Shock. Arguably, while these albums contain some of New York’s finest jazz musicians of the day, the star of these albums is Keene Crockett. Crockett was a some time actor and radio announcer who became a sound effects maestro. Crockett was Creed Taylor’s go to man for sound effects.
An outsider in this category is the The Creed Taylor Orchestra album “Ping Pang Pong The Swinging Ball” album. Mostly only because it could be described as a novelty/sound effects album.
Taylor and Hopkins would work together again on the Sound Tour series for Verve. Taylor would also go on to produce Hopkins “The Yellow Canary (Music From The Motion Picture)” and “Mister Buddwing (Music From The Original Soundtrack)” – using what were increasingly some of Creed’s first call musicians including Phil Woods, Kenny Burrell, Milt Hinton, Lalo Schifrin, Clarke Terry, Zoot Sims, Jimmy Cleveland, Romeo Penque and Jerome Richardson on reeds; a regular fixture on these albums was also young recording engineer made good, Phil Ramone.
Once upon a time, there was a timid little boy who hated to go to bed because when the light in his room was turned off a variety of shadowy demons rushed at him, and strange hands reached for his throat, and horror was at his side.
Once upon a time, Creed Taylor went into ABC-Paramount’s recording — studios with a big orchestra, Kenyon Hopkins music, soundman Keen Crockett, and the Misses Toni Darnay and Gertrude Warner, and when the recording light was turned off, they emerged with a record of horror set to music.
It’s called Shock! (ABC-Paramount 259), and it has 12 tracks with such titles as Heartbeat; Jungle Fever; The Long Walk; Haunted House; In Bedlam; Time Runs Out, and Gloomy Sunday. It’s quiteDown Beat November 27th, 1957 – Vol 24 Issue 2 – Page 24
well done, and often a bit amusing. But later on you wonder if what seemed funny was really a nervous reaction. Don’t play it for the youngsters.
Sound is brilliant. (D.C.)
Please Exit via the gift shop
While the specialty recording period isn’t one Creed is well known for, there is no doubt this is where he earned his chops. Everything from working with a core group of creators, recording and production specialists, from musicians to design artists and photographers. Some of the earliest Pete Turner cover photography was in this period! It also gave a 27-year old Creed Taylor an insight into starting and running a successful record label.
By 1961, Creed had started to have real success with his jazz albums, and arguably, the final specialty recording released that was produced by Creed Taylor was Roy Smeck His Singing Guitar And Paradise Serenaders “For Your Listening And Dancing Pleasure“. Creed would go on to record Ray Charles seminal “Genius + Soul = Jazz” , Bob Thiel woud typically manage the more soul productions, and Sid Feller would handle popular music as well as Ray Charles.
While I know the jazz enthusiast will dismiss many of the specialty recordings out of hand, you shouldn’t. There are many fantastic recordings, both creatively and technically. If I were starting over with my collection from this period, for which I have almost all the albums discussed here, I would definitely favor the stereo pressings. The mono pressings are fine musically, but to get the full effect of a brilliant young producer exploiting the emerging field of stereo, these are the best.
|↑1||Billboard Magazine August 20th, 1955 P16|
|↑2||Billboard from 12th of December 1955 P39|
|↑3||The initial version of this post suggested these albums were funded by Bethlehem and bought out by ABC. Subsequent research turned up the dates for Creed’s departure and signing which make impossible. The original post also referred to a distribution/label fight over purchased masters. While interesting, it’s no longer relevant and has been removed.|
|↑4||recording dates from in private email from Doug Payne|
|↑5||Color television – Wikipedia|
|↑6||Space Race – Wikipedia|
|↑7||Stereophonic sound – Wikipedia|
|↑8||Billboard – January 1959, P3|
|↑9||Billboard February 2nd, 1959 Cover Story|
|↑10||Billboard July 21, 1958 P3|
|↑11||Billboard June 6th, 1960 P21|
|↑12||Billboard 2nd Feb. 1959, P3, P19.|
|↑13||Billboard June 20th, 1960|
|↑14||The Sound Of New York — A Music-Sound Portrait | Discogs|
|↑15||Sound Tour Label | Releases | Discogs|
|↑16||Happy Halloween – Shock|
Update: May 15th, 2021 4pm. Following an email exchange with Marc Myers(Jazzwax), I further researched and found specifics dates for Taylor leaving Bethlehem and being announced as new jazz division head at ABC. A major rewrite of that section, added new magazine images.
May 15th, 2021 4:18pm Added quote and link from Jazzwax part-5 interview with Creed
May 22nd, 2021 Specialty Recordings section split off from Happy Birthday Mr Taylor into own post.
May 28th, 2021 11:47am – added down beat review of Shock album.
Aug. 29th, 2022 10:50am – all images switched to centered alignment