Blues Legend Jimmie McCracklin On Crown

Blues legend Jimmie McCracklin talks about how his recordings ended up on labels like Modern & Crown. An outtake from Music By The Pound, our as-yet unreleased documentary on the full story of the Crown-Modern Record labels.

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Crown Records Sound-A-Likes

We’ve posted another outtake from Music By The Pound: The Crown Records Story on our blog.  This time recording engineer Bill Lazerus & session guitarist Jerry Cole reminisce about recording sound-alike pop tunes for Crown.

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Back Cover With Florette Bihari & John Marlo

JohnMarlo02How many times have you picked up an early Crown or Modern LP and read the back liner notes, that is when there are

liner notes to read.  The company wasn’t much for production credits but two names stand out because they appear so often: John Marlo as the author of the notes and Florette Bihari as cover designer.  Like Fazzio, John Marlo remains an elusive character.  Actually we know more about Fazzio;  at least he was a real person. The only trace of Marlo the writer that remains is on the back cover of these LPs.  No one we interviewed from the company recalls Marlo and there are no other writing credit to the name, on LP or anywhere. If you doubt us then google Marlo.

Florette Bihari was real though.  One of three Bihari sisters, her main job was gate-keeper & receptionist.  She sat at the top of the stairs over at Cadet Records on Normandie & Slauson, greeting artists who came demanding royalties & selling LPs under the table for pocket change.  As far graphic artist and LP cover designer, check out this outtakes from our film:

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2014 – THE CROWN RECORDS

Many people who appear in Music By The Pound: The Crown Records Story have passed away in the decade or so it’s taken to put the piece together, including blues artist Jimmy McCracklin, recording engineer Bill Lazerus, Cadet operations manager James Takeda, Modern’s first artist Hadda Brooks  & session guitar great Jerry Cole.  And then just recently Joe Bihari passed; though Joe B does not appear in the film, he and his work are described by many people including his brother Lester and nephew Peter.

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A.R.A. = Crown

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Thanks to Jeff Missinne for pointing out a Bihari label that I missed: ARA, American Recording Artists.  These were boxed sets of Mexicali Brass and other Crown series.  As Jeff writes, “Because ARA albums were sold as boxed sets, they required inner sleeves, which I don’t think Crown ever bothered with otherwise.  The (flimsy) inner sleeves are made of what appears to be waxed paper!  The ones I have were also packed with a white corrugated filler somewhat like an egg carton.”

ImageThe address above is the Bihari factory at Slauson & Normandie familiar to anyone who owns a Crown.  The cheap label is vintage Bihari factory printing.   ARA…another bit of useless info from the Bihari archives.

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Where Have All The Average People Gone?

averagepepsHave you ever wondered where all the average folks went?  Turns out Crown Records wondered the same thing back in 1970 with the release of this Nashville Scene LP.  Or is the LP by Bob Currie, since the cover credits both artists.  Well, artists may be too strong of a word.

This Crown was just handed over to me by my pal Duke who found it and a few others in the attic of a hoarder.  The record is sealed so I haven’t cracked it open yet.  Am I dumb enough to think a sealed Crown LP is worth any change?   Maybe, though the LP (CST 602) is missing from the online Modern/Crown discography bible at bsnpubs.com which leads me to believe it might be rare.  They list the LP’s number (CST 602) as Crown’s first in their late series of all stereo releases but have no other info about it.

Several years ago I stopped actively collecting Bihari Brothers LPs – Crowns, Moderns, Customs, etc.  With over 340 of these LPs shelved away in a closet, I figured I had enough to fill out the images for the Crown Records Story film…and so far I think I’m right.  A solid 40+ minute version of the story is complete.  It’s been screened several times here in Los Angeles and is currently being submitted to festivals.  It’s taken 10 years to get this far and sadly most of the people directly associated with the Biharis whom I interviewed have passed away.  Incredibly, though, I keep getting contacts to call, including a guy who worked on the Discos Corona label with engineer Bill Lazerus.  I’m calling him later this week and we’ll see what he has to add to the story.

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The Claxton Covers

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Ever hear of William Claxton? Famous for his lovely, atmospheric black & white portraits of jazz musicians at work & play.  With instruments and women.  High contrast smoke rings.

The 1950s-’60s.  It was the era of fine photograpy LP covers.  Artists like Lee Freidlander, Robert Frank & Claxton had work showing up on LP covers of prestigious labels like Atlantic.  Blue Note had their house photographer and cool, bold graphic art.   Covers worthy of hanging in art galleries.

Not to be outdone, Modern also put out photo LP covers on some jazz releases.  And they all used William Claxton photographs.  How the hell did that happen?   By the ’90s Claxton’s photos were making him good $$ but maybe he was just another starving artist when Jules Bihari bought some images.  And we doubt Jules stole Claxton’s photos since Claxton is given credit several times, something the Biharis usually reserved for themselves.   As you can see, sister Florette gets credit as the art director but according to general manager James Takeda & Jules’ son Peter, Florette was no more a graphic artist than her brothers were song writers (Ling, Taub, etc.).

So how this came about is pure conjecture.  The folks we interviewed had no idea, and this includes Takeda and engineer Bill Lazerus, who both did Crown cover art of their own.  Bill did a lot of the later Crown cover photos including all the Lowell Fulsoms.

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