A Week Of Crown Strings

There are many examples in the Bihari record catalog where the company barely disguises its intention to rip off concepts from major record companies, as in Crown’s twist records detailed in an earlier post. In this case, Jules rips off an original concept from a sister budget line, Somerset’s successful easy listening line of 101 Strings series, an original concept dreamed up by Somerset’s owner D.L. Miller. Here Bihari goes full tilt, claiming to add 899 more strings to Somerset’s 101 to release a series of 1,000 string LPs before finally attempting a disguise, replacing his Thousand Strings with the Fascinating Strings for more decidedly not-so-fascinating easy listening LPs.  Later there were Lush Strings on the Bihari’s Riveria label – I guess someone was buying these strings.

After dropping the needle on every cut of these 7 LPs, I can report there is not a single tune here worth playing. The closest to music remotely interesting is on the Hawaii LP where occasionally tasteful steel guitar licks are heard when the strings hold back.

Crown’s first in the Thousand series is The Heart of Spain which is close to being an exact copy of Somerset’s first 101 release, The Soul of Spain.  Same design, nearly the same name. Perhaps Somerset didn’t have the resources to sue Jules, unlike the more successful and mainstream Herb Albert who managed to stop Crown’s copycat Mexicali Brass series though not before the company churned out a slew of MB LPs.

spainspainplayGplayCloud Nine  shubertHolidayMoodsSymphonySeaMagicHaw

I’ll do the research so you don’t have to waste  your time:

“Robert Krewson conducting” is noted on the label of The Magic of Hawaii (but not on the cover). It referenced one interesting item: a Crown reel to reel on Ebay of this LP, made by the “Crown Tape Recording Co.”

Karl Jergens Conducting the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra” was researched on an earlier post.

Holiday Moods by the Fascinating Strings has the Custom matrix number CS 1063 scratched out on the vinyl, replaced by CST 586. This cheap way of reissuing LPs on different company labels was common at the Bihari factory and here they didn’t even make new stampers.

Symphony of the Sea has the wonderful “Musicalrama” word replacing “Crown Records” in the Crown logo. Also the words Crown Records replaces the Crown image.

Besides the typical matrix number matching the LP number, Symphony of the Sea, Shuburt & Cloud Nine LPs all have a second 4 digit number scribed into the dead vinyl area preceded by a triangle (1153, 2243, 2399 respectively). This second numbering system is not listed on the Both Sides Now discography for any Bihari LP label. Unfortunately Bill Lazerus is no longer with us to explain its significance.

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Week of Crown Country Classics

Day 68 kicked off a week of Crown country LPs released between 1964-1972 during Crown’s Jerry Cole era. Cole was a guitarist Jules hired off the bandstand of the famed Palomino Club in North Hollywood. Cole would go on to produce up to 3 LPs a day with the help of recording engineer Bill Lazerus at the Normandie Ave production facility.

Jerry Cole went on to have an important career as a session guitarist and his work can be heard on countless hits of the 1960s. Though not featured in the recently released documentary about the session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew,  you’ll find his name listed at the end as part of the extended members of the band.

Several of these Crown LPs including Crazy Arms are clearly what Cole & recording engineer Bill Lazerus referred to when they talked about recording three albums a day.  Crazy Arms sounds like one-take recordings.  The band is winging it and Take Off, the cut featured here, is typical of the album.


CLP 5518 / 1966

Day 69 & I Love You So Much It Hurts, an aptly titled country LP with a weepy sad-singer named Terry Lee. Can’t find any reference to country singer Terry Lee and he doesn’t sound like Jerry Cole; maybe a pick up band from the Palamino.  These are muddy sounding stereo recording and slow-paced Pages of Time is one of the better cuts.


CST 558 / 1968

For your midweek doldrums on day 70, I presented Fireball Mail with a tune titled “Windblown Bag” amongst other great titles. I was looking forward to hearing the lyrics to Windblown Bag but, unfortunately, this is an all instro LP that has a rushed, one-take, no rehearsal sound.  Jerry Cole is most likely leading this band and playing mostly acoustic guitar. The tune Self Destruction sounds like Cole & the band just ran out of ideas.  The titles are much better than the tunes. Probably one of several LPs Cole & company recorded that day.


CST 624  / 1971

On day 71 out of 356 I posted a Crown country LP that begs to be played any ol’ time. Includes the classic title: “How Could You Do A Thing Like This.” No artist is mentioned on the cover–was Crown embarrassed by the artist, afraid of a lawsuit or was it just a mistake to leave off the name?  Inside we learn the artist’s name is on Lon Harmon. We also learn that Crown didn’t do proof-reading as “Black” is spelled “Blak” on the LP itself. Found zilch on the ‘Net about Harmon.

This is an unremarkable country band, poorly recorded with distorted bass guitar.  Not terrible but not good, and not a country LP to listen to anytime.


CLP 5548 / 1967

Lazy hot Friday in SoCal on day 72 of Crown postings. The titles on this LP tell a story: “Drinks Are on the House” if you’re from the “School of Hard Knocks” & staying tonight at one of the many “Okie Motels.” So who’s Don Hughes?  Found one reference in a 1969 Billboard magazine that he was fronting a country band in Vegas.

Decent country band that sounds like it’s rushing through tunes in one take; some like Drinks On The House seemingly written moments before recording. Don’t detect Jerry Cole on vocals or guitar here but figure the music was most likely recorded at the Normandie studio.


CST 603 / 1970

Day 73 and this Crown had two tunes by Dave Dudley, known for his hit Six Days On the Road.  The rest of the LP features the Cass Country Boys, a cowboy western band who worked with Gene Autry.  All licensed material and the only one of these country LPs you’d want to play through both sides.  Below is Lonely Corner by Dave Dudley & Nine Pound Hammer from Cass County Boys.


CLP 5508 / 1966

Day 74 & the last day of Crown country LPs for this series. Great photo that’s a cross between Midnight Cowboy & Glenn Campbell.  Nice stucco background–can’t get much more cheap looking.

TrueGritCSST 593 / 1969

Not all Crown artists of this era were fakes or pseudonyms for Jerry Cole. Digging into the internet I found a few obscure mentions of Don Lee as a country artist who played at the Palomino.  Makes sense.  Here are choice quotes:  “Don Lee….Good leadman/vocalist. He unfortunately didn’t have it together in the personality dept. Too bad he could have went a lot further if he hadn’t been such an A$$.”  “Don Lee, is that the guy who worked with the Buckaroos in the mid 1970s?” Found info on steel guitar forum.

This is another average country album with guitar work sounding like Jerry Cole.  Recording quality is a bit rough and gritty but fits the barely rehearsed sound of the tunes.  Point Of No Return is a good title and interesting arrangement that sounds to me like Jerry Cole on guitar.  Some true schmaltz on this LP as well.

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A Week of Blues

This past week was dedicated to Crown blues–blues is what the Biharis did best and it was the music that several people close to Jules said was his favorite.

Two months down, ten months to go in my year of Crown LP postings & on Monday, day 61, I posted a classic Elmore James LP for a rainy, cold day in Los Angeles when the report of another LAPD killing was all over the news. As Elmore James sings, it’s Dark & Dreary…


CLP 5168 / 1960

This LP has liner notes by John Marlo but no other credits. The bottom half of the back cover lists the Crown catalogue. Soon in the life of Crown Records Jules would dispense of liner notes & credits completely and every Crown LP would have a generic back, listing part of the Crown catalogue by title & number.

Along with BB King, Elmore James was an authentic Bihari product, first recorded by Lester Bihari in Chicago.  Jules had squeezed Lester out of the Los Angeles operation and Lester found Elmore James in Chicago, immediately recording a hit with him. Though James recorded for other labels (Chess, Fire, etc.), most of his titles were first recorded by the Biharis, either in Chicago or Los Angeles.  These cuts are from the mid to early 1950s and include some of his earliest recordings (Dust My Broom, recorded by Lester) to later recordings done in Los Angeles with Maxwell Davis adding horns and arranging.

Aptly titled Blues After Hours with a great barroom photo cover, this is an LP to play loud with a stiff drink. For those not lucky enough to find this vintage copy of the LP, there are numerous reissues of this LP and other Elmore James material on the Biharis’ post-bankrupcy labels United & United-Superior with lesser cover art but the same great music.

Blues week continued on day 62 with a John Lee Hooker reissue of his early 1950’s Detroit singles, some recorded by Joe Bihari who took over Hooker’s career from his original producer Bernie Besman.

This LP is from the same era as the Elmore above and includes rhyming liner notes by John Marlo plus credits for design and photography by Hobco Arts & Joseph Tauber respectively.


CLP 5157 / 1969

Midweek, day 63,  and I posted one of Crown’s lurid blues covers, this one with credit to a NYC agency, Shostal. Unlikely Jules hired an ad agency in NYC to photograph one of his covers. My bet is he purchased or licensed a photo that fit his needs at the time–a fetching African-American model to attract buyers to repackaged Lightning Hopkins cuts. The cuts are classic Lightning Hopkins, all solo on the guitar. Impossible to track these cuts back to their source though they all seem from 1951 and not originally recorded by the Biharis. One cut in particular, Tell Me Pretty Mama, showcases Hopkins’ atypical fast picking style rather than his usual mournful solos.  Another great Crown blues LP to play loud & enjoy with a drink or two.


CLP 5224 / 1961

Day 64 & a Jimmy Witherspoon posting. I’ll admit that ‘Spoon never inspired me. I’m not a fan. His music & singing seem lost somewhere between jazz & blues, and the cuts on this LP illustrate my point. One of grittiest cuts is River Blues and it sounds like BB King is adding some raw guitar licks to offset Witherspoon’s withering attempt to sing blues.

As the Crown discography at Both Sides Now states, the titles on the LP’s cover aren’t exactly what’s on the vinyl, not that anyone would notice or care.  Meanwhile, I couldn’t help noting that this 5192 series came out in 1960, an era when Crown LPs had the Culver City address yet this LP has the late ’60’s back cover and the Normandie studio address. Is there anyone alive who can explain this? Is there anyone alive who cares?


CLP 5192 / 1960

On day 65, I posted the perfect LP & cover art to enjoy a Friday afternoon cocktail courtesy of Howling’ Wolf & Crown Records. Dig that lipstick & nail polish on the model with photography credit to Three Lions Inc.  Three Lions Inc. did cover photography for everyone from the bottom (Tops, Crown) to the top (Atlantic, RCA).  My guess is Jules was trying to buy credibility by hiring an agency used by the bigger, more established labels. Regardless, it’s a great cover and LP to enjoy with companion covers from Lightnin’ & Hooker.

HowlinWolfCLP5240 / 1962

On day 66, Saturday night, I posted the King of the Crown Records blues, BB King. Recorded in true stereo, with punchy horn section and clearly defined piano track. This BB King LP has excellent sound though it’s marred by several bone-headed attempts to have BB sound like a pop singer.


CST 195 / 1960

Up until the early 1960s, when King & Jules parted ways, BB King was a solid seller and a major star for the Bihari host of labels. But when the 1960s hit, Jules decided to throw all his weight behind the Crown budget label business so he dumped King and most of the other black artists of the 1950s who had created the early identity of Modern & the other Bihari family labels. By now King wanted (and deserved) more $$ while important Bihari artists like Ike & Tina were demanding better promotion and experimenting with ways to hit the mainstream.

Bihari didn’t have the resources to compete head to head with the major labels on promotion nor did he want to. Jules was from the old school, the son of a door-to-door salesman, so he did what he knew best, pushing catchy titles, reissuing his back catalogue countless times (reaping publishing & writing royalties assigned to himself & his brothers) and making new low budget LPs. These new LPs were based on the copy-cat theory that if enough people would spend 99 cents for a reasonable facsimile rather than $5 for the real thing then he could make a good living for his extended family. And for a long while Jules proved right.

Day 67, the last Crown blues uploaded in this weeklong series. Awesome psychedelic cover art with odd negative effect cutout lettering; no credit to the artist. This is not a true stereo, two track LP despite its claim.  The selections include Hooker’s version of HooDoo Man (Baby You Ain’t No Good) with Biblical/caveman-type references to men and women plus Hooker’s 1954 version of Joe Turner’s Shake Rattle & Roll (Shake Holler & Run–listen below). Outstanding updates of Hooker’s classic boogie guitar (Gonna Boogie) and another of his classic riff driven pieces, Bad Boy.  More detailed info on all these cuts download and read The John Lee Hooker Discography by Claus Röhnisch


CST CST 295 / 1963


Next week: the major low budget era of 1960s Crown when Jules relied on two artists to help create new music, one black & one white: his longtime arranger/producer Maxwell Davis and new-comer guitarist/bandleader Jerry Cole who Jules found playing in a country band at the famed Palomino Club. Add to that formula young and hungry recording engineer Bill Lazerus and Jules’ purchase of the former Tops Records factory on Normandie & Slauson and now Jules had the means to produce an entire LP, from start to finish, in one day. Suddenly Crown was flooding the mom & pop shops with cheap product that sold and there was no stopping them.

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Let’s Do The Twist–The Weekly Round Up

Every Crown LP featured in this week of Crown twist records is worth owning and playing loud. The music ranges from terrific recycled singles from the early Bihari era to newer recordings produced for the twist era.

First up is a collection of early Etta James classics including her hit Roll With Me Henry, renamed The Wallflower as a single and renamed here as Twist With Me Henry.  Though nothing here was recorded for the twist era this collection does have a connection through Roll With Me Henry which is an answer song to Work With Me Annie by Hank Ballard, the writer/performer of the first twist single The Twist.  Obscure note: besides seeing the usual LP # scratched in the vinyl around the label is the code: “Re6x” which I can’t decipher. Any ideas?


CLP 5250

Day 55. Up next is a Joe Houston twist LP with cover photo of Joe twisting with his sax.  It’s one of several Bihari Houston LPs in my closet Crown collection & all are worth owning. Twisting In Orbit, however,  is a bit different as it features raw guitar as well as Houston’s usual honky R&B sax.

Joe Houston, who appears in my documentary on Crown Records, was a favorite artist of Jules who recorded him as early as 1950 and as late as 1978.  Unlike the Etta James LP, it sounds as if several cuts are newer recordings with Joe & the band actually trying to play twist music.

The definitive story on Joe Houston’s recordings for the Biharis is included in Jim Dawson’s excellent liner notes for the Ace Records reissue of Joe Houston’s recordings.


CLP 5252

Day 56 presents a twist on the twist — a Duane Eddy knock off twist LP from Crown. But Steve Douglas is not just some obscure or fake sax player who copied Duane Eddy’s sound and stole the title of one of the master’s hits for the name of his band, the Rebel Rousers. Douglas actually played on recordings by Duane Eddy, the Beach Boys, the Routers and other 60’s bands as part of the Wrecking Crew back up band. Phil Spector played guitar in Douglas’ first band and went on to hire Douglas to back the Ronettes and other Spector groups. His bio is on file at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Check it out.

How his Crown LPs came to be is anyone’s guess at this point but both Douglas twist LPs are actual twist recordings.  The recordings sound great, Douglas’ sax playing soars (never schmaltzy)  & the guitar work is surfy or twangy throughout.  This LP is mostly singing with Douglas attempting to create a new dance step, the Popeye.

The second Douglas twist LP is instrumental and a better listen for those more interested in guitar/sax rock n roll.


CLP 5254

On Day 57 we asked which came first? The Atlantic or the Crown?  The Atlantic of course.  By 1962, the Biharis had long given up any creativity in their releases and here they boldly copy the 1961 Atlantic Ray Charles LP design and concept released the year before.  Interesting to consider that even the Ray Charles LP is a fake twist record, the same as this Jimmy McCracklin release.  Neither LP contains any new music; both are collections of previous singles & hits. The McCracklin twist Crown is a collection of some of his best singles from the Bihari catalogue and is worth owning.


RayCharlestTwist                             CLP 5244   /   Atlantic 8054

On Day 58, a Friday, I posted Raunchy Twist with Steve Douglas. This is the more interesting of the two Douglas LPs if you prefer surf & twang over cornball lyrics. Here’s a very Duane Eddy sounding track, complete with tremolo, handclaps & background yelps. Note that this stereo Crown is recorded in authentic two track stereo (vs many fake reprocessed Bihari stereo LPs).


CST 251

Saturday night’s ( day 59) twist post  is another Joe Houston twister, this one featuring dance steps on the back.  This same back was used on the Douglas LP above.


There’s a bit of Honky Tonk in White House Twist, take a listen:


CLP 5246

Jimmy Beasley closes a week of Crown Twist LPs, another Bihari twist record in cover name only. Jimmy Beasley is a Fats Domino/Smiley Lewis soundalike and this LP is all New Orleans R&B; nothing remotely twist here despite the efforts of the creative forces at Crown to twistify two of the song titles: Slow Twist & Rhumba Twist.


 CLP 5247

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Fazzio Clip

Here’s a clip from the Fazzio section of my documentary on the Crown Records.

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Fazzio Rules!

Here’s a week’s worth of Fazzios as posted daily on the Crown Facebook. The Fazzios are a series of 1963-1964 Crown LPs meant to be in the style that other labels were releasing at the time which featured portraits of recording artists on the covers. Of course Crown was budget so Bihari eschewed liner notes and each side featured 5 instead of the normal 6 cuts.

This much we know about Fazzio: He bought frames and canvases at Turner’s frame shop on 7th in what was formerly an arts district, near the Chouinard Art Institute (the original Cal Arts). The Fazzio covers started out a photographic images on fiber board that were painted over. The fiber board texture is often evident on the faces which Fazzio colored.  He filled in backgrounds with prominent brush strokes while clothes and other features ended up blurred and messy. All were signed by Fazzio’s now famous signature.

If you’d like to own an original Fazzio used on many of these Crown LP covers, Russ & Sherree over at their vintage shop in Lomita, CA have an incredible collection of the original Fazzios.  Stop by their shop and see for yourself.  They’re great, friendly folk.

IkeTurner copy

CST 367

Started out (day 46) with this iconic 1963 Crown: Ike Turner on a Fazzio cover. Turner was Bihari’s main A&R man in the great early days of the label while Fazzio was Bihari’s schlockiest cover artist in the budget era. This LP features several outstanding and raw cuts with gritty distorted guitar work including Hey Miss Tina, Bayou Rock & The Blues All The Time, a long cut in which Turner & the band mimic different blues guitar styles including BB King & Elmore James.


CLP 5353

Day 47 – This 1963 John Lee Hooker Fazzio was one of my first Crown purchases from a used bookshop in Berkeley, 1969. Hooker sides were recorded in Detroit between 1948 & 1952 by Bernie Besman who started leasing Hooker cuts to Modern as early as 1948.  About 1952 Joe Bihari took over recording Hooker in Detroit. Much more info on Hooker’s life & discography at this site by Clous Rohnish which you can download as a PDF.  Highly recommended for fans of Hooker.


CST 381

Day 48. Marvin Phillips first teamed up with Jessie Belvin, a bon fide Bihari hit maker who was unfortunately killed in a car crash in 1960. Marvin teamed up with several Johnnys including Johnny Dean, Emory Perry & Willie Egans. These are all Bihari recordings from the mid-1950s.

JimmySmith2       JimmySmith1

CST 469                                                          CST 355

A budget posting 2 for 1 Fazzio listing on day 49: Bihari cropped the original 1963 Fazzio for a second 1964 Jimmy Smith release, teaming some Don Gardner/J. Smith cuts w/a different artist, The Arthur Glenn Quartet.

Drummer Don Gardner was a Philly native whose early band featured Jimmy Smith and a guitarist named Thornel Schwartz, nicknamed “Grid Grind Puts.  Several cuts on CST 355 feature tough guitar work including a tight version of Bill Doggett’s Honky Tonk. These Crown cuts might have been leased to Bihari from Bruce Record singles recorded in Philly though who knows?  He later recorded with Dee Dee Ford, Baby Washington & others. Bill Davis is probably Wild Bill Davis, an organ player who bridged swing & 50’s jazz scenes. The LP featuring Arthur Glenn has a more tasteful feel throughout.  Can’t find a word about Arthur Glenn.


CST 354

Day 50–R&B singer Chuck Jackson (bit of a crooner) was a member of the Del-Vikings, left on a solo recording career, first to sing Burt Bacharach-Hal Davis songs and still performs today. Young Jessie also had a long solo career and sang with the Coasters when he was through with Modern. The cuts here are rockin’ featuring Mickey Baker (probably) on guitar and includes his hit Mary Lou.


CST 412

Day 51. This 1964 Nat King Cole/Lester Young LP features post war recordings & overlaps cuts on Aladdin releases so not sure if this is original Bihari recordings. These same cuts are featured on several other Crown & Modern jazz LPs.  Lots of critical praise for this pairing but the overall sound on these measly five cuts put me to sleep.


CST 383

Day 52. Good pairing here of blues belters with Nelson being inspired to sing by hearing Joe Turner in an Oakland bar.  Belting bartender Joe Turner was such a prolific recording artist that it may be impossible to know if he actually recorded these cuts for Crown which features a couple live recordings.  Jimmy Nelson sang with Joe Liggins & others, and these cuts are all singles released on RPM and other Bihari labels in the early 1950’s.


CLP 5362

Day 53. Fazzio “paints” a lovely portrait of Little Richard singing gospel songs on Sunday’s Fazzio posting.  Little Richard was switching labels at the time and recorded these numbers for Bihari in the 1963. The recordings feature typical gospel organ, piano and a doo wop-style choir backing Richard.  He does a credible job singing gospel but sad to say his voice here is never going to inspire me to seek salvation.

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A Week Of Love From Crown Records

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Crown Records Story!


CST 585

May this 1968 Crown offering put you in the proper romantic mood! Scratched into the vinyl around the label is CS 1066 (besides CST 585), indicating this might have been a Custom stereo release though it’s not listed in the Both Sides Now discography for Custom.


CLP 5323

Day 44. Real life rocker, one-time heart throb Tommy Roe sends hearts your way via this 1963 release. He shares the bill with Bobby Lee who sounds on record like Jerry Cole. Unsigned Fazzio cover. Tommy Roe continues to play shows; check his schedule on google.

LP Highlights: I Got A Girl is Tommy Roe as Buddy Holly imitator followed by several other real Tommy Roe singles.

Foreman is performed by a Jimmy Reed imitator complete with guitar and harp. At one point the band track almost completely drops out, and voices are heard for a moment after the tune ends. Side 1 concludes with Tommy Roe’s single Caveman though it’s poorly edited and starts abruptly in mid-verse.

The tracks on side 2 sound like Jerry Cole’s voice & guitar work. The best cuts are the opening track Nothing But Love and Run Don’t Walk.


CST 587

Day 43 and today’s Crown Valentine features bare shoulder & licensed tune from 1968.  A not-so-fascinating offer from the Fascinating Strings. Like all three fascinating strings discs this week, scratched into the vinyl is a second set of release numbers: CS 1067.


CLP 5511

Day 42 & the 3rd day of our Valentine tribute to Crown. From 1968, the Mexicali Brass ask: What Now My Love? At the time, Herb Albert asked Jules in court, why rip off my Tijuana Brass? Jules lost that lawsuit but not before he released over a dozen MB LPs. Recording engineer Bill Lazerus & Jerry Cole claim that all the Mexicali Brass cuts were the work of Maxwell Davis.

CST 202


CST 202

On Day 41, I went to see the gypsy who played me some love songs backed by 1000 strings, including the classic title, Hora Staccato. The cover photo on this 1960 LP appears as over saturated in person as it does here. The string arrangements on this LP have a kinda gypsy quality to them unlike the deadly dull string arrangements on the Fascinating Strings LPs.


CST 577

Day 40 & it’s the start of my Valentine week of love from Crown.  A 1968 release titled For Young Lovers by the Fascinating Strings. Side 1 is anchored by the copyrighted tune Be My Love (Mario Lanza)  & filled out by what sounds like waltzes. Side 2 is all generic string mood music

I bet no young lovers yesterday or  today would be fascinated by this 99 cent vinyl. As with the other Fascinating Strings LPs I listed this week, a second set of CS release numbers are scratched into the vinyl around the label.

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