When I started this project on January 1, 2015, I knew I had over 400 LPs from various Bihari labels in the closet and that the majority were on the Crown label.
The collection started 40 years ago when some of the first blues and motorcycle instro records I bought were on Crown.
In 2002 I stepped up the purchase of budget Bihari label purchases when I began shooting interviews of several old employees from the Cadet Records Normandie plant for a possible documentary on the Bihari family business.
Work was slow on the documentary over the next decade but that didn’t stop the flood of Bihari budget LPs given to me by friends who’d take delight in finding them in thrift stores & swap meets; most of the LPs were Crowns as that label was most recognizable and plentiful. It became a game with one record collecting friend who felt challenged to find a Crown that I didn’t have. Often he’d lose, hence the Crown collection contains many duplicates.
Meanwhile, I’d be digging up & buying other Bihari labels, especially Custom and Riveria. The only rule was NEVER to pay more than $1 for a Bihari LP which is remarkable as most sold for a $1 originally.
So now I’ve posted more than 250 Crown LPs and I’m scraping the bottom of the closet for more Crowns. I long ago exhausted the best of Crowns: the blues, the motorcycle instros and the Fazzios. Next came Mexicali Brass (at one time I tried to find the entire series and nearly succeeded; I have two to post at Christmas!).
I knew it would come to the day when I’d have to start posting mostly dixieland, polka & big band. And though the shelves in the closet are far from exhausted, I am finding it harder to pull out a Crown rather than another Bihari label. The suspense begins: do I truly have enough Crowns to make it to New Years Eve?
A cover of Ramsey Lewis Trio’s hit The In Crowd by Johny (one N) Louis and his Trio (piano, drums, bass). Nothing but this Crown LP turns up on a credit search for Johny Louis so was it’s legit to question if this cat & his trio were real or just Maxwell Davis’ back up combo for the Normandie studio?
Louis’ cover of The In Crowd is solidly executed but like all the tunes on this LP it gets monotonous quickly. How long can you listen to well played but uninspired piano, drums & bass? The beat never changes and style remains the same. Several of the other tunes are classics from the Bihari catalogue including BB King’s Rock Me Baby & Woke Up This Morning, both of which sound like the backing track for the BB King tunes. Even Cherry Pie gets played here. Not a single tune stands out.
Most of the Bihari kiddie records were on the Robin Hood label but Crown was a label for all seasons so a few end up here. This kiddie LP is typical of the first year Crowns with back liner notes by Frank Evans and cover design by Hobco Arts (out of El Segundo).
The kiddie music here is old school with a mix of narration, sound effects & singing. The audio sounds well produced but dated even for toddler music. Not worth a needle drop.
The last George Liberace LP in my closet collection though the back liner notes reveal Crown issued six “Music by George!” LPs. This is a red vinyl Crown “StereODiscs” from their first year which includes the stereo concept explanation on the back along with short liner notes and complete band credits. Also credits for Joe Tauber photography and another Hobo Arts cover design.
Musically By George sounds like a small combo version of Lawrence Welk. The musicians are excellent instrumentalists, especially the percussionists. Arrangements are even lively at times.
He opens & closes each show with the tune Thank You.
One of Crown’s most famous (& best) covers featuring model & TV star Irish McCalla who receives credit on the back (as McCulla) along with Tauber photography & Hobo Arts design.
McCalla was known for her role as “Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle” in the 1950s TV series. She’s featured in an even more provocative outfit on one of Crown’s Sounds Of A Thousand Strings LPs, Music For Big Dame Hunters (not in my collection/borrowed the pix below for demo purposes only).
Louis Martinelli’s music is accordion led Latin tunes and rhythms. Basically nice dinner music for the older or retro crowd. Side One has 4 tracks, Side Two has 6 tracks. Here’s Blue Night from Side 2, typical of the music on the LP:
Another first year Crown with uncredited liner notes and Art Direction by Verve cover artist Sheldon Marks. Both Marks & conductor Hans Hagan have been mentioned in previous posts. Hagan’s few credits online include a few other budget orchestration LPs besides two on Crown. I spare you a needle drop on this one.
Another first year Crown with liner notes and “Art Direction & Production” by Sheldon Marks with Florette Bihani’s name beneath Marks’ in smaller type (first time I’ve seen this type of credit for Florette). Cover photo credited to J.H. Maddocks, a name that links to photo finishing studios in several locations including Burbank & Washington DC (was Maddocks a photographer who developed a photo finishing business?). As mentioned, Sheldon Marks did jazz covers for Verve.
No bio info on Dean Lester is available anywhere. Tunes are big band arrangements of standards like Autumn Leaves. Best feature of the LP is the cover: great letter fonts resembling light bulb signage plus a dreamy superimposed photo.
Jesse Crawford was an influential theater organist who achieved celebrity status and earned the name “Poet of the Organ.” He got his start at Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles (still operating). There’s even a published biography of Crawford and you can easily find clips of him playing on youtube.
Get your skates out folks: this is that big reverberating sound of a theater pipe organ, however, it’s best heard in an old theater rather than on a budget Crown record.
Haven’t done a head count but there’s probably more polka, big band and dixieland LPs than any other genre in the Crown catalogue. In the blank trail off vinyl on this LP, CLP 5403 is scratched out, replaced by CLP 5466. Turns out CLP 5403 is the same Alex Pulaski LP, released a year earlier with a different cover. How cheap can a budget LP get?
So far all I’ve found of this LP in the closet is the front cover. It’s one of Crown’s better cover illustration and I’ll update this post if the other parts of the LP are found.
Apparently Crown landed a talented pianist in Lilie Wollin Naness, a Juliard graduate and Paris Fulbright winner whose piano concerts have been critically acclaimed in Los Angeles, Austin, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Milan, and Paris. Other than that, I’ve found no other biographical info on Lili.
Little information is available about Hammond organ player Jim Day other than he was called “Big” Jim Day (the name on the label as opposed to the cover) and is most associated with the tune You’re A Grand Old Flag. Great rousing ball park/silent movie music here. Lots of medleys.
Crown mined accordianist Louis Martinelli & his Continentals for several LP releases though I found no biographical information about him online. Probably his best known Crown LPs are earlier releases Cocktails for Two and Latin Twist. This later LP features mostly smaltzy sounding Italian-style love songs; Arriverdverci Roma is definitely a standout and is quite lovely. Cover-wise, definitely the lesser of the Crown Martinelli releases.
CST 148/June 1958
Lovely red vinyl early Crown stereo release with the the warning on the back “Highly Exciting! Handle with Care!” and spirited liner notes credited to Bill Parker. Released in a mono version that touts the joys of Hi Fi. As with most of Crown’s conductors, there’s no biographical information available about Antoine de Treville.
CLP 5018/1957 Reissue of RPM 3003
A reissue of RPM 3003, the Biharis’ limited run of LPs using their 78 RPM label, all re-issued a year later on Crown. Featuring an provocative cover by Todd Walker, this Don Ralke LP brags via big print and uncredited liner notes about “hearing the unusual electronic device called the Tremelo…built into the guitar amplifier.” Typical is the first track, All Things You Are, that I guarantee will put you to sleep despite the use of tremolo.
CLP 5066/1958 send
Another first year Crown with credits for “Cover Design” by Dave Nagata & photography by Estvan-Agler and Milt Hyman. Dave Nagata was an artist with credits linked to influential graphic designer Saul Bass (he may have worked in Saul Bass’ company). No info is available on the photographers.
The most interesting note about this LP is what happened to the cover photo. It’s not unusual to discover that a photo was reused by the Biharis and in this case it ends up on one of their later psychedelic Crown LPs.
The photo also ends up as cover art on a school band LP produced by Century Records in Saugus, CA which ran a franchise operation throughout the country. It’s anyone’s guess how a Crown cover ends up in Saugus.
Nothing is known of Don Ayers. His only credit is this LP. There was no vinyl in the jacket. No credits on cover or back. End of investigation.
With Crown riding the wave of cheapie organ LPs, here’s yet another one by a nobody with no credits beyond his two Crown releases. Photo credit to 3 Lions, Inc., a NYC photo agency used on many early Crown releases before the Normandie studio started producing their own covers.
First year Crown release with uncredited liner notes and cover watercolor by Robert E. Needham. Off set printing makes it looks 3 D. Needham is another dead end artist on the Crown roster with with no other credits listed besides this LP cover.
CLP 5200 scratched out on the blank vinyl reveals this is a reprint of Vol. 5 of the original Kings of Dixieland series–there is is no Dixieland Scramblers.
Compilations of many of the Bihari “members of” big band records on which Maxwell Davis led bands consisting of members of big bands whose leaders were either gone or the Bihari machine was too cheap to pay for the leader. Most of the LPs depicted on these two covers are in my Crown collection and will soon be posted on Facebook!
Both volumes contain brief liner notes and extensive musician credits. Vol 1 credits Frank Evans for the liner notes & Rosentswieg for the cover design. Vol 2 credits slightly longer and more inspired liner notes to John Marlo and a near replica of Vol 1’s cover design to Charles Meggs.
Most interesting feature of these last two LPs is that the photos are from the same session, featuring the same models. Another classic Bihari budget saving trick seen all over their catalogue, especially evident on the Kings of Dixieland series.
Hope you enjoyed this series of Crowns as it’s only gonna get worse from here on out.