Lute Records was founded by violinist, songwriter, band leader and music publisher Al Kavelin in 1960. I’m his son, Frank. Before my father ventured out on his own, he ran the publishing division of Arwin Records, a company owned by Doris Day and her husband, Marty Melcher. They enjoyed much success–until they didn’t. Things didn’t end well for my father. Nor did they end well for Doris when she discovered how much of her money ended up in Marty’s pocket. What to do?
Dad started his own record label and promoted it via contacts he had made during his many years in the music business. It was a time of optimism and promise–Camelot. Rock n’ Roll was a little more than a decade old, so it wasn’t surprising that new sub-genres started to appear. It was also a time when talented artists were embracing these new sub-genres. They were unknowns then, but in a matter of a few years, these artists would attain stardom.
My father faced challenges as he started Lute Records. Two of these were: (1) competing with the major labels, and: (2) his refusing to utilize payola to promote his records. On the plus side, he had a great ear for commercial music and a great eye for talent. Hopeful artists making the rounds of record labels would call on Lute Records. Some were signed to our label. The most notable of these was Otis Redding. As great as he was, even then, the four sides he cut with us were not successful. Payola would have made a big difference.
Without compromising his principles, my father landed his first and greatest hit: “Alley Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles. Dad didn’t drive. His problem was ADD, which wasn’t a thing back then. He had my mother drive him to Bakersfield, California where the writer of “Alley Oop” was well known. He went to the top radio station there and asked the program director if he would make “Alley Oop” the “pick of the week.” The answer was “no.” Fortunately, the station also had “the bomb of the week” (a derogatory term–not as it is used today). The PD judged that “Alley Oop” would qualify for that honor. And so it was that “Alley Oop” was played every hour in Bakersfield. The station switchboard lit up with calls asking where “Alley Oop” could be purchased. Every shipment of records sold out soon after it was delivered to the record stores. With the sales statistics from Bakersfield, my father was able to get play on the three top radio stations in L.A.: KDAY, KRLA and KFWB. From there it broke nationally. In short order, it reached Number 1 on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts.
I was 9 years old when all of this happened. When Dad brought home the first test pressing of “Alley Oop,” he played it for the family. With all of my 9-year-old sophistication, I begged him not to release it because I thought it was an embarassment. In reality, I was not sophisticated enough to appreciate the campy, over-the-top lyrics and the drunken, exaggerated lead singing of Gary Paxton. And that was precisely what clicked with millions of fans around the world.
With a good portion of the money earned by “Alley Oop,” my father spent a number of years in the studio trying to replicate its success. He came close a couple of times. All the while, I was allowed to tag along with him to many of the recording sessions. The famous Gold Star Recording studio became my home away from home. At night, when falling asleep in bed or on the studio floor, I would hear every note, every talk-back, every rewind and fast forward from earlier in the day. My father would often experience the same sensation.
I lost Dad in January of 1982. By that time I was in the studios on my own merit, as a songwriter, arranger and conductor. I took over the management of my father’s publishing catalog on behalf of my mother. When my mother died in 2005, I inherited the record company and the publishing catalog. The catalog was doing fairly well but the record label was dormant. Several years ago, I decided to reactivate Lute Records by offering permanent digital downloads via iTunes, Amazon and others, as well as streaming via Spotify and others. The first release was an album of digital remasters of Lute Records’ best selling singles entitled “Lute Records, Vol. 1 – 60s Soul, Doo-Wops and Novelties.”
Our stable of artists contained some amazing singers and very creative songwriters, especially in the genres of Soul, Doo-Wop and Novelties that were so popular in the 1960s. The best studio musicians, arrangers and producers were hired. For baby boomers, this music will bring back memories. For later generations, the music will be a snapshot of a seminal time in the history of popular music. Innovations developed then are the basis of so much of today’s popular music.
The final and most import ingredient in all of this is YOU, the listener. None of this music or the efforts behind it would be worth anything if there wasn’t someone to love it.
As Lute Records resumes it’s journey, I sincerely hope you will come along for the ride. We’ll not only be celebrating the past but we will be releasing new music that will adhere to the same values that my father brought to the label.
If you would like to hear the first album release of the revitalized Lute Records, click here.
Thank you for reading, listening, and if so inclined, grooving,
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