Born John Grattan Dolphin, 1915, Detroit, Michigan
>From 1948 until his violent death in 1958, John Dolphin owned and operated Dolphin's of Hollywood Record Shop in south Los Angeles. He also ran various record labels from his shop. Someone who calls his labels Money and Cash leaves no doubt as to why he was in the recording business. A big man with a big cigar, big talk and big promises, he was the kind of hustler that often gave the record business a bad reputation. He was one of the first black independent record label owners and probably also the most notorious one. A former car salesman, Dolphin relocated from Detroit to L.A. after the Second World War. He bought his shop in 1948 from another hustler, "War" Perkins. One of Dolphin's ideas was to feature a disc jockey broadcasting in the window of his store in an attempt to attract custom. The deejays were expected to feature records on Dolphin's labels. The most famous of these jocks was Dick "Huggy Boy" Hugg, Dolphin's first white deejay, who drew white teenagers to the shop in ever increasing numbers.
In 1950 Dolphin started his first label, Recorded In Hollywood (RIH). His first chart success came in 1951, "Once There Lived A Fool", by Duke Ellington's vocalist Jimmy Grissom (# 7 R&B). The song, penned by Jessie Mae Robinson, became the subject of almost a dozen covers, by Tony Bennett, Charles Brown, Tommy Edwards, Savannah Churchill, John Greer, Jimmy Witherspoon and others. Encouraged by this hit, Dolphin set about recording other local performers (mainly in the R&B, blues and jazz field), with bassist George "Red" Callender handling most of the A&R chores. Among the artists on Dolphin's roster were Scatman Crothers, Harry Caesar (who recorded as Little Caesar), Tony Allen, Gene Forrest (later of Gene and Eunice), Percy Mayfield, Damita Jo, Pee Wee Crayton, Marvin Phillips, Jesse Belvin, Illinois Jacquet and Linda Hayes. The latter lady was the sister of Tony Williams of the Platters (her real name was Bertha Williams) and scored two hits on RIH, "Yes I Know (What You're Putting Down)" (# 2 R&B), an answer record to Willie Mabon's "I Don't Know", and "Take Me Back" (# 10 R&B, 1954).
When rhythm & blues evolved into rock n roll, the grown-up sounds of Recorded In Hollywood sounded old hat to teen ears. Dolphin set up a new label, Lucky, which released only nine singles (including efforts by the Hollywood Flames and Joe Houston). When that didn't work out, he formed Money and then Cash. Huggy Boy had a great deal of input as to what was recorded and released, receiving a "handshake" partner- ship for his trouble, and a cut of the profits. Dolphin's biggest seller from this period was "Jivin' Around" (Parts 1 & 2) by the Ernie Freeman Combo (Cash 1017, # 5 R&B in early 1956), which Freeman would soon rerecord for Imperial.
Dolphin sold Money and its holdings to Don Pierce's Hollywood Records in 1956 or 1957. Of course, none of his artists saw a dime from the deal and on February 1, 1958, his luck ran out : Percy Ivy, a frustrated song- writer in search of royalties, shot Dolphin dead behind the desk of his Hollywood office. The murder was witnessed by Sandy Nelson and Bruce Johnston, then only 19 and 15 years old. In the mid-1960s, Dolphin's widow, Ruth, reactivated Money Records, which would serve as a springboard for the successful soul chanteuse Bettye Swan. The shop was taken over by Dolphin's assistant, Rudy Ray Moore, who continued to run it until 1970.
John Dolphin's modus operandi was to pay as little as possible to session musicians and artists. Get it done quickly and cheaply seems to have been his credo. This does not mean that he turned out bad records. Some are surprisingly good. But this is probably due mainly to the professionalism of the session musicians that he used, which included Red Callender (bass), Maxwell Davis (tenor sax), Eddie Beal (piano) and Chico Hamilton (drums).
Acknowledgements : - Tony Rounce, Liner notes for "On With the Jive : 1950s R&B From Dolphin's Of Hollywood, Vol. 1" (Ace CDCHD 1179, 2008).
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