Born Randolph Clay Wood, 30 March 1917, McMinnville, Tennessee
The story of Randy Wood (not to be confused with the one-time president of Vee-Jay Records, who died in 1980) is the story of Dot Records, one of the most successful independent record companies of the 1950s. After his discharge from the Air Force in 1945, Wood started an electrical repair shop in Gallatin, Tennessee, which his interest in music soon trans- formed into Randy Record's Shop. Wood soon added a mail order division, and brief commercials on radio station WLAC in Nashville helped to expand his base considerably. Soon Wood was inundated with orders for the kind of records that Gene Nobles and Hoss Allen played on WLAC, boogie blues by Amos Milburn, Roy Milton, Hadda Brooks and the rest. In January 1950 Wood decided to capitalize on the mail order trade by launching his own label, which he dubbed Dot Records.
Like most other small independents, Dot started out specializing in gospel, R&B and country material, as well as Johnny Maddox's piano novelties. Success first came in the shape of six R&B Top 10 hits (including a # 1, "Weepin' and Cryin'") for a combo from Norfolk, Virginia, The Griffin Brothers (1950-51). It was the surprise success in the pop market of "Trying" by the Hilltoppers in 1952 which led to a change in the label's orientation. Wood's success with the Hilltoppers, whose run of hits continued until 1957 (and involved several line-up changes) prompted a full-blooded assault on the lucrative pop market which involved taking on the major labels at their own game, a task no other independent had the courage or wherewithal to even contemplate.
One of the four Hilltoppers was Billy Vaughn, whose musical tastes ran toward orchestral arrangements more than vocal quartets. He released a Dot single with his own orchestra in 1954, "Melody Of Love", and when that record went to # 2 on the pop charts, Vaughn decided that his future was as an orchestra leader. He left the Hilltoppers to become musical director for Dot and to start a career as an orchestra leader with many more chart hits, well into the sixties (not to mention an astounding 36 chart albums between 1958 and 1970). He also was the leader of the orchestra that backed many of the other Dot pop acts, such as Pat Boone (Dot's most succesful artist ; only Elvis Presley sold more records in the 1950s), Gale Storm, the Fontane Sisters and others.
Randy Wood's experience in the mail order business had given him a keen insight into the tremendous underground popularity of rhythm and blues music among Southern teenagers. From 1954 onwards, Dot specialized in cover records of R&B hits by white artists who were presumably more acceptable to mainstream pop audiences. Billy Vaughn proved adept at providing sweetened, smoothed-over arrangements for such million-selling cover records as The Fontane Sisters' "Hearts of Stone", Gale Storm's "I Hear You Knocking" and Pat Boone's "Tutti Frutti". The latter is always an easy target for rock 'n' roll historians when they are trying to find an example of a bad R&R record. I'm not going to defend the musical quality of the Dot covers, but it is quite possible that these actually expanded and developed the wider public interest in black music. Many young teenagers' parents would have frowned on their children buying the Little Richard original of "Tutti Frutti" whereas Pat Boone singing the song made it an acceptable choice. As the teenage taste for rock 'n' roll grew, the kids got the message ahead of the adults and were soon able to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
With the cover records era coming to an end in 1956 (the year in which Wood moved his company from Tennessee to Hollywood), Randy Wood found a new and better way to get into the rock and roll market : buy or lease the masters from independent producers or tiny labels without national distribution. Good examples of this practice are "The Fool" by Sanford Clark (1956), "Come Go With Me'' and "Whispering Bells" by the Del-Vikings (both 1957) and "Henrietta" by Jimmy Dee (1958). Other rock 'n' roll masters bought in the late fifties didn't fare as well in the charts, but included some interesting names like Mickey Gilley, Ray Campi, Niki Sullivan, Ray Sharpe, Leroy Van Dyke, Bob Denton, Billy Adams, Danny Wolfe and Dick Lory. Apart from the hits by Boone and Vaughn, Dot had chart success with Jim Lowe, novelty artist Nervous Norvus, Bonnie Guitar and Robin Luke (among others), and in the sixties with instru- mentals like "Pipeline" by the Chantays, "Wipe Out" by the Surfaris and "Boss" by the Rumblers. In Joel Whitburn's list of Top 50 record labels 1955-1999, Dot is placed at an impressive # 20, with a total of 244 Billboard Top 100 hits.
Randy Wood sold Dot Records to Paramount Pictures in 1957 for $ 3,000,000, but stayed on as the president of the label for another ten years. Early in 1974, Dot was sold to the ABC-Paramount label and became ABC-Dot Records. At the end of 1977, the Dot label was discontinued in favour of simply ABC Records. In 1979, ABC and the Dot catalogue were sold to MCA. In 1998 MCA merged with Polygram to form Universal Music Group. Universal owns the Dot master tapes today.
From a rock 'n' roll point of view, Dot only rarely became involved with genuine innovators, by picking up completed masters from independent producers, but the label's twenty-year span in the pop industry was impressive evidence of what a determined independent company could achieve. And I haven't even mentioned The Phantom!
Those who have some time to kill can read the full Dot story (in 3 parts) at http://www.bsnpubs.com/dot/dotstory.html
There are two compilations of Dot's R&R output: "Dot Rock 'n' Roll" on Ace 592 (issued in 1996) and "That'll Flat Git It, Vol. 5 : Dot Records" (Bear Family BCD 15711, released in 1997). There is a great overlap between the two. The Bear Family comp includes the great "Circle Rock" by Lloyd Copas and "Love Me" by The Phantom, which the Ace CD does not.
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