Friday, 23 January 2015

Star Crust

Stephen F Singer established the song-poem label Star-Crest in the late 50s. Stephen was the son of Mortimer Singer, who founded the Nordyke song-poem factory in 1943. Laughingly referred to as Star-Crust by collectors because of the dated sound of its releases, Star-Crest is best known for its albums. The company had two distinct album series, Music of America – which usually featured a mix of singers (‘with orchestra’; although, as fellow song-poem enthusiast Bob Purse has noted: ‘rarely actually featuring more than four instruments, and often fewer than that’) and the New Favorites of… series, which would feature one singer, such as the risibly awful tenor Robert Ravis or the super-bland Tony Rogers, accompanied by a jaunty pianist. You can find a whole album’s worth of Ravis’s ravings from Bob’s own collection (if you can bear it) at http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/02/365_days_59_rob.html I have a couple of Star-Crest albums in my own collection (New Favorites of Tony Rogers, released in June 1961 and one of the many Music of America albums), but frankly life is too short!

They also released several 45s, four of which I present for you today.   

 
It’s often difficult to track down exact information about song-poem companies, but thanks to Singer’s shady practices we can be pretty certain about how long Star-Crest existed for. Adverts for their wares appeared in the back pages of magazines such as Ebony and Popular Science throughout 1959, 1960 and 1961 and then vanish. More than that, because Star-Crest was one of the few song-poem outfits hauled through the courts for their dodgy practices, e can ascertain a pretty firm date for when the company folded.

In late 1960 the Long Beach Independent (Nov 28, 1960) reported (under the headline Composers Bilked, Says FTC) that ‘the Federal Trade Commission charged Stephen F. Singer with using false royalty claims to obtain fees from songwriters for recording their songs’. The FTC complaint said that 'Singer did not pay royalties as advertised to those whose songs were accepted’. Instead, Singer 'paid them a royalty for each record sold, but sales were so limited the artists never were able to recover their investments’.

It wouldn’t take long for Billboard to pick up on the scandal, accusing Singer of using ‘false royalty claims and other deceptions to get fees from songwriters for recording their songs.’ The report continued to reveal that the Federal Trade Commission were taking Singer to court because ‘songwriters never actually collect royalties from Singer, that the recording talent is far from the “outstanding’ type offered in Singer’s ads, and that his “Music of America” albums do not, as claimed, contain current hits.’

Singer was given 30 day in which to file an answer the complaint, which he did, but the FTC won their case. In July 1961 it was reported that the Federal Trade Commission had been granted an order that ‘prohibited Stephen F. Singer of the Star-Crest Recording Co., Los Angeles, from using false royalty claims and other means, to obtain fees from song-writers for recording their songs’.

The chief cause of this litigation was the wording included in the contract Singer gave to his songwriters: ‘Our primary interest is in selling albums and earning money for our writers and ourselves. Writer agrees to pay for the test recording session at a special 50% scale rate of $96.20. We have with us some of the most talented and respected singing stars in Hollywood. Our "Music of America" series will contain well-known singing hits. Successful numbers that have already sold millions of copies and are being bought and played every day’. It was further alleged in the court proceedings that Singer wilfully misled songwriters in to thinking that their material would be recorded by the Chicago-based blues singer Jimmy Rogers, rather than the unknown Tony Rogers. As a result, Singer was issued with a cease and desist order. He could no longer advertise that hit artists would make his recordings, or that royalties would be paid to songwriters. For a few months Singer tried to continue without making these outrageous claims, altering the wording of his ads and removing any promises of royalties.

In March 1961 the company moved offices, from North Highland to Lexington Ave (both still Hollywood); the move happened just as Singer was attempting to move away from song-poems to more legitimate material. The first album issued by the newly legitimate Star-Crest was Curtain Time by impressionist Arthur Blake. According to a short news item in Billboard (March 1961) the company had also signed three other acts, Robert Linn, Freddie Bell and Kenny Miller, but none of them appear to have released any material for Star-Crest.

Star-Crest vanished for good some time in the early 60s. The Star-Crest name and logo would reappear, gracing a brace of singles in 1986 by soul artist El-Roy, but it’s unlikely that the company was in any way connected with the original Star-Crest.

Still, back to the music.

There’s no definitive discography of Star-Crest on the net, but the following is a list of all of the company’s known 45s: The ones that you can listen to today are in bold. So far as I am aware all Star-Crest 45s were issued in a fragile clear red vinyl. Three of the ones I own come in stock picture sleeves like those on this page. 

1: Tony Rogers - Sin Duda/Fickle Baby
14: Linda Collins with Orchestra - I Love Only You (Henderson Fisher)/Tony Rogers with Orchestra - On The Oxmore Trail (Andrew Scruggs)
40: Tony Rogers with Orchestra - Waiting For My Baby (W.L. Tisdale)/Down In The Valley (Millie Lancaster)
43: Tony Rogers with Orchestra – Winds Across the Prairie (Rhea Ball)/Flash! Flash! Flash! (Martin Belle-Isle)
71: Tony Rogers with Orchestra - What a Fool I Was (Mary Mancuso)/Homework (William E Cobb) You can hear this now at bobpurse.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/tony-rogers-does-his-homework.html
88: Linda Collins - Please (Ida Phillips)/Tony Rogers - My One and Only (Janette Sumrall)
90: Tony Rogers - All Yours (Ruby Sanders)/Linda Collins - That Old Man Of Mine (Violet Carter)
96: Tony Rogers with Orchestra – Moonlight and Distant Guitars (Ann C Fautsch)/Won’t You Marry Me? (Ernest Vanilla)

What really intrigues me is massive difference in the quality of Star-Crest’s product. My guess is that those with a full band arrangement would have cost the songwriter considerably more than $96.20 to have had recorded. Several of those songs sound to me like the product of the Globe studio – home to Sammy Marshall/Sonny Marcell and whose own recordings were issued on a slew of different labels over the years – but Globe was based in Nashville, and there’s little chance that a cheapskate like Singer would have paid for Tony Rogers to travel all that way to lay down a few sides. Could Globe have provided Star-Crest with music beds which they would then add their own vocalist to, or did Singer and Rogers travel to Nashville and spend a couple of days recording as many songs as they had time to fit in? If Gene Marshall could record 55 songs in one four-hour session couldn’t Rogers/Star-Crest have done similar? When you consider that the vast majority of Star-Crest tracks last under a minute and a half the duo could easily have beaten Marshall’s song-poem record.


Enjoy!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks. I believe Star-Crest and Stephen Singer have also been in the past extensively documented by the Deaprtement of Justice.

    ReplyDelete

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