Friday 7 June 2024

What's in a Name?

It has been several years since I last wrote about song-poem outfit Tin Pan Alley, but I don’t believe I’ve ever gone into much detail about their subsidiary labels, Pageant and TPA.


First, here’s a short recap of the history of one of the greatest, and most prolific, of all song-poem setups.


Tin Pan Alley was founded as a sheet music operation in 1941 by songwriter Jack Covais who, unable to hook up with an established publisher, wound up self-publishing instead. Opening a small office on Broadway, by 1943, the year he hooked up with arranger Edie Gordon and produced his first hit, the patriotic anthem Let Freedom Ring, he had begun to dabble in the murky world of song-poem publishing. Covais continued to publish legitimate material, including the wonderfully-titled I Want Some ‘V’ Mail From my Female’ in 1944, and, in 1952, the company’s first physical release came out (on both 10” 78 and 7” 45), with both sides penned by Covais himself. It didn't seem to bother the Brooklyn-based Covais that there was already an outfit called Tin Pan Alley, run by Frank Capano in Philadelphia, which issued its first recordings in 1946.


Initially, the company began by providing custom pressing and musical arrangement work for small bands and artists keen enough to get a record out to self-finance the project. Some of those records have gained a reputation among serious doo-wop collectors and can now fetch hundreds of dollars. Because of this, several have been widely bootlegged. But pretty soon, emboldened by their success as a vanity publisher, Tin Pan Alley became a full-blown song-poem operation.


Jack Covais was pretty serious about his business, forming his own publishing company (Juke Box Alley) and copyrighting his compositions. He was not averse to taking the big boys to court either if he felt his copyright had been infringed:  in 1957 he sued Atlantic Records over their Laverne Baker hit Tra La La, which he claimed copied his own Check Your Heart, and CBS  over their tune I Hope You Don't Know What You're Doing which, he believed, ripped off his composition What's It Gonna Get You.


Jack Covais died in 1964 in Richmond Hill, New York, and his business was taken over by his brother before being passed on to his nephew, Sal Covais (I am, at this point unsure if that is the same Salvatore Covais who was a member of several New York doo-wop acts in the early 1950s, or if that was another relation, perhaps Jack’s brother). Sometime after, probably around the end of 1971 (the first copyright entry I’ve found for the Florida address is January 1972; 1971 copyrights have the company still in New York), Sal moved the entire operation to Florida, where he set up an office in the town of Sarasota.


Whereas Tin Pan Alley had previously used several different song stylists of varying, but usually at least bearable quality, once moving to Florida the company relied on just one singer, the woefully flat Mike Thomas, until even he had enough of the garbage he was being offered and he was replaced by a group, first the Melodiers and then the utterly terrible New Image. It’s clear that Sal Covais moved to Florida for the weather, not the talent pool, as almost all of the later Tin Pan Alley-related discs are shockingly bad.


While in Florida, it seems that Sal decided to launch two new labels for his song-poem productions, TPA (fairly obviously from the initials of Tin Pan Alley) and Pageant. I have several discs on both imprints, and like all Tin Pan Alley releases none of them feature any publication dates, however thanks to Sal’s odd but seemingly sequential numbering system it seems that TPA came first, and probably pretty soon after the move to Florida: the first TPA release I have is a Mike Thomas recording, catalogue number TPA 60-607, A Central Jersey Special written by John Reynolds, backed with My Prayer, written by Melva J. Lunceford, and copyrighted by her in April 1971. This is the earliest Tin Pan Alley release I have that features the Sarasota address, and it appears to have been issued in the summer of 1972: Juke Box Alley registered a copyright claim for My Prayer in July of that year.


Utah-based poet Melva J. Lunceford was a prolific song-poet, submitting her lyrics to Ted Rosen’s Halmark outfit - her songs Singing in His Reign and Prophets in Eclipse were issued on an EP in the early 1970s – and Hollywood Artists, who issued two more of her songs on their Music of America albums.


Pageant seems to have come shortly afterwards. Although Pageant discs do not feature the TPA prefix in their catalogue numbers or an address for the company, it’s obvious that Pageant and Tin Pan Alley are one and the same: Mike Thomas is performing with the same shoddy band that backed him up on his Tin Pan Alley releases, and the songs are again published by Juke Box Alley, the publishing house that Uncle Jack set up all those years earlier. I’ve no idea why Sal Covais decided to diversify, unless perhaps there was some disagreement within the family over who owned the rights to the Tin Pan Alley Name, but not long afterward both TPA and Pageant vanished, and the company was back to using their full moniker.


Here, for your delectation, is Mike Thomas with two songs issued by Pageant and written by Robert A. Baird, Change the Rule and Something Wonderful. I believe the single was issued around 1972/73: the ‘72’ in the catalogue number may be just a coincidence, but Baird registered copyright in several other songs during 1972, including Flicker of a Flame, Hey Nashville and Tell Me On the Telephone, as well as in Something Wonderful (Just Happened to Me), the full title of the B-side.




Download Change HERE

Download Wonderful HERE

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I'm in Sarasota! Not seen any of these labels around here, but I'm sure he shipped them out to individuals who were excited to get recordings of their songs, no matter how bad. :)


WWR Most Popular Posts