Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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DOT Records

A pop label formed in Gallatin TN by Randy Wood (b 30 March 1917, Morrison TN; d 9 April 2011, La Jolla, San Diego CA). It's not too much to say that Dot changed the face of pop music in the 1950s. After service in WWII Wood operated an appliance store, selling record players, then records, and the records pushed the appliances out the door and it became Randy's Record Shop. Wood started a mail-order record business described as the world's largest, advertising on a Nashville radio station and said to be shipping half a million discs a year by 1950. From the beginning he had a knack for spotting what was going to be popular, and sold country and black rhythm & blues as well as pop music. He would have a country artist record a pop song, or vice versa; he invited kids to the store and picked their brains about what songs they liked.
      Wood invested in his own local radio station, which broadcast only during the day, and when he formed his own label he recorded there at night. One of the first Dot artists was Johnny Maddox, a 'ragtime' piano player who had started as a clerk in the store, and had his first Billboard chart hit in 1952. The Hilltoppers were a vocal quartet who had a long string of hits 1952-57; one of them was Billy Vaughn, who left the group '55 to become Dot's music director after his 'Melody of Love' (an instrumental in ¾ time played by a string orchestra) was a huge hit at the end of '54. Nervous Norvus (Jimmy Drake) had a hit with 'Transfusion' '56, a bouncy novelty with sound effects about a car crash, full of gag lines ('I'm just a bunch of cotton-pickin' contalusions'; 'Shoot the juice to me, Bruce'; 'Pass the claret to me, Barret'). 'The Fool' by Sanford Clark was a compelling piece of rockabilly that went top ten that year. A New York disc jockey, Jim Lowe, hit with 'The Green Door' in '56; something exciting was behind the green door: was it a night club or the musician's union?
      In fact 1956 was a very big year for Dot. Pat Boone was the most commercially successful pop singer of the decade after Elvis Presley; his first number one was a cover of Fats Domino's 'Ain't That A Shame' in '55, and in '56 he had five double-sided hits, plus a single with a film song, for 11 Billboard hits in one year, and that year Wood moved the label to Hollywood.
      Boone began as a cover merchant, so naive that he wanted to change the Domino song to 'Isn't That A Shame', and when he had hits with Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' and 'Long Tall Sally' he said he didn't know what the words meant. But Wood and Boone made a lot of money in song royalties for Domino and Richard (and Ivory Joe Hunter, whose 'I Almost Lost My Mind' was a no. 1 for Boone), and got the songs exposure on the radio and jukeboxes, and helped change the face of pop in that era. When Little Richard's own recording of 'Long Tall Sally' did better on the Billboard chart than Boone's, something had changed. But Boone had a total of 59 hits on Dot.
      The Fontane Sisters had 18 hits on Dot. Actor Tab Hunter and actress Gale Storm were two people who couldn't sing who had hits on the label. Dot eventually released about 1,000 albums, recording artists as disparate as Louis Armstrong, Liberace and Mickey Gilley. Among the albums were Count Basie's Straight Ahead; The Brothers Candoli, by Pete and Conte Candoli; Eddie Costa's House Of Blue Lights; and Cross Country Suite, by Buddy DeFranco and Nelson Riddle. There were several uncategorizable albums by Ken Nordine, a vocal coach and maker of radio commercials whose best-known album was Word Jazz '57, experimenting with sound on tape. Dot recorded Lawrence Welk from '60, just as Welk was reaching a peak of fame on television; Wood allegedly advised him to make music for listening rather than dancing, and it was wall-to-wall music that made the TV show so successful. Wood recorded Jack Kerouac's Poetry for the Beat Generation, with Steve Allen on piano, a legendary experiment, but then would not release it because he thought it was in bad taste. It came out on another label.
      Wood sold Dot to Paramount Pictures in 1957 for $3 million, and stayed on as president for ten years. ABC Records bought Dot in 1974 and discontinued the label in 1978. It's now the property of Universal.