Randy Wood dies at 94; Dot Records founder was a music industry innovator
His practice of having white singers such as Pat Boone record black
artists' hits is credited by some with helping black musicians break into the commercial mainstream.
By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
Dot Records founder Randy Wood was looking for a song for a young Pat Boone to record in 1955 and found it in the Fats Domino hit "Ain't That a Shame?" Except Boone, then an English major, wanted to sing "Isn't That a Shame?" After a few run-throughs, Wood insisted, "It's got to be 'ain't'," and Boone soon had his first No. 1 single.
Wood's practice of having white singers such as Boone cover rhythm and blues hits by black artists is credited by some with helping black musicians - and early rock music - break into the commercial mainstream. Pop stations that had limited airplay mainly to white artists found room for the remakes, which helped introduce the black R&B sound to a white
Wood died Saturday at his La Jolla home of
complications from injuries
sustained in a fall down stairs in his house, said his son John Wood. He was 94.
Calling him "one of the people I owe my career to," singer Pat Boone said Wood "picked out all my early hits."
"He was just my mentor, my angel," Boone, who stayed with Dot Records for 13 years, told The Times in 2005.
The R&B remakes were not without controversy. Dot Records, Boone and other singers were accused of stealing music and success from the black artists.
"That's a perversion of history," Boone said. "The recording directors at the small R&B labels wanted to attract attention to their artists, and the covers expanded the impact of the song. Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry were all thrilled, because it made it possible for their songs to finally get heard, and Randy knew that."
At one point in the mid-1950s, Dot had five of the top 10 hits on the
Billboard charts, said Larry Welk, who is the son of the late bandleader Lawrence Welk and first worked with Wood in 1960.
"He was a true pioneer in the music business," Welk said in a 2005 Times
interview. "He put in effect a lot of policies in the music business that will outlive him."
One innovation included automatically shipping large numbers of a record
to distributors if Wood thought the song was a hit and guaranteeing that
the unsold ones could be returned, Welk said.
When Wood opened a small appliance store in 1945 in Gallatin, Tenn., he
stocked pop records, but customers kept asking for R&B. So Wood started a mail-order business for the hard-to-find records and advertised it on a late-night R&B show he put together for WLAC, a Nashville radio station with a national presence.
"Randy's radio show played what were called 'race records' in those days, and he knew what the huge black hits were," Welk said. "Since whites weren't buying black hits, he'd be selling stuff through his
record shop and then he'd cover the same song with a white artist."
By 1950, the store had become Randy's Record Shop and was soon selling
almost 500,000 records a month. Wood also launched an independent record label and named it Dot because it was "simple and easy to remember," his son said.
The first group to put Dot on the pop charts, in 1952, was a group made up of mostly Western Kentucky College students who went by the school's nickname, the Hilltoppers. Their first Dot record, "Tryin'," made it to No. 7.
Boone moved beyond recording covers and became Dot's most successful
artist, rivaling Elvis Presley's chart dominance.
The company also had other hits in the 1950s and '60s, including "Pipeline" by the Surfaris, "Calcutta" by Lawrence Welk and "Melody of Love" by Billy Vaughn, a Hilltopper who became Dot's musical director.
Dot's catalog was "totally eclectic," Wood's son said, and included a
"tremendous" number of black artists. "It went from Liberace to Louis
Armstrong, T-Bone Walker to Lawrence Welk."
Lawrence Welk told The Times in 1961 that his success as a recording
artist came only after Wood advised him "to record music that is more for listening than dancing."
Wood's "radar" for hits was ever-present, Boone said.
At recording sessions, Wood would show up with three or four songs for Boone to record.
"Most of them were pretty simple," Boone said. "Three hours later, we were through and at least one of the records would be a million-seller."
From 1954 to 1956 Dot specialized in R&B cover records. The Fontane Sisters, who had sung backup for Perry Como, had a gold record with "Hearts of Stone," which had been recorded by several black artists. Among Boone's hits were remakes of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and the Charms' "Two Hearts."
After Wood saw actress Gale Storm sing on television he had her record R&B covers, including Smiley Lewis' "I Hear You Knocking," which reached No. 2 in 1955.
Wood walked out of a Tab Hunter movie convinced that the actor's looks and teen idol status would sell records. He had Hunter record "Young Love," which was soon a No. 1 single in 1957. (Warner Bros. refused to let Hunter make any more records for Dot because the studio said the actor, and his voice, were under contract.)
Artists were loyal to Wood, who was known for being fair-minded.
"He certainly was one of the most ethical people I've ever met," Larry Welk said. "He really cared about people and seeing them succeed."
Randolph Clay Wood was born March 30, 1917, in Morrison, Tenn. The only
child of two teachers, he built a crystal radio set when he was about 15 and radio became "the love of his life," his son said.
He earned a bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University in 1937 and served as a radio communications officer in the Army Air Forces during World War II.
Dot Records and the Wood family moved to Hollywood in 1956, and the company became known for reissuing recordings by small independent labels, including "Come Go With Me" by the Del Vikings and "From a Jack to a King" by Ned Miller.
In 1957, Paramount Pictures bought Dot, and Wood stayed on as president for a decade. ABC bought Dot in 1974 and discontinued the label three years later.
Wood started another label, Ranwood Records, with Larry Welk in 1968. It became the outlet for many artists associated with Lawrence Welk and remains in business in Santa Monica.
Randy's Record Shop, which closed in 1991, has been designated a historical site in Tennessee.
In addition to his son, John, a jazz pianist in Los Angeles, Wood is survived by his wife of 69 years, Lois; another son, Larry, a teacher in Los Angeles; and a daughter, Linda, a book publisher in La Jolla; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Services are private.
Copyright 2011, Los Angeles Times