Born Abraham S. Silver, 9 January 1914, New England
Al Silver built Herald and Ember Records into flourishing R & B companies from a tiny 3-press record plant which he had started with his brother-in-law in 1946 in a Greenwich Village basement. The Herald label was formed in New Jersey in 1950 by Fred Mendelsohn who had been working for Savoy Records and went on to work for Syd Nathan at King Records. The initial releases were in a blues vein (inc. Little Walter, Eddie Boyd) and failed to register anything like big sales. Because Mendelsohn had no capital when he started Herald, he approached Al Silver, who had been pressing Herald's records, to become his partner. Before long, Silver had sole ownership of the label and began to change the label's output to R & B and vocal groups. Ember Records was formed in 1952.
Silver's first signing was Faye Adams (or Faye Scruggs, as she was then called) who immediately scored a # 1 R&B hit with her interpretation of the gospel number "Shake A Hand". Al Silver had a very good ear for group sounds and recorded The Nutmegs ("Story Untold", # 2 R&B), The Turbans ("When You Dance", # 3 R&B, # 33 pop), The Five Satins ("In The Still Of The Night", # 3 R&B, # 24 pop) and the Mello Kings. "In The Still Of The Night", one of THE all-time oldies, was not recorded by Silver himself, but purchased from the small local Standord label for national distribution. The same goes for Ember's biggest hit, "Get A Job" by the Silhouettes (# 1 pop and R&B, 1958). Dick Clark smelled a smash hit, but wouldn't play the record because the tiny Junior label had no distribution on a national scale. As soon as he saw that "Get A Job" was on Ember which did have national distribution, he programmed it and the next day there were orders for 500,000 copies. Around the same time, Ember had a pop hit (# 54) with Lee Allen's "Walkin' With Mr. Lee". According to Silver, when interviewed by Arnold Shaw in 1974, Lee Allen didn't have a thing prepared when Al came to New Orleans to record him (Allen had told him that he had some fantastic material to record) and he was saved by Allen Toussaint who improvised several tunes on the spot, although this is not visible in the writer's credits.
The next big hit for Herald was "Stay" by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs in 1960 (# 1 pop, # 3 R&B). Two further singles by Williams went no higher than # 86 and # 83 and an album did nothing. Silver formed Muse Records as a subsidiary label. Judging by the looks of the sole album on the label, this was a low-budget operation.
"It was a lot of fun until the payola investigations of 1959-1962", Silver told Shaw. When the IRS finally got through with him in 1962, Silver got a bill of $ 150,000 for the three corporations, Herald, Ember and the Angel publishing company. "I limped along for another two years. Rather than go bankrupt and hurt creditors that were good to me, I liquidated. My attorney paid off small creditors. Where we couldn't pay in full, we paid in part, and I walked away not owing anybody." But for this, he had to lease his catalogue for twenty years. Selling his publishing company (to Murray Sporn) was the biggest mistake of his life, said Silver. "I should have let the record company go and just continued the music publishing. (....) But it's all water under the bridge, and those R&B years were good years while they lasted."
It's not entirely clear who holds the rights to the Herald/Ember catalogue at this moment. It was claimed by Jeff Kruger/TKO Magnum, hence the few Ember and Herald compilations they issued. It was Magnum who licensed the tracks to Cherry Red for the 2 CD-compilation mentioned below. But then, there were also a few Ember/Herald releases on BMG that seemed to suggest that BMG had been sold the catalogue. (Thanks to Dave Penny for this information.)
Quotes from: Arnold Shaw, Honkers and Shouters : The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues (1978), page 450-460.
CD recommendation: Rem-ember-ing the Roots of Soul : Heralding the Hits. Cherry Red RPMSH 428 (2 CD's, issued in 2002). Reviewed by our own Shaun Mather at http://www.rockabillyhall.com/PhilShaun.html from which I have borrowed a few sentences.
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