Born Hyman Weiss, 12 February 1923, Romania.
Hy Weiss was one of the most colourful characters of the New York independent record business in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Romania, he moved to New York (The Bronx) with his family when he was just a few years old. Weiss got his experience in the music industry working as a salesman for many of the legendary R & B labels, such as Modern, Exclusive, Jubilee and Apollo. Modern and Exclusive were West Coast labels, but Weiss handled the New York distribution centre, together with his brother Sam. The Weiss brothers started their first label, Parody Records, in 1949, but this was a short-lived affair. More important was the creation of the Old Town label in August 1953. The rest of this story will concentrate on the history of that particular label.
Old Town's principal music category was doo wop, but the releases encompassed R&B, blues, rock 'n' roll, gospel, soul, jazz, even folk, country and pop. Practically all of the artists on the label were from New York City and its suburbs. The name "Old Town" came from the Old Town Paper Corporation, where Sam Weiss was employed in 1953. It was a successful manufacturer of duplicating machines and carbon paper, with offices on Madison Avenue. The brothers used the company stationery for music-related correspondence without the corporation ever finding out and so Hy and Sam were able to create the impression that "Old Town Records" had a prestigious Madison Avenue address, while the brothers actually worked from a small office at the Triboro movie theatre. Hy Weiss was not afraid of a little payola. In fact, he has bragged that he was the inventor of the "$50 handshake", which was one of many ingenious ways of encouraging radio stations to play your releases. Weiss was able to get a lot of radio exposure on the programmes of Alan Freed on stations WINS and WABC.
The most prolific group on Old Town was The Solitaires, who had 19 single releases between 1954 and 1963. They are probably best known for "Walking Along", released in January 1957, which became a hit for the Diamonds (# 29) in late 1958. Hy Weiss then licensed the original Solitaires' version to his friend Leonard Chess for national distribution on his Argo label, but it still failed to dent the charts. It became the only Solitaires single to get a UK release (London HLM 8745). More about the Solitaires at: http://lulusko.www7.50megs.com/oldtown/solitaires2.html
Old Town's first chart entry was "We Belong Together" by Robert (Carr) & Johnny (Mitchell), which went to # 32 pop and # 12 R&B in the spring of 1958. In 1959, "So Fine" by the Fiestas peaked at # 11 pop and # 3 R&B, and the next year gave the label its first Top 10 pop hit : "Let the Little Girl Dance" by Billy Bland (# 7). However, the biggest hit on Old Town was a reissue of an obscure record from 1958: "There's A Moon Out Tonight" by the Capris (# 3 in 1961), now a doo wop standard. In 1962, the Old Town hit momentum was maintained by "Dear One" by Larry Finnegan (# 11) and "Remember Then" by the Earls (# 24).
The British Invasion hit Old Town as hard as it did every other label, big and small. Hy Weiss did not try to mimic the English beat groups, but made a valiant attempt to enter the soul market. Old Town survived into the 1970s mainly by issuing the recordings of deep-voiced crooner Arthur Prysock (brother of sax man Red Prysock), who did well in the R&B, pop and album charts between 1963 and 1977. Generally though, the 1970s, with its overwrought soul and disco productions, were a musical no-no for Weiss. But there was enough to keep him busy in the days of cutout and reissue albums.
In 1996, Hy eventually cashed in his chips by selling the Old Town label and the valuable publishing offshoot, Maureen Music, to Music Sales of New York. They keep the Old Town name alive by making licensing deals with various record labels, especially Ace in the UK.
Ace releases featuring Old Town material:
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