Apex Records was a label owned by the Compo Company. The firm was founded by Herbert Berliner, son of the inventor of the gramophone. Berliner, a German by birth, had moved north of the border after legal problems prevented him from selling his invention in the States, but in 1924 sold the Berliner Gramophone Company of Canada to a US firm, the Victor Talking Machine Company.
By then, Herbert Berliner had left his father’s firm to serve as president of the Compo Company, which began operations in Toronto in 1919 pressing Okeh masters for the Phonola label and, shortly thereafter, pressing Gennett Records for the Starr Piano Company’s Canadian subsidiary. Compo established the Apex label in July 1921 to release these recordings, and it also carried music by Canadian artists for both the Anglophone and Francophone communities. Until the postwar years, it would be the one and only Canadian-owned firm in the record business.
The Apex name was briefly dropped when Compo began a distribution arrangement with the US arm of Decca Records in 1935, but was revived seven years later to market Canadian recordings. American Decca bought Compo in 1951, and Apex resumed issuing recordings from independent American record companies. Our compilation concentrates on the period between 1958 and 1962, the immediate pre-Beatles era when US pop was both varied and entertaining.
Interestingly we kick off not with a Yank but with a Brit. Classically trained pianist Christopher Morris, better known by the stage name Lance Fortune, scored a UK Number 4 hit in 1960 on Pye Records with ‘Be Mine’/’Action’. We sample the string-laden B-side with its biblical theme here. He never equalled that success, but in April that year replaced Eddie Cochran on Gene Vincent’s UK tour after Cochran’s death in a road accident.
Ritchie Valens, like Cochran, died all too soon in the 1959 plane crash that also claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. His 1958 recording of ‘Cry Cry Cry’ is the oldest track included here. Gene Pitney, by contrast, soldiered on until 2006; 1961’s ‘Every Breath I Take’, a Goffin and King composition, was only the second US Top 50 hit of his long and successful career.
Someone else who found fame later in life is Jim Henson. The man who created The Muppets features here on ‘The Countryside’, a song delivered in spoken ‘Word Jazz’ style. Anyone detect a touch of Kermit?
Kenneth J Diono, known professionally as Kenny Dino, was a New York boy who first won fame while in the US Navy as an Elvis impersonator. Led Zeppelin fans will recognise his 1961 hit ‘Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night’ thanks to Robert Plant’s cover on his ‘Manic Nirvana’ solo album from 1990.
The likes of Andy Williams and the Everly Brothers hardly need introduction here, but the name of Little Frankie Brunson may not be quite as familiar. He sang gospel with the Lynn Hope Quintet from 1951 to 1960 and never made waves solo, but found success in the Seventies as leader of soul group People’s Choice.
Darwin & the Cupids operated in the same mixed-gender soft-rock area as the Fleetwoods, who had topped the US chart with ‘Come Softly To Me’ and ‘Mr Blue’ in 1959. Eighteen-year-old Darwin Lamm was living in Washington, the same state the Fleetwoods emerged from – and, while he didn’t find the same chart success, he enjoyed his own 15 minutes of fame with ‘Won’t You Give Me A Chance’.
Bobby Dominguez, also known as Bobby Domino, hailed from the Los Angeles area and was a potential successor to Ritchie Valens. In 1961 Bobby recorded ‘Your Love For Me’ and ‘Marilyn’ for the Donna label; we sample the B-side here.
The DeVilles, who recorded ‘Searching For Love’, typified many groups from the era in naming themselves after a popular car of the time – in this case, the Cadillac Coupe De Ville. Unusually for Apex, this was a Canadian group from Vancouver, Canada, though they went south to the Jerden label to make their disc debut and were then licensed northwards. They lined up as Gary Tobin (vocals), Dennis Lyons (piano), Wayne Gust (guitar), Eddie Gust (bass) and Fred Gallant (drums). The song, penned by Wayne Gust, was covered by garage band the Kingsmen (of ‘Louie Louie’ fame) in 1965.
Apex’s owners Compo became MCA Records (Canada) in 1970, but the label name was retained for Francophone recordings before being finally phased out in 1984.
Some of the artists on this compilation had reached the apex of popularity by the time they recorded their contribution, while others still had to reach their peak: together, they make an entertaining slice of early-Sixties listening.
Sleeve notes by Michael Heatley