The Brunswick record label has a long and complex history. Its original parent company, Brunswick-Balke-Collender, based in Dubuque, Iowa, began trading in 1845 selling musical instruments and sports equipment. In 1916 the company started selling phonographs and began marketing their own records almost as an afterthought. By the early Twenties, Brunswick had become one of the ‘Big Three’ American record labels along with Victor and Columbia Records. Al Jolson was signed to the label at this time, being billed as ‘The World’s Greatest Entertainer’. Duke Ellington and King Oliver were among the jazz artists on the roster, and classical conductors Arturo Toscanini and Willem Mengelberg made recordings with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
In April 1930 the company sold its record label to Warner Bros, and recordings were released by Bing Crosby, Cab Calloway and the Mills Brothers, among others. Many of these artists subsequently switched to Decca and, with sales plummeting due to the Great Depression, the UK branch of Brunswick was acquired by Decca in 1932. In 1939 the US branch of Brunswick was bought out by CBS but, because of complex legal issues, the American Brunswick name was retained by Warner Bros who promptly sold it to American Decca. The label was then mothballed until the end of World War II when it was used in the UK for the distribution of American Decca recordings.
Initially the label had a reputation for releasing rhythm and blues during the early Fifties, but from 1957 onwards it started releasing pop records. The Kalin Twins were one of the earliest pop acts to release records on the Brunswick label. Hal and Herbie Kalin were real twins (born in February 1934) who have earned a place in pop history as the archetypal ‘one-hit-wonder’ act. Their smash hit ‘When’ topped the UK charts in summer 1958 but they were utterly unable to reproduce their early success. They were supported by Cliff Richard on their only UK tour, but the twins later became disillusioned with their lack of success and quit the business. In 1989, in a nice role-reversal, Cliff invited them to appear with him at Wembley Stadium in one of his Fifties-inspired shows.
Born in 1930 in Atlanta, Roy Drusky was initially a reluctant pop star. He had set his sights on a sports career in baseball, but his distinctive baritone voice, along with pressure from his mother, conspired to turn him into a country singer and songwriter. His ‘Wait And See’ was a hit in 1959 although his highest chart placing would come much later in the Seventies with ‘Long Long Texas Road’.
Bill Haley, of course, needs no introduction, being assured a place in rock’n’roll history merely on the strength of ‘Rock Around The Clock’. He contributes three tracks to our compilation, all released in 1959: ‘I Got A Woman’, ‘Caldonia’ and ‘Joey’s Song’.
Buddy Holly was another lucrative signing for the Brunswick label. Early on in his career Buddy had supported Bill Haley in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas and soon after was in the enviable position of having not one but two recording contracts. His ‘Rock Around With Ollie Vee’, with backing from his band the Crickets, was released by the label in 1959, his solo career continuing on Coral.
‘Little Miss Dynamite’, Brenda Lee, contributes no less than six tracks to our collection. Born in 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia, she was only four feet nine inches in height as an adult and this, combined with her powerful vocal delivery, contributed to her nickname. She was a musical prodigy, winning a local singing award at the age of six and just five years later she signed a record contract with Decca. Her biggest hits were in the late Fifties and included ‘Jambalaya’, ‘Sweet Nothin’s’, ‘Fool Number 1’, ‘You Can Depend On Me’, ‘Dum Dum’ and ‘Break It To Me Gently’. During the years 1960-62 she had nine consecutive Top 10 hits on the Billboard charts, a record for a female solo artist which survived until 1986 when it was broken by Madonna.
Burl Ives was a larger-than-life performer who enjoyed success as both an actor and singer-songwriter. His rich fruity rendition of ‘A Little Bitty Tear’ shows how he could take a potentially sentimental song and turn it into a powerful musical statement.
Country singer Patsy Cline recorded her classic rendition of Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ in 1961 and it has become the definitive version of that song, despite numerous other covers. Two other Cline tracks, ‘I Fall To Pieces’ and ‘Heartaches’, are included here and show off her richly expressive contralto voice. Tragically, Cline’s life was cut short in 1963 when she died in a plane crash in Tennessee.
The Brunswick label is still in existence today, nearly 170 years after the formation of its parent company – proof of the resilience and staying power of the music that proudly bears its name.