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  1. #1

    Pan American & Jay-Kay Record Distributors, Detroit

    ......... an article I have pulled together from info on the net..........

    Pan American Record Distributing opened on Woodward Ave., Detroit in April 1946. It was owned by Bernard Besman & John Kaplan and soon established itself on the Michigan record scene. In 1947, the enterprise started its own record label; Sensation Records. The label resulted from Besman seeing Todd Rhodes perform at local club, Lee's Sensation Lounge (1300 Owen) in spring of that year. Another link between the new label and the night club was Louie Saunders (who provided the vocals on some Todd Rhodes & Orchestra tracks); Louie worked as a waiter at the club. Artists signed to Sensation Records included Todd Rhodes, Louie Saunders, Doc Wiley, Russell Jacquet, Milt Jackson & his All Stars. The label cut their acts at United Sound Studios. Besman licensed many tracks his artists had cut to other labels. Initially he pacted with Chicago based Vitacoustic and when they ran out of funds in April 1948, with King Records. In November 1948, Besman used the end of a recording session booked for Todd Rhodes to cut another local singer that had impressed him, John Lee Hooker. However, Hooker was never signed to Sensation and when one of his tracks (“Boogie Chillen”) took off, he licensed the cuts to LA based Modern Records. The record hit the national R&B charts in early January 1949 and went all the way to No.1. Besman made some money from JLH as he became his manager and booking agent, all this being seperate from his duties at Pan American. Todd Rhodes remained Sensation's top artist and some of his tracks were fronted by other singers (Kitty Stevenson, Connie Allen and LaVern Baker).

    None of the labels releases did well nationally and the label released its last record late in 1950. By 1952, Bernard Besman had grown weary of the record biz and so he sold up his share in Pan American and moved out to California. Johnny Kaplan remained with the company and maintained good links with the majors that he dealt with. After seeing the Gaylords perform at the Falcon Club, he recommended them to Mercury Records. The group had cut some audition tracks and Mercury released “Tell Me You're Mine” in December 1952. Kaplan was still with Pan American in December 1957 but he too was now getting restless. He quit and set up Jay-Kay Record Distributing in 1958. An alternative outlet for record companies was via rack jobbers (a wholesale enterprise that provides racks filled with merchandise in space leased in retailer stores. The rack jobber owns the stock and both he & the store owner take a cut when product is sold). In March 1954, the 2nd biggest rack jobber in the US was Detroit's Handleman Drug Company (run by Bill Handleman). This outfit had racks in drug stores, grocery stores, supermarkets and the like across Michigan. They decided to diversify into selling records as well and put their new product into many of their existing outlets. Handleman's quickly established itself in the record business locally and this threatened the existance of some traditional Detroit Rrecord distributors. Through to1958, Jay-Kay continued to do thrive, setting up new distribution deals with the likes of Carlton Records. At that time the company was based out of 3725 Woodward Ave. which was on Detroit's 'Record Row'.

    By June 1961, Handlemans was trying to woo even more customers away from local distributors by cutting prices. The likes of Arc and Jay-Kay had to fight back by cutting 10% off their wholesale prices to dealers. This tactic saved many of their existing deals, one example of this being with the Grinnell Record / Music Chain (who operated 30 shops). The close relationship between the distributors and some record companies was illustrated by the fact that King Records Detroit branch office was operated out of Kay-Jays 3725 Woodward Avenue building. In July 62 John Kaplan cmmissioned a new HQ for Jay-Kay in North-West 'Record Row' (Woodward Ave) and this opened in December that year. In December 1964 Handleman Drug tried to tip the advantage more in their favour when they attempted to take over King Records. Although contracts were drawn up, the deal fell through and their bid failed.

    However in January 1965 Handleman's did up their profile locally when they took over Arc Distributing and merged with / gained control of Jay-Kay. The new amalgamated outfit now directly represented over 40 labels. These included ABC-Paramount, Ascot, Audio Fidelity, Cameo Parkway, Chancellor, Coed, Command, Congress, End, Fox, GNP, Gone, Imperial, Impulse, Jamie, Kapp, Laurie, LeGrand, London, Motown, Musicor, Parrot, Original Sound, Phillies, Reprise, Roulette, Rust, Soft, Starday, Swan, Tollie, Hi, United Artists, Warners, Atlantic, Bang, Dial, Dot, Fontana, Hilltop, Kent, MGM, Mercury, Rosemart, Smash, Soma, Stax, Sue, Tower, Vee Jay, Verve, Phillips. In 1965, Handleman's / Jay-Kay decided to start their own label and so Palmer Records came into being. Palmer soon signed some decent artists; Tobi Lark, Al Williams, Jimmy Mack, G. Gaylord & B. Holiday, J.T. Rhythm and others. The likes of Irv Biegel and Al Rosner were tempted away from Golden World Records to work for Palmer. The label's biggest hit came quite early on. Released in December 1965, Tim Tam & the Turn-Ons “Wait A Minute” hit the national charts in March 1966. At that time, the label was operating out of 3401 Lyndon.

    The label was expanded as soon as the Tim Tam 45 hit big with outside productions being purchased. One of these was “Black Cloud” by Me And Dem Guys (originally released on Corol Gables). The manufacturing division of the Handleman Company operated out of 8832 Puritan Ave, so staff shuttled back and forth between the different offices. Tobi Lark worked with Hunter and Brown at United Sound on her “I'll Steal Your Heart”. Dave Hamilton worked with J.T. Rhythm, whilst Marty Coleman, Chollie Bassoline & Mike Valvano produced Jimmy Mack's effort. As the label boasted quite a few staffers who were well known in Detroit soul circles, this brought others to their door. Soulhawk, owned by Richard “Popcorn” Wylie, was soon being distributed by Palmer. The Brothers of Soul had Al Williams “I Am Nothing” (a LaBeat Production) released on Palmer. In 1967, Al Rosner was still contacting national music magazines to solicit more outside masters for the label to consider. In 1970, Baltimore born Joey Welz signed with Palmer Records as both an artist and A&R producer.

    Welz had learnt to play the piano when only 10 and in the 1950's was in a band; the Jay Rockers who opened the show a couple of times for Bill Haley & the Comets. In 1957, as a member of the Rock-A-Billies he enjoyed success with the 45 "Boppin' the Stroll Again". He soon enlisting in the U.S. Military and when he got out, he was invited to join Haley & His Comets. In August 1963 in Baltimore, he opened Bat Records but this was a short lived outfit as from 1964 to 1968 he had a deal with Canadian-American Records (though he started Welz Music out of Salisbury, Maryland in 1967). In July 1970, Welz signed with Detroit based Palmer Records. A number of releases escaped on Palmer including seperate LP's in September 1971 ('Vintage Ballads to Remember Her By'), October 1971 ('Rock n Roll Revival') and November 1971 ('Keyboard Electricity'). By July 1972 he was president of Dawn Productions which was now distributing the Palmer label . A mini-LP version of 'Touch Them With Love' (for radio DJ's and juke boxe use) was marketed in July 1972 but this failed to make any impact. That would be the last that anyone would hear of Palmer Records. Joey Welz went on with his career, as did John Kaplan at Handleman's. In the 1980's, Kaplan was still with the company, now he was their Senior Vice President.
    Lots of music guys who went on to great things got a start, leg-up at Jay-Kay / Palmer. These included Irv Biegel, Al Rosner, Clay McMurray, Tommy Schlesinger, Hank Talbert and Colonel Jim Wilson. So I guess we have John Kaplan to thank on quite a few scores.

    The above mainly focuses on the business dealings of these outfits, rather than on their musical achievements .... but then I'm not a Detroit expert like many on here are. I'l leave greater detail on the musical side of things for others to add in.
    ... HOWEVER .... everything I've seen in-line (Palmer discog wise) suggests that the label was dead by 1968, but this was patently not the case.

  2. #2
    Here's some info from Billboard mag
    on Palmer's (July) 1972 exploits ........
    Attachment 4174


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Ralph Terrana

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