Although the STARDAY Record Company were not, by any means, the first to dabble with custom pressings, they became – almost fifty years later – one of the most famous and their vanity pressings are greatly sought after nowadays. What was originally a sideline to scrape a few bucks together, and add more songs to their growing music publishing portfolio, the “custom” or “vanity” business began to really flourish after 1956, when every Tom Crook, Lee Voorhies or Red Moore wanted to make a record of their own. The almost total lack of exposure left the vast majority of the releases dead in the water, but the artist could walk about, handing out his or her own record, a little like a vinyl business card.
Of course there were other companies competing for the custom-pressing dollar; RCA, COLUMBIA, and to a lesser extent CAPITOL, had extensive custom pressing services, even if sometimes the end product was marred by the use of recycled wax and an inferior sound quality. The Rite Pressing Co from Ohio were more prolific, but again the sound and the quality of the pressings was not always going to help anybody get airplay. STARDAY on the other hand, had many releases that have great sound. Sure, there are a few “bedroom” recordings – Plez Gary Mann for example, and a few that appear to have been recorded in the “outhouse” most notably the “Lo-Fi” Trice Garner release. However, on the whole the sound and recording quality always seemed a lot clearer than the competition, thus making airplay an easier bet. Of course, most of the artists couldn’t afford the deals involved in the payola scandal so it didn’t make much difference.
Don Pierce, a stalwart of the 4-Star OP custom pressing operation in California, joined STARDAY and set up their custom series. At the outset the STARDAY custom series was run in partnership with the Coast Recording Company in Los Angeles. From the inception of the custom series, right through to the early seventies, STARDAY managed to release at least 700 different 45’s from artists all over the USA, as well as the odd one or two from Canada. The initial deal was that artists had to submit their own material (which then had to be assigned to STARDAY’s publishing company, Starrite) on either tape (at 7.5 or 15 ips) or onto acetates. For $115, the artist would receive 300 copies of their own record. STARDAY retained the right to re-issue the pressing on the STARDAY label if they felt any song showed “exceptional promise”, although it is not clear if this meant the record would be re-released in the main / regular series, or whether it meant that the disc would be issued in the custom series on the STARDAY label. The company also undertook to send a further 100 copies to various radio stations in the artists area, although it isn’t certain that this actually happened in the quantities mentioned. If the artist needed any more copies, they could be bought at 20 cents each, although you had to buy them in batches of 300.
The custom series kicked off with predominately Hillbilly releases, with the odd White Sacred offering, and some Black Gospel too. However, it was the advent of Rock-A-Billy and Rock & Roll which make the custom releases attractive to the collector these days, as almost every town had their own Elvis. Some presses were given as prizes in talent contests (David Lundy & Orangie Ray Hubbard – Dixie 662 is the best example). Later, as the series entered the 1960’s, more mainstream Country and Bluegrass releases became the norm, although some artists were still plugging away at Rock-A-Billy, stuck in some kind of time warp.
As noted previously some releases in the Custom Series were pressed with the STARDAY label. These releases were mainly from the Texas area, although not exclusively, as some were definitely from other parts of the USA. Later on, the company dropped this, replacing it with the DIXIE label, which became the main label that was used, unless of course the artist specified his or her own label name. It’s also possible that the FAITH label which released mainly gospel music from various eastern & southern locations may have been the gospel equivalent of the Dixie label. (True Vanity presses – like the Ralph Johnson label – were actually a rare occurrence). To be able to spot a custom pressing is a little like searching for life on Mars. It’s no good seeing a record on a list that seems to fit a gap in the listing. You have to physically see the record and read the dead wax for a better idea of what is and what can be discarded. Obviously any STARDAY record with the “old style” label in the 500 series and beyond is almost certainly a true custom. The first presses were made & shipped from the Coast Recording Company in Los Angeles and carry the prefix “PD” (Package ? Deal) in the dead wax (and sometimes on the label). Later on, primarily due to busy pressing schedules, they used Rite Pressing Co from Cincinnati, Ohio, to press their custom releases, making each release both a STARDAY and a Rite pressing. These discs are identified by the prefix CP on each side. (STARDAY used Rite on at least two bulk occasions). They also used the KING pressing plant from Cincinnati too. These pressings have a customer log number in the run off – #634 was the number assigned by King … Rite also used customer log or account numbers, they assigned both #595 and #166-c prefix’s to STARDAY custom pressings. Towards the end of the 60’s, even COLUMBIA was pressing STARDAY custom releases.
The publishing houses are also important, almost all the material was published by Starrite, Golden State, Starday Music, Tronic and, albeit for mainly Louisiana recordings, Bayou State. This information can also help to identify a Starday Custom Release, but note not every record which has the publishing assigned to Starrite, or any of the other publishing houses, is a STARDAY custom pressing…. you can find also these publishing houses credited on the regular series, because some of these songs were leased to other labels … See Royce Porter on LOOK! – which is not part of this custom pressing package … Also some labels started as customs but then developed into a self contained label in their own right, but sometimes they kept the original custom appearance. So, trying to work out what is a true custom or not after Peach 722 is gonna be a hard task, unless other customs turn up using the same numbers, especially if they continue to use the aforementioned publishing houses.
The main bulk of this listing was started by two UK collectors, Mike Smythe, who noticed that different records from different locations seem to have been pressed by the same pressing plant (and also noticed the prolification of records that had the CP prefix) and Big Al Turner, founder of the Hillbilly Researcher. Al was supported in his investigation by Phil Tricker, one of the UK’s leading record collectors. In the US, Terry Gordon’s research into these and other customs was also bearing fruit, especially with Billboard & BMI information. In Sept 1997, Al Turner decided to publish a book listing as many of the customs they could find up to issue 850. Over the years many collectors have helped piece together the STARDAY custom listing and although there are still quite a few gaps, they are being filled now in regular intervals and it may not be too long when we can begin to see a complete series listed.
It is presumed that all Starday records are addressed out of Houston, TX but as custom presses on the Starday label, the location of the artist PAYING for the pressing could be anywhere from the US. Don Pierce stated that unless the artist / promoter assigned an issue number themselves, one was given to them – hence the numbering series 500 onwards.
Information kindly allowed to be reprinted by its author, MALCOLM CHAPMAN. Thank you, Malcolm!
Futures articles will deal with 25 records reviewed and pictured (with sound when available). Bopping Editor.
Reprinted from the excellent Malcolm Chapman‘s site: http://web.mac.com/malcychapman/Starday_Customs/Starday_Intro.html