Notebook Cover

  Baton Records

by Marv Goldberg & Marcia Vance

based on an interview with Sol Rabinowitz

© 2007, 2009 by Marv Goldberg

Sol Rabinowitz Baton Records, home of the Rivileers and the Hearts, produced some of the better R&B sounds of the 50s. It was started in 1953 by Sol Rabinowitz, who worked for Malverne, a New York City-based distributor of Mercury Records. Malverne's management decided to branch out into other aspects of the recording business and asked Sol to start a record label with their backing.

You can't have a label without artists and Sol immediately went out looking for talent. In Queens, he visited the Triboro Record Shop, where someone suggested that he listen to a group called the Rivileers. Sol did and liked what he heard, picking four songs that he wanted to record ("A Thousand Stars," "Eternal Love," "I," and "Hey Chiquita"). At this point, one of the Malverne partners backed out of the deal, but Sol decided to proceed anyway. Using his own money (and Hugo & Luigi's AFM musicians' union license) he recorded the Rivileers on his own. The studio bands he used were mostly white jazz musicians.

Sol took the newly-minted Rivileers masters to Eddie Heller, with the intention of having them released on Rainbow Records. Heller was most impressed with "I" and "Hey Chiquita," which Sol thought were mediocre compared to the other two. He decided if that was all there was to it, he might as well put them out himself.

Sol had some acetate discs made and brought them to Dr. Jive (Tommy Smalls), who played "A Thousand Stars" on his radio show. A few days later, orders started coming in. But orders for what? No records had yet been pressed. It took another furious few days in December 1953 for the Baton label to actually come into existence. Baton Records, distributed through Malverne, had offices at 108 West 44th Street in New York City.

The RivileersSol made a deal with Jimmy Warren of Central Record Sales in Los Angeles to have "A Thousand Stars" pressed and distributed there (where it ultimately reached #1 on the local R&B charts on May 1, 1954). It was also a hit in New York, Chicago, and a few other locales. However, it couldn't be termed a major hit, since distribution (hence sales) was limited to only a few cities. Most distributors that Sol contacted didn't even answer his letters. Distributors were the ones with the power. A million-selling record didn't mean that a million kids had purchased it from record stores; it meant that the distributors had pushed a million copies out to retailers.

Before "I" could be issued, the Rivileers made the mistake of singing it at a party. One of the members of the Velvets heard it and got his group to put it out first on Red Robin. This was a common enough occurrence and was treated rather stoically.

Some minor acts followed on Baton - organist Preston Brown, blues singer Milan Brown, the Miracles, the Belvederes, the Heavenly Echoes, blues singer "Big Mike" Gordon, Chris Kenner from New Orleans (who was later to have a hit with "I Like It Like That"), and Frank Culley (who had had some hits for Atlantic) .

Ann Cole Among the Baton hitmakers was Ann Cole (with "Are You Satisfied," "In The Chapel," and "I've Got My Mojo Working"). According to Sol, Ann Cole actually had the power to make an audience cry. She was backed up, at times, by the Suburbans, a group from Harlem.

The Hearts Another hit, "Lonely Nights," came from the Hearts, a group recommended to Sol by Zell Sanders (since her daughter Johnnie Richardson - later of Johnnie & Joe - was in it). Sol went up to Harlem to hear them and two weeks later they were recording. They'd have five releases on Baton over the next year and a half, but none of the others recreated the magic of "Lonely Nights."

Saxman Buddy Tate, who had previously worked with Count Basie, had a Philadelphia hit with "Fatbacks And Greens." Bob Horn, who was host of Bandstand before Dick Clark, liked it and played it often. Another Tate record that got a lot of airplay was "Jackie," named after Alan Freed's wife. Of course, Freed played it nightly, but it never became a hit.

As Sol found out, it's not always easy to recognize talent. He told two Queens youngsters to go home and practice some more and then come back. Well, they went home to practice, but didn't come back (they did, however, go on to record as Tom and Jerry, and later on, Simon and Garfunkel).

The Pilgrims were a medium-sized choir that sang folk songs. They were formed by Bob DeCormier, Harry Belafonte's arranger. Also in the group were bass Milt Okun (who became John Denver's producer), and Leon Bibb. The Pilgrims' recording of "Mr. Fiddler" became Baton's most constantly played record. This former Czechoslovakian folk song was used on the "Captain Kangaroo Show" beginning in 1956.

Nat Margo, manager of the Ravens, was instrumental in bringing them to Baton (kind of). Margo brokered a deal that let Baton purchase "Long Lonely Nights" and "Let Me Know" by the Ravens, who had recorded them for Argo. However, Argo didn't want to release "Long Lonely Nights," so as not to interfere with sales of the song by Lee Andrews & the Hearts, which was doing well on Chess, Argo's parent label. Sol re-named them the "Kings," but the public already had two fine versions of the song (the other by Clyde McPhatter) and it didn't sell. Margo also brought Jimmy Ricks, former lead of the Ravens, to Sol, but his "Bad Man Of Missouri" didn't do much either.

In 1957, Sol reissued "A Thousand Stars," hoping it would do better now that Baton's distribution channels had been improved; it didn't.

Noble Watts Noble "Thin Man" Watts, a blues saxophonist, had a big hit with "Hard Times (The Slop)." It was originally just called "The Slop," but it sold better after the name change.

The last Baton hit was "The Things I Love" by The Fidelitys. They had a Pop/R&R sound similar to the Platters, but Baton didn't have too much influence with the Pop DJs at the time so the group didn't do as well as they should have. According to Sol, Baton's biggest hit was either "Hard Times (The Slop)" by Noble Watts or "In The Chapel" by Ann Cole.

Baton lasted until around April 1959. At that time, the distributors were putting small companies out of business - they were neither pushing records, nor paying the manufacturers for the ones that sold.

A couple of months later, Sol formed the Sir label with Morty Craft. "SIR" were the initials of Sol's full name: Sol I. Rabinowitz. Since the same record and master numbers series were used, it was really a continuation of Baton. Lasting about a year, its main artist was the Fidelitys, although there were also releases by the Lonely Ones, Ann Cole, and Noble Watts.

Baton records gave us a load of great sounds. It's a shame its distribution system couldn't have been better, but it was unusual for small record companies to fare very well, even if they had a hit or two. Sol Rabinowitz passed away on March 16, 2013.

Read How I Started An Independent Label by Sol Rabinowitz.

200 The Rivileers A Thousand Stars
Hey Chiquita
201 The Rivileers Darling Farewell
202 Buddy Tate Blue Buddy
Fatbacks And Greens
203 The Preston Brown Trio Lullaby Of The Leaves
Night Flight
204 Milan Brown I'm Goin' Back
Roll It
205 The Rivileers Carolyn
Eternal Love
206 Buddy Tate Jackie
Sent For You Yesterday
207 The Rivileers (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons  
I Want To See My Baby
208 The Hearts Lonely Lights
209 The Rivileers Don't Ever Leave Me
Little Girl
210 The Miracles A Lover's Chant
Come Home With Me
211 The Hearts All My Love Belongs To You
Talk About Him Girlie
212 The Delltones Baby Say You Love Me
Don't Be Long
213 Jan Raye Quartet Sweet Sue
Whatever Happened To You
(with Lilyann Carroll)
214 Jimmy Morris of The Belvederes  
The Belvederes
Dear Angels Above
Come To Me Baby
215 The Hearts Gone, Gone, Gone
Until The Real Thing Comes Along
216 Heavenly Echoes Didn't It Rain
Your God Is My God
217 The Belvederes We Too (leads: Jimmy Morris & Marie Hayes)
Pepper Hot Baby
218 Ann Cole Are You Satisfied
Darling Don't Hurt Me
219 "Big Mike" Gordon Walkin', Slippin' And Slidin'
You Don't Want Me No More
220 Chris Kenner Grandma's House
Don't Let Her Pin That Charge
221 Jan Raye Quartet
    Feat. Lilyann (Carroll)
You Fool
Soda Pop
222 The Hearts Disappointed Bride
Going Home To Stay
223 The Delltones Believe It
My Special Love
224 Ann Cole Easy Easy Baby
New Love
225 The Pilgrims Mister Fiddler
This Land Is Your Land
226 Frank "Floorshow" Culley After Hours Express
After Hours Express
227 The Suburbans I Remember
TV Baby
228 The Hearts He Drives Me Crazy
I Had A Guy
229 Ann Cole I'm Waiting For You
My Tearful Heart
230 Don Carroll Italian Rock And Roll
Where Do I Stand
231 The Mello-Maids Oh-h-h
Will You Ever Say You're Mine
232 Ann Cole and The Suburbans Each Day
In The Chapel
233 "Big Mike" Gordon Careless Love
The Clipper
234 Frank Tucker Hey Hester
Nobody But Me
235 The Pilgrims Careless Love
Walkin' Down The Track
236 Jimmy Ricks & The Suburbans   I'm A Fool To Want You
Bad Man Of Missouri
237 Ann Cole Got My Mo-Jo Working
I've Got A Little Boy
238 The Mellow-Maids A Million Years Ago
I Remember Dear
239 The Bill Johnson Quintet   So Sweet Of You
Traveling Stranger
240 The Suburbans Leave My Gal Alone
My First And Last Romance
241 The Rivileers A Thousand Stars
Who Is The Girl?
242 Tony Reynolds King Of The Stars
When They Dance The Tarantella
243 Ann Cole No Star Is Lost
You're Mine
244 The Phantoms Lost And Found
Channel Fever
245 The Kings (The Ravens) Long Lonely Nights
Let Me Know
246 Noble "Thin Man" Watts   Easy Going - Part 1
Easy Going - Part 2
247 Ann Cole Give Me Love Or Nothing
I've Got Nothing Working Now
248 Gar Bacon There's Gonna Be Rockin' Tonight
249 Noble Watts The Slop
I'm Walkin' The Floor Over You
249 Noble Watts Hard Times (The Slop)
Midnite Flight
250 Gar Bacon Justice
Pucker Up
251 Noble Watts Rickey Tick
Blast Off
252 The Fidelitys The Things I Love
Hold On To What'Cha Got
253 Marie Knight I Thought I Told You Not To Tell Them
September Song
254 Noble Watts The Slide
255 The Storey Sisters Cha Cha Boom
Which Way Did My Heart Go?
256 The Fidelitys Memories Of You
Can't You Come Out
257 Noble Watts Great Times
The Creep
258 Ann Cole Love In My Heart
Summer Nights
259 The Stewart Twins Ho Hum (Dum-Dee-Dum)
260 The Newtones Going Steady
Remember The Night
261 The Fidelitys Captain Of My Ship
My Greatest Thrill
262 B. Phillips and The Rockets  
Noble Watts
Pajama Party
The Creep
263 The Stewart Twins Daddy O
Pajama Party
264 La Russell That's How He Watches Over Me
The Rich Poor Man
265 The Tones We (Belong Together)
Three Little Loves
266 Noble Watts Flap Jack
Hot Tamales
267 The Music Masters French Quarter

269 Lou Josie Lonely Years
I'm Gonna Get Cha

270 The Lonely Ones My Wish
I Want My Girl
271 The Fidelitys The Invitation
272 Ann Cole Nobody But Me
That's Enough
273 Noble Watts
& His Rhythm Sparks 
Original Boogie Woogie  
Mashed Potatoes
274 The Fidelitys Walk With The Wind
Only To You
275 Ann Cole A Love Of My Own
Brand New House
276 The Fidelitys This Girl Of Mine
Where In The World
277 The Fidelitys Wishing Star
Broken Love

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