True hidden treasures in the music industry are few and far between. Sure, industry monoliths occasionally dredge up a "lost" Beatles single or recover masters long forgotten, but the reality is that these situations rarely occur. And when they do, it's often only to the benefit of the multinational corporations that release the salvaged artifacts. However, two local music industry players have come across buried musical treasures that represent the opportunity of a lifetime.
When Darryl Scott, a former publicist for Epic Records, and Drake Sutton-Shearer, a New Zealand transplant and veteran of that country's music industry, hooked up in the mid-'90s, their intentions were ambitious but not much different from many of their industry peers. Scott was managing Fort Lauderdale's Lungs (formerly Collapsing Lungs) when he met Sutton-Shearer, who was in the States to push the band he managed, New Zealand's Atomic Blossom. After Atomic Blossom split up while on the verge of breaking stateside, Sutton-Shearer decided it was time to move his ventures to the U.S. "New Zealand is just way too small for what I wanted to do," he explains.
So Scott and Sutton-Shearer formed 2Tribe Entertainment, a management company that now represents South Florida artists like Crime (featuring the frontman of the now-defunct Collapsing Lungs), Robbie Gennet (the keyboardist of Rudy and a renowned touring musician), DeeJay Domination, and Mama's Root. Enough to keep the two of them busy, there's no doubt, but the pair hit real pay dirt in February 1998.
That's when an acquaintance of the two mentioned that he knew an aging former record-label mogul who was looking for someone to revive the catalog of his Fort Lauderdale-based Art Records. Founded in the mid-'40s, Art Records specialized in the sounds of Bahamian calypso but also released Dixieland discs, music by South American artists, and comedy albums, along with a smattering of other recordings, including self-hypnosis and educational albums.
The man behind Art Records is a gentleman in his nineties named Harold Doane, who had produced and engineered close to 900 masters during Art Records' nearly 40-year history. Now in his twilight years, Doane felt that his catalog, dusty and crumbling reels languishing in a vault, should be revived so that some element of his legacy was preserved.
Scott and Sutton-Shearer jumped at the opportunity to acquire the rights to revive, restore, and make available the treasures that suddenly lay within their reach. "We were just blown away when we saw the catalog," Sutton-Shearer says with a smile. After much legal wrangling, which took nearly a year, the pair cemented an agreement with Doane and began the arduous process of repairing and cataloging the magnetic reels that contained Doane's lifework.
Out of the 900 or so reels originally acquired, they were able to salvage about 400 that hadn't yet crumbled under the weight of years spent shelved. Among those salvaged were recordings by Blind Blake, an early pioneer of Bahamian calypso and the largest seller from Art Records' heyday, along with a multitude of calypso records from the late '40s and '50s by artists such as George Simonett, Calypso Eddie, and Andre Toussaint. A true gold mine for two young entrepreneurs anxious to put their stamp on the record industry. "It's our biggest tangible asset, definitely," Sutton-Shearer says.
The calypso artists on Art Records were generally musicians whom Doane came across in hotels and on cruise ships in the Bahamas, where they performed for the influx of wealthy tourists frequenting the islands. Because artists during that time period knew little or nothing of publishing or the concept of royalties, Doane was able to quickly establish an expansive catalog of calypso records that were devoured by the jet-setting Caribbean tourists.
Though 2Tribe's figureheads are far too young to have been familiar with these treasures from the islands ("We absolutely didn't know the music," says Scott), the two began doing their homework. With the assistance of Rounder Records VP Scott Billington, who was familiar with Art Records and had expressed interest in purchasing it from Doane in the early '70s, and the guidance of Swiss calypso cognoscente Guy Droussart, Scott and Sutton-Shearer were schooled in the history of the material, and the catalog's value became even more apparent.
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Also among the reels is the first-ever demo recording of "Strangers in the Night," which was made famous by Sinatra but was penned by songwriter Eddie Snyder. Within the Art Records' masters sit nearly 100 original songs written by Snyder. Also in the catalog are comedy recordings by Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Milton Berle, and Victor Borge.
About three months ago, Scott and Sutton-Shearer completed the process of reviving the salvageable masters and are now preparing to license the recordings for distribution. Instead of releasing the albums on its own, 2Tribe Records (the division that focuses on recorded materials as opposed to management) is shopping the rejuvenated recordings to a wide variety of labels that have expressed interest in the records. The first product, a compilation entitled Jetset Calypso Party of the 1950s: Vol. 1, is expected to be released by the end of 1999 on one of the several record labels with which 2Tribe is negotiating.
2Tribe is hoping that the classic calypso recordings, which have a raw island charm mixed with the folksy politics of the islands, will see a resumption of popularity as they're released to the public. Scott explains, "We're looking at the resurgence of lounge music as the framework for this, that romanticized element. It's not mainstream whatsoever, but it's very vibey stuff." Vibey stuff that will not only revive the legacy of Harold Doane and Art Records but has the potential to give 2Tribe Records and its two young owners a legacy of their own.
-- Brendan Kelley