Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Grooves reveal 45 pressing facts

Competing record pressing plants in Cincinnati,
Ohio used machines like this one to manufacture 45 rpm
singles for four Delta County acts during the 1960s and 70s.


Just like the hit records of the day, vintage 45 rpm singles by Upper Peninsula recording artists were manufactured at various pressing plants around the country.

Often where and when those discs were made can often be determined by their matrix numbers, inscribed in the run-off groove, or "dead wax."

The seven-inch records, popular in the 1960's, were how musicians, both local and nationally-known, brought their product to the marketplace.

Local acts looked to issuing their own singles to distribute to radio disc jockeys and sell at dances. Discs could also be mailed to booking agents and venues looking to hire bands.

To make contact with potential customers, custom pressing plants advertised their service in music-business trade magazines, such as Cash Box or Billboard.

In the midwest, Michigan had American Record Pressing Co. in Owosso, while Minneapolis, Minn. was the home to Kaybank. Pennsylvania had Specialty Records Corp. in Olyphant and a Capitol Records facility in Scranton. Nashville offered Precision Record Press and Sounds of Nashville.

A number of U. P. labels and recording artists were drawn to Cuca Records, located in Sauk City, Wis., but others approached Rite Record Productions, Inc. and rival Queen City Albums, both located in Cincinnati.


Rite bought space in Billboard under the slogan "The Rite Way Is The Right Way."

In an ad published in April, 1960 the company promised a "completed deal of low cost, top quality, fast service, guaranteed record processing and pressing, from tape to finished product."

Rite's service included "studio mastering, metal work, stampers, labels as well as record sleeve and album cover design and printing."

In the early 1960s ad, the company offered quantities ranging from 50 to 1,000 copies for both 45s and LPs. Fifty 45s cost $48 (96 cents each), while an order for 1,000 copies was priced at $165 (less than 17 cents each).

Complete package deals were aimed at schools, songwriters and small labels.

Rite caught the attention of Escanaba's fledgling Peninsula Records, operated by Leon Smiltneck. His brother Gene owned Bands Unlimited a local booking agency with clients including the Riot Squad and Prophets of Doom.

Looking to increase the band's profile with a 45 rpm single, Gene Smiltneck brought the Riot Squad into his basement studio to record two cover songs. The teenagers taped "Come On, Let's Go," originally a hit for Ritchie Valens, and "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey," by Gerry and the Pacemakers.

Not long after, the recordings were shipped to a facility in Cincinnati in the first step to producing the records.

Initially, it was assumed Queen City Albums manufactured the Riot Squad product, but information contained on the 45's run-off groove show the work was done at Rite, instead.

The matrix number and other codes in the dead wax provide information needed during the manufacturing process. Specifically, a filing number is assigned to the record stamper which must match a corresponding number on the record label. The stamper and label on the flip side will carry a different matching number.


One thousand copies of the Riot Squad disc were pressed, given the catalog number Peninsula 001.

The Riot Squad's disc actually carries the Rite imprint and the A-side matrix number 20997. The number indicates the 45 was manufactured in 1967, according to data from Rite. Further, record researcher Max Waller told me the 45 can be dated to December of that year.

Waller is a contributor to the respected "Fuzz, Flowers and Acid" record compendium. The book is a comprehensive guide to American garage, psychedelic and hippie-rock from 1964 to 1975, published by Borderline Productions.

As Peninsula Records and the Riot Squad promoted their first single, rival band Prophets of Doom set about recording their own 45 debut. The band taped "I Told You" and "Baba-Do-Wah, both original songs.

Apparently satisfied with the Riot Squad disc, Peninsula Records went to Rite to press the Prophets of Doom 45 as well.

At the factory, the disc's A-side was assigned the matrix number of 21891, dating it to May, 1968, according to Waller.


Rite, located at 9745 Lockland Road in Cincinnati, also pressed 1,000 copies of the Prophets of Doom disc, which was assigned catalog number Peninsula 002.

An ad in the May 4, 1968 issue of Billboard for Rite offered discs in quantity at less than nine cents each, on a cash only basis.

In Rite, Peninsula chose a firm with considerable experience. Founded in 1950 by Carl Burckhardt as Gateway Records Inc., the company was later given the Rite moniker. They began custom pressing records in 1955 and continued until the business closed in 1985 at the onset of the compact disc era.

Rite was very busy. The company completed over 21,000 jobs during its 30-year run, including 1250 in 1967 and another 1150 in 1968.

Records by many soul labels and groups were pressed at Rite.


Today, many discs pressed by Rite are sought after by collectors. "Garage Records Price and Reference Guide" by Barry G. Wickham and Geoffrey M. Richman places values on thousands of garage and psychedelic 45s from the 1960s as well as discs which didn't make the national charts.

The book values the Riot Squad 45 at $50 and the Prophets of Doom disc at $75.

Cincinnati's custom pressing plants got jobs from other Delta County acts, too.

A 45 by The Coppertones was manufactured by Rite. Featuring "Coquette" and "Wedding Bells," the single was produced by Wayne Nault. The A-side's 39163 matrix number indicates the disc was made in early 1978. The record was pressed on the custom DL&T Enterprises label and carried a catalog number of 2001.

Escanaba homemaker Lorraine Irving, meanwhile, chose Rite's local competitor, Queen City Albums, also known as Q. C. A. Custom Pressing, to manufacture her 45. Her recordings of "If You Were Losing Him to Me" and "Just Married" appeared on the company's own Queensgate label. The dead wax reveals the QCA imprint and the 8061Q27A matrix number, showing that this disc was also pressed in 1978.

When deciphered, the coded matrix numbers of 45s tell stories beyond the music in the grooves.

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