By Buddy Weaver (4/07) (updated 4/13)
It was in April, 1956 that Norm and Nadine Merrbach released BS 1501, "Blue Star Hoedown" and "New Broom", a two sided hoedown on 78 RPM vinyl. Over the next fifty years and three producers, Blue Star Records would release over 1000 records becoming the largest and longest running square & round dance music company in the world.
Norman and Nadine Merrbach, founders of Blue Star Records
Take a look back to see how Blue Star and the square dance world evolved:
1. Earl Caruthers, a "Texas Playboy" with Bob Wills is the lead musician for Blue Star music. Playing as "Earl and his hoedowners", the strong fiddle and bass sound sets the square dance world on fire.
"The Texans" band for Blue Star, 1964
2. The first caller to record on Blue Star is Andy Andrus, a big name caller in Texas; in 1958 a little known caller makes his recording debut with "the Auctioneer" and Marshall Flippo records the first of what will be over a hundred Blue Star Records.
3. Bogan Records, becomes a subsidiary of Blue Star, begins in 1956; through 1997 Bogan releases a total of 198 records.
4. Lore Records, another subsidiary label is purchased in 1958 and through 1986 produces 236 releases.
5. Swinging Square Records is started by Norm Merrbach in 1959.
6. Bob Fisk makes his recording debut in 1962 on Blue Star with "True Love". Recordings by Bob of "Once A Day", "Early Morning Rain", and "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree" are today's square dance classics. Bob recorded a "live" dance in North Hollywood, released as a 33 1/3 album - now made available on CD as "Bob Fisk Tribute Album".
Recording artist, Bob Fisk
7. Rockin' A Records, yet another subsidiary label, begins in 1963.
1. In the mid-sixties, the signature sound is provided by Dick Shannon, a dance band leader from Houston. Playing as the "Shannoniers" and "Rhythmaires", they record square dance gold.
2. Ken Bower makes his recording debut in 1967 with "Happy". The singing call "First Thing Every Morning" written by both Dee and Ken Bower was so popular, it was released twice, twenty years apart. Ken returned to Blue Star in 2003 with "Summertime".
3. In 1971, the biggest name in calling is Frank Lane and to get him to join the Blue Star family, a special record label is created, named for the Lane's famous square dance get-away in Estes Park. Dance Ranch Records is started and today, thirty six years later, Dance Ranch is the leading producer of square dance CDs.
4. Johnnie Wykoff makes his solo recording debut in 1973 with "I Believe In Music". Johnnie and Star Wykoff later become owners and producers of Blue Star Records
Jerry Helt & Johnnie Wykoff, 1974
5. Making their recording debut in 1974 is, Wade Driver with "Glory On My Mind" and Lee Kopman with "Challenge Square Dance" Albums
6. Also in 1974, Mike Sikorsky makes his debut with "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold". Mike returned in 2004 with "Swanee".
7. Bee Sharp started in 1976 as a series of workshop records called by the one and only, Dave Taylor.
1. Petticoat Patter, a subsidiary label is formed in 1982 as the first and to this day, only, record label produced for women callers, recording only women callers.
2. Blue Star's musical sound changes, incorporating popular regional bands like the Fontana Ramblers, who played regularly at Fontana Dam in the Carolinas and Lee Mace's Ozark Opry Band from Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.
3. A Houston band named Stellar Unit becomes Blue Star's new signature sound; the band records "I Found A New Baby", Blue Star's biggest selling record in the past two decades.
4. By the late eighties, Johnnie Wykoff takes over production of the Blue Star family of labels, as the Merrbachs begin to retire.
1. Under the guidance of Johnnie Wykoff, bands change again and Blue Star music takes on a very modern and distinctly "up-beat" sound.
2. Blue Star is one of the first record labels to offer it's existing catalog of music on digital format - MP3s.
3. Bob Cat Records becomes part of the Blue Star family.
1. In 2002, Buddy Weaver becomes owner/producer of the Blue Star family of labels. New music and new vocals start coming from Blue Star and Dance Ranch every month.
2. In 2004, Hi Hat, Blue Ribbon and DJ become part of the Blue Star family of labels, making it the largest square dance record company in the world. With a new band and staff of callers, "New Hi Hat Records" debuts in late 2004 and has been a consistent top selling record label since then.
3. A historic moment in square dance music happens in 2005, when Blue Star Records becomes the first and only label to release it's 1,000th record. Appropriately Marshall Flippo recorded the vocal for BS 2501, "Blue Blue Day"; the initial limited release collectable record pressing is sold out, but the release is available on CD and MP3.
4. In 2006, Blue Star records turned fifty years old - it is the only square dance label that has been in business for fifty years.
5. Available as MP3 downloads, the first of it's kind, now dancers without a caller can enjoy dancing and even spread the activity to their friends. It is 2012 and a new generation discovers Square Dancing through www.buddyweaver.com/music.htm
6. In 2013, Buddy Weaver develops a new process of capturing and digitalizing audio from vinyl. The Classics web site begins selling impossible-to-find records now as MP3 downloads. The Blue Star and Hi Hat web sites begin selling MP3 downloads directly to the public.
Famous Blue Star recording artists, Jim Brower, Al "Tex" Brownlee, and Marshall Flippo Pictured in 1960's and being inducted into Texas Callers Hall Of Fame in 2007
From the late 1950's to the early 1960's, Merl Olds, was producer for Sets In Order Records, a subsidiary of Sets In Order Magazine. A prominent square dance caller and round dance cuer in the Los Angeles area, Merl along with his wife Deliah, began using talented Hollywood musicians to play square and round dance music for their newly formed company. In 1963, Hi Hat Dance Records premiered and while Merl no longer worked for SIO Records, he continued to do record reviews for SIO Magazine.
First Hi Hat Records ad from SIO 12/63
Providing the new sound was Dick Cary, jazz trumpet and alto horn player, pianist, and arranger. Also playing was Joe Leahy, another jazz player who started his career with Les Brown and His Band Of Renown. Plus Jimmy Bryant, one of the most talented guitarist in the Hollywood entertainment industry.
Dick Cary Jimmy Bryant with Speedy West
Many of the big name callers of the sixties enjoyed a long recording partnership with Hi Hat Records:
DICK HOULTON from California
RED BATES from Massachusetts
LEE SCHMIDT from California
TOMMY CAVANAUGH from Great Britain
DICK WEAVER from Hawaii (Buddy's Dad)
Joining Hi Hat Records in 1963, ERNIE KINNEY would record 130 vocals in thirty-eight years with Hi Hat.
His list of hits include: "DEVIL WOMAN", "EL PASO CITY", "FOOLS FALL IN LOVE", "COME TO ME", "MISTY", "GREEN GRASS OF HOME".
ERNIE KINNEY (Ernie can also be seen in "Son-In-Law", click here )
In 1976, Merl Olds split Hi Hat into a separate round dance label and square dance label, selling each to new producers, Pete Metzger and Ernie Kinney, respectively. Under new ownership, the Hi Hat Square Dance sound was guitarist Del Casher, a protégé' of Les Paul. A side story is the fact that Del Casher's name was mis-spelled as Katcher on the very first record labels and remained in error for three decades.
Del Casher can be found on the internet at: http://www.delcasher.com/
In the twenty-six years that Ernie owned and produced Hi Hat Records, he was the first to create 2-Couple called records for home dancers that didn't have a whole square; the first to create records with music along with harmony vocals so that every caller could have full back-up singers; the first to create a label of karaoke records, music by the full band and sung by square dance callers.
Joining the Hi Hat Records staff was Bronc Wise, Tom Perry, Mike Sikorsky, and Jerry Schatzer - a few of the most popular callers of the day.
The Hi Hat sound changed again in 1981, when Ken Carlton was enlisted as arranger/musician. The KC studio was the first to introduce electronic percussion to square dance music, where the rhythm was generated by a computer using recorded samples of live musicians. Within five years, all square dance record companies would be using sampled percussion.
The Hi Hat recording staff changed again with Joe Saltel, Dan Nordbye, Deborah Carroll-Jones, Tom Miller, Wayne McDonald, and Kip Garvey joining the label. In 1991, Ernie invited Buddy Weaver to join the Hi Hat Records staff. Hi Hat is the only square dance music company that had both father and son as staff artists, in this case separated by twenty five years.
Ernie and Lani Kinney receiving the Callerlab Gold Card from Buddy Weaver (2010)
Under Ernie Kinney's supervision, Hi Hat Records added sister labels - Blue Ribbon Records in 1976, ELK Records in 1984, and DJ Records in 1993. The ELK label is the first "karaoke" record label with square dance callers doing the vocals on the flip side. ELK also produced cassette and CD releases featuring the Hi Hat Pioneers, a quartet of callers singing cowboy songs. The last members of the quartet are Ernie Kinney (leads), Tom Perry (baritone), Buddy Weaver (tenor), and Wayne McDonald (bass).
In 2004, Buddy Weaver, producer of Blue Star Music, acquired Hi Hat Records. Remaining autonomous, New Hi Hat Records debuted with a new staff of callers and new musical sound. Now, modern electronic arrangements done by Japanese caller, Hiroshi Yaoko are featured. New hits are made with "Glory Hallelujah", "You Are My Sunshine", "Ghost Riders Hoedown". New Hi Hat Records (along with Blue Star Records) are among the first square dance labels to offer vinyl and CD formats; with the close of the vinyl era, the label name graduated to - New Hi Hat Music.
In the fall of 2009, the First Japan Hi Hat Fesitval was held in Tokyo, featuring calling talent from the US, Canada, Sweden, and Japan. The second Hi Hat Festival was held in conjuction with the Laughlin River Romp in 2011. The Third Hat Festival took place in Tokyo, January 2014.
Japan Hi Hat Festival Staff - Wada, Ozaki, Blume, Yaoko, Weaver, Crawford, Nishimura, Yaoko
In 2013, the label - Hi Hat Retro Music, featuring previously released Hi Hat songs begins selling music.
Also in 2013, Buddy Weaver develops a new process of capturing and digitalizing audio from vinyl. The Classics web site begins selling impossible-to-find records now as MP3 downloads. The Blue Star and Hi Hat web sites begin selling MP3 downloads directly to the public.
Hi Hat Music produced by Buddy Weaver
HH 5307, IT'S GOOD TO BE ME by Andy Allemao
HH 5306, STREETS OF LONDON by Lanny Weaklend
HH 5305, LOVES GONNA LIVE HERE by Elmer Sheffield
HH 5304, FLY ME TO THE MOON by Joe Saltel
HH 5303, I BELIEVE IN MUSIC by Ken Bower
HH 5302, EXCEPT FOR MONDAY by Lottie Ainsworth
HH 5301, HELLO DOLLY by Buddy Weaver
HH 5300, I'M PRETTY GOOD AT DRINKING BEER by Buddy Weaver
HH 5299, INDEPENDENCE DAY by Darren Gallina
HH 5298, TENNESSEE WALTZ by Masaru Wada
HH 5297, IF HEAVEN by Lottie Ainsworth
HH 5296, WHY DON'T WE JUST DANCE by Buddy Weaver
HH 5294, MARGARITAVILLE by Buddy Weaver
HH 5293, IF WE HOLD ON TOGETHER by Lone Blume
HH 5292, BANJO PICKERS BALL by Tac Ozaki
HH 5291, MY MELODY OF LOVE by Lottie Ainsworth
HH 5290, SUNNY by Buddy Weaver
HH 5289, WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN by Lone Blume
HH 5288, TAKE ME HOME COUNTRY ROADS by Masaru Wada & Keiko Yaoko
HH 5287, COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER by Lottie Ainsworth
HH 5286, KINGSTON TOWN by Mike Driscoll
HH 5285, CRAZY FOR LOVING YOU by Tac Ozaki
HH 5284, OBLADI OBLADA by Scott Bennett 2007 Releases
HH 5283, CHRISTMAS POP and WINTER HOEDOWN MEDLEY (hoedowns)
HH 5282, BAD MOON RISING by Tim Crawford
HH 5281, BLAME IT ON THE BOSSA NOVA by Lottie Ainsworth
HH 5280, TIGER RAG and LET IT BEAT (hoedowns)
HH 5279, GREEN GREEN GRASS OF HOME by Masaru Wada & Hiroshi Yaoko
HH 5278, BLUE CLEAR SKY by Lottie Ainsworth
HH 5277, LIGHT MY FIRE by Tim Crawford
HH 5276, CUPID by Masaru Wada
HH 5275, FIVE HUNDRED MILES AWAY FROM HOME by Scott Bennett
HH 5274, GHOST RIDERS and NEW MACARENA (hoedowns)
HH 5273, THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS by Buddy, Kini, Mele Weaver
HH 5272, TIE A YELLOW RIBBON by Buddy Weaver
HH 5271, DANCE by Lottie Ainsworth
HH 5270, HOT CHOCOLATE and LADIES NIGHT (hoedowns)
HH 5269, CAN'T HELP FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU by Masaru Wada & Keiko Yaoko
HH 5268, TENNESSEE RIVER by Scott Bennett, Lottie Ainsworth, Buddy Weaver
HH 5267, PROUD MARY by Masaru Wada
HH 5266, YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE by Lottie Ainsworth
HH 5265, DON'T BE CRUEL by Masaru Wada 2005 Releases
HH 5264, TRIBAL DANCE and WILDWOOD YELLOW ROSE (hoedowns)
HH 5263, LIVING ON LOVE by Masaru Wada
HH 5262, YOU'VE GOT TO CHANGE YOUR WAYS (EVIL WAYS) by Tim Crawford
HH 5261, GLORY HALLELUJAH by Masaru Wada
Releases prior to this are Classic Hi Hat Records (maroon label) available in limited quantities as vinyl OR digital on HI HAT RETRO MUSIC web site