Gotham Records-A Philadelphia Story ©JCMarion 1999


Gotham Records was formed by Sam Goode (Goody) and Irvin Ballen in New York in 1946. In January of 1948 Ballen acquired the interest of Goode and became the sole owner. He then moved the company to Philadelphia where the label was based for the rest of its existence. The label specialized in Rhythm & Blues.

Dan Pickett records "Laughing Rag" and "That's Grieving Me" on #201. Dan Pickett "Ride To A Funeral In A V-8" and "Early One Morning" on #210, A series of R & B records on Gotham during the year have a 500 numbering system. These include the colorfully named Stick Horse Hammond with "Little Girl" and "Truck 'Em On Down" on #504, #505 - David "Pete" McKinley doing "Ardelle" and "Shreveport Blues"; Baby Boy Warren does "Navy Woman Blues" and "Special Friend Blues" on #507. and "Something's Gone Wrong" and "Chicago Blues" on #512. "Lemon Man" and "Number Writer" by Dan Pickett is released on #516. "Hucklebuck Daddy" and "Rock The Joint" are hits for Jimmy Preston & The Prestonaires in 1949. The label also signs Ray Branker & The Three Peppers.

In April of 1950 Harry Crafton performs "Get Off Mama" and "I Can't Forget" on # 227, and Jimmy Preston records "Hayride" and "Early Morning Blues" on #228. Pete Martin sings "Marie" and "I Guess I Was Born To Lose" on #229. The veteran vocal group The Cap-Tans record "Never So Lonely" and "My My Ain't She Pretty" for #233. In July #225 features R & B drummer Panama Francis on "The Crackerjack" and "Peach Tree Shuffle". Eddie Cole does "News For You Baby" and "That's Right" on #238. Earl Bostic alto tenor man plays "The Man I Love" and "Apollo Theater Jump" on #248. Tiny Grimes records "Riverside Rock" on #249.

In June, label president Irv Ballen buys 300 masters from the Miltone Record Company of Los Angeles which includes sides by Roy Milton, Lil' Miss Cornshucks, Camille Howard, and Jimmy Grissom. A gospel recording by The Angelic Gospel Singers on #649 "Lord Remember Me" is a big seller in the South especially the Carolinas and Georgia. Harold "Doc" Bagby is hired by Gotham as a talent scout and A & R man. The Captans record the tune "Yes" on #268. Jimmy Harris with Frank Motley's band records "That's All Right With Me" and the flip is a Motley instrumental "Dual Trumpet Blues" on #272. The Ernest Hopkins Quartet records "Golden Slippers" and "Good Fellows Medley" for #276 and follows with "Auld Lang Syne" and a medley of "Danny Boy" and "Annie Laurie" on #276. The group features Hopkins on tenor sax, with Vernon Morgan on piano and Bunny Bowen on bass. During the summer Ballen buys the Pacemaker label, a country & western record company from singer Webb Pierce. At this time the very first Gotham LP will be issued. It will feature instrumentals by Earl Bostic. Jack Dupree recording under the name Meat Head Johnson records ""Old Old Woman" and "Mean Black Woman" on #514. A session with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee with Doc Bagby results in "Baby Let's Have Some Fun" and "Four O'Clock Blues" on #517, and "Harmonica Rumble" and "Lonesome Room" on #518. "Baby How Long" and "You Got To Do Better" by Dan Pickett is on #542.

In early 1952 Gary Crosse records "Bittersweet" and "Fat Sam From Birmingham" on #279. For #282 Johnny Sparrow plays "Sparrow In The Barrel" and "When Your Lover Has Gone". Johnny Sparrow & His Bows & Arrows record "Sparrow's Flight No. 2" and Boudoir Boogie" on #284. The label signs Bobby Stephenson and The Patterson Singers a gospel group. In August Gotham issues gospel recordings - Clara Ward singing "Come In The Room" on #715; The Davis Sisters and Curtis Dublin record "By And By (parts one and two)" on #716; and The Angelic Gospel Singers version of "Bread And Heaven" and "Milky White Way" on #717. The gospel singing Robert Patterson Singers record "I Am A Witness" and "Saved By The Power Divine" on #721.

In March of 1953 Benny Brown records "Please Believe Me" and "Poppa She Treats Your Son So Mean" (an answer to Ruth Brown's record) on #293, but most of the years releases are gospel records which are the label's most consistent sellers. #729 - The Angelic Gospel Singers "My Lord And I" / "Jesus Will Carry You Through"; #730 - Echo Gospel Singers - "I Want To Thank My God In Person" / "This Is Like Heaven For Me"; #731 - The Patterson Singers - "After A While" / "I Will Walk With Jesus"; #732 - The Evening Star Quartet - "Say A Prayer For The Boys In Korea" / "Make It In"; and #734 - "Hold On To God's Unchanging Hand". A series of records is released in late 1953 that features Doris Brown backed by The Capris - #290 is "Please Believe Me" and "Oh Baby", #296 - "Until The End Of Time" / "Why Don't You Believe Me Now" and #298 is "My Cherie" and "The Game Of Love".

A report in February of 1954 indicates that the gospel records continue to be Gotham's steadiest sellers. The big seller in the R & B field during the year is The Capris "God Only Knows" and "That's What You're Doing To Me" on #304. "It Was Moonglow" and "Too Poor To Love" by The Capris is on #306, and #308 featured The Capris with "It's A Miracle" and "Let's Linger Awhile". The Whispers are on #309 "Don't Fool With Lizzie" and Fool Heart", and back on #312 with "Are You Sorry" and "We're Getting Married".

The year 1955 was noted for Irv Ballen selling his pressing plant to concentrate on the dwindling fortunes of Gotham Records, and a lawsuit over Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock", claiming that the tune was lifted from Doc Bagby (and others) tune in 1948 "Rock The Joint" (which was also recorded by Haley). Ballen loses the suit and the resulting legal costs further erode the chances of survival for Gotham.

In 1956, the almost too cutely named Haji Baba & The Arabian Knights (yes spelled with a "k") record "Early One Morning" and ""Baby Don't Put Me Down" on #313. A little known group called The Gazelles record "Honest" and "Pretty Pretty Baby" on Gotham #315, while The Kings record #316 - "The Good Book" / "God Made You Mine", and Daisy Mae & The Hepcats are featured on #317 with "Lonesome Playgirl" and "Woman Trouble". Gotham tries with a Philadelphia vocal group, Lee Andrews & The Hearts. They record "Bluebird Of Happiness" and "Show Me The Merengue" on #318; "Lonely Room" and "Leona" on #320; and "Just Suppose" and "It's Me" on #321. Typical of the luck of Ballen and Gotham Records, "Lonely Room" sells some, but the follow up does not and soon the group moves to another Philly label, Grand and immediately hit pay dirt with "Teardrops" and the tune is optioned to Argo/Chess and the group becomes one of the big sellers of the late 1950s.

That basically is the story of Gotham, a Philadelphia R & B label that toiled without major success for a decade but just kept plugging along presenting the sound of R & B and gospel music to the American public. Today it is basically the vocal group fans that keep the memory of the label alive, searching for the Capris and Hearts sides. For example in the early 80s re-releases of material by Lee Andrews & The Hearts surfaced on Gotham ("Sipping A Cup Of Coffee"/"Suppose" on #323; "Window Eyes" and an alternate take of "Long Lonely Nights" on #324; and "I Miss My Baby" / "Boom" on #325). Think of Philadelphia and R & B during the formative years, and the reference point is Gotham Records.

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