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Black record label brought the Beatles to America, not Ed Sullivan

veejay

This weekend, the Beatles were the center of attention as CBS celebrated the 50th anniversary of the famed British band’s first appearance on American television, specifically the iconic The Ed Sullivan Show, back in 1964. With tributes going on all of last week; with it all leading up to The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To the Beatles, the big show that featured performances from Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Pharrell Williams and a briefly-reunited Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

However, in all of the celebration, an important part of the Beatles history has been grossly overlooked. For all of the attention that the Ed Sullivan appearance garnered, it wasn’t America’s very first introduction to the Beatles. It was their first appearance on American television, but the fervor had been building for months. The group’s early singles had been making waves on the charts, but what many don’t know is that the first singles by the Beatles were virtually ignored by most major record labels and radio stations.

The first American record label to jump on the group’s potential was a small, black-owned label based in Chicago.

Vee Jay Records had made a name for itself releasing everything from the blues hits of Jimmy Reed to early pop singles by The Four Seasons. Founded by husband-and-wife Vivian Carter-Bracken and James Bracken, Vee Jay gained distribution on early Fab Four songs that had been major hits in Britain. Singles like “From Me To You” and “Please Please Me” were issued in America by Vee Jay and provided American fans with their first taste of what would soon turn into “Beatlemania.” The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and their producer George Martin decided to partner with Vee Jay for distribution because major labels didn’t think the Beatles would find an audience in America.

Of course, that would soon prove very, very wrong. As those early Beatle songs began to generate buzz via local Chicago radio stations and other markets like Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, the major labels began to take the group more seriously. As a result, towards the end of 1963, with Beatlemania in full swing in Europe, Capitol Records decided to pick up distribution of the Beatles material. Despite the fact that Vee Jay had released those early singles and even compiled an album (the now-rare Introducing the Beatles), Capitol hit Vee Jay with an injunction against manufacturing, distributing, advertising, or “otherwise disposing’ of records by the Beatles in January 1964.

The independent label found itself at the center of numerous lawsuits now that the industry heavyweights had discovered the Beatles and staked their claim to their music. As the legal battle continued between Capitol and Vee Jay, the small label was able to release compilation albums of the early Beatles material that had been released by Vee Jay, but were shut out of any new recordings by the band. Capitol now controlled any new Beatles releases in America.

By the end of 1964, Capitol had completely pushed Vee Jay out and had gained complete control of all Beatles’ recordings, including the early music. Vee Jay would forfeit all rights to the early songs they had distributed by 1965, after reaching an out-of-court settlement with Capitol.

The company eventually shut down in 1966, due to disagreements in management and financial difficulties. It resurfaced as Vee Jay International in 1979, and re-released the only Beatles album that Capitol could not control, Hear The Beatles Tell All, a collection of early Beatle interviews. After a brief stint as a disco label in the very early 1980s, it shut down again; before re-opening in the late 1990s and re-releasing most of the Vee Jay catalog as reissues on CD and in digital formats.



10 Comments

  1. Livivua Ramsey on February 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

    wow! thanks for sharing. I did not know that. What a great but sad history! I hate that happened.

  2. Cyberologist on February 13, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    So they get no credit I’ve never heard this in 50 years black business was completely shut out…

  3. mfinley98 on February 14, 2014 at 9:57 am

    I bought the Vee Jay Please please me album before the Capitol records even came out. The boys are still feeling their way, but Chains, Boys and Twist And Shout were on that record — killer promising.

  4. Mekisha Hale on February 15, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    This is very important history being made here. I didn’t know that Vee Jay Records released early recordings of “The Beatles”. For a long time the historian were telling the story like Ed Sullivan was the the person to introduce America to ‘The Beatles’ you see that can tell ya that everything wasn’t told like it should have been. Owned Black Label in Chicago release those very early recordings of “The Beatles”. It’s interesting after there were waves been made about the interesting group after rejections from the major American music labels. But Vee Jay Records in Chicago was bold enough to release those recordings until the whole distribution problems arose when Vee Jay was making waves with the recordings by releasing those recordings on the radio. Now soon there was an interest into this group around the way sort of speaking. After that Capitol jumped on the chance. So America wasn’t so keen on “The Beatles” after all and a small black owned label in Chicago made the difference. This is very important history specially now how I feel different about how they were brought here really. What is amazing is when Vee Jay Records made those early releases then Capitol got hot about the releases and put Vee Jay Records into court and just simply force them to sign over the rights of those early recordings to Capitol Records amazing. So the is being told and now we the public know the real truth behind how “The Beatles” really got discovered. For there was always a connection between the British bands specially ‘The Beatles’ and other bands at that time,who were heavy influenced by a lot of American music,but blues and r&b music. But “The Beatles” were liked and adored by so many fans and specially soul music artists.

  5. Cornelius Jordan on February 15, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    where was this information found?

    • ShinjisSecret on February 16, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Found? It’s fact. Any record collector is familiar with the now rare LP The Beatles vs The Four Seasons. The major problem with Vee Jay records is that they never did bookkeeping. The CEO kept the figures in his head with no paperwork. For the 4 Seasons to get out of their contract, they had to sue Bob Crewe who in turn sued Vee Jay. They lost in court and went broke. The Beatles never recorded for Vee Jay, the label distributed their music in 1963. Look on eBay for the 45 of Please, Please Me. It was originally on Vee Jay.

      • Cornelius Jordan on February 16, 2014 at 3:35 pm

        Dude calm down, I have a roommate who unsure of this information because rolling out didn’t cite where they found this out at. Thank you for the info.

        • ShinjisSecret on February 16, 2014 at 3:44 pm

          I’m just really sad that this is new to so many Beatles fans. I thought this was commonly known history. Other artists on VeeJay have been interviewed in the past and said their careers were stalled because of all the attention the Beatles & 4 Seasons got.

      • Cornelius Jordan on February 16, 2014 at 3:38 pm

        Also, I am not a record collector

  6. ShinjisSecret on February 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    I am kind of surprised more people don’t know this. Vee Jay was a very important label. Glad this article is out, and hope that all Beatles fans read it.