Published April 14, 2011 NY Times
By Douglas Martin
Randy Wood, who started out stocking records in a nook of his electrical appliance store before going on to found Dot Records, a label that found success in the 1950s recording white artists like Pat Boone singing black artists’ rhythm-and-blues songs, died on Saturday at his home in the La Jolla section of San Diego. He was 94.
The cause was complications of a fall, his wife, Lois, said.
The store Mr. Wood opened in 1944, in Gallatin, Tenn., spawned a mail-order record business that by 1950 was selling 500,000 records a year and claiming, without much apparent question, to be the world’s largest. By the time the label disappeared in 1978, it had produced more than 1,000 albums.
In addition to Mr. Boone, Dot — with its distinctive label featuring a yellow “D”, red “O” and blue “T” — recorded artists like Gale Storm, the Fontane Sisters and Billy Vaughn performing compositions originated by black artists. Some condemned the practice as white colonialism, while others contended that the renditions — called covers in the music business — brought many new listeners to the form.
In a 2005 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Boone called it a “perversion of history” to say Dot stole music and success.
“The recording directors at the small R&B labels wanted to attract attention to their artists, and the covers expanded the impact of a song,” he said. “Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry were all thrilled because it made it possible for their songs to finally get heard.”
Mr. Boone’s take on Fat’s Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” is often credited with propelling both singers. Both versions entered the charts in July 1955, with Mr. Domino’s reaching No. 10 and Mr. Boone’s No. 1. (The order might easily have been reversed had Mr. Wood accepted Mr. Boone’s suggestion that the lyric be changed to “Isn’t That a Shame.”)
For Dot, Mr. Boone also recorded Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” the Five Keys’ “Gee Whittakers!” and Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Almost Lost My Mind,” making the charts with these and other covers.
Mr. Wood recorded music from other genres as well, often encouraging a country artist to do a pop song and vice versa. His concentration on R&B covers reflected the popularity of the music. He recognized trends from personal observation: he invited teenagers to his store for parties, letting them play records and drink free sodas. And what song do you like, son?
Randolph Clay Wood, the child of two teachers, was born on March 30, 1917, in Morrison, Tenn. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1937, and served in the Army in World War II. He set up a small record section in his appliance store after noticing that customers liked to check out new releases. Soon the appliances were gone, and the place became Randy’s Record Shop.
In 1947 Mr. Wood invested in a new radio station, WHIN-AM, which broadcast only in the daytime. At night, when it was off the air, he used it for recording sessions. He also started a mail-order business to sell all manner of records, many by black R&B artists, advertising them on another radio station, WLAC-AM in Nashville, whose signal reached 20 states. Customers called in orders, and he delivered C.O.D.
Johnny Maddox, an aspiring pianist who had been a clerk in the store, cut Dot’s first single, “Crazy Bone Rag.” It sold 22,000 copies in a month, hugely surprising Mr. Wood. More records by Mr. Maddox followed. The blues pioneer W. C. Handy called Mr. Maddox “the white boy with colored fingers.”
Mr. Boone said Mr. Wood had a “radar sense” for finding talent. After hearing Gale Storm sing on a television show, he called her and nailed down a verbal agreement before she had left her dressing room. He saw another actor, Tab Hunter, in a movie and signed him, without knowing if he could sing, because he was handsome. Mr. Hunter’s rendition of “Young Love” went to No. 1 in January 1957 after weeks of practice and 20 excruciating takes in the studio.
He could also give useful advice. He told Lawrence Welk, a longtime Dot artist, that he wouldn’t make it until he learned to “record music that is more for listening than dancing,” according to The Los Angeles Times in 1961. Mr. Wood recorded artists like Louis Armstrong, Liberace and Mickey Gilley.
He sold Dot to Paramount Pictures in 1957 for $3 million, then stayed on as president for a decade. ABC Records bought Dot in 1974 and discontinued the label at the start of 1978.
Mr. Wood is survived by his wife of 69 years, the former Lois Henry; his sons, John and Larry; his daughter, Linda Wood; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Among the many albums Mr. Wood recorded was Jack Kerouac’s “Poetry for the Beat Generation,” accompanied by Steve Allen at the piano. He then refused to release it — though it has been called a crowning recording achievement — because he found it in bad taste. The Hanover label later did release it.
But he did give the world the performer known as Nervous Norvus, who in 1956 recorded “Transfusion,” a creepy song about the aftermath of a car accident. Some lyrics: “Transfusion, transfusion, I’m just a solid mess of contusions.” It sold a half-million copies in two weeks.