The tiny Bandera record label was launched in 1958 in Chicago, where it was over-shadowed by the Windy City's giant indie labels Chess and Vee-Jay. The label was run on a shoestring by the mother and son team of Violet Muszynski and Bernie Harville. They never had an office but ran the label from their home at 2437 West 34th Place. In the early days, Bernie took a job as a bus driver to help make ends meet.
Vi Muszynski was an ardent talent spotter and hung out in many of the clubs on the south side of Chicago where she was a well-known figure. On Chicago's 'Record Row', Violet was known as "Vi the record lady". Bernie recalls that she was a great hustler, into PR and record promotion and very good at schmoozing. Her greatest discovery was the Impressions, at the time when Jerry Butler was lead vocalist. Vi rehearsed the group and recorded demos in a small studio near the Cabrini Green housing project where the group lived. She signed the Impressions to a recording contract and got them leased to Vee-Jay. Bernie recalls, "That got us the money to set up Bandera and paid for recording sessions at RCA in Nashville for my newest discovery, Bob Perry".
Bernie hit on a name for their new label, Bandera, taking it from one of Slim Whitman's early hits Bandera Waltz. He was also responsible for the distinctive label design. Many of the recording sessions for Bandera were held at small Chicago recording studios such as Hall and Balkan, while studios in Memphis and Nashville were also utilised. Vi and Bernie also set up a couple of subsidiary labels: Laredo and the gospel label, Jerico Road.
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