“Everything’s oddball, you have to be if you are a small record company.” Lew Bedell
Pop music was different in the beginning and never more so than in California, where Hollywood’s dominance of the entertainment scene meant that Los Angeles was scarcely aware it had a music industry until hotshot producers such as Phil Spector, Snuff Garrett and Lou Adler finally put the town on the recording map in the mid-1960s. Nefarious, transient and unaccountable, the music biz was essentially a hidden profession, shielded from the sons and daughters of good Americans.
Before lawyers and accountants took over the music biz, individualists such as Doré’s Lew Bedell were usually referred to as “characters” or as being “larger than life”, suggesting they were caricatures of some sort, but Bedell was somehow too pragmatic a man to fit that description. He was born in El Paso,Texas in 1919, the son of Joseph Bedinsky, a Russian-Jewish immigrant from Ukraine. In the 1920s, Lew began a new life in Los Angeles with his uncle, Max Newman, and Max’s son, Herb. Max brought the two boys up together and to all appearances it seemed as though the two cousins were brothers.
Lew attended LA College, and then Santa Barbara State College where he and a fellow student named Doug Mattson appeared together on campus reviews. It was here that Lew, a six-foot bundle of garrulous bluster, discovered a flair for comedy. In 1941, he changed his name by decree from Bedinsky to Bedell and formed a musical comedy act with Mattson. After they split up in 1953, Lew worked as a solo stand-up for about a year before Herb and Max Newman approached him with a business proposal. At a pivotal point in his life, Lew saw the opportunity as a new beginning and put up $7,500 from his savings to help launch the Era label with Herb and Max.
Era opened for business in March 1955, its distinctive logo depicting swirling neutrons, a timely reflection of the Atomic Age. Over the next three years, Era scored several big hits and mid-1958 saw Lew and Herb launch a new label, Doré. An early release, ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’ by the Teddy Bears, topped both the US and UK charts in late 1958, one of the first hits made by kids trying to sound like the records they had been buying. The fact that Doré’s first (and only) million-seller was an entirely amateur affair performed by kids who had literally walked in off the street, served to reinforce Lew’s philosophy that record production in the rock’n’roll era was an intuitive lottery founded on factors so uncertain as to be beyond manipulation or control. Whereas Herb Newman might have hired a full studio orchestra to lend a record of an air of legitimacy, Lew liked to keep things simpler and less polished, although no less commercial. Many Doré releases would be the result of “walk-ins”, that is masters purchased from impecunious indie producers peddling their wares, or artists trying to get on record.
This placed him at odds with Herb who favoured a more calculated approach based on the roster-building principles of the pre-rock age when the best available material was recorded by established artists in formal studio conditions. In June 1959, the two cousins parted ways on amicable terms; Herb retained ownership of Era while Lew struck out on his own with Doré.
Without the cautious Herb Newman’s sobering influence, Doré would no longer be run along conventional lines but as an expression of one man’s intuitive whims for the next 25 years. As a former comic, the waggish Lew Bedell had a more insouciant approach than his more serious-minded cousin and, although no less motivated by profit, bowed to fate by applying a wholly scattershot approach to record-making. “Everything’s oddball,” he once remarked of Doré. “You have to be if you are a small company.” Lew practised what he preached, releasing numerous novelties over the years, believing they were more likely to stand out in a crowded market.
Never one to ponder the muse, win or lose, Lew was at his happiest taking down orders from distributors for a record that might have cost him only a few hundred bucks to get on the table, although to be fair, in later years when Doré got into its stride as a soul label, the productions became progressively expansive and expensive. In this climate of spontaneous deal-making and ad-hoc recording, Lew was constantly being approached by would-be’s and wanna-be’s. Shel Talmy, Mike Curb, Herb Alpert and Kim Fowley were among the indie producers who sold masters to Doré in the early 60s.
Because Doré threw open its doors to anyone who might have something on the ball, it was usually a song or a particular nuance that persuaded Lew to take it further. Many unknowns passed through without volunteering much in the way of their background, especially as Lew rarely bothered with publicity, even in the event of a hit, believing this to be the responsibility of the artist or their management. The parents of underage artists were usually asked to come into the office to sign contracts on their offspring’s behalf but beyond noting the artist’s birth date and ID number, Lew would rarely get involved. The majority of Doré’s releases were one or two-offs by artists destined to remain a mystery, that is if records weren’t fabricated studio concoctions in the first place.
Lew rarely commissioned promo photos unless an artist placed a record on the charts. Nor did he advertise in the trade press except in rare instances when Doré was competing for sales with rival versions of a particular song. As a result, many of the artists are intriguingly obscure, although the extensively researched notes to this collection do throw up many valuable clues.
Quirky in the extreme, “Make Mine Mondo” does what it says on the tin – and then some. Fuzzed-out garage bands, wayward rockabillies and mental instrumentalists conjure up a melee of mondo mayhem in long ago Los Angeles. Comprising 11 extremely rare and sought-after garage band singles (nine previously un-compiled and new to CD), eight instrumentals (again previously un-compiled) and several unreleased rock’n’roll and R&B numbers re-mastered for legitimate first-time release, “Make Mine Mondo” screams for attention.