White Church has been described as originating with a Christian ministry based operation in Chicago and it could well have started as early as the latter part of 1946. This organization could have been known as the Christian Education Service. Christian Education Service may actually be the true label name of the early Blackwood Bros label records, as seen in the scan. It shows the Kansas City location but there were copies out of Chicago as well. Around the bottom of the label in large letters is ‘Christian Education Service’ and in smaller print KC Record Company. This label was probably pressed for the Chicago organization’s own use and it’s possible that White Church didn’t come into existence until after the first large batch of releases. WC pressings could have been made simultaneously for the Quartet to sell themselves or otherwise pressed soon afterwards. Dyer could well have suggested the label name as a companion to his own label which he probably started alone. Dyer may have been called upon (or volunteered) to arrange pressings and it seems clear that he wasn’t a member of the evangelical group at the outset. So while confusion remains, much has been cleared up.
I have traced releases by the Blackwood’s on White Church from 1053 (confirmed as their first record) up to 1064, with the exception of gaps at 1054, 1056 and 1061. Following this there is a short interim period beginning with The Goodwill Family at WC 1065 with Red Barn probably not reappearing until the Tex Grimsley release at 1071 (posted here by Al). By the summer of 1947, as the KC Record Company, Dyer had moved operations to Kansas City, Missouri when Billboard reported on September 13 that ‘ex-rustic comic Deb Dwyer (sic) who has been associated with John Lair and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance . . has set up a deal with several outstanding folk artist singing groups’. It goes on to report that he had set up the White Church Record Company, Kansas City through which he has recorded the Blackwell Brothers (sic) and the Homeland Harmony Quartet. It adds: ‘The two combos will sell and distribute their own platters under terms of the deal’ (read custom pressings). The reason for Dyer’s relocating could well have been to distance himself from the evangelical group’s watchful eye. However reports and ads confirm that he did at least retain an office in Chicago. Also, a list of 18 distributors in October 1948 includes KC Record Sales as a distributor in each city. This confirms that he was selling plenty of the artist financed ‘custom records himself.
Returning to later 1947, the Homeland Harmony Quartet would soon have a massive hit but exactly where 1065 to 1081 originate from isn’t certain, although all labels kept the Chicago location displayed until well into 1948. Following Grimsley, there was a custom label release by the Holden Bros (1072). Of added interest is that the song was “I’m Doing My Time” which Jimmie Skinner must have pitched to them before releasing the record for Red Barn himself at 1101. (He originally auditioned the song for Paul Cohen at Decca in 1945 and this and his complete recorded output through the end of the 50s can be heard on his Bear Family box set). The Holden Bros followed up with a release on 1079 and the company reissued the sacred side of each record which created a White Church 1072/1079 coupling. It is known that Dyer pressed ‘extra copies’ to sell himself, so this release would have created another saleable White Church record for him to market. Certainly he had assumed virtual or total control of the operation during early 1947 and Al has already described early adverts that appeared.
A good number of releases had come out at a pretty rapid pace when White Church 1083 appeared in later 1947. With it came the company’s biggest (and only) bonafide hit - “Gospel Boogie” by Leroy Abernathy & His Homeland Harmony Quartet. Universal Records in Chicago showed interest in picking it up but King Records prevailed and, surprisingly, released it in their “Sepia” series in early 1948. Soon better known as “Everybody’s Gonna Have A Wonderful Time Up There” the catchy song has become a standard. Although considered quite controversial in some quarters when released, it sold over 200,000 copies and most of those were on White Church rather than King. Sales on White Church were given another boost by the very collectable output of James & Martha Carson who were tremendously popular on radio and the revival meeting circuit. Dyer had seen good sales of a Christmas Album of three records by the Blackwood Bros and promptly put out an album by the Carson’s as well.
With at least 18 releases now on the White Church label, the Blackwoods’ records were selling like hot cakes, both from Dyer’s efforts and through live appearances and mail order sales. Members of the original quartet have confirmed that these were all custom releases pressed by Dyer who must have been confident that he was heading for the big time fast. Clearly dissatisfied, the Blackwood Bros left the label in the early months of 1948. Their last known release was at White Church 1129 after which they started their own Blackwood Bros label out of their home base in Shenandoah, Iowa. It is now clear that any number beyond this point is actually unrelated to the Dyer series. To add to the travails of discographers, their new series commences at 1142 as far as is known and reached at least 1196 by January 1952 when they joined RCA-Victor. However they were allowed to keep their old catalogue available and 45 rpm RCA pressings were mastered as late as 1954. By this time they were getting distribution assistance from the Gospel Supply Co. in Fresno, Ca. They had experienced considerable trouble securing the return of their own masters from Dyer but probably got them by February 1949 when Billboard reports Dyer’s ‘resignation’ from White Church. As a result, most of the Blackwoods’ records for Dyer were eventually repressed on their own label.
When the Chicago addressed labels were used up, Dyer did revise the Red Barn design, remodeling it more closely resemble the striking design used for White Church. We have posted both versions of the label as used for Jimmie Skinner’s first record at 1101, which was probably the last to use the Chicago label. With Skinner’s record selling well, Dyer increased his activities on Red Barn, which had taken a back seat up to this point. He began placing small ads in Billboard, often plugging DJs he wanted to please and a string of releases appeared in the first half of the year. Meanwhile the White Church label continued to proclaim that “10% of net profits goes to the work of the Lord” – so let’s hope that old Deb kept that promise. .
There are signs that he was by mid-1948 looking to become a ‘legitimate’ label. As it happens, Dyer nearly had a hit in with “Lorita’/’Line On The Highway’, a very strong Hillbilly coupling by local artist Elmo Linn. He placed a half page ad in Billboard in October and had the label not been on its last legs, this could have been the key to a more lasting success. But, as Bullet records had done, he made the fatal mistake of dabbling with the Popular market. The song “Rendezvous With A Rose” - penned by Dyer himself - did actually create some noise and was described as a very appealing old-style sentimental song with great sales potential by Billboard. It attracted up to 10 cover versions but there’s little evidence that Dyer’s version on his newly created D&D label saw much daylight, even though publishing by Jay-Dee Music in New York was arranged.
On July 31 the first of many large ads were placed in Billboard for the anticipated hit. An interesting aside to what would turn out to be a disastrous move was that the company was now calling itself Tom and Deb’s Music Syndicate. By the D&D label name we have to guess that Tom’s second name began with a “D”. The first ads showed an attractive woman with Deb’s name under it. The record was described as ‘the nation’s latest love song with the romantic tenor voice of Dick Wong with J. Jack Stout at the organ’. In later ads Wong was dubbed as ‘The Chinese Ambassador of Song’ and his picture finally shown. The top this ad said ‘Confucius say – Chinese Boy Sing American Song Swell’. Finally, probably with several thousand copies in the back room and few sales as the other versions took off, it was stressed that the Wong version was the original and ‘a juke box operator’s dream’. It was still listed in mid-September by Billboard as one of many versions, while previous reviews had alluded to superior backings on some of the other recordings.
The final push by the company was for Elmo Linn in a half page ad, again mentioning the ‘Music Syndicate‘. This and the final obscure releases in the 1190s saw the end of the label by the time that the year was through. Announcing Dyer’s resignation, Billboard stated that he would retain his interest in Tom and Deb’s Music Syndicate. What that entailed we don’t know but his resignation came just as Jim Bulleit of Bullet records was announcing his own. Both had competed with the big labels beyond their resources and had vastly over-extended and overspent on advertising Pop records. What was left isn’t known but Red Barn is listed in the Billboard directory during mid-1952. If it still existed, most of its business was probably from the selling of old stock White Church 78s which would have had a longer shelf life than Red Barn.
The Blackwoods secured their masters during this period while what remained of the other White Church masters were sold off to Sacred Records on the West Coast. Here the label was revived with a 5100 series in high quality vinyl pressings and a modernized design in Blue & White followed by Maroon & Silver. These do however contain a lower percentage of top quality recordings, at least to my musical preference. A few originals were repressed and our example is a repressing of 1119 by James & Martha Carson, who remained popular even beyond the time when Martha went out on her own. By August 1949, Dyer was announcing ‘a unique show business experiment’ in the field of radio at De Kalb, Mo., involving a $10,000 investment drive at $10 per share. For more on this see Billboard for August 12, 1949. The bet is that many people lost their money.
(All scans courtesy of Dave Sax)
Later West Coast Release