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On the Record:
The History of the Compo Company - Part 4

     In 1929, the Compo Company, for unknown reasons, completely reorganized their stable of labels. The Lucky Strike and Microphone labels disappeared, to be superceded by Crown, Royal and, somewhat later, Sterling, introduced in 1931 as 35 cent competition for Bluebird. All of the new labels and the continued Domino label were numbered in a new 81000 series; at first, a prefix was added for each label (1-Domino, 2-Sterling, 3- Royal). The previous Domino 31000 numbers, used after the 21000 series reached as far as possible (21499), were dropped, although the two numberings seem to have co-existed for a short while. Apex, meanwhile, having reached 8999 and thus exhausted available numbers, started a 41000 series. Canadian and miscellaneous recordings appeared on a 83000 series for the budget labels, while Apex continued the 26000 series. Finally, the Starr label dropped English-language material entirely, releasing only Montreal-recorded French-Canadian material.

     The Compo labels for this period are of great interest to collectors as the American Record Corporation, from whom most of the material came, stepped up an apparent policy of supplying Compo with alternate takes of records when they were available, so that some sides by jazz-oriented bands, such as Ben Pollack, appeared in versions long thought to be unissued, on the Canadian pressings. Most of the budget pressings coupled one current hit with an earlier studio band side, with the latter side often not used for an Apex issue.

     Judging from the number of surviving records, the budget labels sold fairly consistently at their 50 and 35 cent prices. The Apex records, however, apparently all but ceased to sell, as the records in the 41000 series are fairly scarce - more so as time went on. Of course, records in general were selling somewhat less than enthusiastically during the period, particularly expensive records. It could be also that customers were gradually discovering that the bargain labels offered exactly the same material and performances that the more expensive Apex label used. This would be particularly true, as through 1930, the pseudonyms began to be replaced by the identities used on U.S. (And Apex) issues of the same sides.

     In early 1931, the 81000 series was unaccountably dropped and a similar 91000 series phased in, with a 93000 series paralleling the 83000 series, used as a catch-all for Compo's own recordings and sides from miscellaneous U.S. sources; primarily the new Crown label (which was unrelated to the Canadian label of the same name). It is not known why the numbers were changed, as there were numbers remaining in the old series and labels, or even prefixes, stayed as before. The arrangement continued until 1932.

     In January 1932 the American Record Corporation in the U.S. acquired the Brunswick Record Corporation from Warner Brothers, who decided to end a less-than-successful fling at the record business and concentrate on films. Almost immediately thereafter, Compo made arrangements to manufacture Brunswick and Melotone records in Canada. The Brunswick records, duplicating American issues in all respects except label details, appeared in February 1932, replacing the Apex label, which was not to appear again until 1943 (although the Apex trademark was prominent on letterheads during the time!). The Melotone label was simply added to the group of budget labels, possibly superceding Domino, which disappeared at about this point. The prefixes were dropped at the end of 1931 (91227) and all labels bore identical credits and catalog numbers.

     Compo's manufacture of Brunswick continued, probably until late 1933. Obviously, expensive records were not selling well, even when of the calibre of the 1930s Brunswick material. It is quite possible that Compo decided it was simpler to import the small quantity of Brunswicks rather than go to the expense of making dies and printing labels in Lachine. The cheaper labels continued to sell steadily, although possibly not in great quantity.

     In the meantime, the record business across North America was declining. All of the independents had vanished. Columbia, after bankruptcy, was acquired by A.R.C. (American Record Corporation) and used for classical issues. Crown was defunct, and the Paramount group had been acquired by Gennett, who in turn was all but non-functional, issuing only a handful of records on the Champion label. However, there were developments in store. Jack Kapp, who had been an executive with the Brunswick operations, was working with the owners of the British Decca firm to obtain financing for a new record company. His idea was to sell records by first-line artists at a budget price. Cheap records had been available; however, most used either untried artists or artists whose popularity was dropping. When a well-known artist appeared it was often in disguise! Kapp, as a member of the Brunswick management, was acquainted with most of the Brunswick artists. In the fall of 1934, the new 35 cent Decca records appeared, with an all-star line-up of primarily ex-Brunswick performers, including Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo and the Mills Brothers among others. The idea, after a shaky start, proved eminently successful (so much so that A.R.C. tried reviving older sides by the defecting artists on their own bargain labels) and significant changes started occurring in the industry.

     In Canada, Herbert Berliner, seeing the figurative handwriting on the wall, began negotiations with the new firm. Finally, at the beginning of 1936, Compo began pressing Decca records, dropping all of the previous labels except, oddly enough, Melotone. The Canadian Melotone label, which was to continue well past its U.S. counterpart, began at this point to duplicate Decca's continuance of the Champion label - (Decca had acquired the commercial portion of Gennett's record operations) - but continued after Decca quickly dropped the Champion label. Popular material was issued until 1937 on a 40000 series, which lasted only a few numbers beyond Champion, while country material from Decca was issued on a 45000 series until at least 1942. Melotone records were, in fact, sold by Eaton's until 1947, appearing regularly in the catalogues; they were apparently not sold solely by Eaton's. Eaton's sold the Compo-pressed Minerva label from 1935 until about 1940, but apparently, judging by the extreme scarcity of examples today, without any success.

     When the pressing of Decca began, Compo quit pressing any records from other U.S. material (until 1952). The A.R.C. labels, including Perfect, Vocalion and Brunswick, were distributed by the Canada Record Company of Dundas, Ontario. It is worth noting that the listings of records of this firm are quite similar to Compo/Decca catalogues of the period, and it is quite possible that Compo was connected with the operation, which would explain how the use of the Melotone label was retained.