The Story of Eris Records, an American Classic
Eris Records was formed by Don Ament and his songwriting partner and (then) fiancée Ruth Jones in 1963. The two had been signed as house songwriters for a small New York City music-publishing firm (48th & Broadway Music), and had enjoyed minor regional success with “The Stars, They’re Bright Tonight” (by doo wop group The Scaups) and “Rock It, Buddy,” an “answer record” by The Teals (and covered in 1966 by Sass-A-Fras), among others. The pair, who later married, started the Eris label amidst turmoil at 48th & Broadway, where they felt they weren’t being treated or compensated fairly. Eris enjoyed success throughout the late ’60s and into the ’70s, but by the mid ’70s the label’s successes had dried up.
Don Ament, whose family had emigrated from Bulgaria when he was a newborn, had grown up in a house filled with music; Ruth Jones, too, was surrounded by music while growing up in Buffalo, New York. They met in a Buffalo home-appliances store (where records used to be sold prior to the ’60s), found out they both had a passion for songwriting, and began writing songs together. Eventually they were discovered after shopping their songs around New York City’s Brill Building, where many of the period’s music-publishing houses were located. 48th & Broadway was a struggling firm but had a few minor chart hits. Once they hired Ament and Jones, the hits started coming. After a few years of writing hit songs and producing demos, Ament and Jones asked for more say in who recorded their songs and even sought to produce. Executives at the publishing firm were against this, wanting to avoid rocking the (successful) boat. After months of turmoil, Ament and Jones decided to strike out on their own. They formed Eris Music, and with it Eris Records. They named their venture after Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, strife, and discord. (More recently, in 2005, a newly discovered dwarf planet was named Eris. It isn’t clear whether the astronomers were familiar with the record label/publishing firm or not.)
Eris’ first signing was a singer/songwriter called Paul Stanchion (real name Paul Delorenzo), who came out of the gate with the folk tune, “I Can’t Understand (Ballad of an Old, Old Man),” followed by an album of folk/pop originals and covers of traditional folk tunes. Next signing to the Eris label was girl group The Chanelles, whose “He’s All Mine” (penned by Ament and Jones) made the Top 40 and gave Eris its first taste of chart success. A handful of hits followed, but Eris’ success cooled once Beatlemania and psychedelic/garage rock picked up steam. Ament and Jones, who had married in mid 1965, continued signing young hopefuls, achieving success again with a cover of their early hit “Rock It, Buddy” by all-girl rock group Sass-A-Fras. The song, as recorded by an all-girl group, garnered mixed reviews but it did reach the Top 20 in the U.S. California-based trio Isosceles came onboard in late 1967 with a pre-prog-rock sound and the album Trigonometry. Spawning a minor FM hit with “The Inner Plane,” the album kept the label (and publishing arm, since Eris also owned the publishing) afloat, as it was followed by 1968’s Two Sides to Every Story. Eris signed Isosceles’ Riverside-area friends The Mean Scene, who failed to have anything released. (The recordings they made in early 1968 later surfaced as a 1997 Eris “reissue” called Better Late…, which also failed to garner anything but a few tepid reviews on the Internet.)
In 1976, Ament and Jones sold the Eris label and its recordings to a Canadian rack jobber with ties to many large record chains both at home and in the U.S. While no new artists or CDs were released by the label, many of their earlier releases were repackaged (sometimes quite shoddily) and sold in stores such as Target, and even in coffee shops such as Tim Horton’s (of Canada) and The Coffee Bean. Today, Eris is fondly remembered for a few great releases and a plethora of obscure and/or cult classic sides. Ament effectively retired upon selling the label, while Jones continued penning songs with other writers but without any notable success. Ament passed away in 2003.
Sceptre Records, the Story of an American Classic
Sceptre Records was begun by young Richie Vito in 1966. Sceptre’s mission was to release records by bands that were a part of the burgeoning rock scene in and around San Pedro (and Long Beach), California. Vito was proud of his Italian heritage, and wanted to share what he felt was a “wealth of talent” in the San Pedro area. Sceptre’s first release was by The Daily Breeze, “Just Coastin’,” a pre-garage-rock tune that featured a pounding piano and (for the time) prominent bass line. The song was a minor sensation and was played regularly at local record and sock hops. Sceptre released a follow-up album, and the label was off and running. What set Vito’s label apart at the time was the production quality of the recordings, which eventually attracted several other artists.
Sceptre founder Richie Vito was born to Italian immigrants who moved to the port town of San Pedro, California, in the 1930s. Growing up with his very pious Catholic parents, Vito found that listening to the pop music being played at church dances was a way to break away from his parents’ strict rules. After graduating from Mary Star of the Sea High School (a private Catholic school) in 1966, Richie took his savings and converted his parents’ garage into a recording studio. There, he produced local band The Daily Breeze’s instrumental, “Just Coastin’.” The tune had quite a sizeable hook, thanks to its piano part, bass line, and scrappy saxophone solo, and for its time, it had exceptionally good sound quality. Even though the sax was on its way out in rock music, the song, released on Vito’s Sceptre Records, was soon featured by local DJs at sock hops (still the “thing” with high schoolers) and eventually by a few radio jocks, too. Demand for the single led Vito to take the band back into his studio to record an album’s worth of similar tunes and garage-rock cover versions. Though not as “hard” sounding as Tacoma’s Sonics or Los Angeles’ The Standells, The Daily Breeze (named after the local San Pedro newspaper) found a spot on regional package tour bills (though usually toward the bottom). The album, In a Minute, Man, did fairly well and raised eyebrows for its high fidelity at a time when most local recordings were muddy-sounding at best. Vito decided to push another single from the album (“Marimba Blues”), which kept sales respectable. New bands were signed to the label, including The Radio Boys (their name an unabashed attempt at radio airplay) and Sig, Spud & Nick.
As the ’60s wore on, Sceptre found itself with more regional hits. The Daily Breeze went on to record another album, the psychedelic-tinged Don’t Hassle Me. Though wildly different from their first LP, it did brisk sales initially but soon found its way into the cutout bin. Vito had pressed way more copies than he could sell, and once sales flatlined, returns were (regrettably) added back into inventory. By this time, though, Vito had released the debut single from The Glowstix, “Gimme A Light,” which received airplay locally and in many college towns on the West and East Coasts. It did pretty well on the charts, too, reaching #31 in late ’68. Cash flow problems caused Vito to take on an investor/partner, James Byant, whose investment kept the doors open into 1969 and ’70. A few more singles were released, including Pandemonium’s “You Can’t Chase a Dream (If You Don’t Have a Dream)” and Kingsize’s “Every Bit of You,” but Vito couldn’t maintain any momentum with his release schedule, and by 1972 Sceptre Records was shuttered for good.
Nowadays, many of Sceptre’s releases are prized by collectors for their extraordinary sound quality, unique label artwork, and colorful 45 picture sleeves. In the mid ‘80s, the punk band Minutemen (also from San Pedro) named themselves after The Daily Breeze’s first album. Though the label is gone, the Daily Breeze has toured the reunion circuit (casinos, county fairs, etc.) and sells CDs at their shows. (The band bought the rights to their releases when Vito closed the label in 1972.) Vito got out of the record business permanently and has been spotted in San Pedro with his wife, walking their dogs along the Vincent Thomas Bridge near the L.A. Maritime Museum.