Dunhill started as a production company before it was a record label. It was started in 1964 by Lou
Adler, who owned and ran the company, and in 1965 it became a record label. Originally, it was located
at 321 S. Beverly Drive in Los Angeles.
Lou Adler was a well known name in the music business as far back as the late 1950s, when he became noted as a songwriter (for example, he wrote Sam Cooke's "Only 16" and co-wrote "What A Wonderful World"). He and Herb Alpert managed Jan & Dean's early career. He was a Vice-President at Screen Gems (Colpix, Dimension), where he worked with songwriters such as Carole King. Adler also produced Johnny Rivers' very successful mid-'60s albums on Imperial.
During this time, he produced some records for the songwriting team of Phil Sloan and Steve Barri, who sold the masters to Imperial under the name "The Fantastic Baggys." When Adler founded Dunhill Records in 1965 with a distribution deal with ABC-Paramount, Sloan and Barri signed on as staff writers. They would be very influential in the early success of the label; in fact, the first album issued by Dunhill was by Sloan and Barri, this time going under the name "Rincon Surfside Band." Phil Sloan, as "P.F. Sloan," also had two early albums for the label, and studio drummer Hal Blaine also had an album. In fact, the Dunhill "studio band" (Sloan on guitar, Barri on percussion, Blaine on drums, Larry Knechtel on bass, and Tommy Tedesco on guitar) was in place right from the start, just waiting for artists to be signed.
The first few singles on the label were by artists who had a connection with Adler, or by members of the band. Dunhill 4001 was by Shelley Fabares, a former Colpix artist, and 4002 was by Willie & the Wheels, another of Sloan and Barri's pseudonyms. The first ten singles also included records by Canadian Terry Black (whom Adler had produced earlier), Hal Blaine, the Iguanas, and Don & the Goodtimes.
One of the first truly new artists signed for the label was Barry McGuire, gravel-voiced former singer with the New Christy Minstrels. He gave Dunhill its first #1 in the fall of '65 with the Sloan-Barri tune "Eve Of Destruction," produced by Adler and backed by the Dunhill musicians. A successful album of then- current folk-rock hits mixed with Sloan-Barri originals followed.
By this time (fall 1965), Sloan and Barri wanted to start a "real" group, and go out on the road. They recruited some musicians from a San Francisco group called the Bedouins and formed a group they called the Grass Roots. Lead singer was Bill Fulton and drummer was Joel Larson, and they recorded several sessions with Fulton on lead and some studio musicians like Bones Howe backing him, along with Sloan and Barri. The first single from these sessions was "Mr. Jones"/"You're A Lonely Girl" [Dunhill 4013], which didn't chart. The group members decided to go back to San Francisco, leaving Dunhill with enough material for Sloan and Barri to work on an album, part of which they ended up singing lead. The next spring, when the album was nearing completion, Dunhill released a single to help promote it: "Where Were You When I Needed You," a Sloan-Barri tune with Fulton doing lead. Much to the surprise of almost everyone, the single ripped into the charts, making top-30 nationally. Unfortunately, the band was long gone, couldn't tour, and the album didn't chart at all.
Sloan and Barri were disappointed, but within a year, recruited some additional members for their group. These included Rob Grill (lead vocals, bass), Warren Entner (guitar), Creed Bratton (guitar), and Rick Coonce (drums). As the new version of the Grass Roots, supported by Sloan and Barri's songs, they became a regular hit machine in the late 1960s.
After his #1 single with "Eve of Destruction," Barry McGuire was ready for his next album, and he introduced a vocal group to Lou Adler that he wanted to use as background singers. They were the Mamas & the Papas, and John Phillips even played guitar well enough to be used as a studio musician. The album they recorded in late 1965, This Precious Time [Dunhill 50006], contains the original recorded version of "California Dreamin'," with McGuire singing lead and the Mamas and the Papas on background vocals. Adler knew a great sound when he heard one, and signed the Mamas and the Papas to Dunhill.
The tape for Barry McGuire's recording of "California Dreamin'" was used for the Mamas and the Papas hit version of "California Dreamin'" by dumping McGuire's voice and adding lead vocals by the group members instead. If you listen closely to the Mamas and Papas hit recording of the song, you can still hear Barry McGuire's voice, not quite erased, singing "All the leaves are brown.." on one channel at the start of the song. The song went to #4 in late 1965, and their followup single, "Monday Monday," went to #1 in early 1966.
Over the years, there were a few peculiarities and idiosyncracies with Dunhill. Dunhill had the dubious distinction of having three different album covers that had to be changed or censored. The original cover of the Mamas and the Papas If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears [D/DS-50006] featured the fully- clothed group all piled into a bathtub, with a commode clearly visible in the lower right corner of the picture. Persuaded that this might have been offensive to some of the more delicate record buyers, they revised the cover to feature a scroll over the toilet. Later, even the bathroom itself was cropped out.
All of the members of the Mamas and Papas were veterans of the music scene. John Phillips and his wife Michelle had been in the New Journeymen, Denny Doherty had been in the Halifax Three and the Mugwumps, and Cass Eliott had been in the Big 3 as well as the Mugwumps. Their blend of voices and John Phillips' song writing talent made them an instant national phenomenon, with a series of hits such as "I Saw Her Again" (#5), "Look Through My Window" (#24), "Words of Love" (#5), and an oh-so-slow remake of the Shirelles' classic "Dedicated To The One I Love" (#2). The autobiographical song "Creeque Alley" also made #5. The group had spent some time near a real street by that name, which is pronounced as if it were spelled "creaky." John's song writing prowess reached to other artists, also, as he gave his friend Scott McKenzie what would become a summertime anthem, "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)" a couple of years later.
Another Dunhill act in 1966 was the Brass Ring, a New York based studio band headed by Phil Bodner. They had two minor top-40 hits with the "Phoenix Love Theme," which was from a movie starring James Stewart, and "The Dis-Advantages of You," which was the theme music for a Benson and Hedges cigarette commercial.
With all the commercial success of the artists on his label, Adler also signed an off-the-wall act: Fred E. and Mickie Finn, who ran a San Diego nightspot called "Mickie Finn's," and got a gig on NBC-TV on Thursday nights. Dunhill issued singles by them in batches of four or five simultaneously at times, and several albums. None of these ever charted, and remain as artifacts of the times in Southern California.
Lou Adler sold Dunhill to ABC in early May, 1966, and started the Ode label. One of his earliest successes on Ode was Scott McKenzie's aforementioned "San Francisco" [Ode 103], which reached #4 in early summer, 1967. Carole King, an artist who had known Adler for years, signed with Ode and hit multi-platinum with her 1971 album Tapestry.
By the end of the '60s, the ABC-run Dunhill had established itself as a major label with hits by the likes of Steppenwolf ("Born To Be Wild," "Magic Carpet Ride," "Rock Me," etc), the Grass Roots (14 top 40 hits from '66 to '73), Smith (an urgent, driving remake of the Shirelles' "Baby It's You" sung by Gayle McCormack) and Mama Cass' solo recordings. Dunhill even had a #2 hit with the Jim Webb composed-and-produced "MacArthur Park," sung by one of the least likely of all, the Irish actor Richard Harris. They also issued Thelma Houston's first album, entirely composed and produced by Jim Webb, when she was an unknown soul singer.
Dunhill's biggest act, however, was Three Dog Night, a septet of three singing and four non-singing musicians, specializing in judicious and soulful rock, pop and R&B covers. They scored three #1 hits (Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not To Come," Hoyt Axton's "Joy To The World," and a reggae cover, "Black And White") and 18 other top 40 hits from '69 to '75 (including Laura Nyro's "Eli's Coming ," Nilsson's "One," and "Easy To Be Hard" from the Broadway musical Hair).
Two of Three Dog Night's record covers had to be recalled. It Ain't Easy [DS-50078] started life with a picture of the entire septet in the nude on the cover, but was quickly replaced by a photo of the three vocalists sitting around a piano, thankfully with their clothes on. And in what ranks as possibly one of the all-time winners in bad taste cover art, Hard Labor [DS-50168] originally had a grotesque female creature giving birth to a record album, but this was quickly revised so that the "birth" was covered over by a huge band-aid (first by affixing the band-aid over the artwork, then as part of the artwork itself.)
On the idiosyncracy side, the catalog numbers for Three Dog Night's albums always ended in "8." All Dunhill tracks on stereo albums are thought to be stereo, with the exception of Three Dog Night's "Shambala," which has always been rechanneled, even on the "stereo" side of the promo 45. Some of the album tracks, especially for Three Dog Night, are different mixes or different takes from the mono singles, in addition to the usual 45 editing. Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" and several other singles are slightly different from the stereo album versions. In particular, "Just an Old Fashioned Love Song" has a high-energy part dropped in at the end of the 45, which is missing from many of the LP versions. For the Grass Roots, after "Where Were You When I Needed You" was rerecorded for the Let's Live for Today album, the remake was used on all greatest hits packages. The album version of Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" is longer and has a different vocal from the 45 version. The group members have speculated that the 45 used an inferior outtake vocal for the single, so subsequent issues have used the album version.
By the mid-'70s, the Dunhill roster of artists included Joe Walsh (formerly with the James Gang and later with the Eagles), Bobby Bland, and ex-Motowners the Four Tops. The Four Tops revived the old magic for a while, with the help of a new team of staff writers (Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who wrote "Keeper Of The Castle," "Ain't No Woman (Like The One I've Got)," "Are You Man Enough," among others). European producer-artist Giorgio Moroder, using only his first name, also made his US debut with a single and album on Dunhill, both called "Son of My Father." Moroder became quite famous during the disco and techno years of the late 1970s and 1980s.
By 1975, the hits had dried up. ABC closed it down, incorporating the remaining Dunhill artists into the ABC label.
We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this story and discography. Just send them to us via e-mail. Both Sides Now Publications is an information web page. We are not a catalog, nor can we provide the records listed below. We have no association with Dunhill Records, which is currently owned by Universal Music Group. Should you be interested in acquiring albums listed in this discography (which are all out of print), we suggest you see our Frequently Asked Questions page and follow the instructions found there. This story and discography are copyright 2000 by Mike Callahan.