The Valmor Record Company was started in the fall of 1960 in New York City. It was a division of
Countess, International, and owned and run by Gene and Jody Malis (Jody often used her maiden
name, Cameron). Gene, a businessman, and the musically oriented Jody had started the Finesse label
in New York in 1959. One of their first singles was by a group called the Twilights ["My Heart Belongs to
Only You"/"Oh Baby Love", Finesse 1717], which got some local airplay but was ultimately unsuccessful.
The Finesse label folded the same year it began.
Jody was the music librarian for New York's WMGM radio, the home of Peter Tripp's Your Hits of the Week top-40 radio show. She had studied opera singing and had written songs and sung professionally for a time in her teens, and was confident that she could pick the hits. Gene and Jody decided to form another record label in 1960, and called it Valmor after a furniture store on Third Avenue. They had signed up the Roomates to a management contract some time before this, and shortly after they founded Valmor, they also signed a young singer named Cathy Giordano.
The Roomates had been formed in school by two friends, Steve Susskindt and Bob Minsky. Bob had been the lead singer for a group called the Sparklers, and Steve joined as backup vocalist. After several attempts at getting a recording contract to no avail, Steve and Bob felt some changes were needed. Steve, who was having trouble singing the bass parts in the backup vocals, took over as lead singer, and the group changed names. The new vocal group was to be called the Roomates, since Steve and Bob had been in the same home room in junior high school (although spelling was not necessarily one of their academic fortes, apparently). After several personnel changes, they recruited Jack Carlson and Felix Alvarez to join them. In 1959, the group placed second in a talent contest at Forest Hills High School, having the misfortune to be in the same contest as a duo called Tom & Jerry, who won the contest (and later became Simon & Garfunkel). They ponied up $75 to record a demo of "Glory of Love" and an original song, "I Want a Little Girl" in Associated Recording Studios in New York in early 1960.
The Roomates didn't have much luck peddling their demo to Brill Building companies, and one of their friends' fathers suggested they see a couple they knew in the music business, Gene and Jody Malis. The group came over to the Malis' apartment several times, and by the third time had polished their act enough that Jody placed the Roomates' first record with the Promo label (this was before Valmor was born). Promo was hot on the heels of their Jimmy Charles hit, "A Million to One." The Roomates' Promo 45 [Promo 2211, released 1960] was a remake of Kitty Wells' 1955 country hit "Making Believe," backed with a new recording of their demo original, "I Want a Little Girl." The single didn't sell very well, but they did do some regional tours with Jimmy Charles. Perhaps it was the mild success that the Roomates enjoyed that prompted Gene and Jody to take another try at running their own record label. In any case, they founded Valmor about this time.
If the Roomates were off to mild success in the summer of 1960, Cathy Jean Giordano was another matter. Barely fifteen years old in the fall of 1960, she had dreams of becoming an opera singer. The problem was, she couldn't sing. Jody Malis was aware of this, but looked for the right material for a possible one-hit gamble. She tried an experiment, and had Cathy record "Canadian Sunset" in an unusual way. Instead of lyrics, she sang the melody by using wordless "woos" and "oohs," resulting in a sort of instrumental, with one of the instruments being her voice. Unexceptional, but pleasant enough for a "B" side. Malis also dropped Cathy's last name, sticking with just Cathy Jean.
Jody had liked the song "Please Love Me Forever," which had been performed by an obscure R&B group, the Sedates [MRB 171], when she had heard it come in to WMGM about a year earlier. She gave it a try with Cathy Jean. If "Canadian Sunset" had been passable, "Please Love Me Forever" was a definite problem. Cathy Jean's voice grated against the stark instrumentation of a guitar, piano, and drums. Noting that two other similar singers of the time (Kathy Young and the Innocents and Rosie & the Originals) used backup groups to soften the lead singer's impact, she recruited the Roomates to overdub background vocals. The group disliked the song, and disliked the idea of being a backup group on someone else's record. When they heard the playbacks, they disliked their performance even more. They disliked it so much that they offered to pay for the overdub session out of their own pockets if Valmor would not release it! But Jody wasn't having any of that; in fact, she did know a hit when she heard one. As a bonus, having both Cathy Jean and the Roomates on a hit record allowed her to promote both.
"Please Love Me Forever" by Cathy Jean and the Roomates, backed with "Canadian Sunset" by Cathy Jean, was the first single on the Malis' new Valmor label [Valmor #007, released September, 1960]. By February, 1961, it was up to #2 on WMGM's Your Hits of the Week program, where it stayed for several weeks. It peaked nationally a couple of months later, and sold over a quarter of a million copies. It even resurrected interest in the original version by the Sedates, which was reissued by 20th Century after the Valmor version hit [20th Century had picked up the original MRB record in 1959 and reissued it as 20th Century 1011. In 1961, they reissued it as 20th Century 1212].
The Roomates, even though they got half the royalties for the hit, never felt it was "theirs." In fact, although they appeared in person and on other records with Cathy Jean (and got along well with her, personally), they never recorded with her at the same session, always being brought in for overdub sessions.
On November 25, 1960, the Roomates recorded five songs of their own at Regent Sound Studio, including "Band of Gold," "Glory of Love," "The Only Girl For Me," "O Baby Love," and "Never Knew." The group had been wanting to record their favorite song, "Glory of Love," for some time. The session was recorded in stereo, although the two-track tapes have not been released with the exception of a very tightly-mixed "Glory of Love." On that song, according to Steve Susskindt's recall (to Paul Heller), he started with the other members of the group at one microphone for the harmony beginning of the song, then tiptoed over to the other microphone in his stocking feet to sing lead. Even though Steve sang the wrong lyrics, Gene Malis came running in yelling "It's a take! It's a take!" It was issued as Valmor's second single [Valmor #008], backed with "Never Knew." Although it only made it to the middle of the top 100 nationally, it was a New York hit, as was their next single, "Band of Gold" [Valmor 10].
Meanwhile, Cathy Jean recorded a few more singles, greatly aided at times by the Roomates' (sometimes uncredited) backing vocals, such as on "Make Me Smile Again" [Valmor #009]. Unfortunately, her solo efforts such as "Sugar Cake" [Valmor #009] and "One Love" [Valmor 11] were embarrassingly bad, and she never got close to a hit again.
In 1961, Valmor opened a subsidiary label, Empress. A group called the Embers, who had been the same group the Malis' had recorded in 1959 as the Twilights for their Finesse label, signed with them after talking to Felix Alvarez of the Roomates. The Embers recorded "Solitaire," the debut single for Empress, which was a moderate local hit. The Empress label lasted for eight singles or so, and did not put out any albums.
Also in 1961, Valmor issued its first album, which it turns out, became the most collectable record on the label: At the Hop by Cathy Jean and the Roomates [Valmor 789]. One side featured Cathy Jean (with and without the Roomates), while the other side was given over to Roomates recordings on their own. This record was reissued in 1962 with a new cover as Valmor 78, retitled Great Oldies. Although Valmor issued two other albums by other artists, it was a short-lived label used mainly as a vehicle for Cathy Jean and Roomates releases. With such a small group of artists, it was only a matter of time before the hits stopped coming and the label couldn't sustain itself financially. That point was in September, 1962, when Valmor finally closed its doors.
Jody and Gene Malis were still managing the Roomates, however, and brought them to Cameo for one single in late 1962, then moved the group to Philips in 1963 and to the Canadian-American label in February, 1964 (where Gene became General Manager and Jody the A&R Director). When Canadian- American folded in late 1965, leaving some of the Roomates' recordings unfinished, they all accepted the fact that it was over. The Roomates disbanded and Gene and Jody went on to other pursuits. Jody eventually wrote and produced over 40 children's albums for Peter Pan and Golden Records. Gene and Jody later published the national, toll-free phone directories.
The original Valmor label was black with silver printing, with "VALMOR" in yellow above the center hole. The "V" in Valmor is large and rainbow colored, and runs down the label at the left side. At the bottom of the label is "A DIVISION OF COUNTESS INTERNATIONAL" Apparently, all the albums were issued in mono only. In the 1980s, Little Walter DeVenne mastered some new albums from the original masters, with some songs in stereo. These were issued on an album pressed on Valmor through the Relic label, using a red and black version of the LP label. In 1997, a CD appeared on the "Morval" label that chronicled the recorded history of Cathy Jean and the Roomates.
This story and discography was compiled using our own record collections, Schwann Catalogs, Paul Heller's articles in Story Untold Magazine, and Donn Fileti's liner notes to Valmor 5041 and 5042. Special thanks go to Walter DeVenne for discussions on the stereo content of the original Valmor tapes.
We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this 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 Valmor Records, which is currently inactive. 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 1999, 2002 by Mike Callahan.