The Roulette Label was founded in late 1956 or early 1957 by record producer George Goldner and
Joe Kolsky in New York City. Joe Kolsky was also a 50% owner of the George Goldner labels, Gee,
Rama and Tico and he was in business with nightclub owner Morris Levy. Morris Levy was installed as
president of the new Roulette label. The partnership was short lived as Billboard announced on April 6,
1957, "(George) Goldner has sold his interests in the Roulette, Rama, Gee and Tico labels outright to
the Morris Levy combine. After selling his record labels to Levy, Goldner formed two new labels, End
and Gone and sometime in the early '60s, they were also sold to Roulette Records. The End, Gone,
Rama, Gee and Tico label discographies are with the George Goldner label
The Roulette label was musically broadly based, recording pop, jazz, rhythm and blues, country and western and even classical. The heads of A&R for Roulette were Hugo (Peretti) and Luigi (Creatore). Other producers for the label over the years were Goldner, Richard Barrett, Sammy Lowe, Joe Reisman, Henry Glover, Teddy Reig, and Nat Tarnopol (who owned the Brunswick label).
The initial issues for the Roulette label were the purchased masters of "Party Doll" and "I'm Sticking With You" by a Texas group known as the Rhythm Orchids, which were Buddy Knox (guitar), Jimmy Bowen (bass), Dave Alldred (drums), and Don Lanier (guitar). Originally, in 1956, the two songs were on flip sides of a local single the group put out in Dumas, Texas [Triple-D 797], with "Party Doll" billed as "Buddy Knox with the Orchids" and "I'm Stickin' With You" as by "Jim Bowen with the Orchids." When both sides of the single got airplay, Roulette purchased the masters and reissued the songs, but split the Triple-D single into two separate releases, "Party Doll"/"My Baby's Gone" by Buddy Knox [Roulette 4002], and "I'm Sticking With You"/"Ever Lovin' Fingers" by Jimmy Bowen [Roulette 4001]. Both songs were hits ("Ever Lovin' Fingers" also charted) and Roulette was off to a good start. Buddy Knox had several more hits for Roulette. Jimmy Bowen had a couple of minor hits and later became a very successful producer, especially of country music.
Roulette also had substantial early success with Jimmie Rodgers, a folk-pop singer from Seattle. In 1957, Rodgers auditioned a song called "Honeycomb" for producers Hugo and Luigi. They recorded and released it, and it went to Number 1 in July, 1957. It was the only #1 record for Rodgers, but he did have six other top twenty sides for Roulette, including "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "Secretly," and "Oh-Oh, I'm Fallin' In Love Again."
Rodgers continued to record for Roulette until 1962 when he went to the Dot label. During the early 1960s, it is astonishing how many of the Roulette artists exited the label to the supposedly greener pastures of Dot - probably more than a dozen. Most of these artists had one or at most several albums for Roulette before joining Dot, but Jimmie Rodgers was the exception. He was an established chartmaker, and continued his success for Dot with several hits there. The dozen or so other artists who thought Dot would turn around their lack of chart success were mistaken; they didn't chart for Dot, either.
Roulette also recorded one of the last of the rock and roll pioneers, Ronnie Hawkins. Roulette recorded him in 1959, and he managed a minor hit with Chuck Berry's "Forty Days" (for some reason, Hawkins added ten days to Chuck's original "Thirty Days"). Ronnie Hawkins had several more hits on Roulette including "Mary Lou" (a remake of a Young Jesse song of a few years earlier) and the blues standard "Who Do You Love?". Hawkins was from Arkansas and had auditioned for Sun Records, but was rejected. He went to Canada, where he had considerable success as a stage performer and met several outstanding musicians who he employed as his band, the Hawks. The Hawks included drummer Levon Helm and guitarist Robbie Robertson, and also eventually included Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. The Hawks achieved even greater fame in 1965 when Bob Dylan asked them to back him on his first "electric" world tour. Of course, the Hawks later became known as "The Band," and became superstars on Capitol Records.
Roulette had a very strong jazz catalog, recording many of the jazz artists that played at the Morris Levy's Birdland nightclub. Roulette also acquired the catalog of the Roost label in August 1958, which had jazz artists Stan Getz, Johnny Smith, and Sonny Stitt. The Roost label was also called Royal Roost and the discography for the label is included with this discography. In the late '60s, Roulette also distributed the Calla label, a discography of which is also included here. Certainly, all the albums in the Calla discography were not distributed by Roulette, but we're including all of the Calla issues of which we are aware.
Morris Levy ran the Roulette label from it's inception. He was born poor in the East Bronx, New York. He went into the nightclub business and eventually owned several big nightclubs in mid-town Manhattan. Levy was in business with disc jockey Alan Freed, and with Freed promoted the hugely successful Rock and Roll shows at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. Levy's real money came from publishing copyrights that accumulated into a vast fortune over the years. It was hardly a secret that Levy had many "silent partners" in the Mafia underworld. Levy claimed he was being harassed by the government and had numerous run-ins with the law because of his association with the Genovese family, but he avoided serious prosecution for many years. Levy's luck ran out in May 1988 when he was convicted on extortion charges and drew a ten-year sentence, but he remained free on bail after an appeal, and died of cancer in 1990. The story of Morris Levy and Roulette Records is chronicled in the book Hit Men by Fredric Danner in the chapter titled "Lullaby of Gangland."
As far as chart success, it was a long time coming for Roulette. Although they started issuing albums in 1957, it wasn't until 1961, after well over 200 albums had been issued, that Roulette had a charter with a Murray the K compilation. Although many of the 150 pop albums released to that point had been forgettable, there were a number of albums by very popular artists like Jimmie Rodgers, the Playmates, and Ronnie Hawkins that for some reason just didn't click. After the Murray the K disc, Roulette had a fair amount of chart success with compilations in the early 1960s, especially their Golden Goodies series. But it was the "second" twist craze in late 1961 that really put them on the charts big time. Joey Dee and the Starlighters' "Peppermint Twist" propelled the corresponding album to the #2 spot on the Billboard charts. It was also about this time that Roulette lured Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan away from Mercury, and Dinah's chart success before her untimely death at the end of 1963 helped make Roulette a common label on the Top 200. By the mid '60s, it was the likes of Tommy James and the Shondells that kept the label on the charts. The '70s saw the chart action wane, but by 1975, Levy saw the possibilities of marketing his huge catalog through television advertising, and started the Adam VIII label. The Adam VIII label, of course, was most notorious for issuing a controversial John Lennon album over which Lennon sued.
By the 1980s, Roulette itself issued only a few reissue albums and rock and roll compilations, and later some poorly mastered compact discs. In 1989, as Levy was getting on in years and faced legal problems, he sold Roulette and his other label holdings to a Rhino-EMI partnership, and Rhino put out some high quality compact disc reissues.
These discographies were compiled using our record collections, Schwann catalogs from 1953 to 1980, a Phonolog from 1963, and "The American Record Label Directory and Dating Guide, 1940-1959" by Galen Gart. The Roulette story includes information from Hit Men by Fredric Danner, and Across the Great Divide by Barney Hoskyns. 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 Roulette Records. 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 1997 by Mike Callahan.