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Tuesday, August 30, 2011


We have briefly touched on some on the early producers of the Eastside Sound. DJ's Huggy Boy and Art Laboe and R&B star Johnny Otis dabbled in producing records. We now look the legendary, Bob Keane.

Bob Keane was born Robert Kuhn in Manhattan Beach, California in 1922. He was a clarinet player, and his ambition was to front a big band like his idol, Benny Goodman. He did so, and in 1938, at age 17, he was setting up to play his first show, at Glendale Junior College and was approached by an employee of KFWB, a Los Angeles radio station, who wanted to broadcast the concert on air to replace a canceled scheduled show. The next day Keane received a phone call from an agent at MCA who had heard the broadcast on KFWB, and who wanted to sign Keane to the label. MCA billed him as "The World's Youngest Bandleader".
MCA dropped Keane from the label in 1941 as they felt he was likely to be drafted. Keane decided to enlist in the Army Air Force, and was retired from active service due to a lung infection. He returned to Los Angeles and continued to play clarinet in several bands. In 1950, he was offered a job as a conductor on The Hank McCune Show, a new radio show. After the first episode, the producer approached Bob and told him that he would have to change his name, as the announcer was pronouncing Kuhn as "Coon". A band colleague suggested Keen, after a popular Woody Herman song, "Peachy Keen", to which Bob decided to add an 'e'. Later on in life he changed this to Keane.
  By 1955 Keane was playing clarinet in several bars and clubs around Los Angeles, and one evening met businessman John Siamas, who persuaded Bob to set up a record label with him. The label would be known as Keen Records, with Bob working as an A&R man. He was given an acetate of two songs by Sam Cooke, who at the time using his original surname, Cook, and singing in a gospel group called The Soul Stirrers. On the acetate was "Summertime" and "You Send Me". Sam Cook was signed to a three-year contract with Keen, his surname changed just as Bob's had been, and the songs were subsequently pressed and released as the first single on Keen Records. Originally "Summertime" was intended to be the A-side, and sold moderately. It was only when a DJ played the B-side that the record took off, and by November 25 1957, it reached #1 on the Billboard chart.

At this point, despite Keen Records having earned over $1,000,000 from sales of "You Send Me", Bob only had an oral contract with Siamas. Upon asking when the corporation was to be formed and when he was likely to receive stock certificates for the company, he received a letter asking for him to invest $5000 (which, of course, he did not have) into his own company should he wish to remain a partner. He realized that he had been tricked into finding a hit record and then pushed out of the company.
   While waiting for legal proceedings against Siamas to begin, Bob's wife suggested that he set up another label, and approach someone else who had also been duped by Siamas to put up the money to do so. Taking its name from Delphi, the Greek god of music and inspiration, the new label was named Del-Fi Records. The first release was "Caravan" by Henri Rose, which sold well, and led to Warner Brothers Records offering Keane $8000 for Henri Rose's contract, which he accepted, and which enabled him to buy out his business partner.
   In May 1958, Keane discovered Ritchie Valens performing a Saturday matinee show in a movie theatre in Pacoima, California and invited Valens to audition in the basement of his home, where he had set up a small recording studio. A formal contract was signed, and Valens and Keane spent hours in the basement working on songs together. Among the songs was "Come On Let's Go", which was recorded in Gold Star Studios in July 1958, and released as Valens' first single soon after. This single, and the follow-up, "Donna" b/w "La Bamba", were smash hits. Keane served as Valens' manager as well as producer, booking shows for him across America and several TV performances.
 After Valens' death in February 1959, Del-Fi records continued, and unlike the rest of the major labels in Hollywood, Del-Fi had an "open door" policy - anybody with music they wanted to be released could approach the Del-Fi offices and get it played to Bob Keane. In an interview, he remarked "I'll listen to anyone, even if they bring 'em in on a stretcher."
Other notable artists on Del-Fi over the next few years included Chan Romero, Little Caesar & The Romans, Ron Holden, the Carlos Brothers, the Gallahads and the Sisters.
  In September 2003, Keane sold the Del-Fi catalog to the Warner Music Group.
  Keane was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma when he was 80, and died of renal failure on November 28, 2009.

Many rare tracks from the Del-Fi archives can be found on various CD compilations which are still available. I highly recommend you seek them out.

A discography of Keen singles can be found here:

A discography of Del-Fi singles can be found here:

To learn more about the life and times of Bob Keane and the artists he produced I recommend his autobiography "The Oracle Of Del-Fi"


Soley for hisorical, educational & listening pleasure.

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