Old Town Records founder Hyman Weiss dies


Hyman "Hy" Weiss, a throwback to the golden age of the independent record men, died Tuesday. He was 83.

Weiss was born Feb. 12, 1923, in Romania in and grew up in the Bronx. With his bulging Rolodex of industry contacts, he lived the life of a record man into his final days.

Starting out in 1948, he learned the intricacies of the record business as a swashbuckling salesman for three pioneering indie labels: Exclusive (run by Leon Rene), Modern (the Bihari brothers) and Apollo (Bess Berman). During an eventful sojourn with Jerry Blaine's Cosnat Distributors, Weiss formed Old Town Records with his brother Sam in 1953 before going full time alone in 1956.

During the next decade, Old Town was in its prime as Hy Weiss tapped into the rich R&B and doo-wop culture of Harlem and other areas. His biggest hits were "There's a Moon Out Tonight" by the Capris (No. 3, 1961), "Let the Little Girl Dance" by Billy Bland (No. 7, 1960), "So Fine" by the Fiestas (No. 11, 1959), "Dear One" by Larry Finnegan (No. 11, 1962), "Remember Then" by the Earls (No. 24, 1963) and "We Belong Together" by Robert & Johnny (No. 32, 1958).

Other acts on Old Town and subsidiaries -- which included the Barry Records label, named after his son Barry Weiss, now president and CEO of the Zomba Label Group -- included Hector Rivera, the Solitaires, the Harptones, Larry Dale, Bob Gaddy, Rosco Gordon, Titus Turner, Buddy & Ella Johnson and Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry.

With the changing times in the 1960s, Weiss concentrated on pushing heartthrob ballad singer Arthur Prysock in an independent production deal with MGM-Verve that included a well-respected album with the Count Basie Orchestra, among numerous other successful Prysock albums on Old Town proper. Thereafter, Weiss homed in on the reissue market, leading to licensing deals with Atlantic, Rhino, Collectables, Ace (London) and P-Vine (Japan).

His masters were featured in such movies as "Pleasantville," "La Bamba," "A Bronx Tale" and many others. He also spent much of 1972-74 actively consulting for and operating Stax Records in Memphis during its heyday. He worked closely with label founders Jim Stewart and Al Bell and such artists as Isaac Hayes, Luther Ingram, the Staple Singers, Johnny Taylor, Rufus Thomas and Albert King.

Soon after his wife Roz died in 1996, Weiss sold Old Town Records and the affiliated Maureen Music publishing company to Music Sales of New York.

Said Barry Weiss, who is carrying on the Weiss family tradition in the music industry: "Beyond the typical reasons why I am proud to be my father's son, I am proud in a business sense to be the son of one of our industry's great original independent record men and entrepreneurs. Along with peers such as George Goldner, Leonard Chess and Jerry Wexler, he set the pace and helped set the course for today's music industry."

In addition to his son, Weiss is survived by brothers Sam and George, daughters Maureen and Pam and four grandchildren.