In 1975 – the same year Gusto Records acquired Starday-King Records from Tennessee Recording & Publishing – Gusto released an album entitled Freddy Fender: Recorded Inside Louisiana State Prison. I suspect Gusto might have been trying to capitalize on the popularity (as well as notoriety) of Johnny Cash’s prison albums of the late 60s in addition to Fender’s then current chart success for the ABC/Dot label.
What’s really strange about the record is that it sounds absolutely nothing like a prison concert, as there is a complete absence of crowd noise. Not a speck of applause. Neither a whoop nor a holler. Why is that? Freddy Fender might have been approaching his commercial peak in the mid-70s, however, as it turns out, these recordings were made in 1962 – at a time when he was being incarcerated for illegal drug possession. Which begs the obvious question: did the Louisiana State Prison have an in-house studio where this recording was made?
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Village Queen” as sung by Freddy Fender.]
It’s humorous the way the liner notes awkwardly dance around this issue – essentially bolting from the room after finally (and obliquely) admitting that Freddy was not an honored guest but rather a resident member of the Louisiana State Prison population:
Freddy Fender’s fantastic success with “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” have made him a Super Star in the Pop and Country music fields. Though this success came seemingly overnight, it was many years in the making. Freddy traveled a lot of hard roads before teaming up with producer Huey Meaux and reaching that ever elusive pinnacle of success sought after by every entertainer, and attained by very few.
After all the disappointments, the years of living with a dream of success and watching others with similar ambitions give up without fulfilling their dream, Freddy didn’t give up. He kept right on trying, and he was one of the few lucky ones that made it. For every entertainer that reaches success, there are a thousand or more who don’t.
In this album, Freddy gives you more of the type songs that put him on top, done in the fashion as only he could do them. An experience that you will never forget is Freddy Fender, recorded inside Louisiana State Prision [sic] in 1962.”
Piecing Together Starday-King’s History
In 1975, Tennessee Recording and Publishing (owned by Leiber & Stoller with Hal Neely & Freddy Bienstock) – still running under the Starday-King name – sold the masters to another Nashville concern, GML, Inc., who operated the Gusto label. Gusto reissued much of the King catalog by the mid 1980s, and is still doing so today through licensing to other labels. Tennessee Recording & Publishing, meanwhile, kept the publishing rights to the whole Starday/King catalog, and quietly became rich. As one of the TRP executives noted, copyrights don’t argue with you or demand new contracts — they just sit there and generate cash. [Excerpt from The King, Federal & DeLuxe Story – Edwards & Callahan]