Bally Records was an independent record label formed in Chicago in December, 1955. It was active during 1956 and 1957. It was a subsidiary of Bally Manufacturing Company and was headquartered at 203 N. Wabash Avenue in Chicago. The parent company, Bally Manufacturing Company, made pinball and slot machines, and is still in business today as Bally Technologies.

Bally Records' president, Jimmy Hilliard, was formerly an executive with the RCA subsidiary "X" Records, and took over operations at Bally on January 1, 1956. The label began issuing records in March of 1956, using RCA pressing plants. Singles leaned toward pop music while the albums had a definite jazz bent. Their first five albums were a collection of European jazz. Although Bally had quite a few singles make the charts (doing especially well in hometown Chicago), these hits rarely showed up on their albums (in fact, the only chart hit to make it to a long player was Lew Douglas' "Levi Lullaby.")

Many, if not most, of the artists signed to the label had some connection with Chicago. Singles artists included Betty Johnson (who in 1954 had had a hit with "I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas" [New Disc 10013]), Lou Breese, Lew Douglas, the Gayden Sisters, Bob Davie, Bob Carroll, label president Jimmy Hilliard, Thurl Ravenscroft (longtime Disney voiceover man most famous as the voice of "Tony the Tiger," the cartoon character who hawked Kelloggs' Sugar Frosted Flakes for decades), Ted Weems, Bob Kames, Bob Anderson, the Highlights, the Turks, pianist Caesar Giovannini, Bobby Christian, the Loreleis, Carol Jarvis, the Argyles, Jimmy Isle, Nathan Russell, Teddy Phillips, Jeri Jordan, Jovan Dell, Billy Leach, Frank Pizani, Frank Deaton & The Mad Lads, Lola Dee, and Ike Cole (Nat "King" Cole's brother, who had the distinction of having both the last single and the last album on the label).

Bally's first chart hit was their first release, Betty Johnson's "I'll Wait" [Bally 1000], which scraped the bottom of the Billboard charts at #94 the week of March 3, 1956. Johnson followed that with "Clay Idol" [Bally 1013, 7/56], which reached #20 on Chicago's big Top-40 station WJJD, while scoring a modest #72 nationally. ("I'll Wait" didn't make the WJJD chart because that chart started in June, 1956.) Next was "City of Angels" [Bally 1016], by the Chicago-based vocal group the Highlights, which reached #5 in Chicago and #19 nationally after its release in September, 1956. This was followed the next month by Caesar Giovannini's "Petticoats of Portugal" [Bally 1018], which reached #19 in Chicago and #29 on the Cashbox charts, although it missed the Billboard chart.

Bally's biggest hit, Betty Johnson's "I Dreamed" [Bally 1020] in November, 1956, was helped to a national #9 slot (#17 locally) by a tie-in with a daily television show, Modern Romances, where it was heard every day for a week. Lew Douglas and His Orchestra had a local hit with "Levi Lullaby" [Bally 1025], which hit the WJJD chart in January, 1957, eventually reaching #21, followed in February by the Highlights' followup single, "To Be With You" [Bally 1027], which reached #16 locally and #84 nationally. Betty Johnson was back in April, 1957, with "Little White Lies" [Bally 1033, #19 WJJD, #25 Billboard; the flip side, "1492" also reached #70 on Billboard]. Her final Bally single, "The Song You Heard When You Fell In Love" [Bally 1041], didn't chart in the U.S. but did chart in Canada. Although Betty Johnson was the label's biggest star, oddly, none of her several hits were on her sole Bally album, The Touch of Betty Johnson [Bally BAL 12011].

During the summer of 1957, Billy Leach scored with "The Song of the Barefoot Mailman" [Bally 1039, 7/57, #16 WJJD, #86 Billboard] and finally, Frank Pizani, who was the lead singer of the Highlights, made #14 locally and #70 nationally with "Angry" [Bally 1040, 8/57]. Bally issued seven more singles after "Angry", released in August, September and early October, but nothing charted, either locally or nationally. Bally was sold for its catalogue to Gene and Harry Goodman in November, 1957, and ceased operations. Betty Johnson signed with Atlantic, and had several more hits, including "The Little Blue Man" [Atlantic 1169, 2/58], which reached #8 on the WJJD-Chicago chart and #17 on Billboard. Reg Owen and His Orchestra later had a hit with "Manhattan Spiritual" [Palette 5005, 12/58, #12 WJJD/#10 Billboard], as well as several other hits in his native England. Bob Kames put out many additional albums of organ music, including several children's records. Carol Jarvis had a minor hit in 1957 with "Rebel" [Dot 15586, 9/57, #48 Billboard]. For a small independent label, Bally signed a lot of talented artists and had quite a bit of chart success.

Parent Label:Bally Recording Corporation


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