Keen/Andex/Famous Labels Album Discography
by David Edwards and Mike Callahan
Last update: March 22, 2017
Because the Keen, Andex, and Famous labels were closely related, we have listed them all together on this page.
The Keen label was founded by brothers John and Alex Siamas in April, 1957 in Los Angeles. John Siamas was a very successful businessman in the aerospace industry, president of Randall Engineering Co. in Culver City, California. He started Keen Records as a side business because he enjoyed music.
At about the same time, across town at Specialty Records, Sam Cooke, the lead singer for the successful gospel group The Soul Stirrers, was recording pop music for the first time. Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, producer for Specialty, had arranged the pop session for Cooke. When Art Rupe, owner of Specialty, found out that Sam Cooke was recording popular music instead of gospel, he was furious and fired Blackwell. As part of the settlement between the two, signed June 17, 1957, Blackwell got the tapes from the session and Sam Cooke's contract. In an incredibly lucky break for the Siamas brothers, Blackwell brought the tapes to the newly-formed Keen Records. Included on the tape was "You Send Me". In September 1957, Keen released "You Send Me"/"Summertime" and the double-sided hit sold 1.7 million copies. Sam Cooke stayed with Keen for three years before moving on to the major RCA-Victor label.
The Siamas Brothers had a verbal agreement with Bob Kuhn/Keane, a clarinet player who had been in big bands. In the early days, Keane seemed to be running the show on the music side, with hopes to become a partner in the business. Keane may have influenced Bumps Blackwell to come to Keen with Sam Cooke. As the months progressed, the relationship between Keane and the Siamas brothers fell apart, and resulted in Keane suing the label for breach of the verbal "contract" [see Billboard, February 3, 1958, page 13]. Keane eventually lost this suit and immediately founded Del-Fi records, whose success with Ritchie Valens helped set up the label as one of the mainstays of the surf genre. For the rest of his life, Keane claimed he "founded" the Keen label, although this is disputed by the Siamas family. Keane recorded an album for Andex in 1957 which was released in January, 1958 under the name The Bob Keene Septet.
In any case, by December 23, 1957, Keane was nowhere to be found on the label's "Season's Greetings" ad in Billboard on page 23. It listed the recording artists for Rex Productions (Andex/Keen's parent production company, owned by the Siamas Brothers with John as President) as: Sam Cooke, Bumps Blackwell, the Valiants, Bonnie Draper, William Preston, the Debs, Jack Rogers, Bob Nolen, the Pilgrim Travelers, Kylo Turner, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Ben Tucker, Dempsey Wright, The Turks, Nicaraguans, Mary Kenney, and Cliff White. The Production staff included: John Siamas, Alex Siamas, Andy Karres, Bumps Blackwell, Rex Oberbeck, Don Clark, Don Gray, and Andy Litschi (Director of Distribution).
Others hired by the Siamas brothers in early 1958 for A&R included Herb Alpert, Lou Adler, and Fred Smith, who honed their production chops under Bumps Blackwell and all went on to greater fame in the 1960s.
After a few years running Keen/Andex, in 1961 John and his brother Alex decided to get out of the record business altogether. According to John Siamas' brother-in-law, Glenn Butterman, Siamas had found out about the bad side of being in the record business very early in the label's life. The original Keen label was plain black with silver print, but these discs were quickly being pirated, so the label design was changed to the rainbow stripes design to discourage counterfeiting. John's daughter, Vicki Siamas, told us, "After only a few years in the music industry, he decided to quit because it was a very corrupt business filled with liars, cheats and dirty dealings. It was a dog-eat-dog industry and in order to survive, you had to stoop to a different level of doing business than my dad was willing to do. He was a very honest man."
In the end, when Siamas was winding down the label in 1961, Bumps Blackwell struck a deal to reissue the material in the Keen/Andex vaults on his own label, Famous.
Keen shared a numbering system with the Andex and Ensign labels on 45s. Keen started releasing albums on the A 2000 series in February, 1958. The series also included an Andex album. Sam Cooke's LP Tribute to the Lady, released in April, 1959, was the only Keen album released in stereo. In 1959 Keen/Andex decided to go to a 6000 (mono)/7000 (stereo) LP series, but to differentiate the labels, added a "2" in front of the 6000 for Andex, making it a 26000 series for mono, 27000 series for stereo, and an "8" in front of the 6000 for Keen, resulting in the 86000 series, where the releases were all in mono. In mid-1959, Keen changed labels to the black label design, and changed the Andex label from red to black.
This story and discography are copyright 1998, 1999, 2017 by Mike Callahan. http://www.bsnpubs.com/la/keen/keen.html