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Bleyer's roots were in the big-band era. He was leading his own dance band by 1934, which recorded for Brunswick in the '30s, and featured Johnny Mercer, who went on to become an important label entrepreneur himself (at Capitol Records). He worked in radio and television in the '40s and '50s, leading the orchestra on Arthur Godfrey's TV programs. At the end of 1952, he started Cadence Records, primarily to record one of the Godfrey television stars, singer Julius LaRosa. Cadence recorded other regulars from the Godfrey series, and also put out records by Bleyer himself. One of those, the tango "Hernando's Hideaway" (from the musical Pajama Game), made number two in 1954, and Bleyer also had a small hit in 1956 with the Steve Allen song "The Rockin' Ghost."
With Andy Williams and the Chordettes, Bleyer edged toward a more contemporary sound that, while not quite rock & roll, at least used material that was rock-influenced (or covers of songs by more genuine rock artists). In 1956, Bleyer had rejected a demo tape for the Everly Brothers, who had already recorded unsuccessfully for Columbia. A few months later, however, he signed them to a contract after a recommendation from heavyweight music publisher Wesley Rose. From the Everlys' first hit ("Bye Bye Love") to the end of the '50s, Bleyer was their producer, overseeing a classic body of work both on the hit singles and their B-sides and albums. Credit is due to many other people besides the Everlys and Bleyer for this music, including songwriters Boudleaux & Felice Bryant, and session musicians like Chet Atkins. Bleyer deserves kudos, though, for producing end results that emphasized the Everlys' innovations, without trying to add too much to what was already there; their sound was clean and uncluttered.
In 1960, the Everlys' contract with Cadence expired, and they decided to move to Warner Bros. Some critics feel that they never regained the purity of their Cadence material, and after a strong start at Warner Bros with hit singles like "Cathy's Clown," they stopped visiting the Top Ten after 1962. Although it is true that by 1962 the Everlys' material and recordings were more erratic than they had ever been at Cadence, it's also true that their best Warner Bros songs were outstanding, sometimes boasting a fullness (as on "Cathy's Clown" and "Walk Right Back") that the Cadence sessions didn't match. Bleyer was unable to keep the Everly Brothers primarily because, as a small label, Cadence was unable to match the packages offered to one of the hottest pop recording acts of the era by bigger concerns like Warners. The Everlys were also tiring of being caught in the middle of differences between Bleyer and Wesley Rose, particularly in regards to the material selected for their discs.
The Everlys themselves have offered mixed appraisal of the Bleyer era. Don Everly has criticized Bleyer's musical taste as being out of date with where the Everlys were headed. Phil Everly and others involved with the Cadence sessions, however, note that Bleyer had an excellent ear for what was commercial. Phil Everly also married Bleyer's stepdaughter, Jackie Ertel (daughter of Chordettes singer Janet Ertel Bleyer), in 1963, which must have made for some interesting awkwardness at family get-togethers.
Cadence continued to have some hits in the early '60s with teen idols such as Johnny Tillotson and Eddie Hodges, as well as the massive pop ballad "Since I Fell for You" by Lenny Welch in 1963 (which Bleyer produced) and the huge selling President Kennedy satire by comedian Vaughn Meader, The First Family. Bleyer lost several of his biggest acts besides the Everly Brothers to bigger labels, though, and shut down Cadence in 1964, selling the masters to Andy Williams. ~ Richie Unterberger
Track List: Moonlight Serenade
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