DEENA BESS SHERMAN: The Beatles’ Aurora connection
By DEENA BESS SHERMAN firstname.lastname@example.org February 13, 2014 10:06AM
British pop band The Beatles -- John Lennon (left) Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison (right) -- pose for a photograph. Apple Inc. said Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010 that its iTunes service will sell music from the Fab Four. (AP Photo/file)
Updated: March 15, 2014 6:22AM
As we have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” did you know that one of your neighbors — Art Sheridan — had a role in bringing the Beatles’ music to America?
Art is currently a commercial Realtor with an office on West Downer Place in Aurora, but from the early 1950s to the early ’60s, he was involved with Vee Jay Records out of Chicago.
“When I got out of the service after World War II, I worked with my father manufacturing small appliances,” Sheridan told me. “Phonograph records were not yet being mass produced. A man named Sid Pearl contacted my father about making them. My father knew someone who could make the presses.”
When I mentioned vinyl, he gently corrected me.
“Vinyl was not made and discovered when I started. The original records were made of shellac,” he said.
Sheridan’s family started taking orders for Aristocrat, the forerunner of Chess Records, and then Sheridan got into the record distributing business, with an office and warehouse in Chicago.
“We were in the area that later became known as Record Row on Michigan Avenue,” he explained. “We started Chance Records, then Sabre.”
He mentioned hiring a young accountant named Ewart Abner, just out of college.
“Later [Abner] went to work with Jimmy Bracken and Vivian Carter, the people who started Vee Jay Records,” Sheridan said, pulling out a black and white picture of himself, Abner, and Bracken.
“And what was your role at Vee Jay?” I asked
“I became an advisor to them,” he answered.
If you look up Vee Jay Records on Wikipedia, it will tell you that Abner’s gambling habit was responsible for the company’s demise. Sheridan assured me it was much more complicated than that and said that Abner was a good man and a good friend.
“The company grew,” he continued. “They had good distribution and a good reputation with the disc jockeys.”
“Vivian’s brother, Calvin Carter, came on [to manage the recording sessions],” he said. About that time Sheridan and Abner went to London to meet with EMI Records to talk about an Australian artist who wanted U.S. distribution. EMI gave them a license to distribute their material in the U.S., but asked that they take on another new group as well: The Beatles.
“The Beatles’ first album only sold about 3,000 copies, so EMI gave distribution to Capitol Records,” said Sheridan. “I guess we really messed up letting them go.”
Then came that fateful night on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the Beatles’ sales went through the roof, but it was Capitol that reaped the rewards.
As Sheridan talked about his business and friendships through the 1950s and ’60s, I was awestruck. A white man who was willing to not only give a young black man, Ewart Abner, his first job, but to call him a lifelong friend, was not the norm then. Sheridan was a man ahead of his time in so many ways.