I bought "Come Softly to Me," by the Fleetwoods, the first time I heard it, and it was on the Dolphin label.
The next time I visited the record store, they had the same Fleetwoods record, but on a label that looked almost identical to my Dolphin copy; however, the name was changed to Dolton.
What is the story behind this sudden change? As a result, is one version more valuable than the other?
- Barry Duchan, Chapel Hill, N.C.
"Come Softly To Me"
Besides being the Fleetwoods founder, and co-writer of "Come Softly to Me," gracious Gretchen Christopher is also a long-time friend who is always willing to discuss the Fleetwoods.
As to the origin of Dolphin, Gretchen explains:
"When Bob Reisdorff, the Seattle-based record promoter first heard my home recording of "Come Softly," he said it would sell a million copies. I didn't know if he was joking or not, but it eventually did just that."
But first they needed a record label, so Bob came up with Dolphin. He based his choice on nothing other than a love for dolphins. There was no lengthy thought or deliberation involved.
Not wanting even a hint of double entendre in the title, they expanded "Come Softly" to "Come Softly to Me."
Continues Gretchen: "In February 1959 "Come Softly to Me," the first release on the new label, became Dolphin No. 1. Ultimately, it would also be the last Dolphin record."
Reisdorff began by having just a few hundred records made, some of which went to dee jays in western Washington, especially Bob's friends in the Seattle area.
A wise move, since "Come Softly to Me" quickly soared in the Seattle-Tacoma market. In just a few weeks, it held the No. 1 spot locally.
With the increased demand for the single came the necessity for national distribution, so Bob arranged for that with Liberty Records in L.A.
Second Dolphin pressings of "Come Softly to Me" reflect this arrangement by stating "Distributed by Liberty Record Sales Corp" on the labels.
"Our sudden success resulted in a great deal of mail from fans, along with one unanticipated letter from Doubleday book publishers in New York. Turns out they, since 1955, owned a record company named Dolphin, which we didn't know about at the time. Doubleday asked Reisdorff to change the name of his label."
If that weren't motivation enough, there were rumblings that Dolphin's record store in Los Angeles may try to stop the Fleetwoods' use of the name.
Rather than devote time, energy and finances to this mess, Bob kept the D-O-L and the N, added a TO, and their new name became Dolton - a unique word with no meaning or significance whatsoever.
Other than the name change, nothing else about the printed label changed. Even the three-fish Dolphin logo remained unchanged.
Meanwhile, Liberty responded to the brouhaha by issuing "Come Softly to Me" on the parent label (Liberty 55188).
Beginning with the group's second record, "Graduation's Here" (Dolton 3), their next 20 singles (Nos. 3 through 315) came out on Dolton. All but five made the national charts between 1959 and '65.
"Come Softly to Me," issued on Dolphin and Liberty, does not exist on Dolton. It remains the only record ever released on Reisdorff's Dolphin label.
I can't think of another nationwide No. 1 hit on a label that made only that one record.
Copies of the first Dolphin pressing, with no mention of distribution by Liberty, are in the $30 to $50 range. They are mostly found in Washington.
Since a million or more sold with "Distributed by Liberty Record Sales Corp.," they can easily be had for around $10.
The Liberty single comes in both mono ($15 to $25), and a rare stereo single ($50 to $75).
Rarest of the bunch is the first Canadian pressing (London 17056) on 78 rpm, which came out with the original title "Come Softly" ($150 to $250) - a variation not found on any U.S. issues.
IZ ZAT SO?
While speaking with Gretchen, I asked about the different addresses shown at the bottom of the Dolphin and Dolton labels. Here's what we now know:
Dolphin No. 1, and Dolton 2 through 13, show the address as "708-6th Ave. No., Seattle 9, Washington."
Since Dolton did not yet have an office, they used the location of Northwest Record Distributors. This gave customers a source where orders could be placed.
On Dolton 14 through 30, the address changes to "422 Union St., Seattle 1, Washington U.S.A."
Dolton finally got their own office, conveniently in the same building as Northwest Recording Studio, where the Dolton artists recorded.