The Audio Fidelity Years -1969-1972
Early in 1969 Williamson was approached by John Sturdivant of Record World Magazine about the possible sale of Chart Records. He told Williamson that Audio Fidelity out of New York City wanted to buy a country music record label and asked if he was he interested. Of course by this time Chart had grown considerably and in order for it to continue to grow, more capital would be required. Vance Bulla, who was a songwriter, co-owner of Sugar Hill Records along with Cliff Williamson, and manager of Williamson's music publishing companies, Yonah Music, Inc. (BMI); Peach Music, Inc. (SESAC); Sue-Mirl Music (ASCAP), and he drove to New York and to make a long story short, Audio Fidelity bought the label.
Herman Gimbel, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Audio Fidelity, was responsible for making the arrangements. The announcement came the first week of March, 1969, Chart's fifth anniversary. At the time the exact dollar figure was not released, but Williamson says that the company sold for over a half a million dollars! Not a bad price for a company that was originally bought for $350.00.
Under the corporate umbrella of Audio Fidelity, Williamson was retained under long term contract as President of Chart Records and a member of the Board of Directors of Chart Records, Inc. Herman Gimbel would be Chairman of the Board of Directors for Chart Records, Inc. Williamson would still bring in new talent and produce some of the records. It was also noted in the press release that RCA would continue to manufacture and distribute the Chart product. In effect, the business end of Chart would remain virtually unchanged.
Later that same month the deal with RCA went flat. Steve Shoals, who had been the binding force between RCA and Chart passed away while in route to Nashville back in November of 1968. Without him there to mediate, the association between Chart and RCA quickly deteriorated. There are several versions of who instigated the severed ties with RCA. Slim Williamson states that Audio Fidelity wanted to end the deal because they felt that RCA was making all the money. Joe Gibson thought it was due to royalties being paid to the top selling artists (See Joe's interview for any clarifications.) Still another view is that since Chart was sold to Audio Fidelity and RCA knew that Lynn Anderson would not be renewing her contract with Chart, RCA no longer had a "sure thing", they wanted out.
1970 saw the loss of Lynn Anderson from the Chart roster. Williamson stated that the Audio Fidelity folks didn't make the appropriate negotiations to keep her there. Glen Sutton, Lynn's husband at the time and a producer at CBS, had a major part in her move to Columbia. Promises of more money and better treatment were no doubt offered as part of the package. Now the label was without it's major star and no national distributor. Williamson states that Audio Fidelity's idea of distribution left a lot to be desired. They just did not know how to handle country music. But this didn't hold the little label back any. As he had done in the recent past, Williamson set up an independent national network of distributors under the direction of Chart's lead sales & promotion man, Joe Gibson. The years of 1969 to 1971 were some of Chart's busiest.
Williamson ran the company for Audio Fidelity and, after a couple of years, bought it back at a substantially lower price that he originally sold it for. I'm not sure at this time when that actually took place, but an educated guess would be the summer of 1971. The details of this negotiation are unknown to me, but Slim cited Audio Fidelity's lack of understanding for the country music market as a reason for the decline. Audio Fidelity was a classical music company and tried to run Chart in the same manner. In December 1970 Joe Gibson resigned from Chart to form Prize Records and a little later started the highly successful Nationwide Sound Distributors (NSD). The next few years were fairly sparse as far as record releases go. Since 1971 the release schedule had slowed to about half of it's '69/'70 schedule. By my count only 34 singles were released in 1971, 62 in 1970, and 58 in 1969.
As you can see, each major change at Chart brought about a label scheme change. This time the label changes to a light blue instead of bright red. The yellow logo and band remain unchanged. Also another catalog number system is used. Beginning with 5000 and running sequentially thru 5169 at which time I believe Williamson bought the label back.
Shortly after Chart was purchased back from Audio Fidelity, it was turned over to Williamson's oldest son Cliff. Cliff was named president and Bill Walker was named Vice-President. Slim wanted to attend to his radio station concerns. More about Cliff in the next chapter, Chart Records, the Sound of the Seventies.
Written by Martin E. Thomas, 2003-2006.