When Quality Records opened its doors in Canada in October of 1949, there were less than a handful of record companies north of the 49th parallel. All of those were branches of foreign companies.
Quality Records was the first Canadian record company wholly owned by Canadians. Founded by a group from Western Canada headed by Harold Carson, who was a partner in the automotive distribution company, Taylor Pearson & Carson, Quality quickly grew to become Canada’s largest independent record company.
Ah, those independent record companies, they were the backbone of the American record industry during the mid to late 1950’s, ’60’s and well into the ’70’s. There were thousands of tiny, ‘regional’ labels spread all across the United States with labels like Legrand, Co-ed, Dot, Minit, Dore, Big Top, Era, Amy, King, Jamie, Chancellor, Del-Fi, Swan, Old Town, Wand, Laurie, Diamond, Buddah, Carlton, A&M, Roulette, Dot, Sun, Candix, Warwick, Kama-Sutra, Dolton, Garpax, Musicor. Sceptor and Cameo/Parkway, just to name a few.
Canada had few of these ‘regional’ labels. Quality Records, led by General Manager George Keane, who’d been hired in 1954, began signing Canadian distribution deals with many of these U.S. indies. Keane had worked in the studios of RCA Victor and in sales at MGM Records in New York and knew the record business extremely well. Naturally enough, MGM Records was the first U.S. record company George Keane signed for Canadian distribution by Quality. For well over a decade, Quality had the Canadian rights to more than 50% of the hits on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 chart, then the bible of the North American record industry.
Quality had its own in-house pressing and manufacturing plant and could sign and release music by an artist and have it in record stores quickly. By the early 1960’s, Quality was releasing records by Canadian artists such as country singers Myrna Lorrie and Jack Kingston and a Montreal based vocal group known as The Beau Marks, who racked up half a dozen home-grown hits starting in 1960 with “Clap Your Hands” and ending in ’62 with “The Tender Years”. “Clap Your Hands” also became The Beau Marks only U.S. charted single.
Besides using many of the U.S. label names in Canada, as well as the Quality label itself, George Keane launched several additional labels, such as Reo and Barry (named for his son Barry, who has been Gordon Lightfoot’s drummer for nearly 40 years). Reo, for example was used to release early Top Ten instrumental hits from guitarist Duane Eddy, ‘The Twist’ king Chubby Checker, as well as those ‘Jersey Boys’, The Four Seasons. The Barry label released albums and singles from ’60’s teen idol Bobby Rydell, instrumental group Johnny and The Hurricanes and Dionne Warwick as well as Manitoba born songstress Lucille Starr (“The French Song” and “Jolie Jacqueline”)
George Struth joined Quality Records in 1957, initially in inventory control, but quickly worked his way up the ranks to become Vice President under George Keane. It was Struth who took the song “Shakin’ All Over” by Winnipeg’s Chad Allan and The Expressions and released it to radio stations on a white 45rpm label with the words Guess Who? handwritten on it. Struth thought that the Chad Allan version sounded like one of the British Invasion songs, and in fact, it had already been a hit in England by Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. Radio stations across Canada held contests asking their listeners if they could ‘guess who’ the group was.
The name stuck.
George Struth eventually became the first President of Quality Records (George Keane and following his retirement, George Bays both held the title of General Manager). Struth successfully led Quality through the disco era of the 1970’s and into the mid ’80’s.
Quality Records ceased operations in 1985. It was revived in 1991, specializing in dance music and compilations. When it finally folded in 1997, Quality’s catalogue was sold to a record company in New York.