Gaity Records (David Hersk)
In the summer of 1951, at the young age of 12, David Hersk took an interest in the recording process after listening to a number of records that contained his Bar Mitzvah lessons.
In 1953 David purchased a used Wilcox- Gay Recordette ($25.00) that featured a radio, a built-in microphone and a disc player and recorder that allowed David to record songs played on the radio to a 10 inch disc (78 RPM). After about six months of use, he realized 78 RPM records were beginning to fade out and saw an ad in the local newspaper for a Wilcox-Gay Recordette 3. David purchased the unit ($75.00) which allowed for cutting discs at all three recording speeds (45 RPM, 33 1/3 RPM and 78 RPM).
In 1954, as a sophomore at North High School in Minneapolis, David decided to start up a recording business and purchased a Magnecorder PT-6 reel to reel full track machine ($65.00) and a Dynamic microphone. With some help from his parents in transporting the recorder around town (a 40 pound machine), David began recording live performances of various music groups, mainly high school bands, vocal groups, and musical plays. The first group David recorded was The Quarter Notes, a vocal group from Robbinsdale High School, backed up with a piano player. At the time, male quartets like The Four Freshman, The Four Lads, and The Four Aces were quite popular. David also recorded recitals by music students at the MacPhail Center for the Performing Arts. With a Rek-O-Kut Challenger Disc Recorder ($495.00) purchased at Hi – Fi Sounds located at 14th and Nicollet (managed by Syd Swach), David could cut acetates at 33 RPM or 78 RPM, one disc at a time.
In 1954/1955, David tuned in to a midnight radio show on WMIN (1400 on the dial), hosted by DJ Merle Edwards. The show featured early R & B and rock’n’roll songs by artists including: The Drifters; Clyde McPhatter; Johnny Ace; and Bill Haley and the Comets. David would call and request songs and then record them on his Rek-O-Kut Disc Recorder. At times, Merle would give David a “heads up” on the air so that he could start recording and not miss the the first part of the song.
In 1955 David replaced the Rek-O-Cut Challenger with a 3 speed Rek-O-Kut Imperial. This model included a spiraling crank used to separate songs (by adding bands) on the discs.
At the start of his junior year at North High (1955), David asked his parents about the possibility of finishing the basement in the family house (1501 Newton Avenue North in Minneapolis) with the idea of turning the basement in to a recording studio. With the full support of his parents, the basement was finished with asbestos/asphalt tile flooring, paneled walls and an acoustic tile ceiling. A small control room with a door and a window was built. An upright piano was purchased for $35.00 and was the only piece of musical equipment in the studio.
In 1956 David purchased a Presto 6N Disc Recorder which replaced the Rek-O-Kut Disc Recorder and a Grampian Cutting Head with a Gotham Amplifier was added ($1,000.00), allowing for David to cut masters (also called lacquers), now with three choices of speed: 33, 45 and 78 RPM. An Ampex 350 monaural tape recorder replaced the Magnecorder PT-6. Still a junior in high school, David began working for United Hardware Distributing Company (2432 North 2nd Street) in their advertising department as a key liner.
In 1957, David graduated from North High School and more upgrades were made to the basement studio, including a new two-track Ampex recorder (351-2) along with an Ampex mixer. The two-track Ampex machine allowed for David to record in stereo for the first time. The number of microphone inputs was expanded to eight and additional microphones were added including: Sony; Telefunken; and RCA. In addition, a light weight Ampex 601-2 was purchased for remote recordings.
In 1958 David purchased an AM 31-A Neumann Lathe ($2,850.00) and began to offer package deals to recording clients: for $495.00 individual artists or groups would get three hours of studio time and 1,000 45’s pressed up on David’s Gaity record label. 25 of the 1,000 records were pressed on gold colored vinyl as promo copies, the rest were pressed on the standard black vinyl. Many of the records were sold to fans before and after live jobs by the recording artists. The records were made at a local pressing plant (Kay Bank) located at 2120 North Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. David became good friends with Vern Bank, the owner of Kay Bank Recording Company and the two teamed up to order blank discs from Transco in New Jersey, as large purchases of the acetates was more economical than small orders.
The origin of the name Gaity is not clear. David believes his mother may have suggested the name Gaeity (“1. merrymaking; also: festive activity – often used in plural. 2. high spirits: merriment” according to Merriam – Webster) and a typo resulted in Gaity.
The first band to record at the basement studio and release a record was The Blue Kats, who recorded an original song (“Oh Yeah”) and a Gene Vincent song (“Be Bop A Lula”) in the early part of 1958. The record was mastered at Kay Bank and pressed up at Kay Bank on blue vinyl.
The next band to record for Gaity was a band from St. Paul called The Glenrays. The band recorded two original instrumentals called “Easy Rhythm” backed with “Haunted By Repetition.” The record was mastered and pressed by Shelly Products in Huntington Station, New York. The record was pressed on polystyrene, using injection molding, which was a faster and cheaper pressing process. The Glenrays would return to Gaity and provide the musical backup for a number of singers and vocal groups who recorded at the studio.
Shortly after the Blue Kats recorded at Gaity the band had a change in the lineup and a change in the band name to The Sonics. In the spring of 1958, The Sonics recorded two original songs at Gaity: “Marlene” and “Minus One – Blast Off.”
With each new 45 released the basement studio in North Minneapolis grew in popularity and brought in local bands and singers from across the twin cities (plus a few from out of state) that reflected a wide variety of the popular music of the times: rock’n’roll; doo-wop; rockabilly; rhythm and blues; surf; gospel; country; folk and even novelty songs.
Following the The Glenrays and The Blue Kats and The Sonics, the following groups (and singers) were recorded by David Hersk between 1958 and 1962 in the basement studio and had records released on the Gaity label (or a related label): The String Kings; The Velquins; The Delricos; Jerry Robert and the Toppers; The Flames; The Wisdoms; Chuck Carson; Aldon and the EC’s; Tommy Lee and the Orbits; Corvairs; Curtis and the Galaxies; Howie Butler and the Reflections; The Rhythm Rockers; Miller-Olsen Combo; Diane Edmond; and The Big M’s.
In 1959, David stopped by Kay Bank Recording and listened in on a recording session that was taking place. The artist was Bobby Vee from Fargo, North Dakota, who was recording his first 45 for Soma Records, “Suzie Baby.” This song would get Bobby Vee a record deal with Liberty Records in Los Angeles and he would go on to become one of the top 1960’s recording stars from the Midwest.
In the late 1959/early 1960 time period, David recorded the first folk band to visit the basement studio. The group, the Mark 4 Trio (from St. Paul), recorded a number of songs including “Cotton Fields.” David sent the acetate to Cameo – Parkway in Philadelphia hoping to secure a recording contract for the group. The record company turned down the Mark 4 Trio and then released “Cotton Fields” by The Highwaymen, who had a national hit record with the song.
In 1962, David contacted Sydney Frey of Audio Fidelity Records in New York City about two groups he was working with, The Robbinsdale Chorale and The Levee Loungers (a Dixieland band from St. Paul with lead singer Dave Wesley). As a result, both groups released live albums recorded by David on the Audio Fidelity label. Audio Fidelity was the very first record company to release a stereo record. The company, an audiophile label, was known for recording esoteric musical groups and for their high quality recordings, pressings and album covers.
The basement studio moved to a new location in the summer of 1962, the basement of the Empire Photosound building near Lyndale and Franklin. David went to work for the company as a motion picture sound engineer (industrial films) and they offered him the use of the basement for his own studio. All of the recording equipment was moved from the basement location in North Minneapolis to the basement of the Empire Photosound building. A minor change in the recording equipment was a switch from tape echo to using Hammond Organ springs for reverb, which provided a more natural sound that was popular at the time.
In September, 1962, David became involved with Junior Achievement and formed Hi Top Records, the very first Junior Achievement record company. Keith Critchlow, a student at Edina High School and a member of The Yeomen, a folk band from Edina, was the president of the local Junior Achievement group.
On October 21, 1962, The Yeomen, recorded an album at the new studio location. The group members were: Jack Otterness on guitar and vocals; Keith Critchlow on banjo and vocals; Don Bennett on stand-up bass and vocals; and Bob Finkenauer on guitar and vocals. The Yeomen recording was the first record to be released on the Hi Top label and was eventually licensed to Mercury for national release. Mercury also released a 45 of the band.
David acted as an advisor to Hi Top Records, which was run by students from various high schools in the twin cities. Under David’s supervision, the students had the opportunity to work in the record business, with a formal business organization that included a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, director of promotions, and other officers. The company held meetings once a week at night at the Junior Achievement Center in South Minneapolis.
In late 1962/early 1963, The Westwinds, a folk band from Robbinsdale, released the next recording for Hi Top Records. The group recorded two songs at the Gaity location at Empire Photosound that were released on a 45: “Cotton Mill Girls” backed with “500 Miles.” The group also recorded a live performance of a song called “Rain” for an industrial film.
Under David’s leadership, Hi Top Records became one of the highest grossing Junior Achievement companies in the country. Ironically, Hi Top came to end in June of 1963, after David was informed by the national leaders of Junior Achievement that the company “made too much money” and was “too commercial” to be considered a Junior Achievement company.
In early 1963, after six months at Empire Photosound, the studio moved again, this time to the auditorium in the Calhoun Beach Club (formerly occupied by WTCN radio station). The lathe was returned to the original basement studio location at David’s home.
David recorded another folk group called The Flint Hill Singers, from Washburn High School in Minneapolis. The 10 piece group recorded about 12 songs, enough for an album. Among the songs was an original song written by the owner of the Sheraton Ritz Hotel chain and the group performed the song (among others) at the grand opening of the Sheraton Ritz Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.
In the summer of 1963, the studio moved again, this time to the former studio of WDGY Radio in the Builder’s Exchange Building on 4th Street in downtown Minneapolis. WDGY had left downtown Minneapolisto build a new studio near their transmission towers in Bloomington.
A reformed version of The Flint Hill Singers with six members recorded additional folk songs at the new studio location, two of which were released as a demonstration for Evatone Flexible Records.
David recorded a four song demo tape for another local folk band, The Goldebriars. The group was: Dotti and Sheri Holmberg on vocals; Curt Boecher on guitar and vocals; Ron Nielsen and banjo; and Keith Olsen on standup bass.
In the fall of 1963, David flew out toNew York City to shop for record deals for The Flint Hill Singers and The Goldebriars. At Columbia Records, David met with Bob Morgan, an executive with Epic Records, a subsidiary of Columbia. Bob turned down The Flint Hill Singers and informed David that they sounded like The New Christy Minstrels. Epic did sign The Goldebriars to a contract for three albums.
The Jades would record the final 45 released on Gaity, “Blue, Black Hair” backed with “Surfin’ Crow.” The A-side of the record was written by local songwriter Bill Normandin, who had written the song for Elvis Presley, however after mailing the song to the Elvis national fan club, Bill never heard back from them. The B-side of the record was inspired by the national success of “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen. The Jade’s record was released in early 1964.
In 1964 David went to work for Viking Press in Bloomington, working in graphic design, which included the graphics for the record jackets for recordings coming out of Kay Bank. From Viking Press, David moved on to RB Graphics and then on to Melody Masters, where David did graphics and mastering on his Neumann Lathe. In 1965 the company built an addition on to their office space (near 94th and James, just west of Freeway 35W) with plans to open up a new recording studio, however, the plans changed after the space was built and Dove Recording Studio (formerly located in St. Louis Park) moved into the space. David sold his recording equipment to Dove, with the exception of the Neumann cutting system, which was sold to an out of town buyer.
The “big bang” era of rock music triggered by Bill Haley and the Comets with their epochal song “Rock Around the Clock” sent shock waves around the world in 1955 and budding young musicians in the twin cities headed to the local music stores to buy guitars and drums and amps and a microphone or two and rounded up some like minded friends to start up new bands. David Hersk was one of a very small group of entrepreneurs in town who saw an opportunity to record the new groups, press up their records and perhaps even wind up with a song on one of the local radio stations… and hopefully make a profit along the way. With the excitement of a “brand new” type of music, came the excitement of recording the new sound on vinyl records with the ever improving recording equipment of the times. David got some of the Gaity records played on the local rock’n’roll stations in town… at KDWB, where he knew Tac Hammer (real name Lance Hammer) and at WDGY, where he knew Dan Daniel.
By the end of 1965, David was winding down his days in the local music business, but would be involved in numerous musical projects over the years. With the small pressings of the Gaity 45’s and the passing of time, very few of these records were even known to exist, with only a small number of the original band members and record collectors actually owning the recordings. It was not until the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s that interest in the tiny independent label began to grow as record collectors and music historians began to seek out the early rock’n’roll recordings from the twin cities. Finally, in 1994, two albums (on both vinyl and CD’s) were released of the Gaity recordings, each album with 20 songs by various artists who were recorded by David Hersk between 1958 and 1964. With the release of the two volume album, it became clear that David Hersk had played an important role in the early days of rock’n’roll music working as a recording engineer, studio owner, record company owner, record promoter, music licenser and publisher, and record album designer, among other related jobs.
The Gaity records are “bare bones” on the production side, but the sounds captured on the vinyl discs are loaded with the raw and rowdy spirit of the early local rock’n’roll pioneers of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The Minneapolis– St. Paul music scene in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s consisted of a couple dozen or so bands that would play at school dances, roller rinks, private parties, fraternity parties at the University of Minnesota… and if they were good enough, maybe even land a job at the Marigold Ballroom, the Prom Center, or the Crystal Coliseum. The Coliseum (a roller rink) was one of the first local venues to feature local rock bands on a regular basis. The large Quonset hut building had a stage and a hardwood dance floor… soda pop only, no alcohol. It was at this venue in Crystal, a North suburb of Minneapolis, where the local bands got a chance to show off their talent to the local rock’n’roll fans, among them were some who were (or would be) musicians themselves. Many of the bands who recorded at Gaity played live at the Crystal Coliseum. These early “pioneer” bands (among others at the time), along with David Hersk and a small number of music industry professionals in the mid/late 1950’s and early 1960’s hammered together a small but vibrant music scene in town. This early foundation would become a spring board of sorts that would help launch the tremendous local music scene of the 1960’s… a scene that no one from this early time period could have possibly ever imagined.
David Hersk passed away at age 77 on July 19, 2016. David had been living in Golden Valley, Minnesota.
Written by Tom Campbell
Version 1. August 1, 2011
Version 2. August 20, 2011
Version 3. December 27, 2011
Version 4. December 28, 2011
Version 5. April 26, 2013
Version 6. May 25, 2013
Copyright by Thomas R. Campbell, 2013
David Hersk at Danger Studios and Creation Audio on January 21, 2012
One Mornin’ – 45 Record – Side A
Kari Waits For Me – 45 Record – Side B
Wagons Rolling Westward – 45 Record – Side A
The Preacher – 45 Record – Side B
Marlene – 45 Record – Side A
Minus One Blast Off – 45 Record – Side B
Two Hearts Make One Love Version 1 – 45 Record – Side A
Two Hearts Make One Love Version 2 – 45 Record – Side A
Lost In Dreams – 45 Record – Side B
My Dear – 45 Record – Side A
Falling Star – 45 Record – Side B
Blue Black Hair – 45 Record – Side A
Surfin’ Crow – 45 Record – Side B
Jingle Rock – 45 Record – Side A
Potato Twist – 45 Record – Side A
A Story Untold – Unreleased Acetate
Treasure Of Love – 45 Record – Side A
Have A Good Time– 45 Record – Side B
For The First Time – Unreleased Acetate
Valley Of Tears – Unreleased Acetate
Interview PART ONE = Time 25:49
Interview PART TWO = Time 20:34
Interview Part Three = Time 21:32
Interview Part FOUR = Time 3:35