Copy by Marshall Gooch

Sceptre Records, the Story of an American Classic

Sceptre Records was begun by young Richie Vito in 1966. Sceptre’s mission was to release records by bands that were a part of the burgeoning rock scene in and around San Pedro (and Long Beach), California. Vito was proud of his Italian heritage, and wanted to share what he felt was a “wealth of talent” in the San Pedro area. Sceptre’s first release was by The Daily Breeze, “Just Coastin’,” a pre-garage-rock tune that featured a pounding piano and (for the time) prominent bass line. The song was a minor sensation and was played regularly at local record and sock hops. Sceptre released a follow-up album, and the label was off and running. What set Vito’s label apart at the time was the production quality of the recordings, which eventually attracted several other artists.

Beginnings
Sceptre founder Richie Vito was born to Italian immigrants who moved to the port town of San Pedro, California, in the 1930s. Growing up with his very pious Catholic parents, Vito found that listening to the pop music being played at church dances was a way to break away from his parents’ strict rules. After graduating from Mary Star of the Sea High School (a private Catholic school) in 1966, Richie took his savings and converted his parents' garage into a recording studio. There, he produced local band The Daily Breeze’s instrumental, “Just Coastin’.” The tune had quite a sizeable hook, thanks to its piano part, bass line, and scrappy saxophone solo, and for its time, it had exceptionally good sound quality. Even though the sax was on its way out in rock music, the song, released on Vito’s Sceptre Records, was soon featured by local DJs at sock hops (still the “thing” with high schoolers) and eventually by a few radio jocks, too. Demand for the single led Vito to take the band back into his studio to record an album’s worth of similar tunes and garage-rock cover versions. Though not as “hard” sounding as Tacoma’s Sonics or Los Angeles’ The Standells, The Daily Breeze (named after the local San Pedro newspaper) found a spot on regional package tour bills (though usually toward the bottom). The album, In a Minute, Man, did fairly well and raised eyebrows for its high fidelity at a time when most local recordings were muddy-sounding at best. Vito decided to push another single from the album (“Marimba Blues”), which kept sales respectable. New bands were signed to the label, including The Radio Boys (their name an unabashed attempt at radio airplay) and Sig, Spud & Nick.

Further On
As the ‘60s wore on, Sceptre found itself with more regional hits. The Daily Breeze went on to record another album, the psychedelic-tinged Don’t Hassle Me. Though wildly different from their first LP, it did brisk sales initially but soon found its way into the cutout bin. Vito had pressed way more copies than he could sell, and once sales flatlined, returns were (regrettably) added back into inventory. By this time, though, Vito had released the debut single from The Glowstix, “Gimme A Light,” which received airplay locally and in many college towns on the West and East Coasts. It did pretty well on the charts, too, reaching #31 in late ‘68. Cash flow problems caused Vito to take on an investor/partner, James Byant, whose investment kept the doors open into 1969 and ‘70. A few more singles were released, including Pandemonium’s “You Can’t Chase a Dream (If You Don’t Have a Dream)” and Kingsize’s “Every Bit of You,” but Vito couldn’t maintain any momentum with his release schedule, and by 1972 Sceptre Records was shuttered for good.

Today
Nowadays, many of Sceptre’s releases are prized by collectors for their extraordinary sound quality, unique label artwork, and colorful 45 picture sleeves. In the mid ‘80s, the punk band Minutemen (also from San Pedro) named themselves after The Daily Breeze’s first album. Though the label is gone, the Daily Breeze has toured the reunion circuit (casinos, county fairs, etc.) and sells CDs at their shows. (The band bought the rights to their releases when Vito closed the label in 1972.) Vito got out of the record business permanently and has been spotted in San Pedro with his wife, walking their dogs along the Vincent Thomas Bridge near the L.A. Maritime Museum.

 

 

Marshall Gooch | 760-625-7691 | jamesmgooch@yahoo.com | Copyright © 2016 Marshall Gooch