Born 3 November 1911, Beebe, Arkansas
Fabor Robison was an influential (and controversial) independent record owner and talent scout in the 1950s. He played a crucial role in developing the early careers of Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, the Browns, Mitchell Torok, Floyd Cramer, and others. After a tour in the army in World War II, where he had been a cook, Robison settled in California. There he worked for a time as a talent agent, with Johnny Horton and Les Anderson as his main clients. Robison started Abbott Records in 1951 (with funding from Sid Abbott, proprietor of Abbott Drugs), with the express purpose of recording Horton. The first ten releases on Abbott all featured Johnny Horton. Robison was unhappy with 4-Star's distribution of these records, so he considered peddling Horton's contract to a major label and Horton was signed to Mercury in mid-1952.
Robison also began working as a song hunter for American Music, travelling the country to find new talent and songs. He soon discovered a hotbed of young talent in Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the KWKH Louisiana Hayride. Not only did he find some of his best singers, but he also used the studios of KWKH and some of its staff musicians to make his records. These regular studio men included a young Floyd Cramer, steel guitarist Jimmy Day, and fiddlers Big Red and Little Red Hayes. Abbott released two # 1 country hits in 1953: "Mexican Joe" by Jim Reeves and "Caribbean" by Mitchell Torok.
The money was starting to pour in and Robison thought another label would be a wise investment. In October 1953, after having purchased full control of Abbott Records, Robison launched the Fabor label, on which he recorded important sides by the Browns and Ginny Wright. He soon expanded his recording activities to include his own studio in Southern California, where he used West Coast instrumental greats such as Speedy West and Roy Lanham. Like most independent record owners, Robison ultimately saw most of his biggest finds move onto major labels.
The Radio label was started in 1958 to handle the pop and rock & roll that now overshadowed country music. Some of Robison's Abbott and Fabor artists such as Bonnie Guitar, Ned Miller, Billy Barton and Johnny Russell appeared on the label, but mostly it was young hopefuls. While Robison had no hits with these youngsters, it showed his keen eye for talent as Bobby Lee Trammell, Dickie Podolor (as Ritchie Allen), Bonnie Guitar and Robert Luke Harshman (as Bobby Hart) would have long and significant careers in the music industry.
In 1959, Robison sold his music publishing and some masters to Jamie/Guyden Records. One correction (to my Mitchell Torok BTBWY piece of last week) is in order here : the version of Torok's "Caribbean" that made the pop charts in 1959 on Guyden was not a re-recording, but an alternate take from the 1953 Abbott sessions. Robison restarted Fabor in 1962 and scored a giant hit with Ned Miller's 1957 recording of "From A Jack To A King".
Then he sold all of Miller's catalog and his contract to Capitol in 1964. He produced Miller again in the late 1960s and then went to Brazil. ("When everything went sour, Robison would disappear for a while" writes Colin Escott in his Bear Family book on Johnny Horton.) In the 1970s or 1980s, he sold off whatever was left (together with some masters he had previously sold elsewhere) to the Shelby Singleton Corporation.
Further reading and recommended listening:
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