Before American Bandstand, the music business was mostly centered in New York City, but larger cities like Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Nashville also played prominent roles in the hybridization that gave birth to rock and roll in the mid-1950s.
But shortly after American Bandstand emerged on the national scene on August 5, 1957, it was clear that Philadelphia was the center of the rock and roll universe. As dancing Philadelphia teens filled the television screen every weekday afternoon, Dick Clark introduced many of the area's young musical talents to an eager national audience.
Rock and roll became big business in Philadelphia. Kids wanted to be stars and there were plenty of adults to help them along the path. Everyone from disc jockeys to record distributors to auto dealers seemed to own a record label after Bandstand made its splash. One of the most interesting stories from that era is that of Ben Krass, a middle-aged clothier who made his own brief grab at rock and roll glory.
Krass would later go on to become one of Philadelphia's most-recognized figures. Though a scant 5-foot-7 and a wispy 135 pounds, Krass was the public voice for Krass Brothers' clothing store at 9th and South Streets, just three blocks from his 1919 birthplace. "If you didn't buy from Krass Brothers, you wuz robbed!" goes one of Krass' television commercials. The spots were filmed in the store where he kept a coffin. The coffin was a prop for another famous Krass spiel, "If you gotta go, go in a Krass Brothers suit."
He and brothers Jack and Harry first opened their store in an old movie house in 1947. They became known for their celebrity clientele - including Jerry Vale, the entire Palumbo house orchestra and the Ink Spots - and claimed the honorific "Store of the Stars." But, apparently, Krass wanted to be a star himself.
Though details are sketchy, Krass was the owner of South Street Records around 1960. One of the label's releases was Nagasaki, listed as by Krass himself. Another release was Slippery Sal by Bobby Dadino. While searching the Internet, I also came up with a 45 of Green Eyes by Ben Krass on the Camelot label.
The South Street label was apparently short-lived, but Krass didn't totally give up his interest in music. In the early 1970s, he reportedly lent money to Kenny Gamble so Gamble could pursue his own musical dreams. Krass went on to live until June 7, 2004, when he died of complications of Alzheimer's disease. I find Krass' story fascinating, but I have a number of questions:
1. Did Krass ever have any connection to Bandstand, Bob Horn or Dick Clark?
2. Who was Bobby Dadino?
3. Did Krass actually sing on any of the records credited to him?
4. Where did he do his recording?
5. What's the story behind Camelot Records?
6. Why did Krass start a record label anyway?
Can you help answer any of these questions? Meanwhile, give a listen to Green Eyes by Ben Krass: