Hy Weiss

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This artist was surprisingly once a ruler of the funk roost: coming out of a background of running his own Old Town label, Hy Weiss took over the promotions department at Staxx in the '60s, the label…
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This artist was surprisingly once a ruler of the funk roost: coming out of a background of running his own Old Town label, Hy Weiss took over the promotions department at Staxx in the '60s, the label in that period atop this genre's own smoking stack courtesy of innovative hitmakers such as Isaac Hayes and Johnny Taylor. Nonetheless, Hy Weiss is probably best known in the music business for claiming to be the inventor of the so-called "$50 handshake" -- a payola pact assuring that a corrupt disc jockey would play a song. Such deals were often made after brothers Hy Weiss and Sam Weiss had already written themselves into the songwriting credits themselves, a fact of the music business in this era that is most likely behind a great deal of the various Weiss publishing percentages. The brothers moved to the Bronx from their native Romania and initially became involved in the music business as distributors for other independent labels, bringing them in contact with both record stores and the already tainted network of jukeboxes.

Old Town was launched in the summer of 1953, its catalog touching on most of the popular genres performed by musicians in the New York City area. Sam Weiss had been working for the Old Town Paper Corporation and the brothers continued to use this company's stationary to represent their label, sneakily creating the impression of a fancy Madison Avenue firm. With that and his famous handshakes, Hy Weiss was able to get in good with radio programmers, the notorious Alan Freed among them. Best known hits from the Weiss brothers include the well-paced "Walking Along" by the sparkling Diamonds, "Let the Little Girl Dance" by the dull-sounding Billy Bland, and the observant "There's a Moon Out Tonight" by the Capris. During the '70s the Weiss brothers dodged the effects of the British Invasion by immigrating into the soul scene, staying afloat in fact because the deep voice of balladeer Arthur Prysock tended to work as a kind of commercial life raft. Unable to remain on top of popular trends, Hy Weiss simply settled into making money off reissues, including several different waves of low-budget cutout releases. He sold the Old Town label in 1996, setting up licensing deals with the British Ace, among other interested record companies.