Jules Bihari

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Jules Bihari was the eldest of the four Bihari Brothers, who are best known for founding Modern Records, one of the top independent blues and R&B labels of the '40s and '50s. Bihari grew up in Tulsa,…
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Jules Bihari was the eldest of the four Bihari Brothers, who are best known for founding Modern Records, one of the top independent blues and R&B labels of the '40s and '50s. Bihari grew up in Tulsa, OK, in a large Jewish family of Hungarian descent; he later moved to Los Angeles -- as did his brothers -- in 1942, and got a job servicing and operating jukeboxes in black neighborhoods. Bihari noticed a distinct lack of proper funding and distribution for the blues records his customers wanted to hear, but which were often difficult to locate and stock. Enlisting his brothers as partners, Bihari set up the independent Modern label in 1945; he himself served as vice president, A&R, and frequent session producer. Helped by their keen ear for talent, the Bihari Brothers soon built Modern into a blues (and, later, R&B) powerhouse; their recording stable included the likes of Hadda Brooks (their first signing), a young B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Etta James, Lightnin' Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, Ike Turner, and more. Despite bringing such a wealth of talent to the world, the Bihari story had its shady side: many label owners of their era claimed a share of songwriting royalties by giving themselves writing credit on material they had no role in shaping, and the Biharis were no different (Jules' pseudonym Jules Taub appears on a number of B.B. King tracks).

Modern spun off a number of subsidiary labels over the '50s, including the rootsier RPM, Kent, Riviera, and the budget imprint Crown, which increasingly consumed the brothers' time from about 1957 on, and unfortunately put out quite a bit of shoddy product. Modern went under in the mid-'60s, but the brothers regrouped under the Kent imprint, which survived into the '70s; during this era, Jules Bihari also started his own Big Town label, and served as executive producer on several of comedian Rudy Ray Moore's films. After Saul Bihari's death in 1975, the brothers effectively stopped recording new material; Jules Bihari passed away in 1984, and around the same time, the family's holdings were acquired by the British label Ace (they eventually became part of Virgin).