Prior to establishing himself as a major rock producer with Buddy Holly and others, Norman Petty was a recording artist, usually as part of the Norman Petty Trio, although the group were sometimes billed as the Norman Petty Ensemble. Petty's own recordings were not at all similar to the Tex-Mex rock he cut by Buddy Holly, Jimmy Gilmer, the Fireballs, and others at his Clovis, NM studio. Rather, they were light mainstream early-'50s-styled pop vocal and instrumental tunes. They were distinguished from the crowd of similar innocuous artists by their heavy use of a circus-like organ.
Norman Petty began playing the Hammond organ in the mid-'40s, and married pianist Vi Brady in 1948. The pair were joined by guitarist Jack Vaughn and, as the Norman Petty Trio, began to tour. In the early '50s, Vi Petty's cousin Georgiana Veit was added on vocals, although she only lasted 21 months. Vi Petty took over as lead singer after Veit's departure, also continuing to play keyboards.
The Norman Petty Trio had small hits with Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" and "Almost Paradise" in 1957. Their recorded repertoire included some Norman Petty compositions, but also covers of popular standards, polkas, and country tunes, usually arranged in a smooth style that would be suitable for weddings and genteel parties and receptions. It was the organ that was the most, and perhaps only, original component of their sound, recalling the kind of accompaniment dished out by silent movie accompanists.
Undoubtedly, his lengthy experience as a musician and in the studio were assets to Petty when he began to work in rock & roll. The same held true for Vi Petty, who would play piano on many of Buddy Holly's tracks. But there are little, if any, specific ideas that Norman Petty would employ on his own group's recordings that he also applied to his rock productions, although his fondness for cheesy electric keyboards does crop up in Jimmy Gilmer's work. Also one Buddy Holly track, "Moondreams," was done with the Norman Petty Trio as accompanying group, rather than with Holly's usual support band, the Crickets.
The Norman Petty Trio continued recording throughout the '50s, though by the late '50s Petty was focusing on his Clovis, NM studio and production and management work with Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Two volumes of '50s Norman Petty Trio/Ensemble recordings have appeared on Ace Records, and include some previously unreleased material.