Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I bought “Come Softly to Me,” by the Fleetwoods, the first time I heard it, and it was on the Dolphin label.

The next time I visited the record store, they had the same Fleetwoods record, but on a label that looked almost identical to my Dolphin copy; however, the name was changed to Dolton.

What is the story behind this sudden change? As a result, is one version more valuable than the other?
—Barry Duchan, Chapel Hill, N.C.

DEAR BARRY: Besides being the Fleetwoods founder, and co-writer of “Come Softly to Me,” gracious Gretchen Christopher is also a long-time friend who is always willing to discuss the Fleetwoods.

As to the origin of Dolphin, Gretchen explains:

“When Bob Reisdorff, the Seattle-based record promoter first heard my home recording of “Come Softly,” he said it would sell a million copies. I didn't know if he was joking or not, but it eventually did just that.”

But first they needed a record label, so Bob came up with Dolphin. He based his choice on nothing other than a love for dolphins. There was no lengthy thought or deliberation involved.

Not wanting even a hint of double entendre in the title, they expanded “Come Softly” to “Come Softly to Me.”

Continues Gretchen: “In February 1959 “Come Softly to Me,” the first release on the new label, became Dolphin No. 1. Ultimately, it would also be the last Dolphin record.

“Reisdorff began by having just a few hundred records made, some of which went to dee jays in western Washington, especially Bob's friends in the Seattle area.

“A wise move, since “Come Softly to Me” quickly soared in the Seattle-Tacoma market. In just a few weeks, it held the No. 1 spot locally.

“With the increased demand for the single came the necessity for national distribution, so Bob arranged for that with Liberty Records in L.A.

“Second Dolphin pressings of “Come Softly to Me” reflect this arrangement by stating “Distributed by Liberty Record Sales Corp” on the labels.

“Our sudden success resulted in a great deal of mail from fans, along with one unanticipated letter from Doubleday book publishers in New York. Turns out they, since 1955, owned a record company named Dolphin, which we didn't know about at the time. Doubleday asked Reisdorff to change the name of his label.”

If that weren't motivation enough, there were rumblings that Dolphin's record store in Los Angeles may try to stop the Fleetwoods' use of the name.

Rather than devote time, energy and finances to this mess, Bob kept the D-O-L and the N, added a TO, and their new name became Dolton — a unique word with no meaning or significance whatsoever.

Other than the name change, nothing else about the printed label changed. Even the three-fish Dolphin logo remained unchanged.

Meanwhile, Liberty responded to the brouhaha by issuing “Come Softly to Me” on the parent label (Liberty 55188).

Beginning with the group's second record, “Graduation's Here” (Dolton 3), their next 20 singles (Nos. 3 through 315) came out on Dolton. All but five made the national charts between 1959 and '65.

“Come Softly to Me,” issued on Dolphin and Liberty, does not exist on Dolton. It remains the only record ever released on Reisdorff's Dolphin label.

I can't think of another nationwide No. 1 hit on a label that made only that one record.

Copies of the first Dolphin pressing, with no mention of distribution by Liberty, are in the $30 to $50 range. They are mostly found in Washington.

Since a million or more sold with “Distributed by Liberty Record Sales Corp.,” they can easily be had for around $10.

The Liberty single comes in both mono ($15 to $25), and a rare stereo single ($50 to $75).

Rarest of the bunch is the first Canadian pressing (London 17056) on 78 rpm, which came out with the original title “Come Softly” ($150 to $250) — a variation not found on any U.S. issues.

While speaking with Gretchen (a.k.a. “Soft One”), I asked about the different addresses shown at the bottom of the Dolphin and Dolton labels, and learned the following:

Dolphin No. 1, and Dolton 2 through 13, show the address as “708-6th Ave. No., Seattle 9, Washington.”

Since Dolton did not yet have an office, they used the location of Northwest Record Distributors. This gave customers a source where orders could be placed.

On Dolton 14 through 30, the address changes to “422 Union St., Seattle 1, Washington U.S.A.”

Dolton finally got their own office, conveniently in the same building as Northwest Recording Studio, where the Dolton artists recorded.

IZ ZAT SO? “Come Softly to Me” is the only No. 1 hit to be simultaneously sold on two different labels, as well as both monaural and stereo 45s.

First issued as Dolphin 1, then as Liberty 55188 (mono) and 77188 (stereo).

Between 1959 and '65, Dolton released 21 singles by the Fleetwoods, with 11 of their tunes making the Billboard charts.

From the beginning of time, until April 21, 1973, the Fleetwoods were the only mixed-gender trio with more than one No. 1 hit.

Here are those trios and their No. 1 hits in order:
1958: Teddy Bears - “To Know Him Is to Love Him”
1959: Fleetwoods - “Come Softly to Me”
1959: Browns - “The Three Bells”
1959: Fleetwoods - “Mr. Blue”
1963: Rooftop Singers - “Walk Right In”
1969: Peter, Paul & Mary - “Leavin' on a Jet Plane”
1971: Tony Orlando & Dawn - “Knock Three Times”
1973: Tony Orlando & Dawn - “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”

“Come Softly to Me” and “Mr. Blue,” both million-sellers in 1959, also made Gretchen, Barbara, and Gary the top singles group of that year.

These two recordings even became the first and second Gold Record award winners for a northwest label act.

The Fleetwoods are the only group from late 1956 (Platters) to late '62 (4 Seasons), with two No 1 hits in the same year, regardless of member configuration.

On the Cash Box Top 50 for the full year of 1959, the Fleetwoods have two entries: “Come Softly to Me” (No. 10) and “Mr. Blue” (No. 16). Most significant is not finding another group with more than one record in that year's entire Top 50.

The only other artists with more than one hit in the Top 50 are Bobby Darin: “Mack the Knife” (No. 1) and “Dream Lover” (No. 12); Paul Anka: “Lonely Boy” (No. 4) and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” (No. 8); Elvis Presley: “(Now And Then There's) A Fool Such As I” (No. 17) and “A Big Hunk O' Love” (No. 19); Connie Francis, “Lipstick on Your Collar” and “Frankie” (No. 43); and Lloyd Price: “Personality” (No. 6), “Stagger Lee” (No.11), and “I'm Gonna Get Married” (No. 26).

Return to "Mr. Music" Home Page