As mentioned in our post on Sam the Record Man, records were an extremely important business in Canada between the 1940s and 1990s. However, one cannot talk about records without mentioning the first all Canadian record company, Quality Records, which opened its doors in 1949.
At its peak, Quality Records was Canada’s largest independent record company. Prior to this, many labels were outsourced to the U.S., particularly New York. While this would eventually become the fate of Quality Records, it did provide an essential service to Canadians: Canadian content and distribution. This allowed for bands like The Guess Who to rise to international success (which you can read more about here).
Quality Records was also unique in that it produced its own records on site. With the pressing plant, they were able to cater to the demand, or as Cameron Carpenter economically puts it: “strike when the iron was hot.” For example, in 1982, Carpenter recounts how important it was to close the record deal with emerging artist Josie Cotton and her single “Johnny Are You Queer?” Thanks to the onsite pressing plant, Quality Records was able to close the deal over the phone, print the single on site and send it off to the radio station the same evening. Carpenter acknowledges: “I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal today but back then it was pretty remarkable.” Today we have instant access to music, through various streaming platforms, but it is important to remember how difficult it was to both create and distribute music, particularly in the Canadian market. This is what makes Quality Records’ contribution to Canadian music history so important.
While the company was founded by a group in Western Canada by Harold Carson, there was a succession of George’s who were instrumental in the success of Quality Records. First there was George Keane, hired in 1954, and he was responsible for negotiating distribution deals with U.S. independent labels. His successor was George Bays, who was then succeeded by George Struth. Struth, the man responsible for naming The Guess Who, worked his way up from inventory control to President.
As the first President of Quality Records, Struth led the company through the disco-era of the 1970s and into the mainstream dance pop of the 1980s. However, the company closed its operations in 1985, briefly reviving in 1991 before permanently closing in 1997 and selling its catalogue to one of the record labels in New York, and bringing this story full circle.