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Rodeo Records was founded in 1949 in Montreal by George Taylor and Don Johnson mainly as a small country & western and bluegrass label and the regional distributor of Quality Records product in Quebec and the Maritimes. The following year, Johnson moved to California and Taylor bought his half becoming the sole proprietor. For seven years they issued only 78 rpm recordings.
In 1953 Taylor moved to Halifax and established the low-budget sister label called Banff. In 1956 the companies started issuing their first LPs. Seeing another niche market, he purchased the already popular Celtic label in 1960 (with a catalogue of fiddling and Scottish music dating back to 1933). By this point the company had accumulated a sufficient number of releases that they negotiated their first distribution agreement with London Records of Canada. Several years later they signed a similar agreement with Compo Canada.
Seeking a national presence and a more professional recording scene, Taylor moved Rodeo back to Montreal in 1962. He started another new label – Caprice – solely for Francophone acts, and started feeling out the pop/rock scene by singing acts such as The Keatniks, the Colonials (featuring future Mamas & Papas Denny Doherty), the Gemtones, the Stringers, and the Rockatones. He also struck an agreement with Stereo Sound Studios in Montreal to record all of his acts with the new multitrack technology. This emphasis on quality and professional domestic distribution gave rise to international interest by the mid-60s, and Rodeo acquired distributors in the U.K. (Symphola Records) and the U.S. (Canadian Trading Co. of Boston).
Yet another affiliated label – Melbourne Records - was launched in 1963 originally to expose Canadian audiences to Australian artists. Only three acts were released - Dorothy Baker, Kevin Shagog, and The Seekers (pre-“Georgie Girl” fame) before Taylor’s arrangement with the Australian label stalled. From 1965 on, Melbourne then became home to “serious” music (R. Murray Schafer, Antonin Kubalek, Orford String Quartet, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir) and even experimental electronic music.
In 1967 Taylor moved Rodeo Records Ltd. headquarters to Toronto, leaving the Montreal office still open and very active in charge of Dougal Trineer. Mel Shaw (manager of the Stampeders and owner of his own label MWC Records) was appointed director of all popular music with Rodeo in the spring of 1969. Rodeo started to attract talent of national repute – Don Messer (with Marg Osburne and Charlie Chamberlain), The Rhythm Pals, Stu Phillips, Graham Townsend, Hal Lone Pine (radio star and Lenny Breau’s father), Hank Smith, and the Seibert Brothers.
By the 1970s the Rodeo family had diversified even more and were open to all kinds of talent – from comedy (Bobby Gregory’s Country Comedy) to language instruction (Scottish Gaelic For Beginners), from radio broadcasts (Saga of the Reluctant Piper) to spoken word (John Drainie Reads Stephen Leacock or The True and Authentic Life of Giant Angus MacAskill), from ballroom dancing (Armando’s Continental Orchestra) to tap music (Tap Dance to Waldo Munro), from jazz (Frank Traynor and the Jazz Preachers) to folk (Canadiana Folk Singers, Les Chanteurs d’Acadie, Jim Murray), sacred (Kidd Baker – Walking in the Mountains with My Lord, Phillips Bros. – Church in the Wildwood, Sacred Songs by the Choir of Gower Street United Church, The Singing Parson & Sharon) to novelty (Elfie the Elf – “Let’s Give Santa Claus a Christmas”) and bird song (Songs of the Seasons or Birds of the African Rain Forest).
Taylor made one last move to Peterborough in 1969. For the next decade – while continuing to put out new product – he also re-released much of the Rodeo catalogue as audiocassettes and 8 track tapes. As well he assembled numerous compilation albums (24 Cape Breton Fiddle Medleys, 24 Great Gospel Songs, 24 Country & Western Hits) and “Best of …” albums. Taylor retired in 1984, and the company and assets were purchased by Frank Swain in 1985. Under his corporate name Holborne Distributing, Swain continued to market selected titles. Swain donated the Rodeo Records collection to the Beaton Institute in 2010.