Joe Bihari, the New Orleans-bred co-founder (alongside his brothers Saul and Jules) of pioneering blues and R&B labels Modern Records and RPM Records, has died at the age of 88. Bihari's work helped popularize the blues sound as well as paved the way for the formation of rock and roll. Joe was the last surviving Bihari brother, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
The Biharis' label businesses began as a jukebox leasing company around Los Angeles in the '40s, but before long the brothers were pressed into the recording business after finding that there wasn't enough music to fill their jukeboxes, sending them on a lifelong path to finding, recording and pressing blues and R&B recordings. Their first release was Hadda Brooks' "Rockin' the Boogie," below.
Joe was the brother most involved with searching out artists, touring the south extensively in a red Lincoln convertible and discovering artists such as B.B. King, Ike Turner, and The Cadets, among others. Bihari would stop musicians on the highway, guitars strapped to their backs, as well as performers at informal "gambling joints" and nightclubs.
The Biharis came under fire from their most famous signee, B.B. King, for allegedly appending noms de plume on song credits in a murky move to secure royalty payments for themselves and their companies.
“Some of the songs I wrote, they added a name when I copyrighted it,” Mr. King said in a 1999 interview for the magazine Blues Access, the Washington Post reported. “Like ‘King and Ling’ or ‘King and Josea.’ There was no such thing as Ling or Josea. No such thing. That way, the company could claim half of your song.” The Biharis denied the allegations, as the New York Times reported.
The Bihari brothers were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006, which remembered them as having "consistently shown the talent and tenacity to stay ahead of the current trends, discovering, producing, and releasing some of the best work of the genre."