Del-Fi Records founder Bob Keane's Gold Star connection
Del-Fi Records owner Bob Keane, who died Nov. 28 at age 87, had one of his greatest successes with Ritchie Valens, the 17-year-old Pacoima rock-and-roller he discovered in 1958, soon after launching his independent record label in Hollywood.
The songs that put Valens on the map -- "Come On, Let's Go," "Donna" and "La Bamba" -- were recorded at Gold Star Recording Studios in Hollywood. Valens' brief career ended in February 1959 when he died in a plane crash in Iowa, along with Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.
"He was a very nice young man," Gold Star co-owner Stan Ross, who served as engineer on Valens' recordings, said of the singer. "People say this when someone passes away, but I say this honestly: He was a sweetheart."
As the producer of Valens' records, Keane "told him what to do and what not to do -- and do it again and again. That's what producers do," said Ross. At the same time, he said, Keane was "very insecure" in the recording studio.
"He was always looking for advice," Ross said. "He was concerned whether it was right or wrong as far as the music was concerned and as far as the vocals were concerned. I would tell him what I thought."
But, he said, Keane "was knowledgeable about end product, because he obviously knew a good song when he heard it. 'Donna' and 'La Bamba,' he knew those songs would be hits."
Valens was just one of the many top performers who recorded at Gold Star Recording Studios, which Ross co-founded with Dave Gold in 1950. Eddie Cochran, the Righteous Brothers, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Sonny and Cher and Buffalo Springfield were among those who recorded there.
Before it closed in 1983, Gold Star had recorded more than 150 singles and albums that earned gold records.
"Can you believe it? We were in business 33 and a third years," Ross said. "Sounds stupid, but it's true."
-- Dennis McLellan
Photo: Bob Keane in 2001 at a Pacoima ceremony honoring Ritchie Valens' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Credit: Los Angeles Times