Steve Sholes 1911 to 1968
Tragic though it was, it was fitting that Steve Sholes die in Nashville (Apr. 22, 1968). It was a city that he loved, contributed so deeply and felt a part of. Stephen Henry Sholes had rented a car at Nashville's airport and was driving on the interstate to attend a conference of the Country Music Foundation, when he was stricken with a fatal heart attack. Not long before his death. Nashville Mayor Beverly Briley named Sholes honorary citizen. Sholes had nearly 40 years experience in the music industry. Six months before his death, Sholes was justifiably inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Born in Washington D.C. on Feb. 12, 1911, His family moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his father worked in the RCA Victor plant. Sholes started work at RCA Victor as a messenger boy in 1929. He worked part time for the firm while a student at Rutgers University. However, his experience playing saxophone and clarinet in dance bands led him to the record division.
Under senior executives Eli Oberstein and, after 1939, Frank Walker, Steve assisted in producing pop, country, and ethnic acts, mostly in New York, Chicago and Atlanta. During the war, Sholes worked in the US Army's V-disc operation, which made recordings for radio broadcast and for personal listening by soldiers. In 1945 Sholes became head of both country and R&B for RCA, based out of New York.
Over the next two decades he would sign such country artists as Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold, The Browns, Hank Locklin, Homer & Jethro, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, and Pee Wee King. The first country artist with whom Sholes dealt with was Eddy Arnold. Chet Atkins, who was something of a protégé of Sholes, was signed by mail. Steve heard a guitar solo which Chet did in Springfield, Missouri, liked what he heard and took a chance on him. An admirer of Jim Reeves' earlier hits, Mexican Joe and Bimbo, Sholes signed Reeves to RCA. They began working the studio together on May 31, 1955 and a year later, Sholes asked Chet Atkins to produce Reeves' recording sessions. The first session generated My Lips Are Sealed and According to My Heart, both breaking into the top-10 in 1956. In 1945, Sholes was put in charge of RCA's operations in Nashville, Tennessee.
A devoted believer in Nashville and in country music, Steve had been to the Grand Ole Opry and decided Nashville was where RCA should be recording. He started out with portable equipment and an engineer. One of the first offices out of which Sholes worked was a downtown structure near the site of Andrew's Jackson's original law office. Sholes often stayed at the Maxwell House Hotel. Then Steve spearheaded the move toward making Nashville a recording center to the extent that he was the first company to establish a permanent office and permanent employees, including an engineer. Steve not only helped the recording industry get started in Nashville, but the organization that helped the industry grow. Along with producers for other labels, Sholes helped build Nashville as a music center.
After using a series of local studios (beginning in 1949), he convinced RCA to build its own studio on 17th Avenue South in 1957, just two years after Owen Bradley had opened Nashville's first Music Row studio a block away. Sholes's influence in this decision was greatly enhanced by his signing of Elvis Presley in November 1955, a seminal event in the international rock & roll revolution. As Presley's sales skyrocketed and other Sholes-produced acts gained hits, the rising executive became the company's pop singles manager in 1957, pop singles and albums manager in 1958 and West Coast manager in 1961. In the latter role, Sholes moved to Los Angeles and supervised recording, administration, sales and marketing activities.
Sholes installed Chet Atkins (formerly his production assistant) to run RCA's Nashville operation in 1955, but continued to supervise Presley's recordings there and in other cities. In 1963 Sholes became RCA Records' vice president for pop artist and repertoire (A&R) and returned to New York and Chet Atkins became the manager for the Nashville division of RCA. After Sholes died, Atkins was promoted to vice-president of RCA. During the 1960s Sholes served on the Country Music Association (CMA) and Country Music Foundation (CMF) boards of directors. He died only a year after the opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which he and fellow CMA leaders had worked hard to build. Sholes, the man who signed Elvis to the big label, kept doing excellent work at RCA until his untimely death. At the Nashville memorial services, they said; “Sholes had an almost uncanny ear for recognizing star potential in this unique world known as the recording industry. He heard a new sound…a fascinating sound unlike anything he had heard before in the recording studios of New York, or the motel rooms and makeshift garage and basement studios of Atlanta and Charlotte – and he pushed full steam ahead to make that unique Nashville sound heard around the world.” Steve Sholes was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which he had worked to create, in October, 1967.