William Russell “Bill” Quinn was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts, on January 8, 1904. Founder of Houston-based Gold Star Records and recording studio, Quinn recorded a variety of blues, R&B, country, Cajun, and zydeco artists, including Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, Clifton Chenier, Harry Choates, and George Jones. Quinn’s Gold Star Recording Studio, which eventually was renamed SugarHill Recording Studios, is one of the most prolific and historically significant recording facilities in the Southwest.
Bill Quinn began his career in the entertainment business working with sound equipment for a carnival company—Royal American Shows out of New Jersey. In 1939 he settled in Houston, where he began experimenting with recording technology and founded the Quinn Radio Service. In 1941 he renamed his enterprise the Quinn Recording Company and started recording radio jingles to be used as ads for nearby businesses. Quinn formed the short-lived Gulf Record Company label in 1944 but dropped it by 1946 when he founded Gold Star Records and began recording local blues and country (or “hillbilly”) artists.
Quinn Recording Company, also home of the Gold Star Records label, was originally located in an old gas station/grocery store at 3104 Telephone Road in Houston. Quinn had begun his enterprise in the recording industry during the days when master recordings had to be produced while the musicians were actually performing. Sound recordings were etched directly onto wax discs. This method prevented any editing or rearranging and only allowed one song per side of each disc. In 1950 Quinn had moved the studio a few blocks away to a two-story residence that already was his family home at 5628 Brock Street. He operated the facility on the first floor, while he, his wife, and son lived upstairs. Gold Star Records scored its first national hit in 1947 with “Jole Blon,” sung by Harry Choates, a Louisiana-born Cajun who had relocated to Port Arthur, Texas, as a child. “Jole Blon” (French for “Pretty Blonde”), which subsequently also became a major hit for Moon Mullican, was a traditional South Louisiana waltz that had long been popular among Cajun audiences.
Quinn continually improved the studio’s technological capability throughout the years. In 1958–59 he expanded the facility to the extent that it received its own separate entrance and address at 5626 Brock Street. Quinn’s studios were also the primary facility used by the Starday and D Records labels owned by Harold “Pappy” Daily.
Gold Star Studio recorded numerous country artists, including George Jones, Hank Locklin, Willie Nelson, and Floyd Tillman. It produced such rock-and-roll hits as “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston, “Chantilly Lace” by J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson, and “Treat Her Right” by Roy Head and the Traits. In the mid-1960s the studio was leased by J. L. Patterson and subsequently sold to International Artists by 1968. The facility was briefly renamed International Artists Studios. It went into receivership, however, in 1969 when International Artists filed for bankruptcy, and in late 1971 record producer Huey Meaux took over the studio and renamed it SugarHill. Meaux continued Quinn’s tradition of recording a broad variety of musicians. Among Huey Meaux’s many artists were Freddy Fender (who recorded at least twenty-eight hit singles or albums there), Barbara Lynn, Doug Sahm, and Augie Meyers. Over the years, dozens of other prominent Texas musicians, including Marcia Ball, Archie Bell and the Drells, Destiny’s Child, and Selena, recorded in the studios that Bill Quinn founded.
Bill Quinn died in Houston on January 4, 1976. He was survived by his wife Wanda Lee Quinn and son Earl Russell Quinn. He was buried in Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery. Quinn’s legacy extends far beyond the studio he started in 1941. As a pioneer in independently recording, reproducing, and distributing Texas music, he became the first successful record producer in Texas to promote such a broad range of artists and musical styles. He played a major role in helping popularize country, blues, R&B, Cajun, gospel, Tejano, and rock–and-roll. As a result, Quinn played a seminal role in helping establish the Texas recording industry and promote the careers of countless Texas musicians.