Vox at the NAMM show, 1964

Chicago, Conrad Hilton Hotel, 28th June - 2nd July

This was the first year in which NAMM was held at the Conrad Hilton, Palmer House, the previous venue in Chicago having become too small.

Below, a detail from one of two similar adverts placed by Tom Jennings in the American music trade press in April and May 1964. The Vox users cited are: The Beatles, Searchers, Dave Clark Five, and the Rolling Stones. All except the Stones had been on the Ed Sullivan Show by the time these adverts appeared - the Beatles in February (three shows); the Dave Clark Five (two shows in March, another in late May after the ads had been published); the Searchers in early April (one show). No mention is made though of Gerry and the Pacemakers (two shows in early May). Only the Beatles had performed live in concert - at the Washington Coliseum.

As the Ed Sullivan Shows did not feature the amplifiers used by these bands - no Vox logos or grille cloth presented to the television audience - Tom's advert will have been a valuable dose of new information to many dealers in the States, certainly to those that did not have copies of "Melody Maker" sent over from England. Press agency wire photos of English bands other than the Beatles are scarce in early 1964.

The text of the ad is below.


We are British manufacturers of musical merchandise, and in particular, VOX electronic aids to music. Our exportation to 60 countries throughout the world has been steadily consolidated during the past five years, with the exception of the United States.

"You are being invaded" by a series of British performing groups who feature VOX equipment, the forerunners of whom were The Beatles, a group that has made a very strong impact upon the teen-age population of America...And The Beatles will be back in the Fall, for a big cross-country series of engagements.

We are open to negotiate with music firms in the U.S. for distribution of our products throughout the American continent. Those interested and who have the capacity for such distribution should contact me personally.

British promotion could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent this year on VOX musical merchandise. This is an opportunity you cannot afford to miss.

Yours sincerely, TOM W. JENNINGS, Managing Director.

As the advert notes, Tom would be attending the Chicago Music Trades Fair (NAMM), 28th June - 2nd July 1964, and could be contacted at the Essex Inn Hotel. Reports in the British and American music trade press indicate that there was no formal Jennings stand. One distributor, already in place by the time of Chicago, was very probably Zeb Billings in Milwaukee (see below).

So far as one can tell, the arrangement made by Jennings with the Thomas Organ Company in the summer of 1963 extended little further than Jennings's distribution of Thomas organs in the UK. That Tom apparently had not made a deal with Thomas by Spring 1964, when the advert below was issued, is interesting. Presumably the company (primarily a manufacturer of transistor organs for the home and club market) was not regarded intially by JMI as being a good fit. At any rate, all that changed: in late August 1964 it was announced that Thomas would be distributor of Vox in the US.

In July 1964, the British music trade printed the notices, below, rather belatedly - "end of this month" meant (presumably in the original communication from Jennings) the end of June rather than July. If the text is to be followed, the Thomas Organ Company evidently had not yet confirmed its interest in being sole distributor of Vox equipment in the USA.

At any rate, the second piece makes it clear that distributors (number unspecified) were already in place before Tom's visit. Jennings probably did not have a stand at the Show. He was simply there to promote the ranges of Vox equipment in person.

The distributor in Milwaukee is likely to have been Zeb Billings, who certainly handled Vox amplifiers, guitars and organs in the second half of the 1960s.

Jennings at the NAMM Trade Fair, Chicago, 1964

British music trade journal, July 1964.

Jennings at the NAMM Trade Fair, Chicago, 1964

A further trade journal report, also July 1964.

In early July 1964, Billboard magazine published a list of companies that had attended the 1964 NAMM show. Jennings, however, is altogether absent. Challen Eavestaff and Alfred Knight, two British piano-making and dealing businesses, which had also attended in 1963, are both listed though.

Why is there no entry for Jennings? Presumably attendance had been arranged via Thomas Organ (or perhaps even Warwick Industries), either as a "dealer", which to some extent Jennings was, or as a subsiduary. Thomas had six rooms at the Hilton - Jennings is likely to have had one of these.