Interview With Dr. Leonard Scott
A Tyscot Retrospective
Looking around the Gospel label landscape, you can’t help but notice the new players. Many prominent labels today were unknown as few as five years ago. And once-solid music houses such as Light Records, Nashboro, CGI and Birthright are no more.
— interview by Stan North —
So it’s all the more remarkable that in May 2001, independently-owned Tyscot Records celebrated a full twenty-five years in Gospel. There’s a wealth of history behind this label, with pioneer, perserverer and founder Dr. Leonard Scott being at least partially responsible for myriads of ministries to the nation.
While the most prominent artist ever to have resided on the Tyscot roster may be John P. Kee (and in fact, he has retained his close ties with the label), other names such as Kirk Franklin (during his Trinity Temple Mass Choir days), Kim Burrell (again with Trinity Temple), Oscar Hayes, Mark Hubbard, Deitrick Haddon and so many more have all seen Tyscot involved in their early years of ministry.
So grab a coffee and sit back with us as we reminisce with Tyscot CEO, founder, and practicing dentist, Dr. Leonard Scott:
GospelFlava.com: Sometimes it’s easy to forget that in addition to your responsibilities as label chief, you’re also a Gospel artist, having had several albums over the years, both with your wife and also as Garment of Praise. Was Gospel music always in your blood?
Dr. Scott: I came to Gospel via secular music. When I was just a little guy, my dad bought me a clarinet to play in the elementary school band.
This sparked my interest in music initially. I got away from music in high school, but when I went to Indiana State College in Terre Haute, I picked up the alto saxophone and joined a local band. The band gained notoriety locally and was pickec up by a manager in Indianapolis. This lead to being signed to a booking agency and recording at studios in New York and Minneapolis. One thing that made us unique and opened doors for us was that we were a mixed band. There were three whites and four blacks in the band, which was different for the mid-sixties.
RECENT TYSCOT PROJECTS
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I can remember travelling over the highways to engagements and hearing Edwin Hawkins’ "Oh Happy Day" over the radio, right in the middle of the secular songs. I wonder how many people who would not listen to a Gospel radio station were impacted by that song? I know I certainly was. A few years later, when my life was in a total mess, I found myself at an altar giving myself to Christ. At first I totally removed myself from any musical involvement. Before I was saved music had been one of my gods, and I wanted nothing to draw me away from the new life I had found. After about a year in church, the Lord gave me a release in my spirit, and I joined the church choir. This became my beginning in Gospel music.
GospelFlava.com: And then twenty-five years ago, in 1976, you started up Tyscot. How did that come about?
Dr. Scott: We started as a vehicle to put our church album. Minister Craig Tyson and I had put together some songs for the choir to record. The choir was the Christ Church Apostolic Radio Choir, pastored by Bishop James Tyson, Craig’s father. Our attorney informed us that we should incorporate, protecting other assets in case someone would accuse us of stealing their songs. So that is what we did. The attorney asked us what we wanted to call the company, and suggested putting Craig’s name and my name together. That is how we came up with the name, Tyscot.
What began as a label for our church choir soon grew into something much larger. Other groups and choirs wanted to use our label. A quartet group from Anderson, Indiana became the next artist on the label, followed by Robert Turner and the Silver Hearts, and The Pentecostal Ambassadors. Soon we had quite a roster of local artists. Part of our calling through the years has been to discover new and developing Gospel talent and expose it to the world. This is still part of our mission and vision in 2001.
GospelFlava.com:What would you say are some of the memorable moments that really stand out for you since 1976?
Dr. Scott: Tyscot has had many highlights over the years. Our first ‘hit’ recording was a project we picked up from Rev. Bill Sawyer from Cleveland, Ohio. He had released the album Something Old, Something New that contained the song, "Near The Cross", sung by an elderly lady who used to be a night club singer years before. He tould us he could not keep up with the sales and run his church too. So he asked us to take it over. It became our first recording to move major numbers. It was the first time that radio stations and stores called us for servicing and products.
Another highlight was when we received our first Grammy nomination. This was for a new artist we had signed out of Detroit, Michigan, named Derrick Brinkley. Then we received our first number one album on the Billboard charts and first gold album with Rev. John P. Kee and the New Life Choir.
GospelFlava.com: Nearly everyone knows that Rev. Kee got his first label deal with Tyscot, and that through your efforts and support, he really took off and ‘struck a chord’ across the country. What’s the story behind his signing?
Dr. Scott: I first met John by way of a demo tape he sent to an agent that was working for us in Detroit, Michigan. We signed him solely from the demo tape. In those days, John had already gained notoriety as a songwriter through the Gospel Music Workshop of America. We felt like his style was on the cutting edge of where Gospel music was moving. John told me that other record companies asked him why he had not sent his demo tape to them. His reply was that he had sent that tape to every record company available. I think it was a blessing from the Lord for us to play a part in bringing the world the ministry of John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir (see summary of John P. Kee history).
GospelFlava.com: More recently, it’s Deitrick Haddon who has really steamrolled his style into our memories. Did you find out about him in much the same way?
Dr. Scott: I’ve been a personal friend of Deitrick Haddon’s father, Bishop Clarence Haddon, for years. In conversations, he would often mention how the Lord was really blessing his children musically. He gave me a demo tape that I passed on to the A&R department. Of course we were all blown away by the songs, the talent and the anointing that was there.
Some of the things we look for in a new artist are unique talent, ability to minister, dedication, love for God and people, business ability and desire to travel and do live appearances.
GospelFlava.com: As far as business is concerned, with Tyscot being the family-owned label that it is, you probably have gone through a whole spate of experiences. Can you talk a bit about that?
Dr. Scott: Being an independent has many challenges. There’s the challenge of good distribution. The distributors are often afraid to get behind a new independent because so many of them go bankrupt and leave the distributor holding the bag. Once you have been around for a while, they feel a little better about you. Another challenge is not having the deep pockets that the majors have. That forces you to be more creative in spending to get the job done. And then there is the challenge of convincing the established artists that the job can get done by an independent.
GospelFlava.com: No doubt you’ve had some pressure to merge or perhaps link up with a larger business entity. But you’ve kept on doing your own thing.
Dr. Scott: We’ve resisted the pressure to relinquish ownership mainly because of what we feel our calling is. We have received numerous prophesies concerning our calling. We were told that we could not just sign anyone. Therefore we pray over and seek divine direction before signing an artist. One of the bishops told us that we were to be a platform for God’s artists to launch forth from. So along with a business, Tyscot is a ministry.
GospelFlava.com: With the abundance of start up labels sprouting up, especially in the last few years, you certainly have a wealth of experience that we’re sure many upstarts would find valuable.
Dr. Scott: I would admonish upcoming Gospel labels to make sure, and very sure, that this is your calling. Through the years I have seen so many labels come and go. Many times ending in financial disaster. We, along with many others, were nearly knocked out of the picture when Spectra Distribution went bankrupt. I believe it was because of the Lord’s calling that we survived and continue to survive. Just make sure you calling and election is sure. And then take care of business in a way that your Father would be proud of.
GospelFlava.com: What about the next little while. Where do you see Tyscot heading in the next few years?
Dr. Scott: Tyscot will continue to be on the cutting edge of where Gospel music is going. But at the forefront will be ministry. I really believe the time we have left for ministry is limited. So what we do we must do quickly. There are many souls to be saved, lives to be changed, broken hearts to be mended, and captives to be set free. We see ourselves as a support ministry to our artists and distributed labels in accomplishing these end time goals.
GospelFlava.com: On the personal tip, it’s hard not to ask you a question about your other occupation! As an experienced dentist, how do you manage to balance that with your music responsibilities?
Dr. Scott: I’ve been practicing dentistry for 28 years. I enjoy helping people with their oral health and appearance. Many of the Gospel artists have been to us as patients. I have even had some aspiring artists actually make a dental appointment so they could play their demo for me. Creating beautiful smiles is very rewarding.
With the other professional and support staff in the office, I am usually there only two days a week. We have a very competent staff at Tyscot to carry out the day to day operations. My son, Bryant, who is the Vice President and COO, runs the office. He’s assisted by Robin Oliver in operations, Steve Bingham in promotions, Tracy Williamson in marketing and Lynna Scott in design.
Just about a year ago, my wife and I started a new ministry in Indianapolis, the Rock Community Church. We use space at the Tyscot offices to minister the Gospel to those in the community.
GospelFlava.com: And as for your own musical endeavors, in closing, can you update us on what’s next for Dr. Leonard Scott, the Gospel artist?
Dr. Scott: We’ve not done a project as an artist since doing the Praises from Antigua recording [in 1998]. The Garment of Praise, Celebration of Praise, and Gospel Hymns projects were all very successful for us. Starting the church has slowed down our recording ministry some, but we are gearing up to get back into more projects in the near future.
Check out the visuals below, taking you a bit back in time over the Tyscot history.
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