1975 & earlier
(For the Ace History Year-by-Year click here).
Leonard Chess started with the Macomba Lounge, the Bihari brothers started with a Los Angeles eaterie and Ted Carroll began with a market stall decorated with Elvis Presley wallpaper. Each would go on to form record empires that would help change the face of popular music.
Ted Carroll at Golbourne Road
The Chess and Bihari brothers would give us the music and the artists that defined and then fostered a sea change in American popular music in the postwar years, fuelled by white hillbilly, black American rhythm and blues, Delta blues, storefront gospel, modern jazz, cocktail crooning, Louisiana cajun and scores of other strands of that nation's vast and elaborate musical patchwork.
TED CARROLL was part of a magical triumvirate that included mandarin musical mastermind ROGER ARMSTRONG and the patrician-like record biz wizard TREVOR CHURCHILL that would transform the whole concept of record reissues and set an industry standard for the three Rs - reclamation, restoration and research - that has yet to be bettered.
Trevor Churchill with Reparata and The Delrons
If, as a record-buying generation, we're now better served and better informed about such seminal performers as B.B. King, Dion, Slim Harpo or even the likes of Jaibi and Little Willie Littlefield, then it's no thanks to the major companies who have sat on the material for the last half-century. Instead, it's been companies like Ace who went digging and unearthed some of the finest and most influential records of the postwar era.
Ironically, too, it's taken a small company like Ace to make us re-evaluate one of the forgotten giants of the American music scene, the Modern record company founded by the Bihari brothers, and now, happily, wholly owned by Ace Records in Europe and Africa.
But all this was a long way in the future when Carroll sold black and silver London 45s, red and white Top Rank singles and the red and yellow Sue classics from a stall in Golborne Road, West London. An ex-bank teller, bus driver and latterly manager of an up-and-coming Irish rock band called Thin Lizzy, Carroll had decided to go back to his first love - records. From his stall in Golborne Road he attracted a growing number of regular customers. He also ran across an old friend, the Belfast-born Roger Armstrong, who, after tour managing Horslips and managing a short-lived band called St James' Gate, had decided he wasn't cut out for the management life. Soon, he was helping Ted, who had now expanded to a stall in Soho and the idea of launching a small record label was born. Would it be something to rival the beloved UK London label? No one could tell. But they decided to call it Chiswick, so that it sounded like "a branch from the same tree" as Roger puts it.
Joe Strummer, Adrian Thrills and members of the Pop Group at the Rock On Stall at Soho Market.
Soon, they had a band. The Count Bishops, fronted by the extrovert American Mike Spenser and a nifty EP, Speedball, which became a steady seller. Then came the addition of the last of the mighty Ace triumvirate, Trevor Churchill. A reader of Billboard since his teens, winner of the fiendishly difficult Record Mirror blues and soul quiz and a record man down to his finger tips, Trevor brought a steady hand and an air of astute professionalism to the fledgling company. A former EMI management trainee, he'd worked for Bell, the Rolling Stones record label, Tamla Motown and Polydor and had flogged some of his vast record collection to Ted, which is how they met.
Rocky Sharpe & The Replays at Rock On.
He also acquired for Chiswick the rights to the company's first reissue, Brand New Cadillac by English rocker Vince Taylor, which, in the era of the UK chart-making Jungle Rock by Hank Mizell, began to sell by the bucketload. Then, as Britain witnessed the rise of pub rock, more acts were signed, including the 101'ers whose single featured Joe Strummer before he left for the Clash and, in 1977, Motorhead, whose valedictory single for the label turned into an album. Other releases came from the Radiators from Space, Radio Stars, Riff Raff (featuring a young Billy Bragg), Johnny & The Self Abusers (featuring an equally young Jim Kerr) and Drug Addix (featuring the late and much-lamented Kirsty MacColl). The wonderfully menacing Link Wray featured in one of Chiswick's first reissue albums and possible chart success beckoned with the signing of Rocky Sharpe & The Replays. There was also hits in both the UK and abroad for Sniff'n'The Tears (who made #15 in the US) and the Damned.