Fantasy joins the fold
The jazz side of things was also catered for when a deal was brokered through Fantasy Records in 1985 to licence the hugely influential Contemporary label out of California. A couple of years later, Ace recruited jazz DJs Gilles Peterson and Baz Fe Jazz to launch their own jazz reissue outlet, BGP. A name was needed to christen the funky, Hammond B3-powered jazz funk and soul jazz that was proving popular in the clubs and, taking a nod from the then all-pervading acid house scene, the extremely popular Acid Jazz series was born. Twenty years on, things have gone from strength to strength on a label that, in the able hands of Dean Rudland, encompasses everything from Art Blakey to Sugar Pie De Santo from jazz to funk.
The Contemporary link-up also led to one of Ace's great breakthroughs when Fantasy itself signed with Ace in 1987, bringing with it a huge jazz catalogue from not only Fantasy, but Prestige and Riverside as well. But that was only half the story, for the deal also brought the rights to part of the mighty Stax back catalogue, as well as the much-respected recordings of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Before you could say Gee Whiz, Roger Armstrong was deep in the Stax vaults (or should that be Volts) where, at three in the morning he was listening to Otis Redding making imitation seagull noises on the first take of (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay. The resulting Redding album featured 14 never released songs and seven unissued out-takes. But Creedence weren't forgotten either with a mammoth reissue of all their group and solo work plus a definitive six CD box set.
Back on Ace, further forays were made into the New York street corner scene when Ace acquired the rights to Hy Weiss's great Old Town label. The deal actually showed the kind of lateral approach that Ace often used to great effect. "Ray Topping told us to ask him for the rights to his blues stuff," recalled Roger. "When we did, Hy was over the moon. 'I love that stuff', he told us. 'I prefer it to the doo wop.' When he saw what a good job Ace were doing, he then let them reissue the much sought-after doo wop material as well.
As the 80s moved into the 90s, consolidation was the name of the game. The first volume of the Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll came out in 1991, the brainchild of Trevor Churchill, who knew there were other fans of the period that were eager to get superbly mastered Top 100 singles that weren't available anywhere else. Nine further volumes followed and various permutations of the genre are still appearing. The spirit of Buddy Holly was evident in a wealth of material from Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico, including the complete work of the Fireballs, while another instrumental legend, Lonnie Mack, was reappraised on a series of releases from the Fraternity label out of Cincinnati.
Big Beat entered the box world in style with a four CD set devoted to one of the most criminally under-rated British bands of the 60s, the Zombies. Compiled and produced as a labour of love by Alec Palao, the set covered all the group's issued and unissued work and was launched on a never to be forgotten night at London's Jazz Cafe in 1997 which saw the Zombies re-form after 30 years to perform She's Not There and Time Of The Season, an event made even more poignant by the recent death of Paul Atkinson.
Ace's long standing love affair with B.B. King climaxed in 2002 with the superlative four CD box set B.B. King: "The Vintage Years" which delighted everyone, not least Riley B himself. Apart from the magnificent music the set, put together by Ace consultant John Broven, includes a superb book which also featured a discography created with another long-standing and indispensable Ace consultant Peter Gibbon.
Dave Godin and Marvin Gaye
If you judge a company by the quality of the people it attracts, then Ace was a winner all round. The Kent label's pre-eminence as the reissue soul label of choice, for instance, was merely confirmed when it launched a series of "deep soul" tracks chosen by the man who had coined the phrase, Dave Godin. He had already helped Kent select tracks for a well-received Birth Of Soul CD in 1996, but the first volume of Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures - Taken From The Vaults seemed to strike a chord with people who couldn't normally differentiate between Zerben R Hicks and Raw Spitt. Several of the tracks in the four volume series also harked back to an earlier Cellar Full Of Soul series released by EMI in the 60s, masterminded by a certain Trevor Churchill. Dave Godin died in Sept 2004, but his legacy lives on in the hands of Ace.
After years of waiting, Kent also acquired the illustrious Goldwax catalogue, giving new recruit Tony Rounce the chance to drool with the rest of us over the issued and unissued southern soul splendours of singer James Carr. While on Ace proper, lengthy negotiations resulted in the acquisition of Max Feirtag's Flip Records and the original master of Richard Berry's Louie Louie, one of the few popular songs to have had a book written about it.
As the steady march of public domain material eats into the 50s, Ace have also been successful in raising the profile of such 70s labels as Spring, home of the irrepressible Ms Millie Jackson and the Southbound/Westbound conglomerate which boasts the work of New Jersey's finest, the Fatback Band. In recent months too, they've been honouring another famous UK indie, Sue Records, which is almost where we came in.
As ever at Ace Towers, the work carries on to keep the customer satisfied. The company boasts one of the largest and most active back catalogues kept by any major record concern - and stringent efforts are also made to make sure that any of the artists involved get their due rewards. Behind the scenes, Duncan Cowell, Nick Robbins and Adam Skeaping do their best to provide the finest sound mastering heard on any reissues anywhere in the world while the unheralded backroom staff: Liz Buckley, Jorge Cortes, Yvette De Roy, Bob Dunham, Carol Fawcett, Chris Lines, Andy Menikou, Neil Scaplehorn, Graham Sharpe, Phil Stoker and Damon Valero continue to make Ace in the words of rock academic Rob Bowman, "the classiest, most conscientious and tasteful" reissue label of them all.
Or as Ricky Nelson might have said on Teenage Crush Vol 4 "There'll never be anyone else but Ace, never ever be, just couldn't be."
History of Ace Records by John Clarke (of The Independent)