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Memphis and Beyond

There weren’t many early Northern Soul venues that didn’t feature artists from the legendary Mirwood label, so it was joy to discover in 2004 that Ace had purchased the Mirwood and Mira labels, resulting in Jackie Lee’s ‘The Duck’ getting a fresh, digitalised outing on “The Mirwood Story Volume 2” along with Jimmy Conwell’s “Cigarette Ashes” and Mine Exclusively” by the Olympics. Both Lee and the Olympics also got their own solo sets on Kent along with an Afro-Blues Quintet Plus 1 release on Beat Goes Public.

Talking about the early days of soul, Kent’s own Harboro’ Horace, aka Ady Croasdell, set up the purchase of some phenomenal material from the estate of New York producer Gerald W Purcell. As Ady pointed out, for a company who only put out nine R&B singles on its own logos, GWP sure had some soul. Previously unreleased tracks made the two volumes on Kent releases to treasure, with cuts by the likes of the Devonnes, Alice Clark and Debbie Taylor.

Wikipedia calls Jerry Williams Jr, aka Swamp Dogg, an American soul and R&B singer, musician, songwriter and record producer. Ace preferred to see him as a one-man record factory, whether singing as Jerry Williams or Swamp Dogg or writing for and producing artists of the calibre of Doris Duke, Irma Thomas and Charlie Whitehead. 2005 saw Duke’s iconic “I’m A Loser’ album reissued on Kent alongside material by Sandra Phillips, Bette Williams and Whitehead. Soul music didn’t get much better than this.

From those heights, it might be considered quite a jump to “Thump De De Dum Dum” by Ernie Baptiste or “Hoo Doo The Voo Doo” by Darrell Glenn. But hey, this is Ace records and “It Came From The Suburbs: Rare Teen Rock from the Kennedy Era” drawn from California’s Downey label was as significant as any other release on Ace’s growing catalogue of reissues. Tom and Maxine Wenzel’s label and their Music Town record shop were South Californian legends and three “It Came From…” albums plus a ravishing selection of sleazy instrumentals on “Intoxica!” proved their worth, as did the 2011 CD “The Downey Story: Landlocked”.

When it comes to the Guinness Book of World Records, there should be a special place for Ace’s Link Wray LP “Early Recordings” and its famous yellow sleeve. First released on vinyl in 1978 and still in the catalogue, it made its CD debut nearly 30 years later, in 2006.

Memphis had always been a happy hunting ground for Ace, never more so than in 2007 when a licensing deal saw tracks from the Gene Lucchesi’s Sounds of Memphis and XL labels issued on Kent. Gene sadly died while the deal was going through so the first volume of the labels’ overview, “Can't Be Satisfied: The XL And Sounds Of Memphis”, brimful of outstanding tracks by the likes of  Barbara & the Browns, Spencer Wiggins and George Jackson, was dedicated to his memory. An album by the vastly under-rated Barbara & The Browns preceded this and it was followed by outstanding collections by the Ovations, George Jackson, Spencer Wiggins, the Minits and Dan Greer.

Barbara Brown (R)

Barbara Brown (R)

It wouldn’t be too long before another great Southern soul label – some might say the greatest – finally fell into Ace’s lap - Fame records of Muscle Shoals. As Alec Palao pointed out: “Fame begat the process whereby a little known Alabama backwater would evolve into the very crucible of southern soul, a holy place to where musicians, singers and fans still make a very specific pilgrimage in the hope of experiencing a little bit of the magic behind so many hit records: ‘I’m Your Puppet’, ‘Land Of 1,000 Dances’, ‘Tell Mama’ and countless others.”

Rick Hall and Otis Redding

After two years of excavations into the Muscle Shoals motherlode, the intrepid Ace team came up with a host of exceptional tracks, many of them previously unissued. Taking pride of place was the “Fame Studios Story 1961-1972” an exhaustive, 75-track, three-CD set that spotlighted, as Alec pointed out “either acknowledged greats, or lesser known – yet no less worthy – entries in the lexicon of soul”.

Alongside this came a welter of releases that saw Jimmy Hughes’s superlative tracks restored to the catalogues as well as albums by George Jackson, Clarence Carter, James Govan and the near-mythic Dan Penn demos.

Another licensing deal with John Fry of the celebrated Ardent Studios, the label that begat cult heroes Big Star saw the release in 2008 of the double CD “The Ardent Records Story” featuring tracks by the aforementioned Big Star and the late and lamented Alex Chilton, whose “1970” sessions saw release on “Free Again”.

The Prime Movers (R)

The Prime Movers (R)

Jeep Holland’s Ann Arbor label and agency A-Square had been home in the late Sixties to such Detroit luminaries as the Rationals, MC5, Thyme, the Scot Richard Case and the Frost. Ace acquired the rights in 2008 and “A-Square (of Course)” followed, including tracks by the rarely-heard Prime Movers, featuring a young Iggy Pop on lead vocals. This was followed by two outstanding CD collections by the mighty Rationals featuring a host of rare and unreleased material.

For David Bowie, the rise and fall of the late British rock’n’roller Vince Taylor had been the inspiration behind Ziggy Stardust. So it was with pride that Ace was  able to provide a tribute to the ‘Brand New Cadillac’ rocker with the 22-track “Jet Black Leather Machine” in January 2009. An equally influential artist and one who is, happily, still very much with us is George Fame, and the following year, the Steele Road mafia were able to pay homage with “Mod Classics 1964-1966” by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, a commanding 24-track selection on BGP that saw such classics as ‘Get On The Right Track Baby’ and ‘Parchman Farm’ back in circulation.

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