The millennium dawned with a host of new deals that brought into the Ace family of labels familiar names in fresh guises alongside rare cuts by long-cherished figures and previously undiscovered tracks that would have seasoned collectors drooling.
Dion Dimucci, the ultimate rock’n’roll survivor, had been a feature of Ace’s early reissues with his superb Laurie material. He’d maintained a notable career by staying tuned to current trends and Ace maintained its close ties with the Bronx-born star by picking up his Warners albums, including the part-Spector produced epic “Born To Be With You”. The albums issued alongside it included the first ever CD reissues of the albums “Sit Down Old Friend” and “You’re Not Alone” which highlighted Dion’s fresh and inspiring musical direction after his struggle against addiction.
Elsewhere, compiler Alec Palao had been busy on the Pacific coast and took us back to the days when, to quote writer Kieron Tyler, “the Northwest sound was massive. Rhythms pounded, guitars screamed and vocals were distorted by over-amplification”. Four volumes of material licensed from original owner Jerry Dennon made up the “Northwest Battle of the Bands” series from 2001 through to 2004, as well as the aptly titled “Riot City”. All the product of what Alec accurately described as “hours of archive scouring and detailed tape research”.
One link between the Northwest and the rest of the rock music world was of course the hugely influential song ‘Louie Louie’ which in its hit-making guise by Portland’s Kingsmen had famously become the subject of an FBI investigation. Collectors worldwide had been waiting for the legal reissue of Richard Berry’s original version of the song recorded for Flip and once available in the UK on a much sought-after Ember EP.
Berry had sold his rights to his “little song” for a few hundred dollars and Flip owners Max and Lilian Feirtag had left the label moribund as they enjoyed the income ‘Louie Louie’ generated. Eventually, Berry regained his rights to the songs and in 2001 Ace bought the recording rights to the label. As Ace’s Roger Armstrong says: “It feels good to be caretakers of such an iconic record as Richard Berry’s original and impeccable version of the song that launched a thousand garage bands.”
Ace issued the great Richard Berry Flip compilation “Have “Louie” Will Travel” in 2005 as well as three volumes of Flip Doo Wop and a Dreamers set. The ultimate “Louie Louie” compilation “Love that Louie: The Louie Louie Files” provided the last word on the subject in 2002.
John Dolphin’s Recorded in Hollywood label had featured in Ace’s earlier reissues, but it was Money, the label revived by John’s wife Ruth in the mid-1960s that provided a string of top-notch releases on Kent. First and foremost was the pre-eminent Bettye Swann whose Money recordings, including the sublime ‘Make Me Yours’ appeared on CD in 2001. It was followed by three volumes of the “Soul of Money” that highlighted the wealth of top-quality soul issued on the label plus a set by ‘The Jerk’ hit-makers Don Julian & The Larks.
Moving east, Ace acquired the rights to another label beloved by collectors, the small, Chicago-based Bandera label run by the mother and son team of Violet Muszynski and Bernie Harville. Famous for issuing the Impressions’ first record, a trip to the vaults uncovered a wealth of superb material ranging from the blues of Jimmy Lee Robinson and Dusty Brown to the rockabilly of Benny Ingram and James Mask. The pick of the Chicago-based label’s doo wop output was also released on CD, including those Impressions tracks.
Thanks to Ace’s Peter Gibbon, a man whom we’re told appreciates a new matrix number as much as a vintage bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, the early noughties also saw the issue of the “Arock & Sylvia Soul Story” a venture on which he was helped by fellow record lover Mick Patrick. The high-quality output of the New York labels owned by jazzman Al Sears proved to be both illuminating and rewarding.
The rest of the world didn’t go unappreciated either. Alec Palao went Down Under to uncover an abundance of hugely worthwhile surf, beat and psych tracks in four albums licensed from Australia’s Festival Records and issued on the Big Beat label in 2002.
The big beasts in the Ace jungle weren’t forgotten during this period. In 2002 John Broven put together the definitive BB King box set “The Vintage Years” with 106 tracks including four previously unissued cuts and 25 stereo recordings spread over four CDs. They were accompanied by an impressive, full-colour 74-page book. The same year also saw the issue of the double CD “The Modern Recordings 1950-1951”. It was a special release, as Ace’s Roger Armstrong pointed out: “Going back to the original acetates where possible, our engineers have pulled out a sound that has probably never been heard before. Sure at times you have to put up with some swish and some crackle, but the reward is that you are sucked into the original room in which the recordings were made.”
Ace has a knack of cultivating the pop world’s mavericks. In 2002 it was the turn of Gary“Alley Oop” Paxton whose popular music credentials ranged from the Bakersfield sound of country music and the pre-Byrds stylings of Gene Parsons and Floyd “Gib” Guilbeau to the clanking chains of “Monster Mash” by Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, not forgetting “the man in the funny papers we all know”. Four CDs, including one by the Gosdin Brothers and another by Clarence White, revealed the company’s good fortune in disclosing this veteran’s talents. Another superlative Alec Palao anthology “Country & West Coast: The Birth of Country Rock” on Big Beat added the cherry to this particular cake.
It was back to the Northwest in 2003 for a deal to license material from Buck Ormsby’s hugely influential Etiquette label including standout tracks from groups such as the Wailers and the Sonics. Shortly afterwards the Sonics’ ‘Have Love Will Travel’ was picked up as the soundtrack for a Land Rover advert leading to unexpected income, the reforming of the Sonics and some legendary nights of full-on garage rock.
Of the great label-owning Bihari brothers, the eldest, Lester, based in Memphis, had always seemed to have escaped the spotlight. That was put right in 2003 when the exceptional double CD “The Complete Meteor Rockabilly & Hillbilly Recordings”, was released with 42 tracks by such rockabilly legends as Junior Thompson and Charlie Feathers. Three years later, “The Complete Meteor Blues, R&B And Gospel Recordings” appeared which showed us that in the blues world the label was more than just a home for the great Elmore James. Had you hoped to assemble this collection by buying the original releases it would have cost you around $50,000, reckoned Martin Hawkins.