It all started in a charity shop in the Derbyshire market town of Alfreton. I was doing my regular rounds in search of interesting records for my collection and for my record fair stock and, finding only the usual Jim Reeves, "Hot Hits"" and "Keep Fit With Eileen Fowler" LPs in the rack, asked if these were all the records they had. "We've got a box of those small ones in the back room" said the nice lady, and within seconds I was delving through the contents of a large, battered cardboard box."
Amongst the "small ones" was a batch of singles and EPs on Gala, a cut-price label of the late 50s, notable for its plastic, rather than vinyl, pressings, and for the ground-breaking gimmick of putting artist photos on its labels. I recognised one artist's name, Edna McGriff, and returned home with a copy of her Edna McGriff's "The Name" EP and with a various artists EP on which she had one track, for a total expenditure of one pound.
I had sometimes wondered what had happened to Edna McGriff, who had one US R&B hit with Heavenly Father on Jubilee in 1952, but who had seemingly vanished without trace shortly afterwards. Searching for information about her on the Internet led me to a site which aimed to list and illustrate every release on the first incarnation of the US Bell label, which was the source of many Gala releases. To my surprise, amongst the unknown names such as Barry Frank and Artie Malvin, I found that well-known artists like Buddy Lucas and the Sy Oliver Orchestra had recorded for Bell which, like Gala, had been a budget-price label.
As a postscript to one of my occasional e-mails to Ace Records' John Broven about the state of English cricket, I mentioned this unknown but interesting catalogue of recordings, many of them covers of the big hits of the 1950s rock'n'roll era. John, who forsook leafy Sussex to make his home in leafy Long Island a few years ago, didn't hang about. With a lead from another Brit. exile Alan Warner (well remembered by many at Liberty Records UK and now at EMI Music Publishing, Hollywood), John had tracked down and met Arthur Shimkin, who owned Bell Records before those Gary Glitter and Cellar of Soul days, and agreed a deal for the release of an album's worth of these long-forgotten sides. Freddy Elzinga, who runs that Gala web site and whose interests lie not on the musical high street but on the dark lanes and alleyways which lead off it, also came on board at this point. We can all thank him for the attractive picture sleeves that make up the montage for the CD's front cover and adorn the booklet itself.
So here's the first fruit of the team's labours. You'll know just about every tune on "ROCK'N'ROLL BELL RINGERS", but very few of you will have heard these versions before. Thanks to Arthur Shimkin's use of top flight New York session men (luminaries like Charlie Shavers, Panama Francis, Billy Mure and Al Caiola play on many tracks) the quality goes far beyond that of the average cheapo cover version, and the arrangements are often fresh and new rather than simply aping the originals. Now you can discover the delights of Jailhouse Rock by Artie Malvin, Johnny B Goode by Sam Cee, not to mention Baby Talk by a certain Tom & Jerry (better known under their real names of Simon & Garfunkel) on this first serious look at the wonderful world of the dime store Bell label.
It's almost like a budget priced "Golden Age Of American Rock'n'Roll" and the jivers among you will love it!