The “Mellow Cats ‘N’ Kittens” series was originally an outgrowth of the sterling work my late colleague Ray Topping had been doing with the Modern catalogue during the early CD era at Ace. Ray had comprehensively compiled at least one package on nearly all of Modern’s major artists, but there were plenty of supremely talented people from the label’s early catalogue who did not record enough sides for a CD of their own. Right from the start, the aim of the first “Mellow Cats” was to get the best of these under-recorded artists out there for everyone to hear, as well as to bring you further exceptional sides by A-List Modern artists that hadn’t yet made it to CD.
“Mellow Cats” was not planned as a series originally, but demand for more started to come in from Ace fans as soon as the first volume became available. I’m very proud to say that the series eventually spanned five volumes, with no drop in quality across the five. It could easily have gone to more volumes, but here at Ace we always like to quit while we’re ahead. Some of the repertoire that might have appeared on other volumes has already been issued on “Modern 1945” and “Beating The Petrillo Ban”. More will appear in similarly themed collections in the coming years.
As well as being a pleasure to compile, the series has been something of an education for me – and, I hope, for others. I confess to an almost total ignorance of artists such as Butch Stone and Luke Jones prior to auditioning their acetates for inclusion in the series; I would now consider both to be among my favourite artists of the early Modern era. Likewise, my appreciation of Herb Fisher, Scatman Crothers and the Three Bits Of Rhythm became greatly expanded via their presence on “Mellow Cats” projects. Digging out previously unheard and even undocumented gems from R&B heroes and heroines Jimmy Witherspoon, Little Willie Littlefield and Hadda Brooks was also a thrill; the quality and quantity of their unissued repertoire was enough to bring about the compilation of several stand-alone projects to follow up those Ray had created.
When I bought Ray’s first vinyl Modern compilations for Ace 30-odd years ago, I never dreamed they would be the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg that, decades later, continue to melt the hearts of those who love West coast R&B. I’m proud to continue to play a part in keeping alive the fantastic music that was recorded by Jules Bihari and his brothers almost seven decades ago, and I can promise that Ace and I will continue to do so as long as there’s a market for series like “Mellow Cats ‘N’ Kittens”.
By Tony Rounce