Ace Records History Part 10
We continued exploring Bob Thiele’s fascinating Flying Dutchman label, putting out Gil Scott-Heron’s second and third albums on CD and vinyl. Those records were as important as Marvin Gaye’s and Curtis Mayfield’s in the new wave of black awareness and commentary emerged in the US in the early 70s. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong may not be the names that immediately spring to mind when talking about this surge of black politically inspired music but the albums they made for Flying Dutchman were, in their own way, part of this new movement. Ellington’s album was a live celebration of a century of inspirational black figures. Armstrong’s was a celebration of the jazz pioneer himself, including ‘Give Peace A Chance’ and a re-cut of ‘What A Wonderful World’ - which Thiele co-wrote.
Dean and BGP were also busy on the dance floor, with two albums of DJ sets. Before the advent of Acid Jazz, there was a London jazz dance scene based, in Paul Murphy’s case, specifically at the Wag Club. It was arguably the starting point for a whole new generation’s engagement in Jazz , via one of its original purposes, dancing. Thirty years after the release of Paul’s seminal “Jazz Club” compilations, Dean persuaded him to do a follow-up, “Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club”. Snowboy was not just a DJ but also a very fine Latin percussionist whose version of ‘Night In Tunisia’ came out as a BGP 12” in 1988 - the same day as our reissue of Johnny Hammond’s ‘Shifting Gears’. Snowboy returned to BGP via the decks with a selection from his “Good Foot” club set.
Having already imported a US box set of 45s drawn from the New Orleans based Ric and Ron catalogues, we now started our own CD series. The key names were all there: Irma Thomas, Eddie Bo, Tommy Ridgley, Chris Kenner and Roy “Professor Longhair” Byrd. There were some great finds in the tapes, including a previously unknown version of Longhair’s anthem ‘Tipitina’.
And speaking of ‘Tipitina’, Atlantic first recorded Longhair’s version in 1953 at Cosimo Matassa’s studio. Cosimo had been the main man for recording in New Orleans since 1945. All the great acts who recorded there went through his door. Fats Domino, Little Richard, Larry Williams, all were recorded there and all used the classic house band including Lee Allen, Edgar Blanchard, Red Tyler and Earl Palmer. By the 60s things had changed and Cosimo had even started his own label. Eagle-eyed collectors had noticed that all the records he cut at this time had a discreet number. This indicated the chronology, hence our “Cosimo Code” release, a truly great compilation of his work, with many tracks new to Ace. Cosimo died not long after it came out but his legacy as a seminal figure in the evolution of New Orleans music lives on.
We had been neglecting 50s blues to an extent - in part, because as it was now out of copyright, the marketplace had become somewhat overcrowded. However, one advantage we had was access to the tape vaults and so we were able to come up with new selections of studio sides, the first from Connie “Pee Wee” Crayton, the great Texas guitar player who recorded for Modern for several years from 1948. With an artist as great as Pee Wee, even out-takes are well worth having, particularly when they are hand-picked by blues scholar, producer and musician Dick Shurman.
Taking a lead from Frank Zappa’s affectionate description of lachrymose vocal group music of the 50s as “Greasy love songs of cretin simplicity”, we delivered the holy grail of his favourite label, Music City, on a double CD sub-titled “Songs of Teenage Romance, Regret, Hope and Despair”. A selection of mostly unheard weepies: emotionally raw, from the heart and from the streets. A remarkable listen. And, if it saddened the heart too much, then we gladdened the feet with “Rock'n'Roll It, Mambo, Stroll It”, a selection of uptempo doo woppers guaranteed to raise a smile and lift the gloom.
Two men who did not spare the horses when it came to performing had CD releases on Ace. Jerry Lee Lewis recorded sessions with Sam Phillips’ son Knox at the Phillips studio in the late 70s and these were finally issued. Jerry Lee is on great form, delivering fantastic freewheeling performances and terrific asides. As one of the songs puts it, ‘Ragged But Right’. Wayne Cochran drew on the flamboyant tradition of James Brown, Solomon Burke and Little Richard, combined that with a selection of soul covers from the Stax and 60s soul canon, ran it through the mix of his 12-piece band then topped it all off with a gravity-defying platinum-quiffed ‘do’.
If ever a singer exuded great taste in songs, it was Dusty Springfield. So it was appropriate that she was inducted into our long-running series “Heard Them Here First”. Dusty could do Motown really well so three classics were included. On the whole, though, the set eschewed the obvious. It featured guest appearances from our songwriter series, including Chip Taylor and Goffin-King. We hoped Dusty would have enjoyed this compilation as much as we did.
We also took a stroll through the career of Lou Adler, from 50s Hollywood hustler to 70s record mogul. The compilation also acted as a potted history of Los Angeles and how the city’s music scene developed from its R&B and teen pop roots to become a home to the sophisticated production values of the late 60s and early 70s. It included a track by the City, a pre “Tapestry” group fronted by Carole King - we also put a track from their only album on the “Dusty Heard Them Here First” compilation. The Adler compilation is a collection of really well produced records, including the great take on ‘Gimme Shelter’ by Merry Clayton, who sang backing vocals on the Stones’ original.
Two contrasting “Black America Sings…” CDs came out, one featuring the songs of Sam Cooke, the other those of Bacharach & David, whose collection was about much more than Dionne Warwick. Two artists they had in common were Aretha Franklin and Bobby Womack, both of whom could spot a great song from a long way off.
Only the French could have produced a character like Serge Gainsbourg: a louche Rive Gauche sophisticate penning both existential chanson and subversive songs for yé-yé girls. The suitably titled release, “Vamps Et Vampire”, positively reeked of Gauloises.
Four years after Charlie Gillett’s death, Roger finally assembled the second volume of “Honky Tonk”. Though Charlie had left us with a long list of possible choices, putting them together so they resembled one of his well-crafted compilations was not easy. It retained the format of the first volume, alternating older material with tracks that were new when he played them them on the radio. DP “Elvis” Costello kindly allowed us to use his demo that Charlie had played on his show. Maybe only men of a certain age will get the inclusion of ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’, one of Charlie’s left-field favourites, so redolent of an era and still sounding as weird as it did at the time.
Since 2012 we had been issuing an annual volume in the “Hall Of Fame” series of rare and unissued sides from the great Muscle Shoals label. We now began to issue the complete singles, both A- and B-sides from 1964 onwards. The first double CD took the story to 1967. Few labels can withstand this kind of complete run whilst keeping the standards this high. Fame can and does.
Mary Love had performed at many a live Kent event as well as Ady’s weekenders. She made a string of great records for Modern in the late 60s, with a remarkable return to form and to gospel music in the 80s, with ‘Come Out The Sandbox’ and ‘The Price’, the two songs which wrap up this cross-label best of compilation. The CD title, “Lay This Burden Down”, which came from a single, was also apt. Mary had died the previous year, after a life that at times was less than joyful. But buoyed by her religious beliefs and by the enthusiastic support of the British soul fans, some joy did come her way.
Stoney & The Jagged Edge was a seminal Detroit band of the Grande Ballroom set, pre-dating the Stooges and the MC5. For many years, all tapes of them were thought to have been destroyed, but six sides did survive. We decided that vinyl was the perfect medium for them. The band imploded at about the same time as they exploded. On the evidence of these recordings, it isn’t that surprising.
Welcome re-release of the year - The Cramps’ “Blues Fix” made available as a 10” E.P.. They were good friends with Jack Nitzsche whose ‘Hard Workin’ Man’ is given a make-over here.
We shared our 40th anniversary this year with Johnny Hammond’s “Gears” album, a seminal work of the Acid Jazz era. Tape research showed there were five previously unreleased pieces and an alternative version of one track. Johnny played live on the rhythm tracks so, though the ‘sweetener’ had not been added, they were viable as tracks in their own right, providing insight into the basic workings of his performances. It was 27 years since that first Acid Jazz compilation, so time for some middle-aged nostalgia bolstered by also releasing the album on vinyl, with the bonus material and notes.
Our tie-in with ABKCO in the US continued with the very welcome release of their compilations of the complete SAR recordings by the Soul Stirrers and the Valentinos. Sam Cooke ran SAR with J.W. Alexander, the man who had originally discovered him back in 1951 when he was a young, up-and-coming gospel singer in the original Soul Stirrers. With the addition of several other sides the Soul Stirrers two 1961 LPs are expanded to a double CD. The Valentinos were the Womack brothers, the most well-known of which was Bobby. Their almost ramshackle but infectious ‘It’s All Over Now’ was picked up by the Rolling Stones. Also on the compilation is the original of ‘Looking For A Love’, later covered by Bobby himself, in 1973.
The Brunswick vaults were mined for a sensational 2 CD set of Jackie Wilson recordings from 1961-66, compiled by Rob Hughes. Half of it was previously unissued material, including great up-tempo dancers like ‘Me, My Mother’s Son’ and ‘Start The Record Over’. We included some studio banter, including priceless back chat from Jackie, telling producer Nat Tarnopol, in response to a request to drop the tempo a little, “They don’t twist that slow”. Very atmospheric stuff, with Jackie right at the top of his game.
We also issued the complete Garnet Mimms’ UA and Veep 45s. With Jerry Ragavoy at the helm and songs co-written by him and Bert Berns along with contributions from Mort Shuman, Doc Pomus and Chip Taylor, all of whom have featured in our songwriters series. Garnet Mimms was a subtle and soulful singers, relatively more popular in the UK. He toured 11 times and his songs were comprehensively covered by UK artists.
The combination of Fame Studios and Chess Records was never going to fail. The string of mid-60s recordings made in Muscle Shoals and sent to Chicago provided a run of hits for Chess, starting with Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces’ monumental ‘Searching For A Love’. Etta James, Laura Lee and Irma Thomas - with Otis’ ‘Good To Me’ - followed on. Our CD included both hits and album tracks, all showing that Chess at Fame was more than a match for Atlantic at Fame.
We went “Back To The River” with a second 3CD set, offering another slightly different view of the Southern Soul story. The first CD continued where we left off, in Memphis, Muscle Shoals and Nashville but the second ranged round the south: Miami, Florida; Jackson, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; Pasadena, Texas; New Orleans and many other Louisiana locations. We also moved beyond the South, including Southern soul records cut in Pennsylvania, Chicago, New Jersey, Connecticut, St Louis, Chicago - as well as those which, though cut in the South, had sweetener and vocals added in the North. Which just about completes our review of the Southern soul scene, in all its varied guises.
“Second Helpings” was a terrific review of artists’ sequels to their own records - which often stood up creatively but were not always hits. Keeping the concept light but the music as high quality as ever, we went “All Aboard” for a chaotic rail journey in song, in the company of Rufus Thomas, Chuck Berry, Dusty Springfield, the Ethiopians, Cyril Davies and coming right up to date with Daddy Long Legs for one hell of an eclectic trip.
Ace and Link Wray had become almost synonymous over the years and we finally got round to the first complete reissue of what are known as the “3-Track Shack” recordings. These Steve Verocca productions were made in a backwoods studio set up by Link’s brotherVernonand produced the most stripped-down sound around - not that Link’s instrumental recording could ever have been considered elaborate. Here, though, he went back to being a vocalist and carved out a unique rough and ready sound, mixing country, blues and rock’n’roll in a series of tough uncompromising LPs. Two went out as Link Wray, but a third went under the fictitious name of Mordicai Jones, with vocals being taken over by the smoother, more soulful Gene Johnson. Still, all three albums stand as full blooded Link Wray.
A very different artist from the rock’n’roll era changed style around the same time. Dion recorded live - and acoustic - at the Bitter End club over five nights in 1971, producing a very fine CD of intimate recordings. Some of his material was drawn from his then-current Warner Brothers albums but he also included two Bob Dylan songs, a Leonard Cohen and some great blues. He also dug into his own past, with very original takes on ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘Ruby Baby’. The whole thing added up to a great night with one of those rare artists who can change and still stay well on top of it all.
The career of the great blues shouter Wynonie Harris appeared to have been fairly well documented. But the 16” acetates we had shipped from the King vaults threw up a slew of unissued performances. A double CD included both those incredible original acetates and freshly mastered version of issued takes, all sounding better than anyone could ever have imagined. While we were at it, our second volume of the Roy Brown acetate series hit the decks, with a handful of previously unissued recordings and all in pristine sound.
Ace went back a couple of decades in the company of John Broven for a double CD of Tampa Red’s RCA and Bluebird recordings from 1942 onwards. Great front-porch blues which harked back to Tampa Red’s original pre-war style - a huge influence on B.B. King who recorded no fewer than four of Red’s songs on this CD. Again, there was material lifted from original acetates - several unissued tracks were included. A welcome release for a highly under-regarded singer, covering a period of his career that had not been that well-served.
As B.B. King says, just as he is about to cut a version of ‘Catfish Blues’, “Here’s one that you didn’t know about”. So we added another 24 tracks ‘you didn’t know about’, making for a powerful collection of B.B. King performances. Sometimes a great take is rejected at the time because of a slightly off note or two, but the energy and the verve are there. It’s these that compiler Dick Shurman went for. A bunch of outtakes made for a blistering CD of B.B. King in all his many glories. Few artists could have their seconds served up to this standard.
B.B. had always enjoyed being surprised by our excavations into the vaults, delighting at hearing stuff he had long forgotten but the sad note is that we were not able to ship him a copy of this CD. After years coping with the touring lifestyle despite having diabetes, old age and wear and tear finally caught up with him. He died just shy of his 90th birthday. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever matching his sheer output. Taken together, his live shows and records must come to an astonishing number of hours making music in public - which it’s unlikely anyone will ever better. Never mind the width, feel the quality. B.B. King was a class act who maybe didn’t garner the plaudits of those who burned bright and briefly. That’s the problem with staying around for a long time in this world: people get used to you. When the reckoning comes on Riley B “B.B.” King’s life and music, there won’t be many who will stand up to the body of work he created.
1947–1949, New Orleans, Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio and the cream of local performers and players and all transferred from the original acetate recordings something Ace does best: getting to the heart of the matter with fabulous music, combining old technology with new, adding in some great research and wrapping it in a great package with top quality notes. The young 27 year-old Dave Bartholomew was captured on disc for the first time in these sessions, at which Smiling (yep, before he was Smiley) Lewis laid down his first platters. Deep and glorious insight into the early years of Crescent City recordings.
“Heard Them Here First” certainly turns up eclectic selections. The one dedicated to great soul / jazz stylist Georgie Fame made for a very consistent listen, sitting nicely alongside our “Mod Jazz” series. It was a testimony to the great taste Georgie had in choosing to cover what was then mostly contemporaneous material.
Two long-running series saw key releases. The follow-up to our CD of Brian Wilson’s productions, was “The Songs Of….”. With the material so strong and the choice of covering artists kept broad, these versions stood up well against the the Beach Boys remarkable originals. Tracks from the Californians’ compadres, Jan & Dean, Bruce & Terry and the Hondells were close to the originals. For something completely different, there were soul singer Betty Everett, soundtrack specialist Hugo Montenegro and our very own Kirsty MacColl on an exquisite and affectionate take of ‘You Still Believe In Me’.
A further west coast treat was Lesley Gore’s “California Nights”, an album that has been called ‘the female “Pet Sounds” - hardly surprising when the production skills of Bob Crewe and Quincy Jones were employed, with Jack Nitzsche arranging several cuts.
Back in Europe, it was time to rest the French ladies for a moment and say “Ciao Bella!” to the Italian girl singers of the 60s. They carried us in a wave of San Remo pop, folk rock Italian style, beat ballads, with even Ennio Morricone getting a look in. All swept along in a buzz of Vespas, Lambrettas and Signore Paparazzi.
The Zakary Thaks’ teen image belied a tough, uncompromising garage band with overtones of Them, the Yardbirds and, in particular, the Kinks - whose ‘I Need You’ they covered. The Thaks blended influences from British Invasion “bands with attitude”, added their own stinging guitar lines and suitably sneering vocals to come up with a unique Texas view of music over a couple of years from 1966.
According to writer Jon Savage, 1966 was “The Year The Decade Exploded”and was pivotal both musically and socially. We dedicated a double CD to a selection of tracks that ignited a period in which everything was possible. These tracks ooze the confidence of the era when baby boomers found themselves at the centre of an electric, brightly coloured world. A time when the 45rpm 7” disc was still sharp and unpredictable. This collection features 48 of them. Listen and read.
There was a common theory that the French couldn’t rock’n’roll. As with all good theories, there was always a counter argument. Roberto Piazza could certainly sing rock’n’roll’s cousin R&B and did so to great effect as Little Bob Story whose “Off The Rails” album came out, in 1978, on Chiswick. For the CD reissue we added five recordings from a hot and sweaty Dingwalls show. In the middle of the punk rock storm, Bob and his band held their own with shear energy and commitment, something even the safety pin crew appreciated.
Maybe a 16 year-old Bobby Gillespie would have enjoyed Little Bob’s bundle of Gallic energy in 1978. With Primal Scream Bobby certainly helped maintain the tradition of high-energy rock’n’roll. For Ace, though, he took a more chilled approach on “Sunday Morning Coming Down” a wide-ranging selection that included the Beach Boys, John Barry and Willie Nelson. For that morning after the Saturday night you just knew you enjoyed, this was better than any amount of analgesics.
Song title of the year ~ ‘It Takes A Long Long Train With A Red Caboose (To Carry My Blues Away)’ by Ms Peggy Lee.