Ace Records History Part 3
1987 was the transformative year for the label as we started to take on the rest of the Fantasy catalogue: Stax and the Creedence Clearwater Revival albums; then, in 1988, Prestige, Riverside, Milestone and all the other jazz Fantasy had tucked away. Pablo was added in 1989 and this all culminated in all the jazz labels being housed under the OJC umbrella in 1992. More of this later, but it had a big impact on what we were doing and even in the new Harlesden premises we were rapidly running out of space so we bought two adjoining buildings to expand the warehouse.
We also started two new labels to accommodate very different styles of music.
Initially BGP stood for Baz [Fe Jazz], Gilles [Peterson] Productions. The label was aimed at a different dance floor from the one that the Northern soul of Kent records was being played on. Named Rare Groove back then, though it went through a number of name changes, including Wah Wah Jazz. The first BGP release was a Mongo Santamaria compilation, the ideal Latin/jazz mix for the times. Right through its life the vast majority of BGP releases were drawn from the Fantasy jazz labels..
BLUE HORIZON was producer Mike Vernon’s label. It started in 1965 with a Hubert Sumlin outing and eventually mixed US-licensed material with recordings by Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, Duster Bennett as well as US bluesmen like Otis Span and Eddie Boyd.
The early recordings ended up in the maw of CBS Records but Mike retained the label name. So, together, we resurrected it and as expected he brought us impeccably produced recordings by Blues And Trouble and Louisiana’s Lazy Lester and over the next nine years a series of mainly local blues and R&B artists. Mike also features in the Ace story as producer and later member of Rocky Sharpe and the Replays. A real gent to do business with.
We gradually eased into the deal with Fantasy, initially taking in the Stax catalogue and then Creedence Clearwater Revival. Our contact was their overseas licensing person, the highly knowledgeable Bill Belmont. He brought the labels to us piecemeal. At the start we weren’t sure we could handle such huge catalogues, so easing into them was actually a blessing.
When the post-Atlantic Stax (the finger clicking logo) came our way we got straight down to business, issuing original albums by the Staple Singers, Shirley Brown and Jean Knight. By the end of the year we had not only issued our first STAX CD, a Best Of the Staple Singers but at the other end of sound-carrying history, 20 classic 45s.
Leon René and his brother Otis formed the twin labels Exclusive and Excelsior in 1944, the first black-owned record companies in theUS. When they closed, Leon started Class Records and later Rendezvous. As soon as we cut a license we made a bee line for the Bobby Day “‘Rockin’ Robin” album - and not just because Michael Jackson had a hit with the song. There was more to those labels than just one big bird hit. They issued a wide range of discs: from B. Bumble and the Stingers novelty records to the svelte proto soul of Eugene Church.
Another new licensing arrangement was the Challenge catalogue - which included the biggest B-side with the best break, in the shape and sound of ‘Tequila’ by the Champs. Challenge was founded by the unlikely figure of the singing cowboy Gene Autry and, within less than a year, it had its first #1 with ‘Tequila’. Its A&R ran the gamut from country to soul via rock’n’roll. It ‘stayed in tune with the kids’ right through the 60s with hits from the Knickerbockers, the very best of the Beatles sound-a-likes. It even gave a home to aging rocker Gene Vincent for some great swansong sides. An ideal fit for Ace. Roger went to Nashville and copied the Challenge tapes at Cowboy Jack Clement’s studio with original co-owner Joe Johnson in attendance – surely that’s not the smell of jazz cigarettes?
Another old time industry mover and shaker was Harry Maselow, with whom a deal was cut in a diner in Hollywood for two disparate albums: Dobie Gray’s “In Crowd” and Terry Stafford with the superb original of Elvis’ ‘Suspicion’.
Kent continued to flourish. We even had several cassettes on the label. This new-fangled CD thing would never work on the dance floor.
GlobeStyle cut the wonderful Sudanese singer Abdel Aziz El Mubarak in a single afternoon session. Mixed that night, the recording became an instant classic of what was about to be referred to as World Music. That term came out of a series of meetings at the Empress Of Russia public house near the Angel, Islington. The aim was to create a rack in a record shop and promote the whole range of non-Anglo music, from Azerbaijan to Zanzibar. The term still divides people. Some find it patronising and anglo-centric and others think it is useful for marketing. There is no doubt it helped to sell a lot of records over the years, for a lot of non-anglo artists.
By the end of the year we had put out 34 more CDs, but still vinyl reigned. More than 100 12” slabs of vinyl, all in those lovely big picture sleeves, came out. And there were, in fact, even more cassettes than CDs.
Though it appeared to be a normal June, halfway through 1987 the last “Teenage Rock’n’Roll Party (Vol 7)” was released.
Roger’s unlikely favourite album reissues of the year – “Soft Machine 1 and 2”.
This was a quiet year for the Ace label but there was a wave of issues of material from the Fantasy, Prestige and Riverside jazz catalogues. There were good showings from GlobeStyle and Kent was dancing away nicely. Ray Topping produced a real Ace with his magnificent tribute to the great arranger-producer Maxwell Davis. Revered by fellow producers Leiber and Stoller, among others, Davis is now recognised as a musical genius, including his production and arrangements for B.B. King. Another view of the backroom of the process was a superb Ike Turner set highlighting his role as a talent scout.
BGP thrived with the addition of 17 new LPs and its first three CDs. The important release was “Acid Jazz Vol 1”. Gilles Peterson had suggested to Roger that with Acid House Music blowing in from Chicago we could start a new craze called Acid Jazz and maybe get some of that audience. Ace being an indie company that didn’t have to farm an idea through several sub-committees, Gilles compiled the first Acid Jazz album. Its last track was, appropriately, ‘Psychedelic Sally’. We issued it with a suitably trippy-looking cover and sold a lot of records. As Gilles said at the time, it might introduce the dancers to at least some form of jazz. It did.
We launched Prestige and Riverside with a pair of samplers, flew in Riverside’s founder Orrin Keepnews and took him clubbing. He was astonished to see young British kids dancing to records he had made many, many years before.
Fantasy itself was a cornucopia of all sorts of music. Folk and folk/rock reigned for a while as we drew from Prestige for releases from the Holy Modal Rounders, Geoff Muldaur and Dave Van Ronk. Licensing the Dunhill and Kapp labels from MCA, we put together compilations by P.F. Sloan and the Critters, plus ones on the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and the Litter to disturb the peace with some raucous psychedelic rock.
Kent’s output continued to be dancefloor compilations, though there were diversions with the very cool collection, “Cool” and the equally aptly titled “Dance Floor Disaster”.
On Ace we issued more from the Dootone, Modern and Laurie catalogues but 1988 was overall a year of consolidation rather than new deals. We had so much catalogue on board already and with Fantasy we had the opportunity to release records by performers that Prestige captured on tape in the 60s blues revival; Scrapper Blackwell, Sam “Lightning” Hopkins, Homesick James and Shakey Jake.
Ben Mandelson and Roger spent a couple of January weeks in the searing heat of Zanzibar, with engineering wonder Adam Skeaping recording the orchestral Taarab Music. The first two issues from those sessions came out that winter. “Worldwide Your Guide”, a compilation of GlobeStyle’s work-to-date was issued, the first of a series that was to be ever more absurdly titled as the years went by
Though CD was the coming thing, this was the year we issued the greatest number of LPs and overall output was climbing steadily.
We bought our first catalogue this year, purchasing the Spring/Event/Posse labels. This was a quite a move for us, both financially and in taking on board music of the 70s. Till then, apart from the BGP/Fantasy releases, we had mainly stuck to the 50s and 60s. But we couldn’t turn down the chance to acquire remarkable albums from Millie Jackson, Fatback (Band) and Joe Simon plus a lot of great soul and funk sides. We also acquired ‘King Tim III (Personality Jock)’ widely regarded as the first ever rap record.
Radical move of the year – LPs by Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth and nearly Lawrence Ferlinghetti – the latter withdrawn for some reason.
As if we didn’t have enough on our plate with the acquisition of the Spring catalogue, Ted cut a deal with Armen Boladian for his WESTBOUND/EASTBOUND catalogue. This gave us access to repertoire by Funkadelic, the Detroit Emeralds, Denise LaSalle and the Ohio Players. At that point, although we had the Spring catalogue, the deal didn’t include the actual label name. So we came up with SOUTHBOUND as the vehicle for those tracks. We also used the Westbound label, but the catalogue prefixes were the same, (CD)SEW. End of technical note and on with the music. We issued the original albums by the most significant artists in LP, CD and cassette formats. Most of the labels involved anthologising singles but as we moved on up into the 70s we reached the era of the album – concept and otherwise.
Another slew of LPs came our way from a deal struck with Round Records which gave us access to six albums by the Grateful Dead, four by Jerry Garcia, two by Bob Weir, two by Robert Hunter and a Mickey Hart. The Dead LPs were “Wake Of The Flood” (1973), “From The Mars Hotel” (1974), “Blues For Allah” (1975), and a live double album, “Steal Your Face” (1976). The Dead were persuaded to come and play Europe — in part by very good coverage of our reissues in the UK music press, which had by then got over its punks-hate-hippies stance. The band played two nights at the Empire Pool, Wembley. Though the crowd was mainly plane loads of imported Americans, we did get a chance to see what all the fuss was about. They really were a remarkable live experience. Sadly, our deal ended sourly a few years later in the wake of Jerry Garcia’s death, but we were proud of the fact that he had said it was great to be with Ace Records. The swansong CD from that deal was the punningly titled “Devout Catalyst” by beat poet Ken Nordine. A short strange trip indeed.
With a rush of blood to the head, GlobeStyle dished up 15 new releases as well as a good number of uplifts from vinyl to CD. Six of the new ones were recordings made in London, Berlin, Kenya and Zanzibar. The 3Mustaphas3 epic “Heart Of Uncle” offered a potted tour of the World’s hottest night spots in the safety of your own hi fi. Jova Stojiljkovic and Orkestar blew hot in Berlin fresh from somewhere then known as Yugoslavia. Ben and Roger, with their sensible hats on, headed into the middle of a war in Mozambique to record some music.
CD continued to grow apace. With new releases and uplifts from vinyl, we more than doubled the number of shiny discs in the warehouse. We still weren’t going straight to CD, but some releases were on cassette as well. This started to become a problem: originating three formats but not selling three times the amount of records.
Things were also bumping along sweetly with a pair of Everly Brothers Warner rarities, a nice Willie Mae “Big Mama”Thornton sequel to “Quit Snoopin’ Round My Door”, “You Ole Houn’ Dawg” and the best new Doug Sahm record for years with his “Jukebox Music”.
The blockbuster of the year was the Little Richard six CD Specialty box set. It had been a hard sell persuading Art Rupe that this was worth doing but, boy, was it worth doing – twice too, on vinyl and CD. There were great sessions on there, the first appearance of the demo sent to Specialty and many fantastic live shots of the gonest cat in town – any town.
Kent and BGP just kept coming up with fabulous floor-fillers. With a boost from the Atlantic catalogue, we put out a compilation with a call to “Get On The Right Track” — which we did six years later so watch out for that.
The first Ace information bulletin, Network News, was published in October. “First Issue!!!” carried advance news of impending releases and exciting sales notes on new ones. The back page had a list of gigs for Alias Ron Kavana, the first new signing in a long time to Chiswick Records. Network News lasted 57 varied issues before re-emerging with a different name.
This was the year in which we originated more individual items than in any other in the history of the company.
Very pleasant surprise of the year: the return of the Radiators with the lovely mid-tempo single ‘Under Cleary’s Clock’. Which was soon followed by unpleasant surprise of the year when a BBC producer said he couldn’t play it as it was about two blokes, nudge nudge – groan.
We now had deals with our US namesake Ace, the Modern group of labels, Pappy Daily’s Glad Music, Era Records, Laurie, Cadence, Goldband, Jin, Swallow, Swan, Specialty, Scepter/Wand, Brunswick, Buddah, Chancellor, Charger, Dootone, Combo, Old Town, Duke/Peacock, ABC, Dot, Deccas UK and US, EMI, WEA / Atlantic, Spring, Westbound, the whole Fantasy jazz shebang, Galaxy, Stax and Creedence Clearwater Revival records. Plus we were trawling the world to bring back out-there music. And never mind all the records we cut in London. Man, we were shakin’… tremblin’ with so much good music and we were only getting to 15 years into it.
The year of 1989 heard the first “dong” of the death knell of rock’n’roll on vinyl. In fact, the last vinyl we put out with the words rock’n’roll in the title was a Specialty compilation — and a very good one it was, too. And, though those sacred words rock’n’roll were not in the actual titles, their very essence was certainly there in the grooves of a pair of Link Wray albums we cut at Pathway Studio. “Wild Side Of The City Lights” and “Apache”- each title reflecting a different side of the guitar maestro - both went straight to CD.
As vinyl died so the shiny disc spun its way into becoming the primary means of transport for all things audio, including rock’n’roll in all its incarnations, or even incantations. This was the first year in which we issued more CDs than LPs. We liked it. Our records sounded good on it. We had spent the previous seven years transferring original masters to digital. In Adam Skeaping, Duncan Cowell and the late Bob Jones cutting the vinyl, we had three very different but great mastering engineers. The Digital-to-Analogue converters still had a way to go, so the output was not always all it might be. But what was on the disc was fine for those with better gear. We had always taken care over our audio but somehow we were galvanised to greater heights of fidelity by the CD.
The only new label deal of the year was with Bob Keane’s Del-Fi / Donna / Mustang. Keane was the unluckiest of label owners: two of his big stars Ritchie Valens and then Bobby Fuller died at the height of their success. Bob was a fine musician (clarinet) and pioneering producer and engineer. His records sound great and he cut reams of fabulous surf and drag as well as the exotica sounds of Eden Ahbez. He cut three big beat group standards in Valens’ ‘La Bamba’, Chan Romero’s ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ and the Bobby Fuller 4’s ‘I Fought The Law’. For reasons we never fathomed his missing tape vault turned up in Nashville among the Excello Records reels. We repatriated them.
We also started a very good relationship with Dion DiMucci, which endures. Our first Dion release was his late 70s “Return Of The Wanderer” and we went on to put out both his Warner Brothers records and his Day Spring sides. He has to be the most consistently creative artist who started in the 50s and is still turning out high quality recordings.
The new decade saw Ace on a buying spree. Though over the next few years we would mainly concentrate on West Coast labels — some of which we had already been licensing — none of the three labels we bought in the first few months of 1990 were West Coast.
Harry Carlson’s Fraternity Records was based in Cincinnati, Ohio. It had a #2 smash with the wry ‘All American Boy’ by Bobby Bare (as Bill Parsons) and, in a similar vein, Dale Wright’s ‘That’s Show Biz’. But the star of the label was the Flying V guitar in the hands of that ‘Wham’ man, Lonnie Mack, whose recording career has lasted over 50 years since his first 45 came out. His ‘Memphis’ (Fraternity 906) still spits out of speakers. Lonnie also backed a lot of the Fraternity artists; never better than on the Charmaines’ great reading of ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu’.
Bernard (Bernie) Besman ran one of Detroit’s earliest black music labels, Sensation Records. In 1948 he cut John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boogie Chillen’. It was great for us to re-present to the world one of the most seminal records in the history of blues and rock’n’roll. Bernie had already put out jazz and boogie records on Sensation, by Todd Rhodes, Russell Jacquet and Doc Wiley, among others. But he originally licensed ‘Boogie Chillen’ to Modern on the West Coast. That track was just one of many remarkable, intense and varied recordings by the young John Lee. Downbeat on the original ‘Crawling King Snake’, many-voiced on ‘I’m In The Mood’ or upbeat and doing the House Rent, Hastings Street, Rock House or Hoogie Boogie. You get thrills just thinkin’ about it.
You may never have heard of Harold Doane’s Florida-based Art label but we already had a connection to it. Chiswick band Whirlwind’s debut 45 covered ‘Hang Loose’ by Tommy Spurlin — which first appeared on Art and can be found on our “Miami Rockabilly” CD. We also put out some blues sides from the label on a series that lasted three issues of limited edition LPs.
The big news of the year was that we finally bought the rights to Modern Records, a label we had been mining for over 10 years. It had ended up in the hands of Frank DiLeo, two times manager of Michael Jackson. When he split with the star in 1989, we started negotiations that led to the purchase of the European rights to the label. After the work we had put into increasing its value, I think we deserved it.
Modern was one of the biggest West Coast operations of the era and I doubt we will ever mine it fully. Started in 1945, it was run by the Bihari brothers (and sisters) out of Los Angeles and incorporated the RPM, Flair and Kent labels. Joe was the producer, travelling all over the South cutting great blues. Jules was the business head but, according to Jake Porter, couldn’t keep a beat to save his life. Modern’s biggest star by far was B.B. King. Back in the 60s when the young hipsters in Britain were learning the blues, B.B. King was less highly regarded than the more vernacular Chicago artists. Maybe that was because his range was so broad and he could wear a tux and go all uptown and adult. Modern did, though, also cut seminal sides by Elmore James, Sam “Lightning” Hopkins and the Howling Wolf. Saul Bihari ran Meteor Records out of Memphis, with Joe doing most of the recording. Meteor captured the smoke that was some of the finest downhome blues as well as hot rockabilly and hillbilly boogies. The Modern catalogue is a huge storehouse of American blues, R&B and rockabilly recordings and we are privileged to be its keepers.
“Blues It Up”, Dana Gillespie’s third album for Ace was issued in August.
‘Makes you wonder’ of the year – a Balfa Brothers Cassingle. An EP of 4 tracks repeated on the other side.
Vinyl sales collapsed. In a brave attempt to keep them going, we issued three LPs in the Ace LTD series, obscure blues and hillbilly, not cheap. That there were only three tells the tale. Otherwise there was a Jimmy Witherspoon LP and a handful of others, including three Funkadelics and one triple Grateful Dead, as if to make up for it. This was the first year since its inception that there wasn’t any vinyl on Kent. A nation mourned – well north of London anyway. The cassette was still hanging in there.
The signature aspect of Ace, begun in the 90s, is the tightly focused, well-honed and superb-sounding compilation, impeccably conceived, researched and packaged.
The granddaddy of them all is “The Golden Age of American Rock’n’Roll” series, compiled by Trevor Churchill, Rob Finnis and John Broven. Its subtitle is “Hard To Get Hot 100 Hits From 1954-63”. When CD hit the scene in the mid-80s, we were in early on it — to some scepticism from both industry and customers. The oldies sector was not very well served and more arcane US Top 100 hits were not available on CD. Far from being collections of the same old, same old Billboard hits, the Golden Age series featured hand-picked tracks that were hard to get. And get them people did. The series went on to be the best-selling (and sounding) we ever had. The significance of the 1963 cut-off date was they pre-dated the British Invasion, when classic US pop music was murdered by mop tops.
The success of the Golden Age CDs spawned further series: “Fabulous Flips” (1993), “Teenbeat” (1993), “Early Girls” (1995), “Rockin’ From Coast To Coast” (1996), “Where The Girls Are” (1997), “Chartbusters USA” (1999), “Land Of A 1000 Dances” (1999). On Kent there was “Birth Of Soul”(1996) and the awe-inspiring “Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures” (1997). Many have tried to copy the Ace formula over the years none have managed to get just that right mix of tracks.
Johnny Otis was not just a ubiquitous band leader in Los Angeles from the late 40s, he was an all-round entrepreneur and artist, a Renaissance man of his day. In the mid- 50s he turned his talents to running a record label, the aptly named Dig Records, which put out many ragged-but-somehow-right blues and doo wop discs. Ace made a great series of Dig discs, including one of our finer titles, “Dapper Cats, Groovy Tunes and Hot Guitars”. Our excavation of the Dig mine began with “Creeping With The Cats” which kicked off, appropriately, with Dig #101, Preston Love’s ‘Groove Juice’. Johnny became a good friend of the company. He even officiated at the wedding of Ace consultant Alec Palao and his wife Cindy Vorte.
Two great Bobby “Blue” Bland compilations graced the catalogue this year. We also made contact with the great Memphian Quinton Claunch, Goldwax producer and the man who kept the creative side of James Carr on track. We issued “Take Me To The Limit” the first of two excellent new recordings Quinton made with James and the last significant work of the soul man who had more depth than anyone this side of Otis Redding. It was one of the last records we issued on CD and vinyl.
Also from Memphis came three Jerry Lee Lewis CDs salvaged from bankruptcy and glad they were as the Ferriday fireball whipped up a storm at the Vapors Club – pass those smelling salts.
Still on a Memphis tip, Roger went to Berkeley to rummage through the Stax section of Fantasy’s tape vaults. Bill Belmont provided fantastic access and Roger was as happy as a sand boy burrowing away for hours. When Stax Records left Atlantic distribution they were distressed to find out that the contract that they had signed left Atlantic with a permanent licensing rights to any back catalogue they had distributed.
Atlantic: great label, run by hard-nosed businessmen. However - and it’s a big however - the Stax-Atlantic catalogue deal only covered previously issued material. So the many hours of unissued Stax recordings were not included. First to the racks was a superb collection by William Bell (one of the nicest guys you could meet), quickly followed by sets from Rufus Thomas and Carla Thomas. The historically significant find of this initial set of releases, though, was “Stax Revue Live At The 5/4 Ballroom”, recorded in 1965 just as the Watts riots were about to happen. It wasn’t issued as DJ The Magnificent Montague had spent the evening running around the stage shouting out his slogan “burn, baby, burn” — which unfortunately they did, all too soon and for real, on the streets of Los Angeles.
We catered for teen fans with Fabian and Frankie Avalon sets of perfectly groomed and played pop. We continued our series of original albums by the ‘Poetry In Motion’ man Johnny Tillotson - who developed in a country direction well before his contemporaries. And also with a pop slant - though not in ‘Bobby’ territory - we issued the first collection of tracks drawn from the Fraternity catalogue, “All American Rock’n’Roll From Fraternity Records”.
Six fantastic compilations of gospel were issued, drawn from the vaults of Specialty Records, now owned by Fantasy. They featured the Swan Silvertones, the 5 Blind Boys of Alabama, Dorothy Love Coates and Sam Cooke. There was also a standout CD set from the poet of the blues, the impeccable Percy Mayfield.
The first fruits of GlobeStyle’s hair-raising Mozambique adventure came in the shape of an album of Timbila (a xylophone made from ‘sneeze’ wood) by Eduardo Durao. And in contrast, “Modern Mandolin Maestro” from U. Srinivas, who went on to very successful collaborations with John McLaughlin.
The consultancy base expanded. Author, journalist, blues fan and bank manger John Broven ceased being the latter and joined Ace. He had already written two books, Walking To New Orleans and South To Louisiana. For many years he had contributed to our Louisiana releases and to a wide selection of blues as well as the “Golden Age Of Rock’n’Roll” series.
In August 1991, Sound Mastering Ltd opened for business in Ace’s backyard, in customised premises that eventually expanded into two fully equipped and acoustically balanced rooms - essential for high-level mastering. Ace’s ace master masterers, Adam Skeaping and Duncan Cowell, had long done a fine job given the restraints of working out of a bedroom in Highbury, but the new facilities were a considerable and productive improvement. This experienced team of post-production engineers was augmented by Bob Jones, who had cut Ace vinyl for many years. Later, they were joined by Nick Robbins, who came from a recording studio background. Bob died in 2009 and Adam has retired, but when it comes to the sound of music SML is still hard to beat.
Outrageous record of the year – “Movie Mondo” the soundtrack to some of the most fabulously appalling ‘D’ movies ever projected to ‘scream’.
With tears - and cheers from the finance department - we put out the very last Ace record to be issued on 3 formats: B.B. King’s “My Sweet Little Angel”. CHD, CHDC and CDCHD 300 marked the end of an era. Not a single 7” vinyl single came out this year; the first time this had happened in Ace’s history. Curtains were drawn.
Though Ace had the rights to Fantasy in the UK and largely ploughed its own furrow, the catalogues were licensed to other companies in Europe. They were all issuing the same jazz titles and, given the porous borders of the EU, records were circulating from country to country. Territory rows were breaking out wholesale. Fantasy’s Bill Belmont rode to the rescue, setting up a central pan-European manufacturing system with ZYX, the German licensee. This prevented duplication of production and alleviated the trans-shipping issue. The calm and certainty this brought to the market also gave us the confidence to widen and deepen the jazz catalogue. Around 180 new titles were added that year.
For some years Trevor had been trying to get rights to the Fireballs material from Norman Petty’s estate. In 1992, the first fruits of his efforts, the “Best Of The Fireballs” finally came out on Ace. Norman Petty was from Clovis, New Mexico and it was also home to his studio, which he kept to the last, where he cut much of Buddy Holly’s output. It was restored in the early 90s to become a museum. All the original equipment was retained, including Norman’s curved-walled recording room and the celeste which Vi Petty played on ‘Everyday’. By this time, the catalogue was controlled by an old friend of the Pettys, Kenneth Broad, who became another friend of Ace, as did the Fireballs’ guitarist George Tomsco.
Roger and John Broven ventured into the swamp lands of Louisiana (quite literally at one stage, with Johnnie Allan) for some of that renowned hospitality, stopping now and again to pick up a label or two. Two weeks of fairly intense tape-copying and deal-doing were done, and the adventuresome duo brought back with them a brace of new labels; La Louisianne and Lanor. They consolidated our established deal with Goldband, accessing the label vaults down inLake Charlesand spent hours chatting with the affable Eddie Shuler. Eddie’s studio was a museum piece but with the able assistance of engineer Bert Frillo they were able to connect Eddie’s old with Ace’s new to make digital copies of this remarkable archive of vernacular American music. The first album to come out from this trawl was by the font of latter-day Cajun music, accordionist Iry LeJeune. It came without the misconceived bass overdubs that had blighted previous re-issues.
The Ace method of doing business has always been very hands-on. Directors and consultants spend time in America copying tapes and gathering the various elements that make up a package. As a methodology, it’s more reliable, makes for the best possible product and, frankly, is more fun.
Another deal cut around this was with AVI, a company that controlled various catalogues including the great blues and soul label Excello. As a way of easing into the bits of the AVI list that we really wanted we issued three volumes of West Coast Rap – not our bag, but sometimes needs must. We also put together a Rap confection from the Spring catalogue, which at least we owned.
A noisier little brother to the Golden Age series was added, with “Radio Gold” jumping from airways to CD player. Yes, we do like a little nostalgia now and then.
Lonnie Mack had his first solo airing for Ace and a set of Dale Wright’s Fraternity sides was compiled. It included a prime example of a great alternate take of the terrific tale, ‘That’s Show Biz’.
The jewel in the crown of the Stax sessions tapes was enough prime Otis Redding material to fill a CD. Take 1 of ‘Dock Of The Bay’ had Otis impersonating seagulls over the intro, replaced on the issued version with a sound effects tape. This light-hearted atmosphere in the studio was a sad, ironic contrast the melancholy air that would surround the record’s release just days after Otis’s death in a plane crash. Soul’s late king also featured in a long overdue third volume of the Stax/Volt tour of Europe in 1967. Also well worthy of mention is the first ever secular album from Mable John, one of the few artists to appear on Stax and Motown. Some years later we were very pleased to get to know Mable. We later issued four CDs by her brother, Little Willie John.
GlobeStyle specialised in artists with awkward-for-English-tongues names. Kalesijski Zvuci, for example. The album’s title “Bosnian Breakdown” could have been a reference to the Balkan troubles but was actually just a punning cross-reference to bluegrass.
Our Big Beat label was quiet, though we did indulge ourselves with a celebratory overview of the now resting Chiswick Records: a lavishly packaged double CD which sounded pretty good. Always the poor relation of the indie scene we made a wide range of very good records. The companion piece to this was “Single Minded”, a rush to judgment of the late 80s UK garage scene. Twenty years before that, the Standells copped an attitude on Sunset Strip, with such sneery songs as ‘Why Pick On Me’ and ‘Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White’ - the latter thesis being the title of their second LP, which we twinned with their first album, the defiant “Dirty Water” which celebrated life among “lovers, fuggers and thieves (aw, but they’re cool people)”. You bet.
Kent continued to tread water as it got to grips with the CD era. That label’s world was, after all, a vinyl one deep down to its heart and soul.
Best name of the year - Milquinhento ‘1500’ and Conjunto Popombo De Nampula, led by Mr 1500 playing “Saba Saba” that can only be described as a form of Mozambiquan Skiffle.