Ace Records History Part 6
By now we had accumulated a vast catalogue of Stax releases and thoroughly mined the vaults for rare and unissued sides. It was fitting then that there would be a works outing to join in the celebrations for the reopening of the reconstructed original McLemore Avenue building as a museum. Alec, Dean, Tony and Roger experienced a remarkable week of music and events as Stax’s indomitable Deanie Parker put on a series of shows. The culmination was an extravaganza at the grand Orpheum Theater, with performances by Stax artists Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MGs, Mavis Staples, William Bell, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, the Bar-Kays, Little Milton, Jean Knight, the Soul Children and Mack Rice - though, by common consensus, the show was stolen by Rance Allen. Others paying tribute to the label were Al Green and Solomon Burke. There were other shows featuring the Mad Lads, Big Star and a highly emotional Linda Lyndell.
Roger assembled a handy three-CD box of all the recordings - plus previously unissued performances - made at that earlier great Stax show, “Wattstax”. This was the first time they had all appeared in one package.
The Mira and Mirwood catalogues were something of a holy grail of Northern soul. When we got the opportunity to buy them, we grabbed with both hands and all feet dancing. Betty Chiapetta had been involved in the labels and acquired rights from Randy Wood, late of Vee-Jay. The main rock band on the label, the Leaves, was not part of the deal but we were more than happy with fabulous soul sides from Jackie Lee, Bob & Earl, the Mirettes and the Olympics and Northern monsters such as the perfectly titled ‘That Beatin’ Rhythm’ by Richard Temple.
The Modern catalogue was back in fashion at Ace. Following on from the previous year’s compilation, John Broven began to anthologise the field recordings made by Joe Bihari in the Southern States of America in the early 50s. It was not a good time for a white man to be recording black music in that part of the world. Once when leaving a session Joe was confronted by two redneck cops who asked him what he thought they fought the civil war for. Joe’s answer was ‘You lost’. He was run out of town and then state, lucky to get away with his life. The music was a continuation from the pre-war period, only now with added amps. Primitive at times but thrillingly exciting.
The white version of downhome was represented by the “Complete Meteor Rockabilly & Hillbilly Recordings”, featuring Charlie Feathers, the cooler teen rebel sounds of ‘Raw Deal’ by Junior Thompson and Steve Carl & the Jags bemoaning the ‘Curfew’.
We continued to make our way through the B.B. King catalogue with the first four of his albums issued on Modern’s Crown imprint. Started in 1957, the label mainly carried jazz, MOR and teen rock’n’roll record hop collections aimed at white kids with the money for the Long Player. But B.B. King was a big enough blues artist to warrant committing to 12”.
Across the labels, we went compilation crazy. They were great fun to do and, with the right idea, captured the imagination of our audience. Everyone loved to do ‘mix tapes’ but a compilation for a wider public had to have the focus to make a satisfying story. We ran the gamut of repertoire and eras. “Sure Fire Hits On Central Avenue” captured the R&B honking at the heart of black Los Angeles. "Southland Rock’n’Roll” documented the sound of young Ville Platte and the early years of Jin Records.
Digital processing meant we could work wonders — not just with audio but also with images. Old Town’s Hy Weiss gave us a copy of a fantastic photo of himself sitting in a giant overcoat behind a drum kit. Who knows why, but it really captured the imposing nature of the man. However, the dog had got to it. So Vicki Fox, Ace scanner and photo-fixer extraordinaire, worked her magic with a remarkable reconstruction job and it became the front cover to the “Old Town Story”, a double CD of fabulous New York doo wop, blues and jive.
Some 4000 miles away on the opposite coast pop genius Brian Wilson was not only the leading Beach Boy but laying down some fabulous productions for other artists, which we gathered up under the heading “Pet Projects”. Friends and relations Glen Campbell, Gary Usher, American Spring and the Honeys: all had the Brian Wilson magic dust added to their performances.
Productions by Phil Spector were otherwise engaged as far as access was concerned. So, with no little cheek, we compiled his acolytes’ work as “Phil’s Spectre: A Wall Of Soundalikes”. There was a rumour he quite liked it.
Sometimes we took ourselves a bit seriously so this year we put on a funny hat and false nose, getting Rob Finnis to put together a “Novelty” edition of the Golden Age series. Be it the Five Blobs’ ‘The Blob’ or ‘They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa!’ by Napoleon XIV or even the delicious ‘Delicious’ by Jim Bakus & Friend, all 30 tracks were fit to amuse even the serious collector. Not to be out-done by Rob, Roger and occasional consultant Brian Nevill hit back with “Great Googa Mooga” a tribute to gibberish as sung. Or to put it another way, Oo-Ma-Liddi Boom Pacha Boom Um Bow Bow Ting Ting Boom Scat Ookey Ook Good Googa Mooga Jambo!!
Moving from the absurd to the genuinely tragic “A Soldier’s Sad Story: Vietnam Through The Eyes Of Black America” charted the black experience of the “American war” as it is referred to in S.E. Asia. From call-up to active service to homecoming, the whole narrative was covered with outcomes that were not always good. Swamp Dogg’s version of ‘Sam Stone’ summed it up. James Maycock’s frank and at times scary notes complemented Tony Rounce’s carefully pieced together music selection. One of the more powerful compilations issued by Ace.
Back in 1968, when Ace director Trevor Churchill was working for Bell, he compiled the three volumes of “Bell’s Cellar of Soul”, the kind of intelligently put together compilations that were precursors of Kent releases. We took the idea a stage further in the CD era with “Kent’s Cellar of Soul”, which ranged beyond the Bell catalogue but did, thankfully, include Moses and Joshua Dillard’s stirring Bell 45 ‘My Elusive Dream’. While at Bell, Trevor also released the James Carr albums, adding seven tracks to the short-playing US version of ‘When A Man Needs A Woman’. So when Tony came to do the James Carr Ace CD, his job was already half done. In Trevor’s Bell years, he had also worked with Ray Topping on an Elmore James LP collection of the Mississippi bluesman’s Fire label recordings. The roots of Ace go way back.
Big Beat put out “Required Etiquette”, a collection of the far-from-demure bands featured on the label that brought you the Sonics and the Wailers’ four LPs on two CDs. We continued to make a racket with the Count 5 and their ‘Psychotic Reaction’. Then we calmed down a bit with the sublime Gosdin Brothers’ Capitol album — to which we added extra tracks. They made their name on the first post-Byrds Gene Clark album. One of the most transforming covers on their record is of Donovan’s ‘Catch The Wind’. There is a great version of the Guilbeau/Parsons tune ‘I’ll Live Today’.
As soon as you let one 45 in through the back door it invites its mates around and there was a sudden flood of 7” wax at Ace. Long overdue cuts on 45 were Camille Yarbrough’s ‘Take Yo’ Praise’, Charlie Feathers’ ‘Tongue Tied Jill’ and Melba Moore’s ‘The Magic Touch’ - as varied a selection as you could wish for.
Shortest running CD of the year - the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers’ “Bluegrass Favourites” clocking in at 18 minutes and 43 seconds, but you do get future Byrd Chris Hillman on mandolin for that.
This was the year Concord bought Fantasy Records, relocating the company to Los Angeles after 55 years in the Bay Area and nearly 20 years licensing to Ace. Universal took over the European license and, over the next couple of years, Creedence and the bulk of the jazz titles went to them. The Fantasy deal had been a great arrangement for us, providing a huge number of great titles across all genres. It was sad to end what had been a great relationship but we didn’t part company completely. We retained much of the ‘below the wire’ repertoire, material that was of no great commercial interest to Universal but was meat and potatoes (with even a little gravy) to Ace.
It was also the year of Sue Records UK, the Island-owned operation run by record producer, DJ and all-round scene maker Guy Stevens. Between 1963 and 1968, Sue UK released some 150 45s and a few dozen LPs: a survey of current and older American blues and soul music which sold to the terminally hip. In its way Sue was a precursor of Ace. So across three volumes we paid respect to Guy who was the first enthusiast to turn his passion into a business – a bit like us.
Sue was purely based on licensing from other labels, as was the bulk of the Ace catalogue. We did, though, dig into our wallets from time to time if the right purchase came our way. Wenzel’s Music Town was a record store in Downey. Collectors from all around the world will have found themselves caught short browsing its vast collection of 45s. While contemplating the universe as they availed themselves store’s restroom facilities, they may well have noticed stacks of tape boxes. Well, those were the Downey Records collection. While Maxine and Tom Wenzell ran the store, Tom’s father Jack and his uncle Bill made records, starting with the Jack Bee label in 1959. The big hit was the Chantays ‘Pipeline’, the moodiest slab of surf music ever. That had long gone by the time we got there but there was still plenty more tough surf, intoxicating exotica, even R&B and some rock’n’roll – well, Eddie Cochran was brought up down the road in Bell Gardens.
BGP also got hip, with the coolest sides from the coolest man in showbiz, Oscar Brown Jr. Drawn from his three CBS LPs, “Kicks” included not only the title track, but his lyrics on Bobby Timmons’ ‘Dat Dere’ and Nat Adderley’s ‘Work Song’ and his own ‘But I Was Cool’ - the understatement of the century.
There was also a very hip record from the UK’s New Don Rendell Quintet, which originally surfaced on the Riverside subsidiary Jazzland and featured a young Graham Bond on saxophone - his first instrument.
Richard Berry made two showings on Ace, one covering the first ten years of his solo career, from the teen hooligan material of the Modern years and the second featured the sharper, more sophisticated R&B man of Flip and the Gary Paxton Productions. Richard always described himself as a “studio rat”, ever available for vocals - back up or lead - and songwriting. The same eclecticism applied to his own work. His two big records are on “Have ‘Louie’ Will Travel”, of course, but the not-so-obvious cover of the Pop/Latin standard ‘Besame Mucho’ also stands up as a fantastic performance and production.
Richard famously sang basso profundo on the Robins’ ‘Riot On Cell Block #9’ for the Spark label - much to the annoyance of Modern who immediately cut the quite similar ‘The Big Break’ with him. The Robins’ record was written and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the two hippest young white dudes of the R&B world. We charted their remarkable career across three volumes: two decades of writing and producing some of the most iconic records made from 1951 onwards.
With “Mellow Cats ‘N’ Kittens: Hot R&B And Cool Blues 1946-52”, we dug deep into the Modern catalogue, putting together a collection of the kind of music that was only heard in black neighbourhoods. Stuff like ‘Root Beer Sizzle Sazzle Sizzle’, ‘Boogie Rebob’ and ‘They Raided The Joint’, all heavily influenced by Louis Jordan and the late 40s, early 50s swingin’, jive talkin’ scene.
You were all made “Welcome To The Club” with a groovin’ selection drawn from the King vaults of the early 60s which opened and closed with hot organ instrumentals from Willie Wright & the Sparklers. Also in a groove and a little deeper into the 60s were the Merced Blue Notes and their ‘Mama Rufus’.
“Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile” hymned Hot Rod Lincolns, Black & White Thunderbirds and Brand New Cadillacs — ne’er a Morris Traveller in sight. Some of you might know the very different Ry Cooder take on the Al Vance title track – both are motorin’. Among the high octane highlights was the Medallions’ first car song ‘Buick ‘59 which came out in 1954. Clever label boss Dootsie Williams realised it could have a longer shelf life that way. The second Medallions car song was ‘‘59 Volvo’, commissioned by the Swedish company in 1959.
“The Hit List” set out to do for the 70s what “Golden Age” and “Chartbusters” did for the previous two decades. It took a while to stick and someday another one will come along. Not sure the 80s version will appear though – those drums are too much.
“Gene Vincent Cut Our Songs” did just what its name said it did, pulling together demos cut in Mineola, East Texas, by publisher/songwriter Jack Rhodes to promote his own songs and ones he published. ‘Git It’, ‘Bi-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Boo’ and ‘Red Blue Jeans And A Pony Tail’ were all recorded by Gene Vincent. There is also a real sparse groove of a take by Freddy Franks on ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’.
“Girls With Guitars” first appeared on the small but beautifully formed Impact label 15 years before, but we now elevated it to CD, giving a new generation proof that girls could keep pace with the boys throughout the 60s. They were, however, given a run for their money by their dangerous bigger sisters on “Good Girls Gone Bad” which showed girl groups weren’t all bouffants and mascara.
At first glance, Perry Como, Eddy Arnold, Lena Horne, Dizzy Gillespie, Maya Angelou and the Hesitations may seem like a fairly random bunch but they are all connected by one man and his record label. Gerard W Purcell was a TV producer, manager and music man. Born in 1915, he was a veteran of all sorts of industries when he started up the GWP label, hiring arranger Ed Bland as musical director. Purcell’s taste was eclectic. The label put out an odd mixture of Irish folk, MOR orchestral, light jazz albums and great soul 45s. Guess what we went after? The stand-out cut has to be Jaibi’s ‘You Got Me’ as championed by Dave Godin - a real deep soul treasure.
Dave Godin died that year, having overseen the release of four “Deep Soul Treasures” CDs for Kent and was working on Volume 5. Apart from coining the terms Deep Soul and Northern Soul he was an expert on cinema, politically well to the left, an animal rights advocate and vegan. These separate threads of his life all finally came together at his funeral and wake - his “leaving do” he called it. Quite a party.
“The Ultimate Staple Singers: A Family Affair 1955-1984” tackled the group’s whole career: early recordings for Chicago’s United and Vee-Jay labels; sides made for Riverside (including a 1963 cover of Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’); their stint at Epic; and, finally, their commercial success with Stax. Roebuck “Pops” Staples’ shimmering guitar and the whole family’s heartfelt vocals born out of the gospel tradition resonated way beyond their original audience.
Sharon Tandy was from South Africa but became a London face in the mid-60s, combining soulful vocals with psych guitar on ‘Hold On’ and cutting a bunch of sessions at Stax, including ‘Toe Hold’, which came out on Atlantic. Some great unissued tracks from these sessions surfaced in our great tape vault trawl. Sharon died in 2015, though not before an emotional return to the stage at the 100 Club in 2004.
The expanded reissue of “Machine Gun Etiquette”, the Damned’s finest 35 odd minutes, led to a CD Single of ‘Smash It Up’ - also expanded with the first release of the song’s four original parts: marvellous. We also did a CD single of the Sonics’ mangling of Richard Berry’s ‘Have Love Will Travel’ - in honour of its use in a worldwide advert for Range Rover cars. Stranger things have happened but not many.
With the release of “Land Of 1000 Dances: Special Soul & Funk Edition”, we now only had to find 907 dances - becoming manageable, we felt.
Coolest record sleeve of the year - Vido Musso “Swingin’st” – crazy guy, crazy name, apt title.
We weren’t quite sure how it happened but we suddenly achieved 30 years in business as a going, going, going – no hang on there, phew just made it – concern. So we had a wing ding and went back to our beginnings with a helluva night at Dingwalls Dancehall in the place of our birth, Camden Town. It was an unusually warm September evening (22nd since you ask) and all the groovy people were there. We brought the Bishops back together for the first time since they slowly disintegrated after main man Zenon de Fleur’s untimely death in 1978. On drums, Mr Paul Balbi; on bass, Pat McMullan; on vocals and very large grin, Dave Tice; and on guitar, well, it’s Johnny Guitar himself. Despite the 27-year hiatus, the band stormed through a fantastic set, having lost none of their old verve and energy. Another Chiswick act, the Radiators (sometimes From Space and at this point, with the suffix Plan 9), had re-formed and were well on the way to recording their third album “Trouble Pilgrim”. That night in Dingwalls, they played some new songs and material from the high pop of “Ghostown” and their punk rock days. This included a reworked ‘Television Screen’ with the suggestion to T Blair to “get the fuck out of Iraq” – never one to mince his words was Phillip. Proceedings were opened by the Ace ‘house band’ Girls On Top which featured staff members Vicki Fox and Tony Berrington, the latter being the token male in an otherwise all-girl line-up playing Glam-Punk-Shangri-Las. They went down a storm. Such a night. In true rock’n’roll manner the last drink was consumed somewhere around 5 the next morning and that was just because the bar had run out.
Ace's 30th Birthday Party
In honour of all this and more we put out the Radiators and Bishops albums in cute card sleeve packages, like the miniature LP covers chewing gum used to come in.
This year’s purchase was from the estate of Czech-born Leo De Gar Kulka whose catalogue we had licensed for some years prior to his death. He opened Golden State Recorders in San Francisco in 1965 — just the right time. It was a top-class facility and Leo was a top-class engineer. Discerning musicians such as the Grateful Dead, Grace Slick (in the Great Society), the Charlatans, Big Brother & the Holding Co, the Beau Brummels, Sly Stone and Sugar Pie DeSanto were among the host of rock bands and soul and funk singers passing through its doors. Many acts just hired the studio, but Leo also had a production company and later a label, which is what we bought.
A bit south of San Francisco is San Jose, which is where the Chocolate Watchband hailed from. With “Melts In Your Brain… Not On Your Wrist”, Alec Palao unravelled the mysteries of who played what on Watchband records, then joined the reformed band on bass. Now that’s getting involved.
Further down the coast in Los Angeles there was a Peanut Butter Conspiracy – bands had names like that in those days. They emerged from the ashes of a group which had featured future Jefferson Airplane member Spencer Dryden. They became part of Columbia’s Rock Machine Turns You On generation. Our collection included sides which covered their whole career plus wonderful never-before-heard outtakes.
Alec was kept busy with “The Ultimate Garage Collection”. The headline title ‘Uptight Tonight’ was taken from a cut by Flash & The Memphis Casuals which was the ultimate of ultimate garage records - though the other 25 cuts certainly gave it a run for its money. In true Ace style, the iconic sides were all there: Music Machine’s ‘Talk Talk’, Count Five’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’, the Litter’s ‘Action Woman’ - but there was also the insanely rare and great ‘Boy, What’ll You Do Then’ by Denise. A compilation that lived up to its name and if you don’t believe that, it will come round to your house and make such a racket you’ll soon be a believer.
Wisconsin is not often associated with wild rock’n’roll but in the 60s the small Cuca label did its best to rectify that and rebrand a state famous for what made Milwaukee famous. We opened the batting with a bunch of “Elemental Instrumentals” by groups with great names – Atilla & the Huns, the Voodoos, the Six Shooters, the Crossfires. I’m sensing a theme here. We tidied up the label over the following years with some rockin’ garage bands, all sounding as if fuelled by Milwaukee’s famed rocket fuel. As yet we haven’t anthologised the Polkas, though a box set would be possible.
We bought the Mira and Mirwood labels in 2003 but, apart from a shared Bobby Garrett/Curtis Lee 45, we hadn’t got into working through the catalogues — till this year. The “Mirwood Soul Story” was a stormin’, stompin’ rage through mid-60s west coast soul and some serious dancing.
Back in 1979, as a sort of antidote to the manic pace of Northern soul and its increasing obsession with rarity but, let’s be honest, at times over quality, Ady and Randy Cozens started a different kind of club night, the 6Ts Rhythm & Soul Society. So, a year late but definitely not a dollar short, we put out an anniversary CD to celebrate the oldest-established permanent floating club night — certainly in Britain, if not the World. Ady and Randy played the black music which was at the heart of Mod. Latterly based in the centre of London at the 100 Club, the 6Ts club kept it varied but always dancing. It was the heart of what became Mod Jazz and to some extent the later New Breed scene.
Three of Doris Duke’s recordings for Swamp Dogg featured in Dave Godin’s “Deep Soul Treasures”. We paired the two Swamp Dogg-produced Doris Duke albums albums, “I’m A Loser” and “A Legend In Her Own Time”, on CD, issuing them both on vinyl eventually. The power of Godin made sure they sold well. By the way, much as Dave loved Doris Duke, she wasn’t the top pick in his series. Bessie Banks and the Knight Brothers made as many appearances as Doris. Irma Thomas and Eddie & Ernie were even more regular, with four each. But out front was Dave’s top pick, Jaibi, with two sides of her own and three as half of the Lawrence & Jaibi duo.
In the wake of some intense tape research and unearthing original 16” acetates in Nashville, the King label was our big thing of the year. Before recording on tape, music was cut directly to large discs which were then copied, processed and used to make commercial 78s. These acetates are a remarkable archive. In those 16” grooves are many previously unheard recordings. Also, those that were released were often drenched in reverb. Our first two releases from this source were a pair of contrasting sets, one with six new performances from the Delmore Brothers, and one with seven previously unissued sides by Roy Brown.
Also from King was a great comp from the impeccable “5” Royales with rarities scattered across it and an endorsement from number one fan Steve Cropper, who cites guitarist Lowman Pauling as a major influence. The plain Royals also had a collection of their own, which included the first airing of an alternate take of their song that launched a thousand sequels, ‘Work With Me Annie’, a little number that became the talk of the streets, though not the charts – way too risqué. The 1958-1960 Little Willie John singles continued our run through the great R&B singer’s fabulous King recordings. Eugene Church was another fantastic if lesser known vocalist. All five of his King 45s were compiled with Class and Specialty cuts on a long overdue anthology of his work from 1956-1963.
The undisputed king of rockabilly is Charlie Feathers. Along with fellow Mississippian Elvis, Charlie defined the genre in three explosive years and across four labels. His stutterin’, hiccuppin’ style produced a manic urgency, trembling with excitement. All his King recordings were brought together on a CD, along with tracks from that other rockabilly favourite, Mac Curtis.
The sublime Jack Nitzsche was an arranger, producer and songwriter. His name can be found on the credits of countless records. He was the arranger on Phil Spector’s run of Philles records., He played with the Rolling Stones and, as Andrew Loog Oldham has pointed out, it’s Nitzsche’s intricate piano work that prevents ‘Satisfaction’ from falling over. He formed Neil Young’s backing band Crazy Horse and somehow found time to score movies, among them One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. “Hearing Is Believing” was the first of several volumes of his works. Such was the wealth of his talent that it could easily be an endless series. He was a true musical polymath whose death at 63 in 2000 left the world of popular music a lesser place.
And so to the absurd. Rob Finnis compiled “These Ghoulish Things”, 28 scary tales of fun time with monsters, vampires and werewolves. Horror movies had long gripped the imagination and libido of teens in the back rows of cinemas worldwide so producers picked up their themes to make novelty records: the sound of things that go bump in the night.
Unlikely combination of the year: Champion Jack Dupree with TS McPhee playing down home blues, given that Dupree was more from a barrelhouse tradition and Tony McPhee from electric blues rockers the Groundhogs, but it was still a great listen.
Maybe it was the hangover from last year’s party, but we started the year in a wacky mode. First up, a CD single release for Claude McLin’s ‘Jambo’, as featured in the 2004 movie Dodgeball. Hey, how they suited each other. BBC Radio London DJ Danny Baker picked up on it. We provided him with a backing track-only version and he encouraged listeners to ring in and do the ‘jew’s harp’ vocal over it. We followed that with a compilation featuring the cheery side of death, “Dead: The Grim Reaper’s Greatest Hits”. The death disc was the most kitsch of teen anthems, from the maudlin ‘Death Of An Angel’ to the positively necrophiliac ‘I Want My Baby Back’ – yep, he digs her up. To mitigate any suicidal feelings we rounded off with Bob Luman’s more positive message ‘Let’s Think About Livin’’.
We followed on from the previous year’s horror fest with more screams, though of a different kind, with “Beatlemaniacs !!!”, paeans to all things Fab Four, mainly from 1964. Though generally very funny, often because of the sincerity, they do demonstrate the massive impact the Beatles had in the US. Plus, the Beattle-ettes’ ‘Only Seventeen’ stands out as a great pastiche recorded by that other great Teen anthems producer, George “Shadow” Morton.
The sheer joy of having survived for 30 years kept us in an upbeat mood. So we continued to have fun with “Intoxica! Strange And Sleazy Instrumental Sounds From The SoCal Suburbs” a collection of exotic sounds dipped in a whole lot of reverb. Mood music for that mood when you can’t quite get comfortable. Flip Records didn’t score t many hits, well, two actually, but we added further misses to the original LP, “Flip Hits” and came up with 30 great pre-Fab Four pop tunes from this gem of a west coast label. Its proceedings were rounded off in an apt manner by the mysterious ‘Bye, Bye Baby (My Pride) by the even more mysterious Shank & Maydiea.
OK, enough of this frivolity. It’s time to get back to the serious business of the blues and a little gospel. Collectors of gritty post-war backporch blues revere the Meteor label for its ability to capture the visceral sounds of the south in Memphis and beyond throughout the 50s. Elmore James was the best-known artist on our 2CD “Complete Meteor Blues, R&B And Gospel Recordings” but for aficionados Baby Face Turner and Sunny Blair are of equal merit. As highly collectable 45s or 78s our collection would set you back some $50,000. So best go for the cheaper option. Sounds better, too.
Meanwhile, up north, in 50s Detroit, Joe Von Battle was making his own ragged-but-right recordings in the back room of his Hastings Street record store. Tony Rounce’s punning title “Battle Of Hastings Street” fronted 24 recordings he sold to King Records in the early 50s. Nearly half were unearthed by Ace tape research, music unheard since being cut in Joe’s back room. Primitive stuff, but what they lacked in sophistication they made up with mood and excitement.
More sophisticated were the blues sides former big band leader Dootsie Williams cut for his Blue and Dootone labels. Blue (or Blu) 78s are not easily come by. As the label mainly dealt in ‘blue’ recordings, the musical treats are most welcome. There is, though, more than a hint of the label’s main business in Cleo Brown’s ‘Baby, Let’s Make Some Love’.
As late as 1978 Modern were still cutting records on their Big Town label. Few were better than “Blowin’ Smoke” and “Smokey Wilson Sings The Blues”. We had the multi tracks on these, which left us with a dilemma. The issued masters had been speeded up. So was that the right speed or should we issue at the speed they were recorded? There didn’t seem to be a musical reason to accelerate them — apart from maybe to tighten up what were fairly spontaneous recordings. So we went with the original speed, with one exception — ‘Low Rider’ on a BGP “Super Funk” collection as it had been previously danced to at the new tempo.
The first of three innovative releases under the heading “It Came From….”, was put together by compiler Brian Nevill. He did a great job of trawling the vaults of the Downey label to make sense of the Barracudas, the Invictas with Tonga Strings, the Last Word and, of course, Sir Frog & The Toads. Bands who came, variously, from the suburbs, the beach and the garage — and summoned up SoCal life of the 60s. It’s amazing what you are landed with when you buy these small labels. It’s what we lived for.
Another oddball collection were the productions that Gary S Paxton magicked out of a mad hat from 1958 through 1966. There were his own hits with the Skip & Flip sides, ‘Monster Mash’ and ‘Alley-Oop’. Paul Revere & The Raiders, the Four Freshmen and Mickey Rooney Jr also received an airing. But the killer is the Cordials’ ‘The International Twist’. I mean: it’s a mania in Albania!!!!
J&S Records was run out of the Bronx by Zell Sanders. Five singles into the catalogue, Chess picked up Johnnie & Joe’s ‘I’ll Be Spinning’ for distribution. For indie labels back then this kind of deal was often followed by a buy-out, but though the Bronx duo’s follow-up ‘Over The Mountain, Across The Sea’ went Top 10 for Chess, Zell hung on and maintained her independence. She was still running the label well into the 70s. As well as a CD of Johnnie & Joe sides, we also issued the Hearts, featuring Justine “Baby” Washington and a host of other girl singers, including the Clickettes, who just kept changing their name and hopping labels. That’s the independent scene for you: deal with what you got. Johnnie of Johnnie & Joe fame was, by the way, Zell’s daughter.
More great fem vocals were provided by Gigi & The Charmaines, drawn mainly from their Fraternity recordings, with great backing from Lonnie Mack and band — especially on their rockingest take of the old Huey “Piano” Smith standby ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu’.
Carolyn Franklin was the sister of Aretha, a hard act to follow. She didn’t have a lot of success but she did write for her big sister. Many of the songs on this compilation of her RCA recordings are hers or co-writes. Ballads, mainly, with a couple of floor-fillers, the CD shows she didn’t ape her other family members, Erma included, but rather cut her own groove.
Way back in 1983, we had issued a definitive LP of Irma Thomas’s Imperial and Minit sides, a collection that set its own standard up to and beyond its 1993 incarnation as a CD with bonus tracks. In the 70s, Irma entered the wonderful world of Swamp Dogg and worked with Dan Penn for the second time — the first was on her Chess recordings. Two great Dan and Spooner songs were cut for these sessions: ‘Zero Willpower’ and ‘A Woman Left Lonely’, both worth the price of admission alone.
Still hangin’ out with the girls, we gave Millie Jackson’s key Spring albums the “remastered with bonus tracks” make-over and issued at an irresistible mid price. “Caught Up” is still an essential part of any respectable record collection.
Five years after John Fahey’s death, Dale Miller, Peter Lang and Michael Gulezian got together for a tribute album in memory of one of the great guitar players and contrarians. They were joined by the subject of John’s 1975 recording ‘The Assassination Of Stefan Grossman’ — the Brooklyn guitarist turned the tables on the man from Takoma Park with a tune called ‘The Assassination Of John Fahey’. Fahey got the last laugh, though. The final track was John Henry by Blind Joe Death — Fahey’s alter ego and the screen behind which he made his first recordings.
Still hanging out in 1983, we issued “(Turn On) The Music Machine”, some of the toughest garage rock to come out of the sunshine state - or anywhere else in the mid- 60s. First up was the band’s coruscating ‘Talk Talk’ - which was a Top 20 hit in 1966. Full of the band’s signature fuzz guitar and detuned Farfisa organ, this was a double CD which included mono and stereo versions of the LP plus their singles and a whole second CD of previously unissued tracks. But what was it about that single leather glove and did Michael Jackson know about it?
Y’all have heard of Country & Western (and there is even Country & Irish), but Big Beat presented an alternative, “Country & West Coast: The Birth Of Country Rock” charting the music’s evolution from the mid 60s into the 70s. An innovative compilation, it opened with the Everly Brothers - who certainly had their deep roots in country music, but are not usually associated with longhairs or marijuana leaf-strewn Nudie suits - and suggested that the Byrds’ version of Chris Hillman’s ‘Time Between’ was the band’s first foray into country. It also included Gram Parsons not once but thrice: solo, with the International Submarine Band and as a Flying Burrito Brother. PS Check out the Corvettes, a real find.
A wholly different sound, from a different world. Manchester, in fact, as represented on “Zero: A Martin Hannett Story 1977-1991”, a collection of the works of the maverick Mancunian producer. Hannett worked with the quirkier side of the punk rock movement from 1977, starting with the Buzzcocks then going on to produce Joy Division and the first 45 of upcoming Irish combo U2. He also did the honours on the Psychedelic Furs smash ‘Pretty In Pink’ and Tooting’s very own Kitchens Of Distinction.
Christmas album of the year – “Rhythm & Blues Christmas”. Dig that crazy Santa Claus, Daddio. Yule has never been so cool.