Remembering Ray Topping who died 15 years ago on 3rd January and was the first consultant to work for Ace. Known as the Blues Detective, he had an academic approach to his subject, and pursued the careers of many of his favourite musicians.
He was once found buying a Three Degrees album because one of his favourite guitar players was on it. Apart from vast knowledge, he had a huge collection of records, many of which only Ray knew about.
He dug deep into the history of Afro-American culture in the US, and when interviewing musicians would ask if they had any Native North American blood in them, and often the answer was yes. Post slavery many Afro-Americans went to what were then known as Indian Reservations. In fact Ray’s other obsession was Native North American culture and as a fine draftsman he produced many fine portraits of members of different tribes.
He was also a guitar player, his father having worked for the guitar makers Burns. This lent him an insight into the music that few others in his field had.
During his tenure at Ace, he compiled and annotated countless albums, with his major work being on the Modern labels. In fact it was on Ray’s advice that Ace pursued a license on Modern, culminating on purchasing the catalogue. Box sets on BB King and Elmore James were among the standouts. He also compiled on Combo, Specialty, Duke/ Peacock, Starday and many others. His (Decca) Jump Blues album is a fine example of compiling skills and he co-complied the Ace Arthur Alexander LP that was for many the introduction to this very influential artist.
They talk of burning libraries when someone dies, and Ray was certainly one of those, though he left a lot of well researched knowledge behind.
Naturally, Ray was an early customer at Rock On and he soon got involved with Ace Records through helping me with the sleeve note for the Link Wray album on Chiswick [CH6] in March 1978. Soon after that Chiswick licensed the US Ace Records catalogue from its founder, Johnny Vincent and again I asked Ray for help with biographical info on many of the obscure artists on the Ace Story compilations which Roger and I were compiling around the same time.
By this time we were becoming aware of just how deep Ray's knowledge of American music was. He loved all kinds, Blues, Rockabilly, Country, Jazz, Rock'n'Roll, Doo-wop, Jazz, Jump Blues, Soul, etc. This was way before the advent of the internet and Ray's very extensive knowledge was gleaned from record labels and catalogues, fanzines and other collectors. No one had as wide a range of information on recorded music.
Ray suggested that we contact Pappy Daily founder of Starday Records and I flew out to Houston to do a deal to license all of his masters, which included the earliest recordings by George Jones, Sonny Fisher, The Big Bopper, Johnny Winter and many other seminal artists.
Ray & I flew out to Houston in June 1978 and spent a couple of weeks researching Pappy's vast tape archive.. Ray's next suggestion was Modern Records in Los Angeles and we did a deal with Jules Bihari for Kent / Modern in 1979. From there on in, at Ray's suggestion we did deals with Dootone Records, Combo, and several other obscure labels.
Ray Topping was an absolutely essential part of the growth of the Ace Records label.
We still miss him badly, even though most of his treasury of information is now accessible at the touch of a button.