The late Guy Stevens: A&R visionary, person of exquisite musical taste and the first ever club DJ to be as important and respected as the records he played. And, for around four years, boss of the hippest, hottest record label in the UK. It would be unfair to suggest that Guy Stevens and UK Sue Records were responsible alone for shaping the tastes of 60s hipsters, but between them they went a long way towards doing so. From his vantagepoint as the first record-spinner at London's "Scene" club, Guy was able to both gauge tastes and make them. And unlike any of his DJ contemporaries, he was then able to supply the demand he'd created via those black vinyl, red-and-yellow label, two minute miracles that were Sue 45s. If ever a label totally reflected the tastes of its A&R head, UK Sue was the one.
Unless you make a habit of skipping over the front page of RT or ignoring reviews sections of music magazines, you will be aware that Ace is currently engaged in paying tribute to Guy and his "little label that did", via a trilogy of CDs that aim to pay a 21st century tribute to what Guy and UK Sue accomplished four decades ago. Our first volume, compiled by redoubtable Rob Finnis, gave an overall profile of the label and Stevens' pivotal role-.-it was released last month to immediate acclaim. The third volume, on our Kent label, will be released in summer and, in the hands of Ady Croasdell, will shine its light into every corner of the vast Sue soul catalogue. As the "meat" in the middle of this super sandwich, it's my pleasure and privilege to have compiled what I feel is an exemplary overview of the label's many blues and rock'n'roll releases, and equally my honour to tell you now why you will want to add it to your collection.
40 years on it's often forgotten that Guy Stevens was, first and foremost, an arch admirer of R&B and rock'n'roll - so much so that he was running the UK Chuck Berry Appreciation Society when Chuck Berry records were still sporadically coming out on tri-centre London 45s! Even at the height of his DJ'ing at "The Scene" he would regularly drop records like Eddie Cochran's Weekend to the delight of at least some of his assembled multitude, and, before UK Sue was up and running Guy was responsible for the classic Excello Blues compilations that were released on Stateside albums, as well as advising on many of the early Pye International R&B Series' releases. It's no surprise to find that, once UK Sue hit its stride, the label's release schedules regularly featured artists such as Willie Mabon, Bobby Parker, J.B. Lenoir, B.B. King and - particularly importantly - Elmore James, alongside the Betty Everett's and Donnie Elbert's of the world. Rock'n'roll classics like Sea Cruise and La Bamba also received the first of their many reissues on UK Sue 45s, before they were more than half a decade old. And once UK Sue started to release albums on a regular basis, Guy would fill 'em up with hard-to-find gems from labels like US Ace and Fire/Fury, introducing UK audiences to colourfully-named characters like Dr Horse, Buster Brown, Frankie Lee Sims and Wild Jimmy Spurill in the process. If, between 1964 and 1966, you only bought UK Sue records, you would still have found yourself with one of the most comprehensive representations of the best American music that three half-crowns a week could net you.
And nearly 30 of the best of "the best" are included in "UK Sue's Rock'n'Blues". In the near-40 years since UK Sue first released (or re-released) them, many of these tracks have been reissued on several occasions, while others make their first CD appearance here. Virtually all will bring back some sort of 60s memory for long time collectors: I can remember hearing Etta James' Roll With Me Henry on Mike Raven's R&B Show on Radio 390 on a wet afternoon, and wishing I hadn't got a bad case of mumps so that I could go out and buy it. I also remember receiving the UK Sue "We Sing The Blues" album as a Christmas present in 1966, and being disappointed that it wasn't the UK London/ Liberty album of the same name - until I played it, over and over again to (I'm sure) the total chagrin of all other occupants of the Rounce household and probably some neighbours, too. The same album also earned me the respect of some of the older boys at school, who thought Mayall and Clapton were the be-all and end-all of blues until they heard Elmore and Sonny Boy wailing out on Dust My Broom when I bravely took it into the common room one day. Thanks again, Guy.
In the mid-60s, when pocket money was still my main source of income, I always knew that there'd be something worth buying on UK Sue if there was nothing else around to absorb my fifteen bob.
Like most budding collectors it took me no time at all to realise that (almost) anything on the label was worth buying blind, and if I was ever initially disappointed with my unheard purchases that disappointment would almost always fade after just a couple of plays. It was through UK Sue that I first became acquainted with the greatness of Elmore James-.-the chaotic magic of Rosie and the Originals' Give Me Love-.-and a record that defines "heavy soul" - which, sadly, we've been unable to include on any of our three CDs for contractual reasons - one that still reduces me to a heap of jelly every time I hear or play it, Claudine Clark's The Strength To Be Strong. And it was through UK Sue that, like many others of my generation and one slightly older, I really learned about collecting - once you bought one UK Sue 45 it was pretty hard to pass up the opportunity to buy another. And another. And another. And....
There was never a label like UK Sue before it started, and there was never another like it once it shut up shop in summer 1968 and mutated into Action Records. If you liked good music (yeah, yeah) you never really had to go any further than the familiar red-and-yellow logo. Here, in this CD, are more than two dozen amazing reasons why this was so, and still is.
By Tony Rounce