Bob Shad was one of the quiet music men. Unlike those such as Leonard Chess, Sam Phillips and Ahmet Ertegun, he was not the sort of independent label owner about whom legends are built and films are made (which is ironic, given that his grandson is Hollywood director Judd Apatow). He got on with his job, recorded jazz, blues, soul and rock, discovered great artists such as Big Brother & The Holding Company and prised some of the best work out of Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Sarah Vaughan and others.
In 1964 he set up Mainstream Records, originally as a jazz label, to indulge his first musical love and to capitalise on the money that could be made selling albums rather than singles. By 1966, after spotting the market in album-based rock, he’d started to sign and release acid rock LPs on Mainstream, discovering the Janis Joplin-fronted Big Brother & The Holding Company and the Amboy Dukes, featuring the young Ted Nugent. But by the end of the decade Shad had become tired of the amount of money needed to break rock acts. When he re-launched Mainstream in early 1970 it was almost exclusively as a jazz label.
At that time, jazz was in a state of change and economic decline. Clubs that had provided live work for jazz artists began to close or be turned into discothèques to cater for a younger audience raised on soul music. Jazz record labels were either going bust, selling out to bigger concerns or recording the funky electric jazz that was beginning to be called fusion. By the early 70s, Mainstream was one of the few outfits left recording acoustic jazz. As such, the company’s catalogue offers an otherwise under-represented view of the jazz world.
Ace Records are proud to be able to release a series of compilations that will look at the brilliant music released on Mainstream. The psychedelic rock will be released on Big Beat, while BGP will cover the rest, starting here with “A Loud Minority”, which focuses on the deep spiritual jazz recorded by the label in the early part of the 70s.
Frank Foster’s legendary title track sets the tone with forward thinking jazz sounds and a political message. Similar lines of thinking from Harold Land – two tracks from his legendary group with Bobby Hutcherson – and Roy Haynes are also featured. We have obscure but fantastic playing from Hadley Caliman, Buddy Terry and Charles McPherson and a rare date as a leader from the excellent Johnny Coles. Legends of soul jazz appear in the form of Blue Mitchell and Mike Longo with a previously unreleased version of ‘Matrix’.
Mainstream also recorded organ funk groups – the Charles Kynards of this world – that labels such as Prestige and Blue Note were championing. By the mid-70s, even Shad had started to move away from straight jazz and back into the world of soul and R&B, an aspect of the label’s catalogue that will be explored in future compilations. In the meantime, here is “The Loud Minority”.
Blessed with unprecedented access to Mainstream’s pictorial archive, our booklets will contain an unbelievable selection of photographs of the artists.
By Dean Rudland