The Spark Records Story Various Artists (Spark Records)

£11.50

Availablity:
World
Genre:
Rhythm & Blues
Label:
Ace Records
Format:
CD
Catalogue Id:
CDCHD 801

Has it really been 40 plus years since I began regularly buying those 7" slabs of vinyl in Los Angeles at local used outlets, thrift shops, going-out-of-business record stores, swap meets, record shows, and every other place I could hope to find them? Always, there was a special niche in my heart (and collector's consciousness) for those red and silver/all red/the occasional deep blue/and yellow and black 45s that comprised the entire Spark label. Spark Records was the brainchild of the clever Jerry Leiber and the gutsy Mike Stoller (or, as Richard Berry always called him, Mike Stroller).

I can now confess, the deep all-red label, in some cases a second (sob!) pressing, was my favourite design. Was it because the three explosive blasts around the Spark logo reminded me of a giant firecracker? Still looks like it now, I just checked. Fireworks also describe the musical sounds of the label. 'Automatic' would be my reaction when locating a Spark record. If I found it, I bought it. I didn't have to know squat about the artist, song or sound. That it was on Spark was good enough.

I can pretend I always knew the Willy & Ruth story, but I didn't. When I first played their original Love Me, I knew where Elvis put his singing ears when he redid that classic. Or the growling Honey Bears from the Bay Area...the honking saxophonist Gil Bernal from Watts...or the blues by The Sly Fox, a cat of another breed altogether, never knew them until I played them. Now I can assimilate that Eugene Fox was from the Mississippi Delta with Ike Turner, the Wolf and Junior Parker and the sound makes sense. I can fake a continuous understanding. Back then, the first play just knocked me out. The Spark experience was just that: acquire single after single, as I found them, creating an increased knowledge of what R&B was all about. But that's the story of collecting, under the guidance of one of the best, though sadly short-lived (1954-1955) labels out there.

I'll always remember the legendary Richard Berry gave me an insight into L.A. R&B history that got me in trouble. He revealed he was the lead on the Robins' Riot In Cell Block #9, the second best known Robins release on Spark (Smokey Joe's Caf?© has to be the best known). Berry took the lead as he sounded more like a menacing prisoner than Bobby Nunn. In fact, many a fan of the song thought Richard had really done hard time. He hadn't. I published this factoid in several doo wop collector's magazines ("Time Barrier Express" was one) and got roundly shot down by the East Coast-based doo wop "experts" who doubted this now commonly accepted fact. It's rarely fun to be a prophet in your own land. 'Riot' was Richard Berry's only lead with the Robins, then it was back to Bobby Nunn on bass for the other mighty releases by the Robins on Spark. Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner, of course, became key members of the Coasters when Leiber & Stoller went to Atlantic Records at the end of 1955.

Maybe the most special record on Spark was by Gene & Billy. Not the great ironically rockin' It's Hot, but the classic L.A. doo wop ballad flip, Zerlene. My old buddy Bill Soon and I would cruise the big city and empty freeways well after two am in his Chevy '56, dash-mounted record player cranking out the sounds of all sorts of delicious 45s. One of the discs we wore out was the Gene & Billy dreamer on that original black and yellow Spark label. Girlfriend then, wife to this day, Sylvia, passed the Zerlene test - she could love the belly rubbers just like this pretty impressionable L.A. cruiser, too.

So, now, for the first time ever, the comprehensive history of Spark Records finally shows up on compact disc. With the variety of styles, attitudes and inspirations included, there's truly something for everyone who loves or wants to know more about true L.A. R&B...and a little Mississippi Delta blues. This is where the careers of Leiber and Stoller really ignited, like that giant firecracker on the Spark label.

By Steve Propes
(Steve Propes is the author of "L.A. R&B Vocal Groups 1945-1965", newly published by Big Nickel Publications. Book enquiries should be made to: spropes@loop.com)

Track listing

Side 1

  • 01
    Riot In Cell Block #9 - The Robins

  • 02
    Love Me - Willy & Ruth

  • 03
    One Bad Stud - The Honey Bears

  • 04
    King Solomon's Blues - Gil Bernal

  • 05
    I Gotta New Car - Big Boy Groves & Band

  • 06
    Bring It On Back - Mister Ruffin

  • 07
    I'm Tired Of Beggin' - The Sly Fox

  • 08
    Loop De Loop Mambo - The Robins

  • 09
    Farewell - Willy & Ruth

  • 10
    Easyville - Gil Bernal

  • 11
    Hoo-Doo Say - The Sly Fox

  • 12
    I Shall Not Fail - The Honey Bears

  • 13
    Whadaya Want - The Robins

  • 14
    A Touch Of Heaven (Just Around The Corner) - Mister Ruffin

  • 15
    Midnight Special - Big Boy Groves & Band

  • 16
    My Four Women - The Sly Fox

  • 17
    Just Say The Word - Frankie Marshall

  • 18
    Soft Winds - Ernie Andrews

  • 19
    I Must Be Dreamin' - The Robins

  • 20
    No One Else Will Ever Know - Frankie Marshall

  • 21
    Alley Music - The Sly Fox

  • 22
    Wobble Lou - Ray Agee

  • 23
    Strike A Match - Garland The Great

  • 24
    The Hatchet Man - The Robins

  • 25
    Another Fool (Sings The Blues) - Ray Agee

  • 26
    Tree Stump Jump - Garland The Great

  • 27
    It's Hot - Gene & Billy

  • 28
    In The Still Of The Night - Ernie Andrews

  • 29
    Zerlene - Gene & Billy

  • 30
    Smokey Joe's Café - The Robins

Delivery & Returns

We offer free P&P to UK addresses. For all other territories packaging is free and postage is charged on a weight basis.

We use Royal Mail First Class for UK deliveries and standard Air Mail for all other territories, very large orders will usually be sent via parcelforce. You may cancel your order at any time prior to your order being dispatched by emailing us at orders@acerecords.com ensuring that you quote your name, address and order reference number or by telephoning +44 (0) 208 453 1311 between 9am and 5pm GMT/BST, Monday to Friday. Please note: As music downloads are dispatched immediately after purchase, there is no possibility of cancelling these orders.

In the event that any products supplied to you by us are damaged or defective, we agree to replace or repair the damaged or defective products or refund the amount you paid for such goods (including postage & packaging) providing you notify us (either via post at or e-mail: orders@acerecords.com ) and return the goods within 28 days of purchase. Physical goods should be sent back to us in the same condition you received them to: “Returns” Bus Stop Mail Order Ltd, 42-50 Steele Road, London, NW10 7AS. Music downloads should be returned to us via the e-mail address above including a copy of your notification.

You have the right to cancel your order within seven days of purchase, or seven days of receipt of the goods (whichever is the longer). If you choose to cancel your order, full payment will be returned to you. Returned items should be sent to: “Returns” c/o Bus Stop Mail Order Ltd, 42-50 Steele Road, London, NW10 7AS. Music downloads should be returned to us via the email address: orders@acerecords.com including a copy of your notice of cancellation and order number.

Customer reviews

comments powered by Disqus

Press quotes

A classic you'll never want to end.

Record Collector

This excellent release tells the story of a short lived R&B label, is crammed full of great records, label shots memorabilia and singles listings. Thirty sides direct fro, R&B heaven.

Blues & Rhythm

Customers who bought this item also bought

© Ace records 2012