Post-WWII Los Angeles was a hotbed of musical activity, particularly so for those musicians and singers who performed or recorded music in the nascent R&B style that was rapidly taking the place of big band jazz in the hearts of most black Americans. The local club scene was thriving, generating more promising artists than any one record label could handle. This surplus of talent led to the establishment of dozens of new independent labels in and around Hollywood and the creation of a recording industry that often felt like it was working round the clock to get all these hot new artists on acetate and/or the fast arriving medium of tape.
Combo Records was a direct product of what we at Ace nowadays like to call the “Central Avenue Scene”. Founded and run by respected local trumpeter Jake Porter, a veteran of many L.A. big bands and small groups of the 40s, Combo was neither the biggest label on the scene nor the smallest, but its catalogue has always been the subject of great admiration from aficionados of 50s black American music. As a musician himself, Jake always seemed to know how to get the best out of anyone he recorded, and the quality of so many of Combo’s 78s and 45s more than bears this statement out.
Jake didn’t have the recording budget of some of his contemporaries but his reputation as a man and a musician – plus, it’s said, a perpetually stocked bar at every recording date – helped to secure the services of top West Coast players. Jake and Combo made local stars out of Joe Houston, Gene & Eunice and Chuck Higgins, whose group featured a teenaged Johnny Watson, then a piano player and a few years way from acquiring his Johnny Guitar nickname. Jake also produced sessions on old friends who were perhaps past their commercial peak but who nevertheless recorded some of their best music for him, such as the groups of Jack McVea and Brother Woodman and pioneering Hollywood doo woppers the Ebonaires.
Combo was one of the first labels from which Ace licensed repertoire and we are delighted to carry on preserving Jake Porter’s legacy as the owners of the catalogue. Jake is no longer around to enjoy our presentations of the great music he recorded, but Ace’s numerous – all highly recommended – CDs devoted exclusively to Combo repertoire are out there for everyone else to appreciate.
By Tony Rounce
As well as the various artists releases listed below, be sure to check out our single artist Excello releases from Joe Houston, Gene & Eunice, and Chuck Higgins.