Located In The Record Center Of The South was the proud boast of, inarguably, Nashville’s greatest source for R&B, blues and soul – Excello Records. From its offices and studios in downtown Music City, founder Ernie Young ran an empire that dominated black music in the American south for nearly 30 years.
Young’s astute marketing was backed by the great records and artists that appeared on his labels. The reputations of blues legends Slim Harpo, Silas Hogan, Lonesome Sundown, Arthur Gunter, Lightnin’ Slim, Jerry McCain and Lazy Lester, swamp pop pioneers Guitar Gable, Warren Storm and Classie Ballou and future R&B/soul stars Earl Gaines, Maurice Williams and Roscoe Shelton are largely based on their great Excello recordings – many of which were recorded not in Nashville but a couple of states over, in South Louisiana, by revered independent producer J.D. Miller.
The exalted status of Excello among R&B fans may chiefly rest on the records that poured out of Miller’s Crowley studio for more than a decade – ‘I’m A King Bee’, ‘Got Love If You Want It’, ‘Baby Scratch My Back’, ‘I’m A Lover Not A Fighter’, ‘Sugar Coated Love’, ‘Raining In My Heart ‘ and scores more – but the label also recorded and released many significant hits and classics from its Nashville base, including the original versions of ‘Baby Let’s Play House’, ‘It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)’, ‘Little Darling’, ‘Oh Julie’ and more. Meanwhile on its sister label, the all-gospel imprint Nashboro, the Radio Four, the Consolers, the Swanee Quintet and the Jewell Gospel Trio (featuring a teenaged Candi Staton) were among those showing how fine a line there was between the music of the church and the music of the R&B charts.
Excello had something few independent R&B labels could boast at the time: Ernie’s Record Mart, Young’s thriving mail order business. With their records beamed all over the American south via Nashville radio station WLAC, and sold all over the world via Young’s mail order outlet, it’s hardly surprising the label became known globally as early as it did. Excello ground to a halt as a label in the mid-70s, after a late flurry of superb soul 45s by acts such as Bobby Powell and Roshell Anderson helped it go out on top.
Our Excello reissue programme has been extensive, with most of the label’s highlights appearing on an Ace or Kent CD at some point. The majority of our single and various artists compilations are still available and thrilling fans old and new in the same way Guy Stevens’ trailblazing “The Real R&B” and “Authentic R&B” compilations did almost 50 years ago.
By Tony Rounce
As well as the various artists releases listed below, be sure to check out our single artist Excello releases from Slim Harpo, Silas Hogan, Lonesome Sundown, Lightnin' Slim and Lazy Lester.