Part of the fun of the jobs that we have here at Ace is meeting the people who made or facilitated the release of the music that we love. The flip-side of this is that knowing people means that sometimes you have to mourn them as well, and while we putting together this overview of the XL and Sounds Of Memphis recordings together, Gene Lucchesi, the label’s founder, died. Gene had given the labels and the publishing companies to his daughter, Linda, some time ago, but he was incredibly helpful with my researches. More than that, his thrill at hearing our Barbara and the Browns CD – the first of the XL / SOM recordings that we issued – was one of those perfect moments. So this CD is dedicated to his memory.
Gene Lucchesi was a successful businessman when he decided that he wanted to get into the music business. He had no experience, but hung out at Sam Phillips studio and watched. He realised that he needed the help of an experienced studio hand, and found one in Stan Kesler. Kesler had worked with Phillips, had his own studio and his songwriting was pretty hot too. He wrote both I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone and I Forgot To Remember To Forget for Elvis.
The first label that the pair started was Penn followed by XL. The had some interesting low-key 45s distributed locally, but then hit pay-dirt with Sam The Sham and the Pharoahs’ Wooly Bully, a worldwide hit that helped to fund no end of recording projects. Kesler and Charlie Chalmers cut artists that were released locally in the hope that the records would catch fire and be picked up by a major. Sometimes this would happen, sometimes it didn’t, but in the meantime a bunch of incredible records appeared. Ann Hodge, Willie Bolinger and of course Barbara Brown, all gathered up here alongside many more slices of 60s Memphis soul, whether issued or not (check Richard and Walter’s previously unreleased Love Just Ain’t There). This is as good as 60s Memphis soul gets.
By 1968 the success of Wooly Bully had paid for the state of the art Sounds Of Memphis studio. Stan Kesler was doing mainly outside work from the new facility – the Grammy winning Trash Talking by Albert Collins for example. In late 1969 his house band was poached by Jerry Wexler, becoming the Dixie Flyers, and Stan decided to ease back on production work so a new production team was needed. Dan Greer was brought in to do A&R and production, and, with a deal struck with MGM a to issue and distribute the Sounds Of Memphis label, a wide variety of great soul was released over the next few years by the Minits, Barbara Brown, the Ovations and our exceptional title track by Spencer Wiggins, among others. Even after the severing of ties with MGM many great records were still being issued by George Jackson, Billy Cee and The Ovations.
Here the labels are given their full due. We’ve exhumed a ton of great sounds: ncluding unreleased cuts from Spencer Wiggins, Ann Hodge, Dan Greer and George Jackson. It is a far more eloquent tribute to the label-founder Gene Lucchesi than we could hope to write.
By Dean Rudland