Ace Records History Part 9
The Fame catalogue rolled on, as did the Songwriter and London American series, Mod Jazz and New Breed danced on and there were more cute EPs and cuddly 45s. So all of the flowers in the Ace garden were being well tended.
There was a new compiler on the block, looking like he was ready to bop. Ian Saddler, a record collector who specialised in Louisiana music created a new series. The first release was “Boppin’ By The Bayou”. Essential to making the series work was accessing the seminal rock’n’roll and R&B recordings made by JD Miller out of Crowley. While Miller provided Excello with a huge amount of their catalogue, he was also responsible for a lot of great rockin’ rhythm and blues sides that he didn’t sell on. With a big helping hand from John Broven, a deal that had been sought for many a year was finally put together. Before long, the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal was doing a pretty good impersonation of the Bayou. Vince Anthony & the Blue Notes’ ‘Watch My Smoke’ was not just one of the great tracks in the deal but could well be the byword for the alacrity with which the series expanded.
The much-maligned Ike Turner may well have had more faults than most but he also made better records than most. He was accused of giving birth to rock’n’roll with ‘Rocket 88’, and maybe he did. By the mid-60s, he was at Modern and the Ike & Tina Review was living the peripatetic lifestyle of the endless tour. They were based in Los Angeles where they cut records, but there were also sessions at Cosimo Matassa’s place in New Orleans. The aim was to get a live album out and though there some sides were actually cut live, the bulk of the ‘live’ Modern album was a collection of studio sides with added ambiance. With “Studio Productions: New Orleans And Los Angeles 1963-65”, we went back to the original 3- and 4-track reels and presented these tracks as they were recorded in the studio. Jackie Brenston was there, as were Jimmy Thomas, Venetta Fields and Tina herself. A hell of band with great leads, all under the tough direction of one tough producer.
Dan Penn’s Fame recordings - his versions of some of the most important soul songs of the era - had been legend for quite some years. When we finally gained access to the masters and understood how many and how good they were, it was a matter of approaching the man himself. Dan was wary, by nature and in particular as regards these recordings. We took a selection of the tapes to our studio and had them polished up to be as good as they were - which was certainly a lot better than the badly dubbed bootleg cassettes that had circulated over the years. We suspect even Dan was surprised at how good they now sounded. We negotiated a package, deals were struck and finally the “Fame Recordings” was issued, sounding great and with the full cooperation, conversation and access to the archive of Mr Dan Penn. We rested easy after that and even issued a 45.
“Memphis Boys: The Story Of American Studios” was the story of the musicians that worked at Chips Moman’s studio and was a companion piece to Roben Jones’ book of the same name. Tommy Cogbill, Reggie Young, Bobby Emmons, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham were at the heart of American through the late 60s. When you look at the track-listing of this small representation of the sides cut there, you wonder the walls of the studio didn’t melt. They made records with energy, cutting Sandy Posey’s countrified pop hit ‘Born A Woman’, stirring the pot with King Curtis’s ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ and the Dan Penn-produced perfect slice of blue-eyed soul ‘The Letter’ by the Box Tops featuring Alex Chilton. The tracks for “Dusty in Memphis” were laid down there. Elvis and Wilson Pickett recorded at American, though not at the same time - which was probably fortunate as the place may well have burned down.
In some weird fantasy land, Elvis and the Ramones heard the same song and decided to record it together somewhere in that year between their first record and his death, Instead you have to make do with the next two in our “…. Heard Them Here First” series. Most “Roots Of Elvis” CDs have been second-rate out-of-copyright efforts concentrating on the early period. Tony dug a deeper and broader furrow of original versions, so Brenda Lee and Bob Dylan both featured. On the Ramones CD, there was plenty of the trash aesthetic – Trashmen, Rivieras, 1910 Fruit Gum Company, the Stooges - but there were also appearances by the Byrds and Louis Armstrong. No act appeared on both compilations, though, so we will just fantasise that Elvis and the Ramones cut the ultimate barnstorming version of ‘Baby Let’s Play House’.
Meanwhile, the Songwriter series turned all eclectic. Feldman-Goldstein-Gottehrer went “Smash! Boom! Bang!” with the McCoys and the Strangeloves. Three decades earlier, with the Bishops, we nearly had a hit on ‘I Want Candy’, including a Top of the Pops appearance, only for Bow Wow Wow to take the honours. Ho, hum; we digress. This F-G-G collection was a great romp through the 60s: unabashed enthusiasm, from the Angels’ ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ and ‘(At The) Discotheque’ while Chubby Checker played ‘Hide & Seek’ with The Sheep.
Enigmatic lyrics about “Sassafras & Moonshine” and songs very open to arrangement produced a terrific array of covers for Laura Nyro. Her songs drew on so many diverse influences that maybe it wasn’t surprising that they attracted Bobbie Gentry, Carmen McRae, Mama Cass, the Supremes and the late discovery of the Staples Singers’ ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’. Can you “surry”, indeed?
Allen Toussaint was the soul sophistication of New Orleans but remained funky, be it ‘Working In The Coal Mine’, playing something sweet with the ‘Brickyard Blues’ or ‘Rolling With The Punches’. ‘Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)’ was the guiding light. Then there is the sublime Lowell George with the matchless ‘What Do You Want The Girl To Do’ and ‘Soul Sister’ from Allen’s “Life, Love & Faith” solo album - which itself is an essential for any self-respecting record collection. A very class act.
Otis Redding put such a stamp on his own songs it is easy to miss the fact that they were eminently open to cover versions. ‘Respect’, ‘These Arms of Mine’, ‘Hard To Handle’, ‘I Can’t Turn You Lose’ and co-writes with Steve Cropper ‘Mr Pitiful’ – here as ‘Sister Pitiful’ (Judy Clay) and of course the immortal ‘(Sittin’ On The) Dock Of The Bay’. We put this one in our “Black America Sings….” series - though his songs were equally covered in the rock world.
When Bob Dylan was asked why he played so many old records on his radio show, he replied that it was because there were more of them. That’s how we felt and why we mostly eschewed new recordings. However, we did make an exception for Bob Lind and his delightful album “Finding You Again” - he had become a friend of Ace when he toured in the mid 2000s.
Ady has run a soul weekender at Cleethorpes holiday camp since 1993. To celebrate 20 years of the event he put together a CD of the artists he had brought over to perform - at times sweating blood in the process. For the uninitiated, these were weekend-long events that offered 24-hour soul music and matching beer. For many, this induced a state not unlike nirvana – spiritual, you could say.
Alec stepped out of the garage and put together a terrific compilation of female soul vocal group the Apollas and their earlier incarnation as the Lovejoys. At the core of the group were Leola Jiles and Ella Jamerson. Alec was honoured with an offer to join the group when he got the chance to singalong with some of their backing tracks - not sure about the wig and gown bit, Alec. Which just goes to show the dedication - and indeed entertainment - involved in putting these things together. Mind you, the Apollas’ stories of touring with the Monkees were a bonus.
Many London-based soul fans would have been introduced to Paul Kelly via ‘Stealing In The Name Of The Lord’, an apposite choice by Charlie Gillett for his Sunday morning radio show. Tony put together a very listenable run of the 45s Paul cut for Happy Tiger and Warner Brothers into the early 70s. The sort of record that doesn’t make headline news, but is picked up quietly by the cognoscenti - of which Charlie was certainly one.
Tony also came up with “Where Country Meets Soul” where soul singers take on country songs. Many were written by the great writer Harlan Howard but Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Billy Sherrill and George Jones also got a look in. The crossover has always been there - one thing that couldn’t be segregated was listening to the radio. Both country and soul could share a melancholy feeling and this release begged the question of a reverse compilation.
Clarence Carter and Fame are almost synonymous. With Rick Hall at the controls, Clarence had a hard-to-match run of hits, mainly leased through Atlantic. He introduced Candi Staton to Rick and married her shortly after, producing what has to be one of the most successful couples in soulbusiness. Most of the songs were Clarence’s own but there were inevitable interjections by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn and, of course, George Jackson. Tough and soulful.
Johnny Otis died a couple of weeks before we released “On With The Show”, the second volume of the career overview that took the story to 1974. He had a weekly radio show on KPFK through the 80s. We met him at the Church, had seen his menagerie of parrots and he had very generously allowed us access to a fantastic collection of photographs. We sent him boxes of LPs that he made great use of on the radio. He made records through the 80s, often with son Shuggie and, from 1987, ran the Red Beans & Rice R&B Music Festival for 20 years. He was a towering figure in black music - all the more remarkable for being of Greek origin, though his impact was not diminished by that.
The first album from a new deal with Flying Dutchman Records was a Lonnie Liston Smith compilation. He was generous with his time, carrying out pretty gruelling rounds of interviews for us as we worked through his catalogue. Unfortunately, Gil Scott–Heron had died the previous year, so we’ll never know what he would have made of our epic box set collection of his three seminal LPs for the label. It included an alternative version of the “Free Will” album and a track cut with Bernard Purdie. Previously unpublished interviews with Gil and his co-writer Brian Jackson and Raymond Ross’s fresh candid photos made for a complete a view of this part of his career.
Willie DeVille died young in 2012. A man who was always conscious of the value of the past and what could be gleaned from it. Having worked with his band Mink DeVille from 1974, he moved to New Orleans as the 90s approached. Two LPs came out of the New Orleans experience, “Victory Mixture” and “Big Easy Fantasy”. Using crack local players, he drew on the great songs of Eddie Bo, Ernie K Doe, and Allen Toussaint as well as on the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. We combined the two LPs on an “In New Orleans” CD. We also issued his “Backstreets Of Desire” from 1992 and wrapped up with “Live In Paris And New York” a raucous rant that included great versions of ‘Spanish Stroll’ and ‘Mixed Up Shook Up Girl’, two Mink DeVille favourites.
“Conflict & Catalysis; Productions & Arrangements 1966-2006” was the portentous title for Mick Patrick’s stroll through the dark arts of John Cale, one-time, one-person string section for the Velvet Underground. Those doyennes of 70s New York City cool outrage, Nico, Patti Smith and Cristina were there, of course. Cale has a knack of taking any genre and making it slightly uncomfortable in a way that is hard to define, but at heart he made pop.
Next up, 60s garage bands from Hollywood to Belfast, with a tripped-out version from the Seeds and an R&B one from the Wheels. The latter’s ‘Roadblock’ was one of the monster rave-ups of the era, rivalling Them’s ‘Mystic Eyes’ and ‘Gloria’ - which they covered. The Seeds’ first album came packed with bonus tracks, including an alternative take of that most urgent of records, ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’.
Having mined the Vanguard catalogue for 17 years we felt we knew it well and that it was overdue a box set. It was quite a journey, taking in those earnest folk of the late 50s, the Weavers, the 60s rediscovery of pre-war bluesmen Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, the one-man revival Doc Watson, the inimitable Joan Baez, the psychedelic psychedelic psychedelic radicals Country Joe & The Fish and space jazz from Larry Coryell. As a bonus, there was an unissuedNewportperformance of Bob Dylan performing an intense ‘Girl From The North Country’.
New York album of the year – “Yo Frankie” by the real King of the New York Streets: Dion
Philip Chevron was pretty much there from the start. He was just 19 in 1977 when we put out the first record by the Radiators (From Space); ‘Television Screen’, his splenetic rant against just about everything - but then that’s the privilege of youth. The Radiators never retired, they just went through extended periods of ‘resting’. In the meantime, Philip was a key member of the Pogues. He had been struggling against cancer for some time but the shock of his death was not lightened by that. His country paid tribute to him with as fine a sending-off as he could have wished for and deservedly so, though scant compensation for the loss of such a fine artist and a very good friend.
Joe Bihari, the last of the brothers who ran Modern Records, died aged 88. He was the creative one who went out into the field to record the blues in the Southern states when that was not necessarily a healthy occupation for a young white man. Joe was always very generous to Ace and his reminiscences of his career are now preserved in Ace booklet notes.
Westbound’s Armen Boladian made a rare visit to London and invited the Ace crew to the Café de Paris for a showcase by Matt Goss (yes, of Bros) doing a tuxedo and bow tie set. So we put on our best bib and tucker and had a splendid time.
Dean got to grips with the Flying Dutchman catalogue and 11 CDs ensued, by Leon Thomas, Esther Marrow, Ornette Coleman and label-owner/producer Bob Thiele. Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’/‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ was issued as a 45 for the first time in the UK.
Suddenly, we were knee-deep in vinyl as big black (or even brightly coloured) 12” discs were back in fashion - as much as an accessory as a means of reproducing music. We put out14 of them this year, in our newly minted HIQLP series, and a broad church they were, too. There was preaching from the secular pulpit with a selection of Deep Soul Treasures, an abundance of chic French girls C’est et Tres, an epic double of Dan Penn’s Fame recordings and Etta James’ Modern sides, which showed how well vinyl could be used for a rock’n’roll dance party. Good rockin’, indeed.
Then it was time for “Girls! Girls! Girls!”. We had already issued Brenda Holloway’s early recordings. So it was with great pleasure - particularly on Trevor’s part - that we put out our version of the UK-only 1968 compilation, “The Artistry Of Brenda Holloway”, expanded with seven previously unissued Motown recordings. Though Detroit was the home of Westbound, Denise LaSalle cut most of her sides for the label in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Her second 45 for the label, ‘Trapped By A Thing Called Love’, helped put Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios on the map - and herself in the charts. “The Complete Westbound Singles” charted her six years with the label. Only one 45, Stax 008, was issued from Carla Thomas’s Chips Moman-produced sessions at American Studios in 1970. When you hear the rest of the sessions, you really do have to wonder why the album was shelved. Tony speculates it could just have been too much of a jump to a more sophisticated style for the Stax A&R department to take a chance on, especially as the single 45 failed to chart.
Another result of our trawl through the Fame vaults turned up many unreleased sides by James Govan aka Little Otis, who only had two 45s on Fame that were released a couple of years apart. In fact, he had recorded more comprehensively for the label, cutting a wide range of material. Apart from the usual suspects he cut songs by Hank Williams, Bob Dylan (2) and George Harrison, plus a terrific tear-up of ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ à la “Big” Otis. Darrow Fletcher, by contrast, leapt from label to label and over a long career had many releases. The title track to his “The Pain Gets A Little Deeper” CD was cut for one of many George Goldner labels and catapulted the 14 year-old Chicagoan to fame in 1966. Darrow has always been respected, he appeared atLondon’s 100 Club in 2012, to a rapturous reception and his records have grown in collectability over time. Which made this good value CD even more welcome.
The enigmatic George “Shadow” Morton was a backroom operator whose productions often had the same air of mystery he engendered. He was best known for his productions on a run of Shangri-Las 45s in the mid 60s. These teenage operas, from the dark side - to Phil Spector’s light, it seemed, at the time, anyway - were full of angst, dangerous boys and implications. If that’s all you knew of the Shadow, you would never guess that he would also produce the musical cacophony of Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly’s proto heavy metal and Mott The Hoople’s pre-punk shambolics - though you might have guessed the New York Dolls would have fallen under his spell. Sporadically involved in our CD, he died before it was completed.
Now for a word from the Ace Department of Hard Reality. The Copyright Extension that Ace had lobbied for over many years was finally granted, coincidentally just as the first year of the Beatles catalogue was about to go into public domain. Not everyone agreed with this but with so much free music on the internet, it gave some protection to legitimate operations like Ace in the diminishing world of the physical record. Though we accepted that pre-1962 recordings could be copied from original-issue records, we maintained that we had the right to protect the work we put into our mastering and so took action against anyone infringing what we regarded as our right. For quite some time we had also been encoding our CDs with a patented watermark, inaudible but lending added protection to our work.
Hard as it is to conceive today, recording music was actually banned for the whole of 1948, in the USA, by the American Federation of Musicians, headed by James Caesar Petrillo - on the grounds that musicians were being done out of a job by the rise of the jukebox. (In fact, it was the second recording ban. The previous one was even longer, the two years from 1942 to 1944.) In late 1947, Modern Records - probably along with many other labels - conducted marathon recording sessions to stockpile material in anticipation of the ban. According to Jake Porter, musicians worked shifts, living in the studio, sleeping in bunk beds that had been brought in. On the corner of each recording acetate’s sleeve was the pencilled legend ‘X hours before PB’ - ie the Petrillo Ban. So we were able to identify the order they were recorded in. Our CD, “Beating The Petrillo Ban”, contained a version of every track recorded between 19th December and New Year’s Eve - a document of a remarkable period in music history.
Down in Louisiana, the Bayou continued to Bop and do the Ryhthm & Blues, all in roughhouse style. From the same neighbourhood, accordion king Nathan Abshire And His Pine Grove Boys (plus the Balfa Brothers) cooked up a Cajun storm with “The Classic Swallow Recordings”.
Del Shannon was always popular in the U.K.- he made five tours just in the year from September 1962. In April 1963, he played a BBC show at the Albert Hall with the Beatles down the bill - in the week ‘From Me To You’ came out. In June that year Shannon recorded the song himself - the first US Beatles cover version, which made it to #77 on the Billboard Pop chart. In the UK it was issued in November, on the “From Del To You” EP. Good though it was, ‘Hats Off To Larry’, ‘Little Town Flirt’, ‘Stranger In Town’ and the Carney favourite ‘Runaway’ were the real Del 45s. Our 2-CD set of his U.K. releases is a very fine compilation of his work.
Cliff Richard isn’t an obvious ‘fit’ for Ace, but Tony came up with a very broad-based approach as part of our “Heard Them Here First” series. Cliff’s first-heards ran the gamut from Peggy Lee to Little Stevie Wonder and the Gosdin Brothers. It was part of the British rock’n’roll tradition to pick up on US hits, but in the case of ‘Apron Strings’, the flip of ‘Living Doll’, that was an obscure 45 on Kapp by the mysterious Billy The Kid - who, in turn, cut ‘Living Doll’ for the American market. A cross-Atlantic trade and tradition that did so much to shape the early Beatles.
Space travel has always held a fascination - even before Neil Armstrong did the first genuine Moon walk. “Greatest Hits From Outer Space” was a light-hearted walk through this fascination, in the company of rock’n’roll, doo wop, soul, rock and even reggae acts. Lightning Hopkins’ ‘Happy Blues For John Glenn’, recorded the day that America’s first astronaut orbited the world, takes the biscuit - a heartfelt tribute to the wonder and awe of space flight.
With Northern soul it was possible to have several Holy Grails. Ady struck gold this year with the launch of Pied Piper, with a Kent compilation and a couple of 45s. Pied Piper had never been a label. Rather, it was a production company, started in 1965 by three Detroit based entrepreneurs. Shelley Haims was a record maven who had been round the block a few times as distributor, label owner and promotions guy. Jack Ashford was the most famous tambourine player in the world, having been prominent on many Motown sessions as a Funk Brother. Mike Terry was also on the payroll at Motown where he employed his distinctive baritone saxophone sound. Pied Piper mainly licensed out where they could, but when Kent went through the vaults it was the unissued material that got the heart pounding and the feet moving as this Pied Piper led them, in droves, to the dance floor. This was the biggest event in Northern soul for some time and it was remarkable to think how after 40-odd years ‘new’ records like this could still surface. Outsiders often think that Northern is just people dancing to a sort of Motown beat, but it was way more than that, an emotional commitment and dedication to a club peopled by like-minded souls and really great dancers.
A great version of Terry Hooley’s Belfast life and record shop had made for a very entertaining movie, Good Vibrations, for which we put out the OST. The film centred on the 1978-1979 punk rock period and, of course, featured ‘Teenage Kicks’, the most perfect record of the era, Yet less than half of the film’s music came from those times. The rest focused on Terry’s reggae obsession and his passion for the Shangri-Las. There’s even Bert Jansch’s version of ‘Angie’.
We also re-issued a $10,000 45, Denise’s ‘Boy, What’ll You Do Then’ from 1966 on Wee Records. We charged considerably less for it.
Certain records - “Pet Sounds”, “Forever Changes”, “Astral Weeks” - occupy their own space. They weren’t like anything else, despite what Amazon might say these days. “Electric Music For The Mind And Body” by Country Joe & The Fish was another of those records. It had not been well served over the years as a CD re-issue. Alec put that right with a superbly annotated edition, featuring both original mono and stereo mixes. As the master had been destroyed, the stereo had originally been remixed for CD by Sam Charters, in a very close approximation of the original. It was good but, as with all great albums, it was the nuances that made it work. So the Ace sleuths set to work and managed to track down mono and stereo masters for both this debut album and its follow-up, ‘I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die’. This was also a unique record, in its own, different way. Its title track was a radical anti-Vietnam war song that dared the line, “Be the first one on your block, to have your boy come home in a box”.
Must-have package of the year - Masaaki Hirao & His All Stars Wagon – “Nippon Rock'n'Roll: The Birth Of Japanese Rokabirii” conceived as a 10” vinyl Long Player. And, before you ask, Rokabirii is what it was called in 1958 Japan.