There were two entirely different US indie record companies named Dial, both most often remembered for one major artist apiece.
The first, owned by Ross Russell, operated from 1945 to the early 50s, initially out of Los Angeles, latterly New York City, and is renowned for its recordings of the colossus of bebop sax artistry, Charlie Parker, who Russell managed for a while. The second, owned by William Buddy" Killen, operated between 1961 to the early 80s from Nashville and is most famous for its recordings of one of the most original and successful southern soul singers of the era, Joe Tex. Killen was Tex's mentor from the early chitlin' circuit days and on to international stardom.
The subject of this 51-track double CD, authoritatively annotated and compiled by John Broven and John Ridley is Buddy Killen's Dial Records.
Originally from Florence, Alabama, Killen migrated to Nashville via his involvement as an upright bass player with assorted country acts and the magnet of Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts. Once settled in the city he joined the fledgling Tree Publishing company, cementing his and the company's future by signing the rights to Mae Boren Axton's song Heartbreak Hotel, about to be recorded by some up'n'coming local tearaway named Elvis Presley.
With Killen's far-sighted guidance Tree became a hit-loaded concern, eventually snapped up by Sony for a modest 40 million dollars in 1989. In the interim Buddy also ran his Dial record company, launched in 1961 to promote his publishing interests and specifically to showcase Joe Tex's talents as a performer and songwriter.
It wasn't all grits'n'gravy. Buddy's Dial recordings were marketed variously by London (1961-64), Atlantic (1965-70), Mercury (1971-76), CBS (1977-78), TK (1978-79) and final splutters via Polydor and Handshake. Out of all these associations it was only really Joe Tex who bounced successfully through the changes. Joe was already a seasoned performer, witty songwriter and vibrant personality when Buddy signed him.
There was also a bundle of other R&B/soul talent recorded by Killen's Dial operation, whose lack of hits belies the quality of their recordings. Maybe these artists weren't as all-round exceptionally talented as Joe. Perhaps they weren't as smartly managed or strongly promoted. But they sure 'nuff cut some very fine recordings.
Ace Records already has four Joe Tex CD compilations in catalogue, and the DIAL RECORDS SOUTHERN SOUL STORY avoids duplication as far as possible. Of course it could not be truly representative without the inclusion of Joe's biggest hits, while also presenting four of his lesser known, previously un-reissued early Dial recordings. Especially interesting for those with long and eclectic memories is Joe's original recording of I Wanna Be Free, covered in Britain by The VIPs.
Alongside there is Bobby Marchan (eight tracks), former lead singer with Huey "Piano" Smith's Clowns, whose Get Down With It, included here, was later slammed into overdrive by Little Richard. Clarence Reid (three tracks), who would become a substantial boost to Henry Stone's Alston/TK labels, particularly with his involvement with Betty Wright's monster hit, Clean Up Woman. Paul Kelly (six tracks), a greatly underrated singer/songwriter whose atypical Chills And Fever, included here, was, if I'm not mistaken, covered in Britain by a pre-nose job young Welshman called Tom Jones. Mind you, some of Mr Kelly's other inclusions are rather more soulfully satisfying.
There is the second-most-famous fat man from New Orleans, Clarence "Frogman" Henry (three tracks). Years ago, in a moment of boozy bonhomie, I gave my Dial 45 of his excellent recording That's When I Guessed to Chas & Dave. I don't think they ever got around to recording it but it just might have inspired their hit Ain't No Pleasing You. On the other hand they might have already recorded...oh, never mind.
Also featured are Jean Knight, Frederick Knight and King Floyd (two tracks apiece), each of them more commercially successful with other labels but not at all artistically compromised by their inclusions here. Several lesser known but equally talented performers make up this soulful retrospective, most dramatically Annette Snell. Her bright light was snuffed out in a plane crash in 1977 as she was beginning to establish herself as one of the great soul divas of the era. Annette's six contributions demand a home in any self-respecting southern soul collection, especially her formidable rendition of Paul Kelly's song, Footprints On My Mind.
Like Ross Russell before him, Buddy Killen's enthusiasm for Dial waned with the degeneration of his major artist. By the early 80s Joe Tex had become as self-destructive as Charlie Parker had been: both died prematurely of heart attacks, Parker aged 34 in 1955, Tex aged 47 in 1982. Along the way, though, Joe's success had helped Buddy give a forum to many other talents, re-evaluated by this exemplary compilation.
by Cliff White