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ABKCO, Flying Dutchman, Music City

Following years of no-show in the reissue stakes, the rights to the acclaimed Philadelphia labels Cameo and Parkway were finally licensed by Ace from ABKCO in 2010 and a wealth of material that hadn’t been available for decades appeared in the catalogue including albums by the twist king himself, Chubby Checker, the Orlons, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, the Dovells and even proto-screen star Clint Eastwood who crooned his way through some country favourites.

A similar deal with ABKCO also saw SAR material from Sam Cooke’s label gain release including the complete recorded output of his brother L.C. Cooke.

More vintage pop and soul appeared in 2011 when Ace bought the rights to record hustler Lew Bedell’s (slogan: who the hell is Lew Bedell?) Doré records, famous for cutting Phil Spector’s first outing ‘To Know Him is to Love Him’. Twenty-five of the 28 tunes on this first volume of “The Doré Story” appeared on legitimate CD for the first time, all taken from the original masters. 

Jan & Dean Dore LP and Stranded in the Jungle Songsheet

Ace also acquired the rights to another Los Angeles label, Flash. As Jim Dawson pointed out, “Charlie Reynolds was just one of many black entrepreneurs in 1950s Los Angeles who started his own independent record company, hoping to cash in on America’s post-war rhythm and blues juggernaut”. That he was able to do so was attested by the 60 tracks to be heard on the double CD “The Flash Records Story”. They included the original version of the doo wop staple, “Stranded in the Jungle” by the Jayhawks plus a host of great honking R&B, blues shouting and greasy group vocals.

Ace Records of Jackson, Mississippi had been synonymous with Chiswick’s Ace Records since the early days, so it was great to welcome back in 2010 what had been the vinyl-only series of the Ace (USA) Story. Five volumes on CD saw all the original tracks restored to the catalogue plus a huge amount of rare and previously unheard material by artists such as Huey “Piano” Smith, Mac Rebennack, Frankie Ford and Earl King all expertly curated by the indefatigable Tony Rounce.

Ray Dobard’s Music City Records of Berkeley, California, across the Bay from San Francisco had, as Alec Palao pointed out, a catalogue of mythic proportions that has been cherished for decades by a small hardcore of R&B, vocal group and, latterly, soul fanatics. Dobard himself had dabbled in law and politics as well as recording the best of local black rhythm and blues. His story and the music he recorded was explored in the three-CD, 78-track box set “The Music City Story” in January 2011, after Ace had acquired the catalogue.

Gaylarks Music City 45

It was followed by albums by Seventies funk band Two Things in One and street-smart vocalist Darondo as well as rock’n’roll and doo wop compilations.

Bob Thiele (1922-1996) was a hugely important figure in the jazz world in the Sixties and Seventies, so when Ace’s Dean Rudland negotiated the rights to his widely acclaimed Flying Dutchman label in 2012, fans around the world gave thanks. Boxed sets, CDs, singles and LPs poured out at a ferocious rate. Of them all, perhaps the most awaited was “The Revolution Begins: The Flying Dutchman Masters” the three-CD collection of recordings by Gil Scott-Heron, rated by Dean as some of the most important in the history of black music. As he pointed out, the set gathered together every piece of music released by Gil on Flying Dutchman and by going back to the original master tapes, brought a new clarity to Gil’s words and the musical performances.

Gil Scott Heron and Leon Thomas LPs

A whole collection of Flying Dutchman material followed including career-defining albums by Lonnie Liston Smith, Leon Thomas and Esther Marrow. There were also releases by commanding figures from every era of jazz, including Ornette Coleman, Count Basie, Larry Coryell, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Blues wasn’t forgotten either as reissues from Thiele’s BluesTime label saw material by T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann and Joe Turner brought back into catalogue.

Ace has never been bound by usual reissue conventions, so those hard-working heroes at Harlesden were always looking for new ways to disseminate great music to the masses. Not bound by label collections alone, themed series, whether it be great songwriters, original versions of well-known hits or the musical tastes of Bob Dylan, have always played a major part in Ace’s reissues and continue to do so.

Back in 2001 Ady Croasdell’s “New Breed R&B” took Northern Soul on to a different footing with a wider selection of material that encompassed R&B and blues and, on further volumes, included tracks that had become popular on the Belgium-originated popcorn scene.

We’ll take a quick detour now, through a chicane, round the bend and on to the finishing straight with a series of interviews (with one half of one an obit) with some of the great Grand Prix drivers of the Fifties, including, Stirling Moss, Phil Hill and the Marquis De Portago that had originally appeared on US Riverside LPs and were now reissued on CD. The deal with Riverside also included Peter Ustinov’s great comedy disc “The Grand Prix of Gibraltar”.

Back to the music now, or should I stay the cellar. Trevor Churchill’s “Cellarful of Soul” compilations for UK Bell in the Sixties had been groundbreaking albums and an essential purchase for any self-respecting soul fan. With Trevor a director of Ace, it was only natural that the company should pay homage with three volumes of “Kent’s Cellar of Soul” including knockout tracks by Mighty Sam, Bettye Swann and Darrow Fletcher.

That era’s troubled history wasn’t forgotten, either, in two important CD compilations that saw the Vietnam War through the eyes of black America. While, as compiler Tony Rounce pointed out, James Maycock's frank sleevenotes told their own terrible tale of the ignominies suffered by many enlisted black men, both “A Soldier’s Sad Story” and “Does Anybody Know I’m Here” stood as a testament to the music about the men who had fought, and in many cases given their lives, for their country.

Liverbirds Image and Sharon Tandy Picture Sleeve Single

The Liverbirds (L)

Two other compilations from 2004 showed the breadth of the Ace catalogue. On one hand there was “You Gotta Believe It’s… Sharon Tandy” a career-defining retrospective of the South African-born singer who became the first European to sign and record with Stax and on the other, another career retrospective, this time of jazz singer Oscar Brown Jr, whose “Kicks!” set included his definitive vocal versions of ‘Work Song’ and ‘The Snake’.

There was also a chance to get tough in 2004 with “Girl With Guitars”, which brought a different perspective to the girl group scene with some axe-toting all-female bands including the Girls and Philly-based Kathy Lynn and the Playboys as well as some street-wise vocals from the much-loved Goldie & The Gingerbreads. Two other volumes, all expertly compiled by Mick Patrick followed.