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. As the owner of the popular Flash Record Shop at 623 East Vernon Avenue, he had a first-hand look at what customers, especially teenagers, were buying. Operating out of his back room, he released 31 blues, R&B, doo wop, and proto-soul platters between 1955 and 1959. One of them even spent a couple of weeks in the national Top 40 charts. But as Reynolds soon discovered, the indie record business was a hustler’s game. The increasing costs of payola and his distributors’ refusal to pay royalties for the last single until the next one started selling ate up his profits. He eventually let Flash Records lapse quietly into history. Still, as this new 2-CD, 60-song package attests, Reynolds had a great run and produced more than his share of exciting and worthy material.
“The Flash Records Story” contains nearly every Flash release – most of them on CD for the first time – along with a few tracks that remained in the can. Gutbucket aficionados will love the blues trio of Sidney Maiden, Haskell Sadler and Bee Brown, not to mention singer-guitarist Frank Patt with pianist Gus Jenkins’ band, and sassy blues thrushes Sheryl Crowley and Mamie Jenkins. There’s also bluesy balladeers James Curry, Paul Clifton and Buddy Cypress, boogie woogie pianist Judge Davis, budding black hearththrob Nip Roman and honking tenor saxophonists Maurice Simon and Lorenzo Holden.
LA’s most popular form of R&B in the 1950s was doo wop, and Flash’s roster of vocal groups is second to none. Most collectors are aware of the Jayhawks, who wrote and recorded the original ‘Stranded In The Jungle’, so naturally we’ve included all their Flash singles and documented their amazing if turbulent story. Flash’s other vocal group singles were one-off affairs but no less impressive: the mysterious Emanon 4, with their haunting, gospel-tinted harmonies; the Hornets, a quartet of servicemen aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier who drove to Los Angeles during a weekned leave and recorded only two songs in a Watts garage studio – but what great songs they are; the Poets from LA’s famed Jefferson High School, whose ‘Vowels Of Love’ became a popular record several years later during the early 60 doo wop revival; the Arrows from New Orleans, newly migrated to the West Coast; and an ultra-smooth supergroup of doo wop veterans who called themselves the Cubans, who would evolve two years later into Little Caesar and the Romans of ‘Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me Of You)’ fame. The Cuban were so fantastic, we’ve included their entire session of five songs, plus an alternate take. Rounding out the set is a huge booklet chocked full of photos and newly discovered information.
Most of Flash’s singles sold poorly and are rare today: to buy them all from collectors you’d have to sell your house and at least one child. With this package, mastered directly from the original tapes, you can keep the house, keep the kid, Flash back to the 50s, and enjoy the legacy of the late, great Charlie Reynolds.
By Jim Dawson