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Little Labels--Big Sound Small Record Companies and the Rise of American Music cover
  • ISBN: 9780253214348
  • ISBN10: 0253214343

Little Labels--Big Sound Small Record Companies and the Rise of American Music

by Rick Kennedy

  • Binding: Paperback
  • Publisher: Indiana Univ Pr
  • Publish date: 03/01/2001
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Little Labels -- Big Sound celebrates 10 legendary record labels, their founders and the artists they developed, people who created original and enduring music on the tide of social change. From the 1920s through the 1960s, scores of small, independent record companies nurtured distinctly American music: jazz, blues, gospel, country, rhythm and blues, and rock 'n' roll. These companies, run on shoestring budgets, were on the fringe of mainstream culture. Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams, James Brown, Roy Orbison, and other musicians brought regional American styles to a world audience and won enduring fame for themselves. But often forgotten are the colorful owners of small record labels who first recorded these musicians and helped to popularize their sound before the dominant, more bureaucratic competitors knew what had happened.

Rick Kennedy and Randy McNutt bring alive the glory days of the independent labels and their colorful founders, many of whom were interviewed for this book. Sometimes these men were visionaries. Ross Russell, a record-store owner in Los Angeles in the mid-1940s, risked his last dollar to create Dial Records because he was convinced that an obscure jazz saxophonist named Charlie Parker was creating a music revolution with his bebop jazz. Sam Phillips in Memphis had recorded white country and black R&B singers in the early 1950s, so he knew exactly what he was looking for when a shy, teenaged Elvis Presley walked into his storefront studio in 1954 and asked to make a record.

Other owners had little appreciation for the music but were street-smart entrepreneurs. The white-owned "race" labels of the 1920s, for example, recognized a black consumer market thatthe recording business had previously ignored. Operating out of such cities as Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, these savvy business people promoted regional sounds that were to reverberate around the world.

But influencing the development of music wasn't what these record-label owners had in mind; they were just trying to earn a living. Today, when most of the independent record labels have gone under or have been gobbled up by big conglomerates, the music they produced on primitive equipment remains fresh -- and bigger than life.

Little Labels -- Big Sound tells with verve and affection the story of the people and the small homegrown companies who gave America its beat.

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