February 2, 2016

Blues and Rhythm Show 215 on 93.3 CFMU (Hamilton, Ontario)

Swear to Tell the Truth for Tuesday, February 2nd (1:00 to 2:30pm)

The history of classic Rhythm & Blues has been written around the narratives of the various record labels that featured the music, especially the great R&B independents.  Of course, the music existed and thrived apart from the recorded product and the studios that produced the records but few places received the kind of attention that the city of Newark did in the book Swing City, so we don’t have a broad picture of classic Rhythm & Blues apart from what took place in the recording studios. Specialist magazines have provided detailed bios of some of the performers but there are full-length biographies of only a few figures–Louis Jordan, Dinah Washington,  Wynonie Harris. 

Product Details                              Early R&B Divas- Volume Two                              Product Details

The stories of the record labels depend a great deal upon the company accounts kept by the label-owners, upon session details , correspondence and, where available the acetates and tapes that have survived.  They depend as well on the availability of the label operators and other principals, producers, arrangers, sales-people. Art Rupe provided information about his Specialty label and Ace Records gleaned information about Modern-RPM-Kent when they leased and later purchased the catalogue and assets of the label. In the case of Aladdin Records, we have the details in the blues and gospel discographies but we looked in different places for further information and came up empty.

Our survey covers the years 1945 to 1951, years in which the Aladdin flourished as an independent specializing in R&B.  We know that the label owners, Eddie, Leo and Ira Mesner, operated a record store, The Philharmonic Music store in Los Angeles. They had money to begin with and the label reported 1.5 million dollars in sales for 1945, according to John Broven. One artist described the Mesners as “gamblers” but we don’t know how to evaluate that observation. The label was originally called Philo but the Philco Company threatened legal action and the name was changed to Aladdin. The label did well into the through to 1950 but there was a slowdown at the beginning of the new decade. How well the label adapted toe changes in the record market after the early fifties is something we we can’t say at this point but Aladdin is supposed to have been the leading R&B label between the years 1948 and 1952. 

Something that was noticeable to us in putting this show together was the large role of Maxwell Davis. Davis was present as a player on many of the records we selected for the program, identified as bandleader on several, and likely the arranger and, effectively, if not in name,  the producer on much of what was produced in Aladdin’s studio.  According to Dave Penny, in 1948 he signed a contract with Aladdin that gave him the title of session musician/arranger/musical/director, roles he’d been filling informally up to then free-lancing at what looked to be every Coast  independent R&Blabel. His influence on R&B recording on the West Coast was huge because he played a similar role with just about every label, including large independents Specialty and Modern-RPM-Kent. A three-CD survey of his work, entitled Wailin’ Daddy is part of series called Architects of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Maxwell, Davis, Architect of Rhythm & Blues might be right.                     

 On the Show:

Jay McShann’s Kansas City Stompers – Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers – Helen Humes – Jo Jo Adams – Effie Smith – Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis – The Rockets – Joe Turner – Little Miss Cornshucks – Robins – Amos Milburn – a.o.

Listen to the program at FM 93.3 in Hamilton or on CFMU online at cfmu.msumcmaster.ca. The program will be available to stream or as a podcast until February 28th.

Image result for driftin' blues philo label photos                                 

 The Aladdin Records Story

 Contact Us:

To reach us with comments or queries, write us at sweartotellthetruth@gmail.com.

You can also follow the program at sweartotellthetruth@nosignifying on Twitter.

Next week (February 9th)

Mardi Gras

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