Chicago's Neighborhood Independent Label (1) - United Records ©JCMarion


A news item in the trade press dated July 21, 1951, announces the formation of the United Recording Company. The guiding force behind this new company is a Chicago area entertainment entrepreneur by the name of Lewis Simpkins. He had previous experience with the local Miracle and Premium labels in the Chicago areas. Simpkins is unique because he is one of the very few Black record company owners producing this music that is largely by and for the Black community. He joins the Rene Brothers in California (Excelsior and Exclusive) and soon to be executives Vivian Carter and James Bracken in nearby Gary Indiana with the Vee-Jay label. Simpkins signs a number of recording artists for his new label. They are Tab Smith, Roosevelt Sykes, Nature Boy Brown, The Night Hawks, and Robert Anderson's Gospel Singers.

The very first release on the new United label soon follows in early September. It is United #101 "Lucky Blues" / "Fine And Brown" by blues singer-pianist Roosevelt Sykes, known as "The Honeydripper". United #102 follows soon after - "Crying Won't Help You" / "K.C. Blues" by Robert Nighthawk. Nature Boy Brown records "Windy City Boogie" / "Blackjack Blues" for #103. The first of many records for the label by Tab Smith is "Because Of You" / "D.J. Special" on United #104, the first to be available in 45 rpm. At years end Tab Smith returns for "Sin" / "Can't We Take A Chance" on United #107. Early in January of 1952, Tiny Grimes & His Rocking Highlanders record "Rockin' The Blues" / "Solitude" on #109. The next release for the label will become their biggest all time seller and one of the landmark R & B records of all time. It is "Night Train" by Jimmy Forrest #110. It sells and sells big becoming one of the top selling R & B records of the year. It spawns a host of covers including Buddy Morrow's big band pop version for cross town major label Mercury. Rusty Bryant will have a R & B cover titled "All Night Long" recorded live at the Club Carolyn in Columbus Ohio for Dot, and years later James Brown will record a vocal version for King. Because of the great publicity for the label generated by the success of "Night Train" there is a spate of releases by the label :

#112 - "Let's Get High" / "Strange Man " - Grant (Mr. Blues) Jones

#113 - "Milk Train" - Tab Smith

#114 - "Mary Jo" / "Mood Indigo" - Four Blazes

#115 - "Under A Blanket Of Blue" / "Downbeat" - Tab Smith

#116 - "Big Horn Blues" / "Jockey Jack Boogie" - Johnny Wicks & His Swinging Ozarks

#117 - "Satisfied" / "When The Ring The Golden Bells" - Southern Tornadoes

#118 - "My Expectations" / "Sow Righteous Seeds" - Robert Anderson & His Gospel Caravan

#119 - "Big Dip" / "My Buddy" - Jimmy Forrest

#120 - "Raining In My Heart" / "Heavy Heart" - Roosevelt Sykes

#121 - "Strictly Gone" / "House Party Groove" - Nature Boy Brown

#122 - "How Could It Be" / "Come In My Room" - Robert Anderson

In August of 1952 the label signs the Dozier Boys, Chicago vocal group to the label. Tab Smith records "Sunny Side Of The Street" / "A Bit Of Blues". The Four Blazes do their version of "Night Train" and it is paired with Rug Cutter on United #125. Johnny Wicks and His Swinging Ozarks try their offbeat blend of musical styles with "Blue Dawn" and "Glasgow Kentucky Blues" on #126. The Four Blazes offer #127 - "Stop Boogie Woogie" / "Please Send Her back To Me", and Roosevelt Sykes returns with "Security Blues" and "Walk This Boogie on United #129. On #130 Jimmy Forrest again tries to duplicate his success of "Night Train" with a new tune called "Hey Miss Jones". Tab Smith offers his versions of two mainstream pop tunes "Auf Weidersehn" and "You Belong To Me" with #131. Near the year's end, Lew Simpkins announces new artists signed to the label : tenor saxist Gene "Jug" Ammons, blues performer Memphis Slim, and baritone sax player Leo Parker. The last two weeks of 1952 see four new releases from United : #133 - "In The Dark" / "Hello Stranger" by Grant (Mr. Blues) Jones; #134 - "Pleading In Glory For Me" / "O Lord Is It I?" by Robert Anderson & His Gospel Caravan; #135 - "Street Of Dreams" / "The Beat" by Gene Ammons; and #136 - "Back Alley" / "The Life I Love" by Memphis Slim.

To begin the new year (1953) the United label signs on more talent - Billy Ford, Jimmy Coe, Debbie Andrews, and the Dozier Boys are re-signed who record "I Keep Thinking Of You". Roosevelt Sykes does "Four O'Clock Blues" on United #139. Johnny Holiday's "Why Should I Cry" / "With All My Heart" and The Four Blazes "My Hat's On The Side Of My Head" on United #146 are released in April. On May 27, 1953, United Records president and founder Lew Simpkins passes away from the effects of leukemia for which he has spent much time in the last year at the Mayo Clinic under treatment. He is thirty five years old. The company will now be solely run by Simpkins partner Leonard Allen, who is a relative newcomer to the recording industry. He chooses Tab Smith to be the next issue for the label - "My Mother's Eyes" / "Cuban Boogie". Gene Ammons does "Red Top" #149, and Tasso The Great's "Ebony After Midnight" / "My Symphony" is United #150. In July of 1953 Chris Woods "Brazil" / "Blues For Lew" is #151, "Come Back Baby" / "Tell Me True" by Roosevelt Sykes on #152, Tab Smith's "Cherry" / "I've Had The Blues All Day" is #153, and Debbie Andrews has her first United recording "Please Wait For Me" on #154. Memphis Slim's "The Comeback" is #156. The flip side is "Five O'Clock Blues". Another new first time performer Nelda DuPuy records "Riding With The Blues" / "Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself" on United #157. "Perfect Woman" and "Ella Louise" are the next efforts by The Four Blazes on #158. Label president Leonard Allen announces the signing of two female blues singers to the label, Terry Timmons and Helen Thompson. Tab Smith and Eddie Chamblee are appearing at Chicago nightspots in support of their new United releases. Chamblee has recorded "Walking Home" / "Lonesome Road" on #160, Terry Timmons first for the label is "Never Let Me Go" / "My Last Cry" and Tab Smith's latest is "All My Life" / "Seven Up" on #162. United's #163 is the Dozier Boys "Cold Cold rain" / "Early Morning Blues". "Jim Dog" / "Stairway To The Stars" is the new one by Gene Ammons and Memphis Slim records "This Is My Lucky Day" / "Call Before You Go Home" on #166, "Old Age" / "Confessin'" by Billy Ford & His Night Riders on #167 and The Four Blazes on #168 do "All Night Long" / "My Greatest Love Affair".

In 1954 the label maintains a prolific output, still mainly recording Chicago area performers and United continues to look for that next 'can't miss' record.

#170 - "Blues Round Up" / "Tiny's Boogie" - Tiny Grimes

#171 - "Strange" / "Jumptime" - Tab Smith

#172 - "WhooWee Baby" / "Tell Me" The Five C's

#173 - "Flight 3-D" / "Sophisticated Lady" - Jimmy Forrest

#174 - "Rock City" / "My Baby" - Tab Smith

#175 - "Big Slam (parts 1 & 2)" - Gene Ammons

#176 - "Sassy Mae" / "Wish Me Well" - Memphis Slim

#177 - "Do The Do" / "Did You Ever See The Monkey Play The Fiddle?" - Tommy Braden

#178 - "Ace High" / "How Long Has It Been" - Tab Smith

#179 - "Goody Goody" / "My Heart's Got The Blues" - The Five C's

#180 - "Southern Woman" / "Remember Me" - Tommy Brown

#181 - "La La Lady" / "Come On In" - Eddie Chamblee

#182 - "Four Years Of Torment" / "I Love My baby" - Memphis Slim

#184 - "Mr. Gee" / "In A Little Spanish Town" - Tab Smith

The version of "Goody Goody" by The Five C's is a pick hit of the week on the "Jukebox Jury" TV show which leads United to think the record has a chance to become a hit on the pop charts. On a negative note Gene Ammons leaves the label and goes to Prestige, the New York label specializing in jazz issues where Ammons feels he is better suited.

Memphis Slim records "Memphis Slim, U.S.A." on United #186. Tab Smith does "Tabolino" / "Cottage For Sale" on #187. The label starts to look at the popularity of vocal groups and signs The Moroccos led by former Flamingos lead singer Sollie McElroy. Their first for the label is #188 - "Pardon My Tears" and "Chicken". Memphis Slim returns with "Two Of A Kind" / "She's All Right" on #189, Tab Smith's "Tops And Bottoms" / "For Only You" on #190, and "I Done Got Over It" / "She Needs To Be Loved" by Tommy Braden is United #191. United record #193 is "Red Hots And Chili Mac" voc by Ralph Vernon / "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" voc by Sollie McElroy & The Moroccos. The Moroccos are on an extensive tour of Australia during the last six weeks of the year. One last release for the year 1954 is Tab Smith's "Spider's Web" / "Mean To Me".

The first two releases for the United label in 1956 are vocal group sides. The Pastels sing "Put Your Arms Around Me" / "Boom De De Boom" on #196. (These is not the Big Dee Irwin "Been So Long" group), and The Sheppards recording of "Mozelle" / "Sherry". Memphis Slim records "Blue And Lonesome" and "Got To Find My Baby" on #201. In September United announces plans to release two LP albums. One will be "Red Hot And Cool Moods" by Tab Smith, and the other will be "Night Train" by Jimmy Forrest. United #203 is Tab Smith's "Yo Yo Blues" / "Feel Like I Wanna Die" voc-Ray King. The Moroccos return with "Teenage Prayer" / "Bang Goes My Heart" on #204. One final record release for the year is "The Hex" / "Sad Sad Hours" by The Moroccos on United #207.

By 1957 the lack of success in an increasingly competitive market led to the end of United Records. They found that airtime was becoming more difficult to get as the field was becoming more crowded by the day. The realization that the teenage market was now driving the music industry had changed the face of the business. United was totally phased out by 1958, the last record issued was #217 early that year. In those seven years there were few big sellers for the label, only one national hit, Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train", and a steady if unspectacular seller in Tab Smith who was United's answer to King's Earl Bostic. The label also introduced many people to the blues talents of Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, and Robert Nighthawk. The story of United Records is a testament to the memory of Lew Simpkins who bucked the odds to succeed until robbed of any future successes by his early death at age thirty five, and the perseverance of his surviving business partner Leonard Allen and his window to the Chicago Rhythm & Blues community of musicians.

And now to United's sister label States . . . . . . . .

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