The "Magic" Labels ©1998 JCMarion


The term "magic" label is one that I have given to some of the small independent operations that were so prevalent in the early and mid nineteen fifties. These labels just seemed to have the pulse of the music, and even the releases that failed to chart or sell, were gems in their own right and provided memorable memories. One entire family of magic labels was the group of companies headed by Joe Davis. These labels included the self named Joe Davis label, plus Beacon and Jay-Dee. Davis was a long time figure in the r & b field with his own management company and worked for MGM records besides his own labels. Beacon was a top label for the music in the 1940s and was then reactivated in 1954. Best known of the Joe Davis roster was the Dean Barlow groups The Crickets and Monterreys, and Lillian Leach & The Mellows. Davis also had early efforts by The Red Caps, Southernaires, Blenders,Deep River Boys, and The Sparrows
Rainbow was a New York label headed by Eddie Heller that was originally connected with the Derby label. Some performers on the label were the Jets, Five Crowns, Dell-Tones, and early efforts by the Clovers, Lee Allen & The Hearts, and Mickey &Sylvia. Back in 1952 I remember buying a red label 78 of an interesting guitar driven instrumental version of "Caravan" by The Esquire Boys. Only a label like Rainbow could come up with great sides that just didn't sell for whatever reason. The biggest R & B sides for the label were probably Mickey Baker (pre Sylvia) instrumentals "Shake Walkin'" and "Rock With A Sock"
Another of my so-called magic labels was Onyx. Because of my love of cutting edge music of the 1930s and 40s, I was aware of the Onyx Club which was a bastion of progressive swing and jazz during those years. It was located on the famed strip on New York's 52nd Street, the best known area for this music in the world. It was where be-bop was first presented to the general public, and before that was the home of such talents as Stuff Smith, Slim & Slam, and the Spirits of Rhythm. From that I made the word association with the Onyx label and just knew there would be some great music contained in the grooves. Jerry Winston began the label in 1956 as an added venture to his successful Mardi Gras label which had hits such as "Speak Up Mambo" and "Together 1-2-3" by Al Castellanos. early signees for the label were Chordells, Dreamettes, Joyettes, Marquis, and the Miller Sisters. Their most famous stars however were the Velours and The Pearls. Most of the instrumental backup was provided by Sammy Lowe which gave a real sound of professionalism to Onyx releases.
Not too much is known or remembered about Neil records, but the one release "A Stranded Love" by The Kingsmen was good enough to catch my attention. The label was started in that magical year of 1956 by Jack Angel who had been with Al Silver at Herald. The hook laden "Pretty Little Girl" by The Monarchs was the first release for the label, and The Young Lads also were Neil artists.
Baton was a label that made a name for itself in 1954 with recordings by The Rivileers and The Hearts. The label was begun by Sol Rabinowitz, and was noted for taking time on distribution and not rushing out releases in great numbers. This little label was also a good employer because they seemed to make a concerted effort to do support work for their artists. A seldom remembered group the Delltones recorded for the label, as did Ann Cole & The Suburbans, and the Belvederes. This label had one of the first R & B original albums in 1955, an LP of instrumentals by Frank "Floor Show" Culley.
Fortune records was the strange purple label based in Detroit, and was famous for two things - The Diabolos with Nolan Strong, and the tinny sound of their recordings which after forty years is now talked about with reverence as giving the sides 'character'. From the late forties into the early fifties the label featured blues performers such as Big Maceo Merriwether. In April of 1954 The Diabolos were signed and set to record in Detroit. "Adios My Desert Love" by the group was the biggest record the label had ever had up to that time. It was eclipsed by "The Wind" which made everyone familiar with the Fortune label. Also on the label were The Don Juans featuring Andre ("Bacon Fat") Williams.
These are just a few of the marvelous independent labels that were so much a part of the record scene in the late 40s and the 50s. There was certainly magic in the grooves of so many of the recordings that carried the name and logo of the small companies that carried these memorable names. So today when you hear once again those fabulous sounds of yesteryear, remember the magic !

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