A Week of Blues

This past week was dedicated to Crown blues–blues is what the Biharis did best and it was the music that several people close to Jules said was his favorite.

Two months down, ten months to go in my year of Crown LP postings & on Monday, day 61, I posted a classic Elmore James LP for a rainy, cold day in Los Angeles when the report of another LAPD killing was all over the news. As Elmore James sings, it’s Dark & Dreary…

BluesAfterHours

CLP 5168 / 1960

This LP has liner notes by John Marlo but no other credits. The bottom half of the back cover lists the Crown catalogue. Soon in the life of Crown Records Jules would dispense of liner notes & credits completely and every Crown LP would have a generic back, listing part of the Crown catalogue by title & number.

Along with BB King, Elmore James was an authentic Bihari product, first recorded by Lester Bihari in Chicago.  Jules had squeezed Lester out of the Los Angeles operation and Lester found Elmore James in Chicago, immediately recording a hit with him. Though James recorded for other labels (Chess, Fire, etc.), most of his titles were first recorded by the Biharis, either in Chicago or Los Angeles.  These cuts are from the mid to early 1950s and include some of his earliest recordings (Dust My Broom, recorded by Lester) to later recordings done in Los Angeles with Maxwell Davis adding horns and arranging.

Aptly titled Blues After Hours with a great barroom photo cover, this is an LP to play loud with a stiff drink. For those not lucky enough to find this vintage copy of the LP, there are numerous reissues of this LP and other Elmore James material on the Biharis’ post-bankrupcy labels United & United-Superior with lesser cover art but the same great music.


Blues week continued on day 62 with a John Lee Hooker reissue of his early 1950’s Detroit singles, some recorded by Joe Bihari who took over Hooker’s career from his original producer Bernie Besman.

This LP is from the same era as the Elmore above and includes rhyming liner notes by John Marlo plus credits for design and photography by Hobco Arts & Joseph Tauber respectively.

JKHooker

CLP 5157 / 1969


Midweek, day 63,  and I posted one of Crown’s lurid blues covers, this one with credit to a NYC agency, Shostal. Unlikely Jules hired an ad agency in NYC to photograph one of his covers. My bet is he purchased or licensed a photo that fit his needs at the time–a fetching African-American model to attract buyers to repackaged Lightning Hopkins cuts. The cuts are classic Lightning Hopkins, all solo on the guitar. Impossible to track these cuts back to their source though they all seem from 1951 and not originally recorded by the Biharis. One cut in particular, Tell Me Pretty Mama, showcases Hopkins’ atypical fast picking style rather than his usual mournful solos.  Another great Crown blues LP to play loud & enjoy with a drink or two.

LightinH

CLP 5224 / 1961


Day 64 & a Jimmy Witherspoon posting. I’ll admit that ‘Spoon never inspired me. I’m not a fan. His music & singing seem lost somewhere between jazz & blues, and the cuts on this LP illustrate my point. One of grittiest cuts is River Blues and it sounds like BB King is adding some raw guitar licks to offset Witherspoon’s withering attempt to sing blues.

As the Crown discography at Both Sides Now states, the titles on the LP’s cover aren’t exactly what’s on the vinyl, not that anyone would notice or care.  Meanwhile, I couldn’t help noting that this 5192 series came out in 1960, an era when Crown LPs had the Culver City address yet this LP has the late ’60’s back cover and the Normandie studio address. Is there anyone alive who can explain this? Is there anyone alive who cares?

JimmyWitherspoon

CLP 5192 / 1960


On day 65, I posted the perfect LP & cover art to enjoy a Friday afternoon cocktail courtesy of Howling’ Wolf & Crown Records. Dig that lipstick & nail polish on the model with photography credit to Three Lions Inc.  Three Lions Inc. did cover photography for everyone from the bottom (Tops, Crown) to the top (Atlantic, RCA).  My guess is Jules was trying to buy credibility by hiring an agency used by the bigger, more established labels. Regardless, it’s a great cover and LP to enjoy with companion covers from Lightnin’ & Hooker.

HowlinWolfCLP5240 / 1962


On day 66, Saturday night, I posted the King of the Crown Records blues, BB King. Recorded in true stereo, with punchy horn section and clearly defined piano track. This BB King LP has excellent sound though it’s marred by several bone-headed attempts to have BB sound like a pop singer.

BBKing1

CST 195 / 1960

Up until the early 1960s, when King & Jules parted ways, BB King was a solid seller and a major star for the Bihari host of labels. But when the 1960s hit, Jules decided to throw all his weight behind the Crown budget label business so he dumped King and most of the other black artists of the 1950s who had created the early identity of Modern & the other Bihari family labels. By now King wanted (and deserved) more $$ while important Bihari artists like Ike & Tina were demanding better promotion and experimenting with ways to hit the mainstream.

Bihari didn’t have the resources to compete head to head with the major labels on promotion nor did he want to. Jules was from the old school, the son of a door-to-door salesman, so he did what he knew best, pushing catchy titles, reissuing his back catalogue countless times (reaping publishing & writing royalties assigned to himself & his brothers) and making new low budget LPs. These new LPs were based on the copy-cat theory that if enough people would spend 99 cents for a reasonable facsimile rather than $5 for the real thing then he could make a good living for his extended family. And for a long while Jules proved right.


Day 67, the last Crown blues uploaded in this weeklong series. Awesome psychedelic cover art with odd negative effect cutout lettering; no credit to the artist. This is not a true stereo, two track LP despite its claim.  The selections include Hooker’s version of HooDoo Man (Baby You Ain’t No Good) with Biblical/caveman-type references to men and women plus Hooker’s 1954 version of Joe Turner’s Shake Rattle & Roll (Shake Holler & Run–listen below). Outstanding updates of Hooker’s classic boogie guitar (Gonna Boogie) and another of his classic riff driven pieces, Bad Boy.  More detailed info on all these cuts download and read The John Lee Hooker Discography by Claus Röhnisch

JLHook2

CST CST 295 / 1963

 

Next week: the major low budget era of 1960s Crown when Jules relied on two artists to help create new music, one black & one white: his longtime arranger/producer Maxwell Davis and new-comer guitarist/bandleader Jerry Cole who Jules found playing in a country band at the famed Palomino Club. Add to that formula young and hungry recording engineer Bill Lazerus and Jules’ purchase of the former Tops Records factory on Normandie & Slauson and now Jules had the means to produce an entire LP, from start to finish, in one day. Suddenly Crown was flooding the mom & pop shops with cheap product that sold and there was no stopping them.

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One thought on “A Week of Blues

  1. My best guess re the Witherspoon album cover is that it stayed in demand and in the catalog for a number of years, and that the original front cover was simply added to the “new” generic back cover as time went on.

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