Sun 9 Jan 2011
|Elmore James||It Hurts Me Too||Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection|
|Elmore James||The Twelve Year Old Boy||King Of The Slide Guitar|
|Elmore James||Coming Home||King Of The Slide Guitar|
|Junior Wells||Two Headed Woman||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|G. Davy||Did You Ever Love Someone||Best Of Chief Records|
|Junior Wells||Come On In This House||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Junior Wells||Little By Little||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Lillian Offitt||Will My Man Be Home Tonight||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Lillian Offitt||Oh Mama||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Junior Wells||Calling All Blues||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Junior Wells||Messing With The Kid||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Elmore James||Knocking At Your Door||King Of The Slide Guitar|
|Earl Hooker||Blues In D Natural||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Junior Wells||I'm A Stranger||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Magic Sam||Every Night About This Time||Magic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings|
|Junior Wells||So Tired||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Junior Wells||You Sure Look Good To Me||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Earl Hooker||Rockin' Wild||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Junior Wells||t Hurts Me||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Magic Sam||You Don't Have To Work||Magic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings|
|Earl Hooker||This Little Voice||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Ricky Allen||Remember The Time||Remember The Time|
|Ricky Allen||You'd Better Be Sure||Remember The Time|
|Earl Hooker||Blue Guitar||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Earl Hooker||Swear To Tell The Truth||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Junior Wells||Prison Bars All Around Me||Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963|
|Elmore James||Cry For Me Baby||King Of The Slide Guitar|
|Ricky Allen||Ouch!||Remember The Time|
|Ricky Allen||Cut You A-Loose||Remember The Time|
|Earl Hooker||That Man||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Jackie Brenston & Earl Hooker||Want You to Rock Me||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Earl Hooker||The Leading Brand||Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963|
|Mel London (left) & Ricky Allen (right)|
Melvin R. London was born in Mississippi on April 9, 1932. His initial interest in music led him to write R&B material, and he rapidly set up his own Melva Music publishing firm. He began operations for Chief Records in 1957. In march of that year, twenty-five year old London was noted in the rhythm & blues trade press, which said "United Distrib's Mel London turned into a triple threat man with Chief's 'Man from The Island.' London penned the Calypso number, published it, and owns the label, not to mention he's the distributor's promotion man, too." They somehow failed to mention that he was the performer on the song as well. London set up Chief's offices at 1510W. Thirteenth St. in Chicago in April of 1957. Chief Records (together with its Profile and Age subsidiaries) was an independent record label that operated from 1957 to 1964. London served as producer and wrote several of the label's best-known songs.
In 1959 Earl Hooker teamed up with Junior Wells and producer Mel London. As Sebastian Danchin wrote in his superlative biography Earl Hooker – Blues Master: "The period between 1959 and 1963 was a productive one, both in terms of quality and quantity. Through Mel London, Hooker was involved in over a dozen recording sessions, and his playing was featured on some forty titles and twenty-five singles, a dozen of which were released under his own name, the rest being ascribed to Junior Wells, A.C. Reed, Lillian Offitt, and Ricky Allen." According to A.c. Reed "Hooker met London when I was on the road with Dennis Binder and 'em, because when I come back, he was already associated with Mel London and he got me into recordin' with Mel London. It was a studio band 'cause we's about the best musicians he had to record behind peoples. Everybody played on everybody's record. Anybody that would record, we'd play on it."
As Danchin wrote: "Earl didn't have a one-way relationship with London; his superlative guitar contributions played their role in the development of London's business, but at the same time it was through London that Hooker was able to bequeath future generations a testimony to his highly creative genius, in the form of blues classics like "Blue Guitar", "Blues in D Natural", "Little By Little", "Messin' With The Kid", and "Will My Man Be Home Tonight."
In 1957, Junior Wells hooked up with producer Mel London, who owned the Chief and Profile logos. Wells was one of London's favorite blues artists. Wells hooked up with Earl Hooker after his last label,United/States, folded in 1957 and after his previous guitarist, Syl Johnson had left. The association resulted in many of Wells' most enduring sides, including "I Could Cry" and the rock & rolling "Lovey Dovey Lovely One" in 1957, the grinding national R&B hit "Little by Little" (with Willie Dixon providing vocal harmony) in 1959, and the R&B-laced classic "Messin' with the Kid" in 1960 (sporting Earl Hooker's immaculate guitar work). Wells' harp was de-emphasized during this period on record in favor of his animated vocals.“Little By Little' became a national hit, peaking at #23 on the R&B Billboard charts. The flip, “Come On In This House” also became a hit, played extensively on black radio stations in Chicago. Wells would continue to perform and record several of his Chief and Profile songs ("Messin' with the Kid," "Come on in This House," and "It Hurts Me Too") during his career.
|Billboard Jan 23, 1961 Ad|
1960-1961 was a high water point for the collaboration between Hooker and Wells with the two waxing some impressive material including "Calling All Blues", "Messin' With The Kid", "I'm A Stranger and "The Things I'd For You" among others. "Cut You Loose," another London composition, was a hit for Ricky Allen; the song reached #20 in 1963. Next to Wells, Allen had the most singles on the label (all on Age). A native of Nashville, Ricky Allen was influenced by Earl Gaines and Larry Birdsong before relocating to Chicago in 1960. There, he promptly became a part of Earl Hooker's musical circle, joining him on the roster of Mel London's Age imprint. Allen's local popularity was reflected in frequent visits to the recording studio – he cut over forty titles for labels including Age, USA, 4 Brothers, and Bright Star. Allen cut several local and national hits like "You Better Be Sure", "Ouch!" and "Cut You A Loose" which hit #20 on the R&B charts and #126 on the pop charts. After disbanding his band in the early 70's he drifted off into blues obscurity.
Chief was plagued by financial problems. First to be discontinued were the Chief and Profile labels; finally the Age label was discontinued in 1964 and the company went out of business. During its seven years of operation, Chief/Profile/Age released about eighty singles (including reissues) from approximately thirty-seven artists. Later, various singles (including reissues) by Chief artists would be released by All-Points Records, Mel/Mel-Lon Records, Bright Star Records, and Starville Records, but none had the impact of the originals.
By 1963 London had a role with the U.S.A. label, possibly as a producer. by the end of the decade he was working a s shipping clerk for United Record Distributors. Neil Slaven noted that London "most of the time drove a delivery truck. He was by no means bitter about this situation and retained fond memories of the artists he'd recorded and the record he'd made." In the early 70's London had some plans to reissue his earlier material but no longer had the original masters. London said in a 1973 interview: "hell, I never though there'd be a call for that stuff." London died of cancer in May 1975 at the age of forty-three.
The Chief label boasted a catalog of forty-one singles, the last one being reissues of items released at an earlier stage. Chief was an eclectic label that included efforts by pop and rockabilly artists, yet its best selling issues-with the exception of a minor rock 'n' roll hit by Tobin Matthews-were blues numbers featuring Earl Hooker's inventive playing. The liking that that London took to Hooker's playing soon prompted him to use him as his "house" guitarist, using his band every time he set up and R&B session. However he never trusted Hooker's singing, never once issuing a vocal by him. Advertised in Cash Box from April 14, 1962, "Blue Guitar", was a record sold usually well for an instrumental blues side. Before the Spring was over, every band in the Chicago blues belt included the song in their repertoire. The song was then used as the instrumental backing to Muddy Waters' "You Shook Me."
To record, Mel London used Chicago's finest studio, Universal Recording. As Big Moose Walker noted "Somethin' like twenty years ago, that was the best studio in the city. …I'd say like nine or ten o'clock at night, we'd be done through by twelve, it depend on on how many we'd be cuttin'. …Sometimes we go in there, I would do somethin' like one, and then maybe RickyAllen would do one, and maybe he might have junior Wells doin' one."
London was also running the Profile label at the same time which also folded around the same time. Chief was aimed at the R&B market while Profile aimed more towards pop. That same year London formed his Age label. The Age label issued twenty-five singles through 1964 by Ricky Allen, Earl Hooker and A.C. Reed among others while Profile issued fifteen singles.
London recorded five titles at his initial session with Elmore James. "Knocking At Your Door" was not released at the time because London had nothing to pair it with. Elmore was called back to the studio by London in the Fall, cutting "Cry For Me Baby" b/w "Take Me where You Go"featuring Syl Johnson on lead guitar. The number were released in December and reissued almost immediately on Vee-Jay. All in all, James cut seven sides for chief. James was among the first signed to the label, entering the studio in April, 1957. “The Twelve Year Old Boy” and “Coming Home” were the first songs recorded. These songs were paired for issue as Chief's second release. The single was distributed by bigger independent, Vee-Jay who also reissued the single on its own label. The next release was 'It Hurts Me Too” which Elmore had cut twice before and was originally recorded by Tampa Red in 1941.
Lillian Offit made her debut cutting a handful of sides for Excello in 1957 and 1958. By 1959 she was in Chicago where she teamed up with Earl Hooker. The group went in the studio in February 1959. “Will My Man Be Home Tonight” became one of Chief's best sellers and a local hit in Chicago. The group recorded again in May of the same year.
Other blues artists who cut sides for London included Magic Sam who cut eight sides for Chief across three sessions in 1960 and 1961, G. "Davy" Crockett and Hooker associates A.C. Reed, Big Moose Walker and Jackie Brenston of "Rocket 88" fame who fronts Hooker's band Want "You To Rock Me" b/w "Down In My Heart.".