Small Record Companies and the Rise of American Music
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Built around the names, including Charlie Parker, James Brown and the “King,” that helped define 20th-century American music, a history of the independent record label in America. Kennedy (Jelly Roll, Bix and Hoagy, 1994) and McNutt (We Wanna Boogie: An Illustrated History of the American Rockabilly Movement, not reviewed) tell their tale of how the independent label and the music business as a whole have evolved by looking at ten storied labels, ranging from early jazz giant Paramount to the legendary Sun Records. The pair begin with 1920s start-up label Gennett Records, home to some of the earliest known jazz recordings and to a then unknown musician by the name of Louis Armstrong. The Gennett history, as is the case with each of the other nine stories, is brimming with fun, interesting tidbits, such as a detailed explanation of the genesis of Hoagy Carmichael’s classic “Stardust,” originally named “Star Dust.” The two authors clearly know their music and the circumstances surrounding how that music was made, but the facts suffer at times from the dryness of the writing. In his preface, noted session man and current Berklee School of Music professor Al Kooper writes of the importance of passion and how that motivated the giants who started these labels. Kooper also speaks of how that passion has filtered into this volume; would that it were so. The fervor evident from their research doesn’t filter into the writing, with the exception of the first-hand accounts that appear too infrequently. A retelling from Ace Records’ John Vincent of how a conversation with Sam Phillips prompted him to go into the music industry has both the humor and excitement often lacking in the rest of the book. Still, those interested in the subject will find enough historical information to keep their attention until the end.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-253-33548-5
Page count: 183pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999