Crate Digging 101 Lesson 5: Musican-Run Music Labels

Take a look at some prominent musician-run record labels.

I am of the opinion that, generally speaking, musicians know music and love music at least a little bit more than the average person- and certainly a lot more than the average corporate record company executive! So it makes sense that record labels run by musicians might put out some cooler releases than labels run by bean counters, right?   A lot of the artists who become successful, and then go on to form their own label play on and/or produce the musicians they sign.  So here’s a quick list of musician turned mogul labels, and some examples of great vinyl they created to be on the lookout for. 

Dark Horse Records (George Harrison) - George Harrison released two little known solo albums while in the Beatles (Wonderwall and Electronic Music which was one of two releases on the Zapple subsidiary of Apple Records). So it should have come as no surprise that after the Beatles George was the most prolific of the ex-Beatles. He founded Dark Horse Records in 1974 and released his solo work on that label. One non-George gem from Dark Horse is “The Place I Love” by the duo known as Splinter. George produced and played on the record under fairly obvious pseudonyms like P.Roducer and Hari Georgeson. “The Place I Love” is a moody folk pop masterpiece in the vein of “All Things Must Pass” and “Walls & Bridges” by Lennon. 

Chisa Records (Hugh Masekela) - Masekela was the first African superstar to break big in America. His brainchild, the Chisa label, released a world funky grooves, ranging from the Crusaders to fellow South African Lette Mbulu, whose What Is Wrong With Grooving is a much sought after platter to this day. Keep your eyes peeled for that one! 

Shelter Records (Leon Russell) - Hey kids, do your ears a favor! Go dig up some Leon Russell records! You’ll find out why Elton John referred to him (in Rolling Stone) as The Master. He influenced Elton’s three best records (Madman Across The Water, Tumbleweed Connection and Honky Château), getting him into a rootsy direction. Leon’s Carney album is pretty awesome. Shelter Records also gave us the great early work of another Okie groove master, J.J. Cale , as well as the debut from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Dig. 

Rolling Stone Records (Rolling Stones) - Besides Stones albums, Rolling Stone Records pressed the Peter Tosh album that contained a duet with Mick on “Walk And Don’t Look Back. Steppin’.” 

Immediate Records (Andrew Loog Oldham) - Speaking of the Stones, Andrew Loog Oldham provided to the Stones, what both Brian Epstein and George Martin did to the Beatles. While more of a hustler than a musician, Oldham obviously had an ear for the rowdiest of the Swinging London mod scene. His Immediate Records label was home to the Small Faces (described by Paul Weller as the prefect group), who put out numerous mod anthems, predating punk attitude and energy (check out Steve Marriott on Tin Soldier on YouTube for evidence of that). Rock! 

Straight Records (Frank Zappa) - Frank Zappa, oh how we miss you! If you ever see any Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention LPs, GRAB THEM! I just found a pristine copy of Uncle Meat at a garage sale and was blown away by the artistic adventurism and extremely tight playing. No one has ever made music so fun and yet so challenging! 

On his Straight record label, Zappa gave us the gift of both Captain Beefheart and Wildman Fischer. Both of these cats were way ahead of their time as pre-punk punks. If you can’t find these original LP’s (sadly, they are scarce) you can find some tracks off of these releases on the great Warner Brothers 2-lp compilations like Big Red Ball , Appetizers and The Whole Burbank Catalog

A&M Records (Herb Albert) - Not to be outdone by the crazed hippies on Straight Records, Tijuana Brass trumpet master Herb Albert released some mellow vibes on his own A&M label, like Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66, Burt Bacharach and Quincy Jones. But A&M became more adventurous in the late 60’s and early 70’s , signing British rockers Free and Spooky  Tooth.  Spooky Two (by the Tooth) is highly recommended, as is anything by Free. A&M even rocked into the 80’s with Squeeze’s pop wave masterpiece Argybargy

Embryo Records (Herbie Mann) - Herbie Mann was the master of jazz flute way before Will Ferrell’s hilarious lip service on the Anchorman movie. Mann was a stylistic chameleon, working in many styles from Muscle Shoals gritty soul to Middle Eastern modal tones. His Embryo label was even more eclectic, releasing the mind blowing Tonto’s Expanding Headband, hippie rockers Air (not the current French techno groove duo) and the incredible Circles by William S. Fischer. If you ever see this, snatch it! From free jazz to hard message funk,, this is the JAM!

Posted by Prof Louzlounge on Aug 02, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

crate digger, george harrison