Back in the early days of Be Bop Wino a post would occasionally appear with the introductory words “here’s one I posted on Rock Hall.” Unfortunately coinciding with the demise of the Rock Hall forum, here is an LP which I originally posted there way back in 2007 and subsequently never got round to posting on Be Bop Wino.
In the 1980s a series of LPs was issued by the Detour label in the UK. They were collections of sides originally issued on the Groove subsidiary of RCA Victor from 1954 to 1956. The sound quality on these Detour albums was top notch but they always seemed to be a little harder to find than the Ace, Charly and Mr R&B LPs which occupied the rockin’ record racks back then. This LP has always been a favourite of mine with its fourteen tracks of blastin’ New York rhythm ‘n’ blues. The Groove label may have been short lived and with one significant exception it failed to achieve chart success, but some mighty fine music was released by the diskery.
By the early 1950s the major record companies were losing ground in the R&B field to the independent labels which had been springing up since the mid 1940s. In 1952 the top five R&B labels were Atlantic, King, RPM, Specialty and Mercury with only the last being a major label. The rest of the top ten places were also occupied by independents with the exception of Okeh, a subsidiary label reactivated by Columbia in an attempt to combat the growing sales power of the independents. Decca came eighteenth in the R&B labels list and RCA Victor an even more catastrophic twenty-first.
In 1953 RCA Victor improved its R&B standing to twelfth best selling label thanks to a couple of biggies from dynamic vocal group The Du Droppers (“I Wanna Know” and “I Found Out.”) The stranglehold of the independents had tightened even further with Atlantic, Chess, King, Duke, Apollo, Aladdin, Herald, RPM, Jubilee, Specialty and Imperial occupying the top eleven places.
Probably somewhere around late 1953 RCA decided that they would make a stab at breaking into the R&B market in a bigger way by launching a new subsidiary label with the hep sounding name “Groove.” The launch was trailed in “Billboard” in early January 1954 and on the 8th February Groove issued its first sides – The Du Droppers with “Dead Broke” / “Speed King” and Big John Greer with “You’ll Never Be Mine” / “Bottle It Up And Go.” All of these sides had been recorded in December 1953.
In total 38 singles were issued before A&R man Danny Kessler resigned and Groove was put on temporary hiatus between late 1954 and March 1955 when the label was relaunched with Bob Rolontz as A&R man. A further 179 singles were issued before the label was finally wound up in December 1956. Ironically the end came just as “Love Is Strange” by Mickey and Sylvia was about to provide Groove with its only major hit.
It’s hard to put a finger on the reason for Groove’s lack of success. Backing was provided by the best of New York session musicians including Mickey “Guitar” Baker (who as Mickey of Mickey and Sylvia also provided the label’s only substantial hit), Sam “The Man” Taylor, King Curtis and Heywood Henry. A potentially fruitful session by established vocal group The Five Keys was wasted when they quickly moved to Capitol and their Groove sides remained in the can. The “lost” Five Keys session is featured on the Detour LP “The Best of Doo-wop Classics Volume 2.” Not all Groove releases were up to the standard of the sides on “Groove Jumping!” but there was plenty of good rockin’ R&B from the likes of Milt Trenier, Buddy Lucas, Larry Dale, The Du Droppers, Chris Powell, Big Al Sears and the king of low life philosophers, Mr Bear.
I seem to remember back in the old Rock Hall days that I tried to get a “Mr Bear for President” campaign going. He’d have told those bankers where to get off. Fans of R&B esoterica should note the presence of another Be Bop Wino hero on Mickey and Sylvia’s “No Good Lover”: Washboard Bill! Mr Bear and Washboard Bill on the same LP? There can be no higher recommendation!
Ripped from vinyl at 320 kbps. Password = greaseyspoon
Download from here:
1. Ride And Roll / Sonny Terry
2. No Good Lover / Mickey & Sylvia
3. Strange Kind Of Feeling / Tiny Kennedy
4. Bottle It Up and Go / 'Big' John Greer
5. Boot 'Em Up / The Du Droppers
6. Talk That Talk / The Du Droppers
7. Lawdy Miss Mary / The Five Keys
8. Worried 'Bout You Baby / Roy 'Mr Guitar' Gaines
9. Dat Dat De Dum Dum / Roy 'Mr Guitar' Gaines
10. Radar / Mr Bear
11. How Come? / Mr. Bear
12. Dead Broke / The Du Droppers
13. Speed King / The Du Droppers
14. Smack Dab In The Middle / The Du Droppers
The Westside label released two compilation CDs of Groove and RCA material in 1998: “Honkin’ ‘n’ Hollerin’” and “The Groove Story.” Both CDs are long out of print but you might find them at your local second hand CD dealer.
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