Ray Charles-Arbee Stidham-Lil Son Jackson-James Wayne
256+ VBR mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from MRL 310
Shad made good use of his Sittin' In With catalogue both in the original Mainstream run and in the MRL series and this offering bears witness to two major aspects of Shad's career: his knack for "discovering" (or being one of the first to record) what would become well-known artists with an illustrious career and his questionable business practices regarding artists and ownership of their material.
Ray Charles needs no introduction and this compilation features some of the earliest recordings of his material, captured shortly after his return to the South from Seattle and ostensibly while he was a member of Lowell Fulsom's ensemble. These predate the Atlantic sessions that saw him start his meteoric rise and are much more on the "Blues" than the "Rhythm &" tip since the gospel inflection had yet to be injected into his work at this point. All of Charles' songs here, save for the instrumental "Back Home," also appeared on a 1960 compilation of Sittin' In With material called Riot In Blues released by Shad on his TIME imprint.
This record also features some of the first recordings by James Wayne, who was discovered by Shad in 1951 when his first session was taped in Houston. His second set recorded in Atlanta shortly after yielded five tracks and among them were the two on offer here. Shad first listed his name on the original 78s as "James Waynes" but later on he would also record under the moniker "Wee Willie" Wayne. It is with Wayne's version of the traditional Louisiana standard "Junco Partner" that the more questionable aspects of Shad's business practices become apparent.
Although the song was already a standard at the time, the songwriting credit is Shad's. Due to the vagaries of recording and publishing contracts, a savvy businessman could jot down the melody, make some minor changes to the lyrics and voila: a song firmly in the public domain was now the property of a record label owner. Another better-known example of that practice was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" originally written and performed by South African artist Solomon Linda.
On the other hand, many artists who were unaware of the rules regarding royalties were basically fleeced into selling their compositions (if not their performances) up-front for a pittance. In a 1973 interview for Jazz Journal magazine (available on the Blues Archaeology website), Candy Green alluded to Shad as one of the sharks that would try and secure a session for "a bottle of whiskey and a chick." That statement might help clarify exactly why some of the first Peppermint Harris recordings were infamously taped in a brothel!
There has been ample speculation on the history of the Junco Partner credit (it has its own Wikipedia entry and one discussion thread can be found here) but it's pretty telling of the industry's legal practices that, even though fully aware of the song's folk heritage, gris-gris mojo man Dr.John still attributes it to Shad on his releases. In fact, the liner notes to his classic Gumbo from 1972 go into detail on its pedigree:
The song was first made popular by James Wayne's hit on the "Sittin' In" (Bob Shad's) label. But it was a New Orleans classic; the anthem of the dopers, the whores, the pimps, the cons. It was a song they sang in Angola, the state prison fams and the rhythm was even known as the "jailbird beat". Dudes used to come back with all different verses. The hard-core dopers couldn't wait to hit the streets after their release so they could score again.Such is the strength of a publishing contract that even though artists like Rebennack, Louis Jordan and Professor Longhair had an intimate knowledge of the song's source they were still required to give Bobby the nod knowing full well what the deal really was. While the credit for "Junco Partner" is under his own name, as mentioned in the previous Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee post, Shad also used the name "R. Ellen" or "Robert Ellen" and sometimes "Mack Ellen" or a combo thereof to register copyrights.
Jordan's Junco 78 with Shad-Ellen credit
c/o Boogie Woogie Flu
Some speculation has been made that Ellen was the name of Shad's wife but that was not her given name, which was Molly. However, her maiden name remains unknown and may indeed be Ellen so the theory can't be entirely discounted at this time. The wiki entry linked to above mentions Robert Ellen as a separate individual but no evidence is available to support this person's existence and Ellen also gets credit as arranger on some sessions where Shad was known to perform that duty. Regardless, the change in policy of using his own name was more than likely due to reducing taxes (as were most business decisions he made) and one way would be for Shad to give his wife the royalties for the music while he took the profits from the product, thus minimizing his personal taxable income.
1 Ray Charles - Why Did You Go
2 Ray Charles - Back Home
3 Ray Charles - I Found My Baby There
4 Ray Charles - Guitar Blues
5 James Wayne - Junco Partner
6 James Wayne - Please Baby Please
7 Arbee Stidham - I Want To Rock
8 Arbee Stidham - Feeling Blue & Low
9 Arbee Stidham - I'm In The Mood
10 Lil Son Jackson - Roberta
11 Lil Son Jackson - She's Gone
There's a riot in blues goin' on at Soundological HERE or HERE.