The Top 10 Blues Record Labels – Part 1 (The ‘Majors’)
We all love our blues but which are the labels that are currently satisfying our needs? Whose releases do we look forward to eagerly? The following list sets out one person’s opinion of which are the best labels out there.
For the purposes of this list I have stuck to what I consider to be ‘major’ blues labels. I have discounted labels that issue blues releases but are predominantly rock or general listening such as Sony or Warners. This list is unashamedly blues labels! There will be another list which picks up the top 10 independents and a further list looking back nostalgically at labels that no longer exist though blues fans wish they did.
The ‘Majors’ (in alphabetical order)
Alligator Records – Bruce Iglauer’s label started out in 1971 as a means of getting Hound Dog Taylor records on to the market and has developed into one of the biggest blues labels. The current roster includes lots of heavyweights such as Tommy Castro, Curtis Salgado, Janiva Magness, Marcia Ball, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Joe Louis Walker, Roomful Of Blues and the late, great Michael Burks. http://www.alligator.com/
Blind Pig Records – Blind Pig was formed in 1977 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by Jerry Del Giudice, owner of the Blind Pig Cafe, and his friend Edward Chmelewski. With their distinctive news releases through ‘The New Pork Times’ Blind Pig keep us informed about their impressive list of artists such as recent signing Billy Branch, Florida roots player Damon Fowler and the ‘supergroup’ of which he is a part, Southern Hospitality, Chicago’s Cash Box Kings and the late Magic Slim. BP has an extensive back catalogue from the likes of Coco Montoya, Tommy Castro, Rod Piazza and John Nemeth. www.blindpigrecords.com
Delmark Records – Founded in 1958, Bob Koester’s label is one of the longest standing and it is also significant that several label bosses started out working for Bob before setting up their own operations, including Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer. Delmark has always championed the Chicago scene with Junior Wells and Magic Sam in its extensive back catalogue and current performers like Lurrie Bell and Toronzo Cannon on its books. www.delmark.com
Delta Groove – Although DG is one of the more recent labels started in 2004 by Randy Chortkoff, it has rapidly established itself with an enviable list of acts. Based on the West Coast, DG has a strong list of West Coast artists including The Mannish Boys, Rod Piazza, Bob Corritore, Kid Ramos and Sugar Ray Rayford. Sister label Eclectrogroove was also started at the same time for artists in Blues Rock and other Blues related musical styles. Recently the company has expanded to offer other services to the music industry such as publicity and promotion, online marketing and web design services, distribution, manufacturing and festival booking. www.deltagrooveproductions.com www.eclectogroove.com
Malaco Records – Malaco was founded by Tommy Couch, Mitchell Malouf, and Wolf Stephenson in 1962. Although mainly a soul and gospel label, Jackson, Mississippi’s Malaco cannot be ignored with a back catalogue that includes Bobby Bland, Little Milton and Bobby Rush. www.malaco.com
Rounder Records – Rounder was founded in 1970 by Ken Irwin, Bill Nowlin and Marian Leighton-Levy in Massachusetts but is now based in Nashville, Tennessee . It has been home to many great blues acts such as Marcia Ball, Roomful Of Blues, Candye Kane and Rory Block. However, in recent years it seems to have concentrated more on its country and bluegrass acts. www.rounder.com
Ruf Records – Ruf Records was founded in 1994 by Luther Allison’s manager, Thomas Ruf, to promote Allison’s career. The only European label in this list, Ruf started out by releasing Allison material and is now established as a major player, particularly in the blues-rock field. The label currently boasts two of this reviewer’s favourites in Royal Southern Brotherhood and Albert Castiglia. www.rufrecords.de
Severn Records – David Earl’s label is based in Maryland but its acts come from all over the US. The Severn speciality is soul blues from the likes of Tad Robinson, Lou Pride and Darrell Nulisch but they also boast the outstanding Sugar Ray & The Bluetones and The Fabulous Thunderbirds on their list. www.severnrecords.com
Stony Plain Records – Founded by Holger Petersen in 1976 this Canadian label is home to some great performers including Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl and Eric Bibb. Closer to home Ottawa band MonkeyJunk has been winning lots of awards and is also on the label. www.stonyplainrecords.com
Telarc Records – Telarc International Corporation is an independent record label, based in Cleveland, Ohio, United States, and founded in 1977 by two classically trained musicians and former teachers, Jack Renner and Robert Woods. At one point TELARC seemed about to corner the market in contemporary blues with Tab Benoit, Jimmy Thackery and Shemekia Copeland all on the label. The label now seems to be putting more weight behind its jazz and classical arms though recent releases from Moreland & Arbuckle and Trampled Under Foot have brought it back to the attention of blues fans. www.telarc.com
You may agree or disagree with my selection, but that is all part of the fun! Put your comments on the website or discuss this list (and other blues-related lists coming up on the Blues Blast website) on Facebook or other social media.