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May 1999

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Various Artists
The Excello Story, Volumes 1 - 4
Hip-O Records

The Excello StoryThe Excello Story is a tale of two states: Tennessee and Louisiana. Excello, founded in 1952, was a subsidiary of Ernie Young's Nashboro label. The earliest recordings consisted primarily of artists from Nashville and surrounding states, with the intention of focusing on black music instead of the hillbilly records coming out on Nashboro. After several years Young hooked up with Crowley, Louisiana's Jay Miller, who was recording many of the better blues and swamp pop artists in southwestern Louisiana. From this partnership came some of the best blues ever recorded.

Volume One starts with one of the best early Excello releases, Arthur Gunter's original recording of "Baby Let's Play House." This 1954 version had a much rawer sound than Elvis' more famous cover. Also very good is the gospel harmonizing of The Boyer Brothers on the 1952 recording of "Step By Step" and the incredibly fervent "God Is Alright" (1955) from The Sons of the South. I also liked the uncredited blues guitar on The Peacheroos' "Be Bop Baby" from 1954.

The years 1955 through 1957 are covered in Volume Two, as we hear some of the first Louisiana songs here. Lightnin' Slim was Jay Miller's first artist on Excello with "Lightnin's Blues." King Karl's swamp classic "Irene" is here, recorded in 1956 with Guitar Gable's band. This disc also contains the earliest recordings from well-known Louisiana artists Lonesome Sundown, Lazy Lester and Slim Harpo ("I'm A King Bee"). Great Nashville recordings here include Earl Gaines' "It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)," recorded in 1955 when he was singing with Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, and Clarence Samuels' "Chicken Hearted Woman," featuring a young Johnny Copeland on guitar.

Volume Three is notable for the introduction of Nashville soul singer Roscoe Shelton, with the 1959 hit "Please Think It Over."  Other classics include The Gladiolas' "Little Darlin," featuring the lead vocals of South Carolina singer Maurice Williams, who later recorded a number one hit, "Stay," for Herald Records. Two of Lazy Lester's best songs, "I Hear You Knockin'" and "I'm A Lover, Not A Fighter," are found on this collection, along with three other swamp pop standards, "This Should Go On Forever" from Guitar Gable & King Karl, "Rooster Blues" from Lightnin' Slim, and "Rainin' In My Heart" from Slim Harpo. One of my favorite blues songs, "Emmit Lee," by Carol Fran is also on this disc.

The majority of the songs on Volume Four, covering 1961 to 1975, are Louisiana recordings. What was probably Excello's biggest hit, Slim Harpo's 1966 classic "Baby Scratch My Back," starts out this final volume. There are several more Lightnin' Slim recordings, as well as contributions from Tabby Thomas (the often covered "Hoodoo Party"), Silas Hogan, and Whispering Smith. Ernie Young acquired two singles from J.V.B. Records of Detroit, and in 1962 re-issued singles from Baby Boy Warren and Little Sonny. There were also a couple of recordings from the legendary Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, including The Kelly Brothers' soul chestnut "You Put Your Touch On Me."

During its 20-year run Excello Records contributed a great legacy to the history of American music, and this collection does an excellent job in documenting the best recordings from this label.

--- Bill Mitchell

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