Release Date: 08/24/07
Ted Jarrett was chief songwriter, producer and head of A&R. Ted had written a big hit record for Louis Brooks and the Hi-Toppers on Excello the previous year ('It's Love Baby, 24 Hours A Day' #2 R&B 1955), so he was really on a roll. The vocalist on that record was Earl Gaines. When Earl's three followup releases for Excello failed to click, the label dropped him. Ted was only too happy to bring him into the Champion Records fold. The initial releases on Calvert, however, were by two young Jarrett discoveries named Gene Allison and Larry Birdsong. Larry would go on to have a long, if not very illustrious career, but Gene would become a star. When these first two releases started to move, Bubis realized that the records might be too big for his limited distribution network. He licensed the Birdsong and Allison discs to major label Decca Records where they had some modest success. It's interesting to note that Ted went right back into the studio and covered his own record, cutting the two Allison sides ('Somebody Somewhere' & 'You're My Baby') on Larry Birdsong, though he recorded the 'A' side in the newfangled rock n' roll style rather than the blues style in which Gene had originally recorded it. If a song didn't hit with one artist, Ted would try it again. If he believed a song to be a hit, he wouldn't give up. Several of his compositions were recorded by more than one artist, often with different arrangements. And several of the Champion artists re-recorded tunes from Ted's Republic days. Nashville was fairly brimming with talent in the late 1950s. Bullet Records had come and gone, but their initial success had spawned many other independent labels like Dot, Excello, Athens, Hermitage, Rich and Delta. Champion installed the Jimmy Beck Orchestra as house band for their recording sessions. Their moniker is a bit overly grand for what amounted to basically just a crackerjack rhythm & blues combo. The group featured legendary blues guitarist Johnny Jones (famous in some circles as the man who tutored Jimi Hendrix in the blues). Many of the artists saw only one of their records released by the label. Champion was essentially a regional company and if a record didn't sell they quickly moved on to the next artist. There were a few exceptions. The Murfreesboro (actually blues singer Al Garner recording under his nickname) record did well for the company, so well, however, that he was promptly signed by Excello. The Charles Walker record also did fairly well, but Charles had bigger fish to fry and headed out for New York City, where he began a long and interesting career. The Baker Knight record sold well enough to be licensed out to Decca, but he also had bigger ambitions. He relocated to Los Angeles where he became one of the most successful songwriters of his generation. The artists who saw multiple releases for Champion and its subsidiaries moved records by regular touring rather than by radio play. The only release that had any radio exposure was the label's one and only hit (and it was only a regional hit), 'Pipe Dreams' by the Jimmy Beck Orchestra. It sold about fiftythousand copies and was then licensed to Excello for a compilation album. By 1958 Ted Jarrett had recorded 'You Can Make It If You Try' with Gene Allison and had taken both Gene and Larry Birdsong to Vee-Jay Records in Chicago (where Christine Kittrell was recording at the time). The song was a massive hit and Ted was ready to strike out on his own. Without Ted there was no Champion Records, so Alan Bubis bought out his cousin, released the remaining masters he had in the can, and folded the company in 1959. Gene Allison ended up succumbing to alcoholism and ruined his own career, and Ted would end up back working for Alan Bubis at Spar Records in the 1960s. Several of the Champion artists went on to have long careers, Al Garner played drums for Freddie King through the sixties, Johnny Jones played guitar with Bobby 'Blue' Bland for many years, Charles Walker became a successful Las Vegas and Atlantic City lounge act with his group The Sidewinders, Earl Gaines had a few more hits in the 1960s and never went without a recording contract until his death in 2009, and all four had a big career resurgence in the 1990s, touring the world and making critically acclaimed new recordings. History has proven that all involved with this small but mighty record company were truly champions of rhythm & blues.
|Label: Blue Label|
|Run Time: 40 mins|
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