So... Just when you think you've at least vaguely "heard of" most of the obscure record labels from the 1950s and '60s, up pops another one worthy of your attention.... And suddenly you are humbled, reminded that the universe of music is vast, deep and wide...
Last year I learned about the fine label out of Baltimore called Ru-Jac Records, which I wrote about here on Audiophile Review (click here). And now this year I've been learning about a feisty little enterprise from Chicago called Bea & Baby Records. Run by one "Cadillac Baby" (aka Narvel Eaton), it is the focus of a new boxed set retrospective (more on that in a moment).
This is the stuff that keeps me excited about music folks: that there is always something new to discover, even a catalog of vital tunes that are many many decades old! And to give you an idea of how obscure the recordings on Bea & Baby Records are, a quick scan of Discogs.com reveals just 18 titles up there on the used market. There are only four or five on eBay. There are zero on Popsike.com. So if you are into 45 RPM rarities, Bea and Baby Records may well be your new collectors "holy grail."
But just being rare doesn't necessarily ensure great music.
Fortunately, Bea & Baby Records was a fruitful career stop for numerous early rock, doo wop and blues artists including Hound Dog Taylor, Andre Williams, James Cotton and Eddie Boyd. And from the sound of the music I've heard on the fine new four CD boxed set titled Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records : The Definitive Collection, it is just chockfull of grand R'n B grooves, Blues swagger, Doo Wop heartbreak and Rock 'n Roll abandon.
Put together by super fan and Earwig Records owner Michael Robert Frank, Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records : The Definitive Collection is packed with two and three minute energy bursts. Little Mac's "Don't Come Back" sounds like a blueprint for the sound the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan sculpted many years later.
Even a novelty ditty like T. Valentine's "Little Lu-Lu Frog" gets under your skin -- with its comic "ha ha, hee hee" refrain yet the guitar work and slightly creepy vibe keep you glued to your seat and listening.
Cadillac Baby was quite the entrepreneur, running not only a label but a club and a store (which if the signs in the photo are accurate also sold toys, food, car stereos and repaired TVs!). Mostly a singles-only label, Bea & Baby Records only released one album but they put out dozens and dozens of 45s! Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records : The Definitive Collection presents the A- and B-sides of the singles as originally released, back-to-back which is great for listening continuity.
From the press release for the album: "Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection reveals that this small label featured big-time blues performers as well as up and coming R&B and gospel artists. Boogie-woogie piano wizard Sunnyland Slim, harmonica master James Cotton, and slide-guitar wizard Earl Hooker are all represented; you'll also find Hound Dog Taylor's first single, "Baby Is Coming Home"/"Take Five," as well as "Please Give Me A Chance" and "I Still Love You," two suavely crooned tunes from R&B legend Andre Williams that were released on the rare Ronald label; and several previously unissued tracks by the fabled acoustic blues duo Sleepy John Estes & Hammie Nixon."
The sound on Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records : The Definitive Collection is remarkably good for a small label of this vintage. Since Earwig Records had purchased the entire archive from Cadillac Baby's estate in order to preserve the label's legacy, I suspect they had access to as many of the original tapes as existed as well as some pristine 45 RPM sides to cut this set from.
That said, as is often the case with retrospectives like this, one needs to set one's expectations accordingly. Audiophile-wise not everything is perfect here of course -- as to be expected with recordings of this vintage. Clearly some of the versions presented here are dubbed off disc sources but in general the sound mostly improves as the set progresses. So expect some distortion and periodic wavering of an off-center 45 here and there.
Those moments are more than off set by swingin' sides like "Sampson" by Swingin Sam (featuring Phil Samson). Detroit Junior swings, sways and rocks like nobody's business on "Money Tree" (B/W "So Unhappy"). Heck, there is even a previously unreleased hip hop track by an artist Cadillac Baby co-produced by 17-year old "3D." Talk about diversity! And as a nice "Easter Egg" for purchasers of the new set there is a bonus download of 10 additional previously unreleased tracks by Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon.
Earwig Records has put much love and care into this set which comes housed in a classy glossy 128 page hardcover book-style package (which I am still reading), filled with recording information, artist stories, photos and other memorabilia. This would have been a fabulous tribute to a major label and the fact that this package has been created celebrating a small regional label is all the more impressive. If you are into the Blues, R'n B, Doo Wop and all things early Rock 'n Roll, you probably want to own this retrospective, Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records : The Definitive Collection.