A few years later, I was Jazz Fest with a buddy and we hit the record tent, where I picked up a couple of cassettes from artists I had seen at the Fairgrounds that day. One of them was by a New Orleans guitarist named Earl King, who had appeared that day with Roomful of Blues, who I had seen the night before at a midnight concert hosted by the Fabulous Thunderbirds. King had recently recorded the cassette I bought, Glazed, with Roomful of Blues......on the Black Top label.
While I was in the record tent, I bought a souvenir book of the festival that featured an ad for Rounder Records and an address where you could get a catalog that contained blues and jazz recordings......No 800 numbers, no websites, just an address where you could send a letter. So that's what I did, and four to six weeks later, I had the catalog that changed my life in my hands......Roundup Records. For a new music fan, Roundup Records was the same thing as the Sears Wish Book used to be for kids at Christmas. They had EVERYTHING from LP, cassettes, books, magazines, t-shirts.....anything you wanted that was related to music, and most especially the blues. I did my first mail order within a week and then discovered that they sent out a monthly catalog with new releases and favorite older releases, all discussed by a group of writers who were big fans of the music. I made an order almost every month, usually a mix of new recordings and older recordings of artists that I had heard of, but couldn't find in my local record stores. My collection grew by leaps and bounds.
Most of the new recordings were from a pair of labels......Rounder Records and Black Top Records, mainly because a lot of the artists I listened to, I had discovered at Jazz Fest, and both labels featured a lot of Louisiana blues and soul artists, plus many from the southern part of Texas as well. One of the first I remember ordering was a release by Hubert Sumlin, called Hubert Sumlin's Blues Party. It featured a lot of the artists from the Earl King set I had bought at Jazz Fest, plus a wonderful soul singer named Mighty Sam McClain. After I heard that one, I started making a point to see what Black Top had to offer each month, and I was rarely disappointed.
|Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets|
Black Top also recorded some other great Gulf Coast musicians, like former Duke recording artist James "Thunderbird" Davis and Houston guitarist Joe "Guitar" Hughes. They also recorded artists like Al Copley, Greg Piccolo, Rod Piazza, Mike Morgan and the Crawl, and James Harman. In addition to Buckwheat Zydeco, the label also recorded zydeco artists Terrence Simien and Lynn August.
During the early 90's, Black Top hit the jackpot after stretching out a bit beyond the Gulf Coast. First, they recorded D.C. guitarist Bobby Radcliff, whose scorching Magic Sam-influenced sound turned some heads on 1989's Dresses Too Short.
As the 90's winded down, Black Top released recordings by W.C. Clark (hear his version of "Cold Shot," made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughan, below), Maria Muldaur, Phillip Walker, Robert Ealey, Solomon Burke, and former Excello recording artist Earl Gaines. During all these years, Rounder distributed the label, but they were picked up by another distributor, who was unsuccessful. Alligator handled distribution until 1999, when the label folded.
A few years after the label folded, Hammond Scott released a new CD from Snooks Eaglin on a new label called Money Tree. The new disc was called The Way It Is and for all practical purposes, it was the "unofficial" last Black Top release, even though it was on a different label. It was a fitting swan song, capturing perfectly the essence of the label at its very best.
In recent years, several labels have attempted to reissue a few of the Black Top recordings with varying degrees of success. However, copies of the original releases are still fairly easy to find at Amazon and Ebay, which is where I repurchased most of my favorites on CD. They should be required listening for any blues fan.
Next Week........FBF's Top 10 Black Top Albums