Just For A Day: The Apollo Records Story 1949-1959

Artist: Various Artists
Format: 3CD
Bar-code: 5060259820458
Cat No: DAY3CD045


Apollo Records came from humble beginnings but, through the hard work and dedication of its founders, it became an influential record label in America during the Forties and Fifties. New York-based Apollo went toe-to-toe with larger labels in the era to break artists across numerous genres, most notably doo-wop, gospel and blues, in its near-two decade existence.


Born in the Rainbow Record Shop in downtown Harlem, near the theatre whose name it would share, Apollo Records was founded by husband-and-wife duo Isaac and Bess Berman, along with colleagues Hy Siegel and Sam Schneider. It was Bess who drove the label from the off, taking responsibility for the day-to-day running of Apollo despite Siegel’s initial role of President.


The label’s location amid arguably the country’s most vibrant music scene meant it unearthed gems from the off – and none was more precious than Dinah Washington.  The woman who would become known as ‘Queen of the Juke Boxes’ cut a number of tracks for Apollo during its earliest years.


Among the numbers recorded by the 21-year old were ‘Mellow Mama Blues’ (disc one), ‘My Voot Is Really Vout’ (disc three) and ‘Pacific Coast Blues’ (disc two). Even on her maiden studio outing, the young Washington displayed a talent and a soulfulness that belied her age. She would soon be snapped up by the larger Mercury Records and became one of the most influential artists of her time.


Another future superstar to cut their teeth for Apollo was Wynonie Harris, an R&B powerhouse and founding figure of rock ‘n’ roll. Having travelled the United States in a bid to establish himself, Harris turned up at – of all places – the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in the mid Forties. Among the tracks Harris recorded for the label were ‘I Gotta Lyin’ Woman’, ‘Young And Wild’ and ‘She’s Gone With The Wind’; all three can be found on this collection. The musicians’ strike of 1942-44 postponed Harris’ success, and he went on to enjoy a string of R&B chart-topping hits on both the Decca and King labels.


Artists had to make their name through live performance and public appearances if they wanted to get noticed. Such was the tactic of 35-year old Mahalia Jackson, who arrived at Apollo in 1946.


Jackson wasted no time in justifying the lofty moniker of ‘Queen of Gospel’, bestowed upon her as she played the circuit. In 1948 she recorded and released ‘Move On Up A Little Higher’, which sold eight million. Apollo struggled to meet demand and Bess Berman soon deposed Siegel as head of the label. Jackson would stay at Apollo for nearly a decade, recording tracks such as ‘She Said It Would’ (disc three) and ‘Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen’ (disc one) before departing for Columbia in 1954 and going on to win four Grammy awards.


But it wasn’t just solo stars that made it on Apollo. Bess Berman showed she was adept at spotting collective talent when she renamed gospel vocal group the Selah Jubilee Singers the Larks in 1950. They went on to bag a number of Top 10 R&B hits, including ‘Little Side Car’ (disc three) in ’51. Buoyed by this success, Berman took another gospel group, the Royal Sons Quintet, and rechristened them the Five Royales.  They would enjoy even greater success, most notably with ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’, a track that would go on to hit for both the Shirelles and the Mamas and the Papas in the Sixties.


While the name of the game was commercial success, characters like ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree gave Apollo a large helping of credibility. A gritty and authentic musician who loved his trade, the veteran New Orleans-born singer-pianist was renowned for his witty lyricism and gritty tone. He cut about a dozen country-blues tracks for Apollo, including ‘Deacon’s Party’, ‘Old Woman Blues’ (both disc one) and ‘Come Back Baby’ (disc three), but would achieve greater success on Atlantic.


With a mixture of cult, critical and commercial success, Apollo maintained a respectable output across the Forties and Fifties. But the early Sixties were blighted by Bess’ ill health and copyright lawsuits pertaining to Apollo’s crediting of Mahalia Jackson recordings. It was ultimately, however, the departure of artists like Jackson, the Five Royales and Wynonie Harris to other labels that proved too much for Apollo, which shut its doors in 1962.


But Bess Berman could look back on her work in that period and be proud, not least of the achievement of becoming the first woman to head a record label in a male-dominated era. More than that, this three-disc selection, with its assortment of artists and musical genres, illustrates the strength of the label’s catalogue in all its glory.

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CD 1

1. Just For A Day – Chuck Edwards
2. Lift Up Your Head – The Chesters
3. Handy Man – The Sparks Of Rhythm
4. What’s That – The Five Royales
5. Don’t Leave Me Baby – The Gentlemen
6. Angel Baby – Billy Austin & The Hearts
7. I Wonder – The Striders
8. A Picture Of You – Solomon Burke
9. My Angel – The Dovers
10. Deacon’s Party – Jack Dupree
11. Please Be Mine – The Casanovas
12. The Be-Bop Mouse – The Cellos
13. Young And Wild – Wynonie Harris
14. Women And Cadillacs – The Nite Riders
15. Mellow Mama Blues – Dinah Washington
16. I’m Gonna Get That Girl – The Vocaltones
17. Please Try To Understand – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
18. Bye Bye Baby – The Keynotes
19. Old Woman Blues – Jack Dupree
20. Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen – Mahalia Jackson
21. Honey From The Bee – The Larks
22. Hey Bo – Eddie Bo
23. Honey In The Rock – Southern Harmonaires
24. The Fool – Ann Ford
25. How About Rockin’ With Me – Piney Brown

CD 2

1. I’ll Never Let You Go – The Vocaltones
2. Tired Of You – The Gentlemen
3. Six O’Clock In The Morning – The Five Royales
4. The Fires Burn No More – The Chesters
5. Baptize Me In Wine – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
6. Darlin’ – The Larks
7. My Heart’s Desire – The Opals
8. Teen-Age Ball – Carmen Taylor
9. Why Keep Me Dreaming – The Claremonts
10. Blues In The Red – Doc Pomus
11. I Don’t Know – The Keynotes
12. Love Me – The Romeos
13. Rich Man’s Blues – Dinah Washington
14. Don’t Love You Anymore – The Sparks Of Rhythm
15. She’s Gone With The Wind – Wynonie Harris
16. Heart Throbbin’ Blues – Eddie Mack
17. Didn’t It Rain – Mahalia Jackson
18. My Baby’s Comin’ Back Home – Jack Dupree
19. Walk Right In – Bill Harvey & His Orchestra
20. I’m Just A Lonesome Man – Sunnyland Slim
21. I Don’t Want You To Go – The Casanovas
22. They Always Say – Solomon Burke
23. In The Evening – The Keynotes
24. Pacific Coast Blues – Dinah Washington
25. Under Your Spell – The Cellos

CD 3

1. Girlie That I Love – The Cellos
2. Never Let Me Go – Mel Albert
3. My Heart Is A Chapel – Solomon Burke
4. Come Back Baby – Jack Dupree
5. Oh But She Did – The Opals
6. Suddenly – The Keynotes
7. Woman Woman Woman – The Sparks Of Rhythm
8. Not Anymore – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
9. Courage To Love – The Five Royales
10. Bermuda Shorts – The Delroys
11. I Gotta Lyin’ Woman – Wynonie Harris
12. Are You For Real – The Casanovas
13. I Beg You Please – The Romeos
14. The Night Has Come – Billy Austin & The Hearts
15. Something To Remember You By – The Gentlemen
16. Doctor Velvet – Night Riders
17. Bad Times – Sunnyland Slim
18. St. James Infirmary – Mike Pedicin
19. Mother’s Day – St. Louis Jimmy
20. My Voot Is Really Vout – Dinah Washington
21. Little Side Car – The Larks
22. Voodoo Woman – Smiley Smith
23. Said He Would – Mahalia Jackson
24. Blues Without Booze – Doc Pomus
25. Hurry Home – The Sparks Of Rhythm