The City of Philadelphia is rightly famous for its independent record labels. Jamie arrived on the scene in 1957, around the same time Cameo Parkway was founded. The tradition continued with Leon Gamble and Kenny Huff’s Philadelphia International in the Seventies.
Broadcast live from Philly, television’s teenage music showcase American Bandstand put the city on the musical map when it was picked up nationally by ABC in 1957. Philadelphia boasted a thriving R&B scene and local groups often gained valuable exposure on the show. Watching these developments was lawyer Harold Lipsius, a businessman with a keen interest in music.
Before launching Jamie Records, he bought Universal Distribution in 1955, meaning that Jamie, along with Universal’s existing Guyden imprint, had the advantage of its own distribution network, unlike most independents. Two sister labels were added to the roster, Philadelphia soul pioneers Arctic in 1964 and, three years later, Phil-LA of Soul.
Although Jamie owned a studio and employed in-house producers, much of its output came from licensing material from independent producers and smaller labels. Jamie’s first hits came this way, a run of success from Lee Hazlewood’s partnership with guitarist Duane Eddy that included ‘Theme From Dixie’ and ‘Forty Miles Of Bad Road’. Eddy’s twangy sound came from playing lead guitar on the bass strings. Hazlewood’s echo-laden production was equally striking and influenced Phil Spector. Hazlewood’s singing voice, higher than on his later work with Nancy Sinatra, can be heard alongside Eddy’s distinctive guitar on the jointly-credited single ‘The Girl On Death Row’.
Mirriam Johnson’s ‘Lonesome Road’ was also featured Eddy. He backed her on tour and they married in Las Vegas in 1962. Mirriam tried her hand as a songwriter before the couple divorced in 1968. Her next husband was outlaw country singer Waylon Jennings and, as Jessi Colter, she achieved a crossover country hit in 1974 with ‘I’m Not Lisa’.
Before hooking up with Jamie, Phoenix-based Hazlewood had written and produced ‘The Fool’, a Top 10 single for rockabilly singer Sanford Clark. Their association continued on the Philadelphia label with five singles including ‘Long John’, ‘Sing ‘Em Some Blues’ and ‘Son Of A Gun’, the last-named renowned as one of the first songs Keith Richards learnt to play. Clark also served as bassist in Eddy’s touring band.
The Eddy-Hazlewood connection recurs on Ray Sharpe’s ‘Linda Lu’, which Lee produced with Duane on guitar. The Number 49 Billboard hit has been covered by the Rolling Stones and many other artists.
No relation, although also produced by Hazlewood, were the Sharps, a black doowop/R&B outfit managed by his business partner Lester Sill. Having contributed ‘rebel yells’ to his ‘Rebel Rouser’, Eddy returned the favour by supplying guitar on ‘Have Love Will Travel’. The Sharps morphed into the Rivingtons and enjoyed a novelty hit with ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’.
R&B was a vital part of Jamie’s operations. Titus Turner, co-composer of the standard ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’, recorded six 45s for the label, two of which, ‘Hey Doll Baby’ and the infectious ‘Pony Train’, are featured here.
Barbara Lynn’s ‘You’ll Lose A Good Thing’ was an R&B Number 1 in 1962 that also went Top 10 in the mainstream chart. Lynn was an unusual talent, a left-handed female guitarist who wrote her own material, although ‘You’re Gonna Need Me’ was penned by Motown alumni Holland-Dozier-Holland-Wylie.
Black R&B and white vocal harmony sat comfortably together on Jamie, as demonstrated by two groups with the same name. Johnny Angel and the Creations were responsible for the exquisite harmonies of 1959’s ‘Where’s My Love’. Two years later, a different set of Creations contributed the teen doo-wop of ‘The Bells’, an early Phil Spector production.
Philadelphian harmony group Billy and the Essentials were put together by Billy Carlucci, one-time classmate of Patti LaBelle. They signed to Jamie in 1962, and ‘Over The Weekend’ and ‘Maybe I’ll Be There’ are regarded as local classics.
Californians the Blackwells consisted of two brothers and a sister. Their sensitive version of the standard ‘Unchained Melody’ charted in June 1960. A year later, the original song ‘Love Or Money’ reached Number 46 in Britain and was separately covered by the Everly Brothers and Billy Fury.
Jamie’s strength lay in the diversity of its catalogue. Straight-ahead rock‘n’roll was provided by the Velaires on Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, while the same group offered Everlys’ style harmonies on ‘Memory Tree’. The label even ventured into novelty-record territory with Dick Van Dyke’s ‘Three Wheels On My Wagon’. A Burt Bacharach/Bob Hilliard song, it has the distinction of being Bacharach’s first production credit.
Jamie rode out the relocation of American Bandstand to LA in 1964 and the simultaneous British Invasion, but life became increasingly difficult for independents as the music industry expanded. The label’s last hit was Crispian St Peter’s ‘Pied Piper’ in 1966 and, by the turn of the decade, its output had slowed drastically. Unable to compete with the financial clout of the majors, Jamie released its last single in 1974, leaving behind an unforgettable legacy.