HISTORY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

The primary subsidiary label for King Records which featured a handful of the biggest stars of the organization’s second generation of rock artists and would rival the parent label in terms of notable releases for a couple of years in the early 1950’s.

The impetus for starting Federal Records came when Ralph Bass, who had been Savoy’s top producer, had a falling out with Herman Lubinsky after the Savoy owner tried to stir up trouble in Bass’s home life to essentially blackmail him into remaining with the company. Furious at this tactic Bass goaded Lubinsky into firing him by not showing up for work and once free he headed to Syd Nathan of King Records who promised him his own label to run AND a small piece of the publishing from it, which was unheard of at the time for an employee.

Bass immediately signed Billy Ward’s Dominoes and told him to forget the pop market he wanted to appeal to and instead focus on rock ‘n’ roll. Ward listened and immediately scored a Top Ten hit with their very first release getting the label off to a good start as the group would score hit after hit over the next three years including two massive chart toppers.

Then Bass managed to convince Little Esther, the hottest star in rock over the past year with Savoy – whom he’d produced – to break her contract with his old company, which she could do legally because she was a minor, and join him at Federal. Though they used Johnny Otis’s band incognito – since Otis couldn’t get out of his Savoy contract for another year – they managed only one small hit as her fortunes faded quickly and she became addicted to heroin.

Yet Federal added their first reinforcements when they signed a Detroit vocal group The Royals who soon changed their names to The Midnighters and became the hottest selling act for the company in the mid-1950’s with a string of raw and racy rockers including another of the biggest hits of the decade with “Work With Me Annie”. Another important, though nowhere near as successful, act he brought in was groundbreaking guitarist Johnny “Guitar” Watson who released a few scintillating records during this period.

Along the way he’d also signed up rock acts who’d been hot a few years earlier hoping to revive their fortunes, among them Professor Longhair, Little Willie Littlefield, Big Jay McNeely and Johnny Otis’s guitarist Pete Lewis. He took the same approach with blues, signing formerly big names like Jimmy Witherspoon and Smokey Hogg as well as two higher class female artists from the pre-rock era, Camille Howard and Lil Greenwood. But while their records were strong, they weren’t huge hits and his success was mostly limited to those two major vocal groups.

As a result Bass turned back to that realm signing The Lamplighters and The Platters and it was he who put the latter group together with lead singer Tony Williams but was unable to devote much time to them and consequently lost them when Nathan refused to pay them more than fifty bucks for providing backing vocals on the records of others when Bass had promised them one hundred dollars. The group switched to Mercury and immediately became the biggest crossover rock vocal group of the decade, kicking off their career there with a new version of a record he’d produced for them on Federal.

That loss stung all the more when in 1955 The Midnighters enjoyed their last success for awhile as their records were facing increased criticism for their suggestive content and with rock ‘n’ roll facing more scrutiny over these charges as a whole their records fell from playlists. But he soon found someone new to focus in James Brown And The Famous Flames, racing down to Georgia while rivals from Chess Records were grounded by a snowstorm and then engaging in a cloak and dagger routine to meet with and sign the untested singer.

Typically Nathan didn’t like what he heard and didn’t want to release their first single, “Please, Please, Please” but Bass was adamant it was a hit and was proven right when it went Top Ten, but the follow ups went nowhere until late 1958 when Brown scored his first #1 and justified the signing by becoming the top solo artist of the next fifteen years in rock.

Bass wouldn’t be around to see it though as he left the company in 1959, moving to Chess Records where he remained for the next decade. Federal carried on without him, primarily under the auspices of former early rock star turned producer/songwriter Sonny Thompson who guided the label’s last star, blues-rock guitarist Freddie King to a string of influential hits in the early 1960’s. But the loss of Bass as the primary creative force and with James Brown’s subsequent switch to the parent King label in 1960 the Federal imprint lost its luster.

They carried on without much success for the rest of the Sixties and would release some interesting organ instrumentals by Hank Marr, but scored no hits of any kind after 1963 when The King-Pins “It Won’t Be This Way Always” inched into the Top 100 ending one of the stronger runs by a subsidiary label in the rock era.
 
 
FEDERAL RECORDS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

THE DOMINOES: Do Something For Me (9) (Federal 12001; December, 1950)
THE DOMINOES: Chicken Blues (8) (Federal 12001; December, 1950)
THE DOMINOES: Harbor Lights (8) (Federal 12010; January, 1951)
THE DOMINOES: “No!” Says My Heart (7) (Federal 12010; January, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER: Other Lips, Other Arms (2) (Federal 12016; February, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER & THE DOMINOES: The Deacon Moves In ★ 10 ★ (Federal 12016; February, 1951)
THE DOMINOES: Sixty Minute Man ★ 10 ★ (Federal 12022; April, 1951)
THE DOMINOES: I Can’t Escape From You (6) (Federal 12022; April, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER: I’m A Bad, Bad Girl (3) (Federal 12023; April, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER: Don’t Make A Fool Out Of Me (3) (Federal 12023; April, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER & THE DOMINOES: Heart To Heart (7) (Federal 12036; July, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER: Lookin’ For A Man (6) (Federal 12036; July, 1951)
PRESTON LOVE: Wondering (4) (Federal 12038; July, 1951)
THE DOMINOES: Weeping Willow Blues (7) (Federal 12039; September, 1951)
THE DOMINOES: I Am With You (7) (Federal 12039; September, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER: Cryin’ And Singin’ The Blues (5) (Federal 12042; October, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER: Tell Him That I Need Him So (3) (Federal 12042; October, 1951)
PRESTON LOVE: Unconscious Blues (4) (Federal 12043; October, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER & MEL: Ring-A-Ding-Doo (5) (Federal 12055; December, 1951)
LITTLE ESTHER: The Crying Blues (3) (Federal 12055; December, 1951)