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And so it ends… the short-lived but incredibly productive run of Freedom Records after less than two years in operation.

Though their success on paper seems rather limited, a handful of mostly regional hits, but their content has been by far the best of any label in rock’s first three years, at least according to our subjective assessments.

What makes their output all the more remarkable is that despite the company being situated in the midst of blues-country (Houston, Texas) with a jazz-leaning studio bandleader Freedom excelled at giving us pure unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll for the most part.

Whether that was their original intent or not is up for debate, but in the studio they seemed to know what worked far better than their competitors in this field and focused on bringing those elements to the surface in most everything they did, which is why their dissolution now – as rock has finally erased all doubts that it’s here to stay – seems particularly unfair.


Traveling Through It All Alone
When Freedom Records started back in March of 1949 it had decidedly limited goals. It surely wasn’t out to reshape the narrative in black popular music, all it wanted was to sell a few records locally and see what the business was like.

They started off by picking up unissued masters from the previous local label, Eddie’s Records, and seemed fairly content to try for the same limited market they’d be able to secure over the previous year. Houston was a hot-bed of musicians and far away from the recording centers of both coasts, so surely they’d be able to get some locally popular names to promote.

But while that would indeed be the pattern most Houston based companies would take in the months to come as more of them (Macy’s, Peacock) came out of the woodwork (and others, like New York’s Sittin’ In With, had a Texas based roster), Freedom Records lucked out in two very significant ways.

First was the man they hired to lead their studio band, alto saxophonist Conrad Johnson, was open-minded enough not to limit himself to the more sophisticated jazz he preferred and was versatile enough to be able to effectively adapt his approach – and that of his band – to provide more suitable backing for whatever artist strolled through the doors.

The second bit of good fortune came when the singer/guitarist they’d signed to be a T-Bone Walker imitator – which he was more than glad to do on stage – decided that it would be far better to craft his OWN style well removed from the blues of his idol.

The first record cut for Freedom that we reviewed – as opposed to the leased sides cut for Eddie’s Records – had come from this talented 18 year old kid, Goree Carter. It was appropriately enough called Rock Awhile and it was the future of rock ‘n’ roll wrapped in one explosive record.

Therefore it’s probably only fitting that the last record we’ll review on Freedom also comes from Goree Carter, although since he’s in the Army now and had cut sides on his way out the door for another company, they issued Lonely World as by Joe Turner’s Combo instead of the kid who’d provided Freedom with some of the best records rock ‘n’ roll had yet seen.

With that kind of ingratitude maybe their demise came at just the right time after all.


My Heart Is Weary
Okay, as for why this got issued under Turner’s name though Big Joe had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the record as it wasn’t HIS band, it was the same Hep-Cats that played with Carter on every session… the reason is Freedom had one great cut by Turner left in the vault – Jumpin’ At The Jubilee and needed a B-side.

Rather than split the credit between Turner and Carter, they figured that Big Joe had far more sales potential than Carter and so labeling it this way with a small print “Vocal By Goree Carter” would make more sense than doing that same thing for Turner and crediting both sides to Carter, even though Carter’s presence on the fantastic top-side may have even justified it had they went that way instead.

Let’s not forget though that among his other contributions to the company, which included his own records as well as playing guitar on most everyone else’s, was the fact that it was he who brought Joe Turner to Freedom Records to begin with, convincing him to sign with them which gave the company their biggest name and some big regional hits in the process.

Oh well.

As for Lonely World, an eerie title considering how Carter all but vanished from music for decades, all but completely forgotten despite his (mostly uncredited) influence on a wide swath of rock sounds to come, this is ironically the bluesiest work he made for the company after resisting that direction for the bulk of his time with them.

His slow guitar and piano are intertwined on the introduction, a nice subtle touch that shows even at his last session for them – back in April – they still weren’t phoning in their arrangements.

When Carter’s vocals come in his nasal tone that always placed his singing a notch or two below both his songwriting and playing seems fitting for these kind of downcast sentiments as he’s bemoaning his lot in life and vowing to end his misery in the most drastic way possible.

In real life Carter had gotten his draft notice around this time and so maybe that influenced his writing and his playing here. It’s certainly not the same vibrant Carter we’ve loved so much since we met him, even though he shows he’s got some good instincts in this alternative career path had he chosen to follow it.

I’m Going To Leave You Far Behind
Maybe the best way to consider this track is as a rare glimpse into a different set of choices he had laid out before him when starting out.

That version of Goree Carter, and indeed that version of Freedom Records, wouldn’t have gotten much attention from us here, for as much as we love pure blues we’re not covering that on a rock history website, but it’s at least interesting to ponder to see if they might’ve been more commercially viable had they taken that road to begin with.

If Lonely World is any indication the answer is no, for while Carter is reasonably effective at conveying a blues mindset, he doesn’t stand out as special doing so. Even his guitar solo utilizing some nice hesitation moves that accentuate how slow and drawn out it already is, comes across as something technically impressive but not emotionally gripping, especially not compared to his furious licks produced on the majority of his rockers.

But interestingly we also get to see that the band has become far more accustomed to rock than to blues or even jazz in the intervening time, as Conrad Johnson’s alto sax is definitely the highlight of the song, anchoring it in rock balladry even if much of the rest is pulling it towards pure blues. Johnson gives it an aching soulfulness while the piano adds just enough light melodic touches to keep the track from sinking into total despair.

Had they gone with the blues as their primary output chances are they’d have had no more – or less – commercial returns, as since the local Gulf Coast market was so blues oriented even average blues records would still move a few copies, but there’d likely be no gushing praise seven decades down the road for any of it.

The World I Love Is Gone
They might not have struck gold with rock ‘n’ roll either, at least not financially, but what they produced in a purely creative vein has more than stood the test of time and offers proof that obscure though the core of this unit was, then and in the years since, their abilities were on par with virtually anybody.

Lonely World barely hints at that brilliance however which makes it a rather disappointing final word on the company’s life.

But maybe that’s fitting too. While they were blessed with ample luck in landing talent, they never saw any of that luck carry over into the business side of the venture and even had they managed to stay afloat it was going to be increasingly hard to get by with Carter out of circulation for a year or more.

So they shut it down. Big Joe Turner was already gone, Lonnie Lyons’ drinking problem had forced him out of the band before this session was cut and even the rhythm section of Nunu Pitts and Allison Tucker were replaced here. Conrad Johnson went back to teaching music and Goree Carter got inducted into the Army. The music world went on without them.

In the final tally Freedom Records lasted all of about twenty months, it came and went in the blink of an eye, a single drop of sand in humanity’s hour glass… a mere moment in time.

But while it lasted, boy did they do things right.


(Visit the Artist page of Goree Carter for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)