HISTORY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 


The first notable independent label which marked the gradual shift from the major-dominated field was started in 1942 by Herman Lubinsky who’d ran a record shop in Newark, New Jersey. Though having absolutely no musical knowledge and being the most notoriously cheap figure in the business, Lubinsky nevertheless was somebody who knew how to make deals and extract the most out of every situation for a minimum of risk.

Taking advantage of the lack of focus by the major labels on the less mainstream musical styles of bop, gospel and blues, Savoy soon established itself as one of the premiere independents of the 1940’s, notable first for their impressive roster of jazz artists including some of the most legendary names in history including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young, Don Byas, Erroll Garner, Miles Davis and vocalist Jimmy Scott.

By the late 1940’s as rock ‘n’ roll was born Savoy moved into the field by taking saxophonists on the fringes of jazz such as Paul Williams and Wild Bill Moore and placing them in this new style which relied less on technical proficiency and more on attitude and excitement, scoring the first hits in the rock instrumental milieu in the process. They expanded this roster with Hal Singer and Big Jay McNeely who ushered in an even more flamboyant approach.

As the Fifties dawned Savoy was positioned to be among the leaders of the rock kingdom with Johnny Otis and his West Coast crew of vocalists including teenaged Little Esther, Mel Walker and The Robins scoring more hits than anybody during 1950. But Lubinsky’s tight-fisted ways cost the company dearly as his most successful artists quickly left him after he continually ripped them off over what they were owed.

The bigger the music became commercially, the more options the best artists in the field had and Savoy no longer was as appealing a destination.

As a result the legacy of Savoy’s rock artists were those who primarily had their greatest runs in the late 1940’s through the mid-50’s before the music crossed over to younger whiter audiences. The likes of Billy Wright, H-Bomb Ferguson, Varetta Dillard, Nappy Brown and later Big Maybelle were too earthy and raw for the late 50’s rock scene and unwilling to shell out for payola, which was almost necessity for airplay, Lubinsky shed most of his secular acts and concentrated on gospel almost exclusively thereafter while acquiring the music libraries of defunct labels for additional catalog offerings.

As Lubinsky knew nothing of music he’d hired a string of the best A&R men in the business who really built the label over the first fifteen years, producing loads of hits but then, like the artists, found themselves shortchanged by Lubinsky when contracts were discussed.

Ralph Bass, who had produced T-Bone Walker’s immortal “They Call It Stormy Monday” for Black & White Records, was signed by Savoy and oversaw the West Coast sessions for the label for three years before leaving to join King Records where he ran their entire Federal Records subsidiary, resulting in some of the biggest hits and greatest artists of the 1950’s. Teddy Reig, who was a notorious thief himself but had overseen the label’s entire jazz department in making it the envy of the industry, left to start his own company in the 1950’s, calling Lubinsky “a little mental patient” on his way out. Lee Magid, who’d started as a teenager with National Records before moving to Savoy where he was “screwed for years” by Lubinsky, fled to the smaller Central Records before becoming a highly successful manager for the likes of Al Hibbler, Della Reese and Lou Rawls. Only Fred Mendelsohn, who’d first made his bones with Regal and then Herald Records, stuck with Savoy once he arrived, helping to make their gospel line in the 1950’s one of the best in the country, eventually taking over as company President after Lubinsky’s 1974 death, by which time they were a non-entity in the modern music world. In the end, they couldn’t withstand the defections of either their top artists of producers.

Though their rock output was centered on just a ten year period and while historically the names outside of Johnny Otis would appear to be second or third tier acts, there’s more than enough notable artists and records to make Savoy’s contributions to rock ‘n’ roll far more than incidental. Above all else, for all of his personal faults, Lubinsky also deserves credit for proving before anyone else that independent record labels could compete in the marketplace with the majors by focusing on the rich and vibrant black music scene.

 
 
SAVOY RECORDS REVIEWED TO DATE ON SPONTANEOUS LUNACY:
 
 
TINY BRADSHAW: Take The Hands Off The Clock (6) (Savoy 655; October, 1947)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Hastings Street Bounce (5) (Savoy 659; October, 1947)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Way Late (4) (Savoy 659; October, 1947)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Thirty-Five Thirty (5) (Savoy 661; December, 1947)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Come With Me Baby (6) (Savoy 661; December, 1948)
WILD BILL MOORE: Swingin’ For Pappy (4) (Savoy 662; January, 1948)
WILD BILL MOORE: Bubbles (3) (Savoy 662; January, 1948)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Bouncing With Benson (3) (Savoy 664; February, 1948)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Boogie Ride (4) (Savoy 664; February, 1948)
DOC POMUS: My Good Pott (2) (Savoy 5545; February, 1948)
DOC POMUS: Doc’s Boogie (4) (Savoy 5545; February, 1948)
JIMMY “BABYFACE” LEWIS: Grandma And Grandpa (6) (Savoy 5547; March, 1948)
PAUL WILLIAMS: The Twister (8) (Savoy 665; April, 1948)
WILD BILL MOORE: We’re Gonna Rock (8) (Savoy 666; July, 1948)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Waxie Maxie (6) (Savoy 670; August, 1948)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Spider Sent Me (5) (Savoy 670; August, 1948)
HAL SINGER: Cornbread (8) (Savoy 671; August, 1948)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Walkin’ Around (3) (Savoy 680; December, 1948)
THE X-RAYS: I’ll Always Be In Love With You (6) (Savoy 681; December, 1948)
THE X-RAYS: Teddy’s Dream (4) (Savoy 681; December, 1948)
BIG JAY McNEELY: Wild Wig (7) (Savoy 682; December, 1948)
PAUL WILLIAMS: The Hucklebuck (7) (Savoy 683; January, 1949)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Hoppin’ John (4) (Savoy 683; January, 1949)
BIG JAY MCNEELY: The Deacon’s Hop ★ 10 ★ (Savoy 685; January, 1949)
DEE WILLIAMS: Bongo Blues (8) (Savoy 684; February, 1949)
DEE WILLIAMS: Dee’s Boogie (5) (Savoy 684; February, 1949)
HAL SINGER: Beef Stew (5) (Savoy 686; February, 1949)
HAL SINGER: One For Willie (4) (Savoy 686; February, 1949)
WILD BILL MOORE: South Parkway Hop (4) (Savoy 690; March, 1949)
HAL SINGER: Happy Days (3) (Savoy 697; April, 1949)
BIG JAY McNEELY: California Hop (4) (Savoy 698; June, 1949)
BIG JAY McNEELY: Sunday Dinner (6) (Savoy 698; June, 1949)
PAUL WILLIAMS: House Rocker (4) (Savoy 702; June, 1949)
PAUL WILLIAMS: He Knows How To Hucklebuck (7) (Savoy 702; June, 1949)
BILLY WRIGHT: You Satisfy (9) (Savoy 710; August, 1949)
BILLY WRIGHT: Blues For My Baby (6) (Savoy 710; August, 1949)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Pop-Corn (7) (Savoy 711; August, 1949)
PAUL WILLIAMS: Free Dice (4) (Savoy 711; August, 1949)