The late 1940s and early 1950s seemed to be the ideal time to start up an independent record company. Such iconic labels as Sun, Atlantic, Chess and Specialty all began releasing their own recordings of regional blues, folk, country, jazz and r&b artists as a reaction to the conservatism of the majors. Vanguard Records was one of those labels. The imprint was started in New York City in 1950 by two brothers, Maynard and Seymour Solomon who, according to the New York Times, were “unhappy with the offerings of the music companies and felt they could do better”.
While never as successful as some of the other labels that sprang up at the same time, Vanguard still produced a wealth of great music. Although the Solomon brothers first concentrated on classical titles, they quickly began issuing blues, jazz and folk music when the legendary John Hammond came on board in 1953. He brought with him the acetates from his Spirituals To Swing concerts held at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and 1939 and finally released then through Vanguard in 1959. These recordings captured historically important performances by the likes of Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and, Big Joe Turner. Two tracks are included here, one by Big Bill Broonzy and another by The Golden Gate Quartet.
Perhaps the most significant Vanguard release came in 1956 when they issued The Weavers At Carnegie Hall. At the time, The Weavers, featuring Pete Seeger, were being attacked by Senator Joe McCarthy for “un-American activities”, i.e. for being Communists. As a result, most record companies would touch The Weavers; Vanguard did, and essentially set off the folk music revival that launched the careers of acts like the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez and a guy named Dylan.
In 1959 Vanguard began recording every musical moment of the Newport Folk Festival; they did this through to the mid-1960s. As a result the label owns a treasure-trove of live recordings, many of which are featured here including a previously-unreleased Bob Dylan performance of North Country Blues recorded in 1963.
Another of Vanguard’s milestones was the three-album set Chicago/The Blues/Today! released in 1966. The set was recorded by producer Samuel Charters who travelled to Chicago to capture the sounds of blues artist like Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite.
The label attempted to latch on to the rock & roll scene of the late sixties, but met with limited success. Their most successful signing was Country Joe & The Fish. Lesser significant acts included Detroit’s The Frost (featuring guitarist Dick Wagner) and The 31st Of February with pre-Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks.
The label did have a few hits over the years, most notably Joan Baez’s 1971 recording of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Rooftop Singers’ Walk Right In (1963) and, well, actually, that’s about it…Benny Bell’s novelty hit, Shaving Cream (1975) doesn’t get included here.
But the label did claim a huge roster of fascinating and unique characters…Phil Ochs, Kinky Friedman, John Fahey, Jerry Jeff Walker and Sandy Bull are all represented here.
The first two discs of this four-disc set are dedicated to blues and early folk (Doc Watson, Cisco Houston, Eric Anderson) while the third and fourth discs highlight recordings from the late sixties and early seventies.
All the Vanguard releases were beautifully produced and sound great here. The package comes with a 58-page booklet with write-ups on each of the 83 tracks on offer. There are two essays, one by Sam Charters and another by John Crosby.
There’s a lot of music here…much of it is relatively obscure and the styles represented range from blues to gospel to folk to psychedelia. The Solomon Brothers sold the label in the mid-80s (Seymour died in 2002, Maynard is a working author), but before they got out of the music business, they left their mark. This collection is an excellent entry into a myriad of artists that you may not have heard until now. It’s all here, have a good look around.
Click here to listen to Early Morning Rain by Ian & Sylvia:
1. I’m So Glad – James, Skip
2. Done Got Wise – Broonzy, Big Bill
3. Stagolee – Hurt, Mississippi John
4. Gospel Train – Golden Gate Quartet
5. Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep – Swan Silvertones
6. The Prodigal Son – Wilkins, Robert
7. Bosco Stomp – Cajun Band
8. Blues is a Botheration – Spann, Otis
9. Too Much Alcohol – Hutto, J.B. & the Hawks
10. Blues After Hours – Crayton, Pee Wee
11. I Can’t Be Satisfied – Hammond, John Jr.
12. Whats the Matter With the Mill – Koerner, Ray & Glover
13. Cocaine – Van Ronk, Dave
14. Samson and Delilah – Davis, Gary
15. Cotton Crop Blues – Cotton, James
16. Clay’s Tune – Musselwhite, Charlie
17. I Can’t Quit You Babe – Rush, Otis
18. You Lied To Me – Wells, Junior
19. Fever – Guy, Buddy
20. Ball and Chain – Thornton, Big Mama
1. Deep River Blues – Watson, Doc
2. Hello Stranger – Seeger, Mike
3. House Carpenter – Riddle, Almeda
4. 500 Miles – West, Hedy
5. Little Glass of Wine – Stanley Brothers
6. Going Down This Road Feeling Bad – Watson Family
7. Stewball – Herald, John
8. This Land is Your Land – Weavers
9. Pretty Boy Floyd – Houston, Cisco
10. Walk Right In – Rooftop Singers
11. The Rocky Road To Dublin – Clancy, Liam
12. Jug of Punch – Clancy Brothers
13. The Leaves That Are Green – Country Gentlemen
14. Walls of Time – Monroe, Bill
15. Where Have All the Flowers Gone? – Seeger, Pete
16. Anger In the Land – West, Hedy
17. There But For Fortune – Ochs, Phil
18. Thirsty Boots – Andersen, Eric
19. The Last Thing On My Mind – Paxton, Tom
20. San Francisco Bay Blues – Fuller, Jesse
21. Roll On Buddy – Kentucky Colonels
22. Hard, Ain’t It Hard – Kingston Trio
23. Many a Mile – Sky, Patrick
1. North Country Blues – Dylan, Bob
2. Farewell, Angelina – Baez, Joan
3. Early Morning Rain – Ian & Sylvia
4. Reflections In a Crystal Wind – Farina, Richard & Mimi
5. Driving On Bald Mountain – Odetta
6. Four Strong Winds – Ian & Sylvia
7. Mobile Line – Kweskin, Jim
8. Dope Again – Serpent Power
9. I-Feel-Like-Im-Fixin-To-Die Rag – Country Joe & the Fish
10. Sock It to Me – Bull, Sandy
11. Down In the Basement – Notes from the Underground
12. Negative Dreamer Girl – Circus Maximus
13. Rock and Roll Music – Frost
14. Cristo Redentor – Musselwhite, Charlie
15. Nobody Blues – Serpent Power
16. Born In Chicago – Butterfield, Paul Blues Band
17. Oud and Drums – Bull, Sandy
18. Janis – Country Joe & the Fish
19. Sweet Lady Love – Frost
20. Lonely Man – Circus Maximus
0. DISC 4:
1. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – Baez, Joan
2. Hobos Lullabye – Scruggs, Gary & Randy
3. Dueling Banjos – Dillards
4. Shell Game – Walker, Jerry Jeff
5. Get Your Biscuits In the Oven and Your Buns In the Bed – Friedman, Kinky
6. I’m a Woman – Muldaur, Maria
7. March! For Martin Luther King – Fahey, John
8. The Death of Stephen Biko – Paxton, Tom
9. Here I Go Again – Country Joe & the Fish
10. You Should Be More Careful – Elizabeth
11. Soldier Blue – Sainte-Marie, Buffy
12. Sold American – Friedman, Kinky
13. Sail – Oregon
14. Renes Theme – Coryell, Larry
15. Commemorative Transfiguration and Communion At Magruder Park – Fahey, John
16. Morning Song To Sally – Walker, Jerry Jeff
17. She Used To Want To Be a Ballerina – Sainte-Marie, Buffy
18. A Nickels Worth of Bennys Help – 31st of February
19. Wish I Was a Punk – Notes from the Underground
20. Kiss My Ass – McDonald, Country Joe