Theories abound about who invented rock ‘n’ roll and where and how it began. Most of them cross and share the same highway on their version to the truth. The one common opinion held by all is the Mississippi river always figures some way in to the narrative. The geographical feature that divides the United States in half is somewhere buried in the heart of each tale. It provided something for every need that arose in each narrative. However for independent record label Excello Records, the Mississippi would serve as a metaphor. No matter what the label did or the talent it boast. it would always be a secondary label of what was then considered secondary people, African Americans. The talent of Excello Records took a backseat to no one and rightly boasts an integral part in the story of rock music’s development.
Excello began its life in the capital of country music Nashville, Tennessee. Founded by Ernie Young in 1953, the fledgling label was a subsidiary of Nashboro Records, also the child of Young, which specialized in gospel records. According to the website Rockbilly.nl, “Young’s labels were off-shoots of Ernie’s Record Mart, a Nashville- based shop and mail order operation launched in 1950.”
By the mid 50s, Eddie Cochran and Elvis were finding some success with what the Wikipedia entry for Elvis Presley called, “(he)was an early popularizer of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues.” It was the mixture of a Latin-tinged back beat and blues song structure that set the world ablaze and provided the grounding with which rock flourished. The Latin flavor would spice up the sometimes lumbering blues structured songs.
JD Miller, who would be the main creative force in the creation of the “Swamp Blues” sound, would use his success as producer of the Lightnin’ Slim hit song “Bad Luck” to enter in an agreement with Excello and Earnie Young to distribute the tapes of the amateur R & B artists he recorded.
In October, Young would meet up with the man who would help his talented assemblage of musicians achieve a sound far ahead of its time. JD Miller was a record producer from Crowley , La. As Rockabilly notes about meeting, it would set up “one of the most famous partnerships in R&B history,” would also be an important event in the shaping of rock music.
JD Miller’s first job was a song from Guitar Gable entitled ” Congo Mambo.”
When the song starts, you hear how the music was coming together. The staggered type rhythm introduced a new opportunity to the way their music spoke. This was rock. The only problem was it was made during the time of racial inequality. Black artists music was to made for black folk only. Certainly, they crossed over and black artists, like Excello’s Slim Harpo, would influence a whole generation who would cover his songs, including the Rolling Stones and Neil Young, but his initial successes, along with other black artists of the period were quite limited.
However, in terms of innovation, should that disqualify one like Slim Harpo from recognition and Excello themselves from the sense of achievement just because their market had limits, albeit artificial ones? The more you listen to the songs of Slim Harpo, Lonnie Brooks, Lazy Lester, and Lightnin Slim, you hear sounds that Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and even Buddy Holly would never come near replicating.
Was Excello Records the birthplace of rock and roll?