Pioneer. That’s the way to describe Chicago DJ Richard Stamz. A fast-talking, larger-than-life, charismatic character, with an entrepreneurial streak, Richard was also a musical pioneer. Richard was one of the first  black  DJs in America. Using his gift of the gab, the ever persuasive Richard Stamz almost talked himself into a hosting a show on Chicago’s WGES 1390 AM. From the moment he spun his first record, his audience were hooked. No wonder. Richard was one of small number of DJs who played R&B on the radio. Having discovered what was not being called R&B, he decided to spread the R&B gospel. Soon, the jive-talking Richard Stamz was evangelizing about the delights of R&B. The music of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker and Memphis Slim was heard on his show. Then a couple of years later, an opportunity arose for Richard to run his own label. 

With no hesitation, Richard grabbed the opportunity to run not one, but two labels, Foxy Records and Paso Records. They rose like a Phoenix from the ashes of another record company whose owner, a compulsive gambler had “accidentally” drowned in suspicious circumstances. Having worked alongside Eli Toscano, the previous owner, Richard knew how the record business worked. Under Richard’s stewardship, Foxy Records and Paso Records went from strength-to-strength. This was the latest chapter in the career of Richard Stamz, pioneer, entrepreneur, raconteur and survivor, which is documented on Ace Records’ recently released compilation Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues, which i’ll tell you about. Before that, I’ll tell you about the lime and times of Richard Stamz.

According to Richard Stamz, he was born in 1906, on a barge on the Mississippi River. From there, Richard’s family moved to Memphis, where he grew up and went to school. He was well educated, attending a private school. Music surrounded him. Rumor has it W.C. Handy lived nearby, and his grandmother, a gifted singer passed on the songs that had been passed on to her. Richard however, didn’t decide to embark on a musical career straight away. Instead, his entrepreneurial streak was apparent from an early age.

From an early age, Richard was working a number of odd jobs. Whether it was selling lemonade to thirsty laborers or dancing to entertain people, Richard was determined to earn money. The work ethic that had been instilled in him, would stay with him all his life. Soon, however, music would enter Richard’s life.

During the twenties, jazz swept through Chicago’s nightclubs. When Richard heard jazz, he was won over. Soon, he decided to make a career in entertainment. He became a member of Ma Rainey’s Minstrels. Then when the Depression hit, like so many other people, he travelled all over America in search of work. On his return to Chicago, he worked with Richard Pryor’s vaudeville revue. He hit the road with Richard and his wife, the actress Ann Sothern. When that came to an end, Richard’s next job saw him selling advertising.

This was the early thirties. Richard’s method of advertising was simplicity itself. He attached a loudspeaker to the roof of a truck. He called this his “sound truck” which travelled the streets of the Windy City playing music. It was around this time that Richard got interested in politics, which became a lifelong passion. Soon, he became an important member of Chicago’s Democratic party. He was encouraged to help recruit black voters to the Democratic Party. This he successfully did. He efforts were rewarded by Richard being appointed one of the Chicago’s black factory inspectors. This included inspecting record plants.

On his rounds inspecting record plants, Richard was able to meet some of the owners of Chicago’s record labels. Among them were Leonard Chess of Chess and Vivian Carter of Vee Jay. They realized that the man inspecting their factories was also the owner of an advertising truck, which played music. So, free copies of their latest releases were left out for Richard, which he played as he drove around Chi Town. For everyone involved, it was perceived as a win-win situation. In a way, it also marked the start of Richard’s DJ-ing career.

It was 1955 when Dr. Jonathan Dyer, the owner of Chicago’s WGES radio station met Richard. Listening to Richard’s spiel, Jonathan realized he was listening to not just a natural communicator, but someone who would make a great DJ. Without a second thought, Jonathan offered Richard a job, which just as quickly, he accepted.

From his first show, Richard was a natural DJ. Blessed with charm and charisma, soon, Richard was one of Chicago’s most popular DJs. A pioneering DJ, he was one of the first DJs to play R&B on radio. He was soon asked to host a TV show Richard’s Open Door, which aired in 1956. It was an innovative show, that many people believe Soul Train was modeled on. With Richard’s popularity growing, he was soon asked to promote a variety of products. By now, opportunities for Richard Stamz were around every corner. Soon, he would have the opportunity to run his own record label.

Eli Toscano, who owned the Cobra record company, first met Richard around 1957 or 1958. He was delivering records to WGES. Straight away the pair formed a firm friendship. Both were entrepreneurs and fished to relax. The only problem was Eli liked to gamble, but lost heavily. Borrowing to pay his losses wasn’t his best idea. One day in 1959, Eli “accidentally” drowned in suspicious circumstances. Richard thought his friend had been murdered by loan sharks. When he tried to contact Eli’s wife, she wasn’t around. Instead, Richard was told to mind his own business. However, Richard had worked alongside Eli and knew how the record business worked. Under Richard’s stewardship, what had been Cobra Records was transformed.

Out of the same record shop at 3346 West Roosevelt Road, Richard Stamz started building a mini-musical empire. The two labels, which feature on Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues, Foxy Records and Paso Records went from strength-to-strength. Foxy Records released music by Detroit Junior, Robert and The Rockin’ Robins and Mary Johnson, while Paso Records released Harold Burrage, Harold Burrage & His Band, The Ideals and Flora D. These artist feature on the twenty-five track compilation that is Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues, which I’ll tell you about.

There’s no better way to open Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues, than when Harold Burrage and His Band join forces. A delicious fusion of soul, jazz, blues and R&B unfolds. The sou comes courtesy of Harold’s vocal, while his band, combine jazz, blues and R&B. Soon, the song is swinging…and them some. Safe in the knowledge that there’s six more songs from Harold Burrage to enjoy, this looks like a compilation to savor.

Six songs from Harold Burrage’s solo career feature on Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues. They epitomize what R&B music is about. Soulful, but sometimes, blessed with a late-night bluesy sound, Harold’s vocals are heartfelt and often, outpourings of hurt and heartache. The best is You Ought To Love Me, where confusion and despair fills Harold’s vocal. Against a dramatic backdrop, Harold’s vocal is rueful and full of regret on I Was Wrong. Pretty Little Liddy is an uptempo track, where blazing horns accompany Harold’s vampish vocal. Influenced by numerous dance crazes, here R&B and pop meet head on. 

Mary Johnson was signed to the Foxy label. She contributes one of the compilation’s highlights, Goin’ Home. She’s blessed with a vocal that’s powerful, emotive and soulful. Combining sass and power, handclaps accompany Mary. Her vocal becomes a powerful roar, accompanied by syncopated handclaps. These Tears see Mary control her raw power. Feisty, her vocal has been influenced by legendary blues singers like Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton. Then on Lost Love sadness fills her vocal, fills with emotion. Much more tender, it shows another side to the multitalented Mary Johnson.

When The Howlin’ Wolf Band weren’t touring with the Wolf, they were musical guns for hire. Sometimes, they’d work with Willie Williams. On Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues, Willie Williams With The Howlin’ Wolf Band contribute three tracks. They’re South Park Shuffle, Going Back Home and Gittin’ Along (Green Onions). Good as the three tracks are, Gittin’ Along (Green Onions) is the best of the three. An irresistible fusion of jazz and blues from one of the hottest and tightest bands you could ever hope to hear, you’ll long to hear much more like this.

For anyone who loves electric blues, Lee Shot Williams’ Hello Baby will be like Christmas coming early. It was for me. While the rhythm section and keyboards drive the arrangement along, a harmonica plays around the impassioned vocal. Then things get even better with I’m Trying. Dramatic and heartbreaking describes this tale of love gone wrong. 

The sassy and feisty sound of Flora D’s Way Out, Baby is my final choice from Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues. It’s one of two tracks Flora D contributes. Bluesy horns swing, while Flora D struts her way through the lyrics, exuding sass. Then on You Gonna Cry, we hear a different side to Flora D. Her heartbroken vocal has horns and chiming, jazzy guitars for company. Delivered against a bluesy backdrop, her voice is full or emotion and sadness, as she combines blues and soul seamlessly.

Although I’ve mentioned just thirteen tracks of the tracks on Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues, there’s another twenlve tracks to enjoy. This includes tracks from Detroit Junior, The Freddy Robinson Orchestra, The Ideals, Loretta Branch Trio, Tony Gideon and Ze-Majestics. Everything from blues, country, gospel, jazz, R&B, rock and roll and soul. Seventeen of the tracks were released between 1960 and 1962, while the other eight tracks had never been released before. Of the eight unreleased tracks, there’s some real hidden gems in there. None more so than the trio from Willie Williams With The Howlin’ Wolf Band, plus contributions from Harold Burrage and the Loretta Branch Trio. That these eight tracks had never been released before, demonstrates the quality of music Foxy Records and Paso Records were releasing. Yet again, it seemed like Richard Stamz had the Midas Touch.

It seemed regardless of what he turned his hand to, Richard Stamz made a success of it. Whether it was advertising, politics, DJ-ing or running a record label Richard did it well. He was a pioneer, an innovator who is perceived as an important and influential figure in Chicago. A political activist and lifelong entrepreneur, Richard Stamz was of the first black DJs, who went on to run his own record label. Richard it seemed neither lacked energy nor enthusiasm. A colorful, charismatic character, he was the proverbial jive-talker, who was determined to forge a better life for him and his family. In doing this, the record labels Richard Stamz ran were responsible for some memorable music, music which includes some of the best music coming out of the Windy City in the early sixties. Some of that music features on Ace Records’ recently released compilation Foxy R&B-Richard Stamz Chicago Blues. Standout Tracks: Flora D Way Out Baby, Lee Shot Williams I’m Trying, Willie Williams With The Howlin’ Wolf Band Gittin’ Along (Green Onions) and Harold Burrage I Was Wrong.


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