RPM Records was founded by Hollywood based, musical entrepreneur, Jules Bihari, in 1949. This was the second subsidiary of Modern Records, which Jules had founded with his brothers Saul, Joe and Lester in 1944. A year later, Modern Records enjoyed its first hit single.

This came courtesy of  Hadda Brooke, who Modern Music billed as the Queen Of The Boogie. Hadda provided Modern Music with their first commercially successful single, Swinging The Boogie. Released in 1945, this paved the way for the commercial success that followed. Three years later, in 1948, Modern Music changed its name to Modern Records. By then, Modern Records had become one of the most successful independent labels.

By 1948, Modern Records were releasing so many singles that it was becoming difficult to get all their records played on radio. Radio stations were wary of playing too many records by the same label. They were scared they’d be accused of accepting payola. For labels like Modern Records, this presented a problem. So they had to work out a way round the problem.

Their way of doing this, was to setup a subsidiary company. Often this subsidiary company only released one type of music, like blues or R&B. Modern Records’ first subsidiary company was Colonial. It was founded in 1948. A year later, Modern Records founded their second imprint RPM Records.

Founded in 1949, RPM Records would release its first releases in 1950. Part of RPM Records’ success, was a talent scout called Sam Phillips. He brought RPM Records blues legends B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Sam also brought Rosco Gordon. He was part of RPM Records until 1952, when he fell out with the Biharis. After that, Sam Phillips founded his own label Sun Records. However, in 1950, RPM Records was just about to release its first singles.

RPM Records’ first releases included Austin McCoy’s cover of Jack Holmes Happy Payday. This was the start of the rise and rise of RPM Records, which back in August 2014, was documented on Ace Records’ No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53. Four months later, and Ace Records have just released the followup, Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957.

Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957 is a two CD set, featuring a massive fifty-four tracks. This includes blues, R&B and rockabilly. There’s contributions from B.B. King, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Joe Houston, Donna Hightower, Little “George” Smith, The Jacks and Don Cole. Twenty-six of the fifty-five tracks have never been released before. They make their debut on Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957, which I’ll tell pick some of the highlights of.

My first choice from Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957 is the track that opens disc one, is from the first major group to sign to RPM Records, The Meadowlarks. They contribute two tracks. Real Pretty Mamma is the first. The version included isn’t the original version. Instead, it’s Take 3 of a single, they recorded at a session on 5th December 1953. Real Pretty Mama was released as a single in 1954. So was Pass The Gin, which was recorded at the same session. Both tracks feature tenor Don Julian on lead vocals. He played an important part in The Meadowlarks’ twenty year recording career. 

Pianist Connie Mack Booker’s Love Me Pretty Baby was also recorded during December 1953. However, the sessions took place in Houston, where he recorded two takes of Love Me Pretty Baby. The version included is Take 1, which features some blistering, bluesy guitar licks. This inspires Connie, who unleashes a vocal powerhouse, on what proved to be his musical swans-song.

B.B. King features eight times on Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957. Back then, he was billed as B.B. ‘Blues Boy’ King and His Orchestra. Most of the tracks are alternate takes. This includes his 1954 single You Upset Me Baby, which reached number one. Its B-Side You Upset Me Baby, then reached number eight. Three years later, B. B. King released I Wonder in 1957. The version on Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957 is the original version. It shows how B.B. King had matured as a musician in three short years. There’s also an unreleased alternate take of the B.B. King classic Every Day I Have The Blues, plus unreleased takes of Sweet Little Angel and Bim Bam. These tracks show B.B. King evolving and maturing as musician. Listening to these tracks, it no surprise that B.B. King went on to enjoy a long and illustrious career.

In December 1954, Buddy Milton and The Twilighters released the William Curry penned O O Wah as a single. This was their second single for RPM Records. Quite simply, this hidden gem is an irresistible reminder of another musical age, where elements of jazz, doo wop and R&B combine seamlessly.

Just like B.B. King, Johnny “Guitar” Watson cut his musical teeth at RPM Records. His RPM debut was Hot Little Mama, which was released in 1955. It’s delicious, driving slice of R&B. That’s apparent from the alternate take of Hot Little Mama on  Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957. The followup to Hot Little Mama, Too Tired is also included. Again, it’s an alternate take, which features Johnny’s trademark guitar licks. There’s also alternate takes of Johnny’s first hit single Those Lonely, Lonely Nights. It was released in 1956. Six years later, RPM released Ruben. This alternate take was first released in 1962.  A stomping fusion of blues and R&B, it’s a welcome addition. So is the alternate take of She Moves Me, which features a future guitar great honing his sound.

Arthur Lee Maye and The Crowns’s Truly was a released as a single in 1955. It’s a heartfelt doo wop track. Sadly, just like Arthur Lee Maye and The Crowns’ other singles, they failed commercially. Partly, that’s down to Arthur enjoying a parallel career as a baseball player. Without his “other career,” it’s thought Arthur Lee could’ve been destined for greatness.

Before signing to RPM, Little George’ Smith played harmonica in Muddy Waters’ band. After he left Muddy’s employ, Little George’ Smith signed to RPM. His RPM debut his 1955 single Blues In The Dark. It features a harmonica masterclass from the man crowned the “Harmonica King.” No wonder. He’s one of the best harmonica players of the fifties. That’s apparent on the followup to  Blues In The Dark, Oopin’ Doopin’ Doopin.’ On this alternate take of Oopin’ Doopin’ Doopin,’ Little George’ Smith switches between harmonica and lead vocal, showing just why he was crowned the “Harmonica King.” A year later, George released Cross-Eyed Suzzie Lee and then Down In New Orleans as singles. They further enhanced the Harmonica King’s reputation as a rising star.

Not only did Donna Hightower enjoy a solo career at RPM, but she sang backing vocals for a number of artists. She was RPM Records’ leading lady. That’s until Etta James signed to RPM Records. After that, Donna’s career stalled when the Biharis concentrated their efforts on Etta James. That’s despite Donna being a talented singer. Three of her tracks feature on Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957. Dog Gone It was a single Donna Hightower recorded with Maxwell Davis and His Orchestra. It was released in 1955. Hands Off was released as a single later in 1955. An alternate take of He’s My Baby is Donna’s other contribution. It’s a reminder of RPM Records’ original first lady.

Eddy Lang delivers what can only be described as a soul-baring vocal on I’m All Alone. It was released as a single in 1956. Later that year, Eddy released You Got To Crawl Before You Walk as a single. It’s a much more uptempo slice of R&B. Two things remains the same though, the quality and Eddy’s still unlucky in love.

The Jacks’ had a dual career. They recorded for Modern as The Cadets, and for RPM Records as The Jacks. Mostly, The Cadets’ music was ballads. This was very different from the music The Jacks released. Much of it was uptempo tracks, like their 1956 single Sugar Baby. It’s irresistible and hook laden. That’s no surprise. Bass singer Will “Dub” Jones would later join The Coasters. Later in 1956, The Jacks released the heart wrenching ballad Why Don’t You Write Me? It features a vocal masterclass from lead singer Aaron Collins, whose sisters were The Teen Queens.

Rosie and Betty Collins were The Teen Queens. Their harmonies made can be heard on their debut single, Eddie My Love. It have them a hit single, reaching number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B charts. Billy Boy was  The Teen Queens’ sophomore single. The version included on Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957 is an alternate take. That’s the case with Rock Everybody, The Teen Queens’ third single. It sees their music head in a different direction. Sadly, Rock Everybody wasn’t a commercial success. That was the end of The Teen Queens’ commercial success. Their most memorable moments were Eddie My Love and Billy Boy. 

The futuristic sounding Pat Cupp and The Flying Saucers are my final choice from Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957. They were discovered by Jules Bihari in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was so impressed with what he heard, that he sent signed them straight away to record some of Pat’s songs. This included Pat Cupp and The Flying Saucers’ debut single Do Me No Wrong. It was released as a single in 1956. The followup was Long Gone Daddy. Sadly, neither were the commercial success Joe expected. As a result, RPM Pat Cupp never became the  rival to Elvis that Jules Bihari envisaged.

Although I’ve only mentioned thirty of the fifty-four tracks on Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957, there’s many more musical delights awaiting discovery. Singles and hidden gems rub shoulders on Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957’s two discs. This includes tracks from Don Cole, The Jewels, Richard Berry, Vido Musso and Preacher Stephens and His Orchestra. They’re just a few of the artists that were signed to RPM Records between 1954 and 1957. During that period, RPM Records was one of the most successful independent labels of that era. That’s no surprise. 

Jules Bihari was able to find talented artists. He also surrounded himself with talent spotters. Some of them already had successful track records. They became Joe’s ears and had an enviable track record, signing a young B.B. King and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Both artists would go on to enjoy long and successful careers. However, there’s much more to RPM Records than two artists.

That’s apparent when you listen to Speak Easy The RPM Records Story Volume 2 1954-1957, which was recently released by Ace Records. Just like the first volume in the series, No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53, it documents the rise and rise of RPM Records, Jules Bihari’s “second” label.







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