WOW, WOW, BABY! VOLUME 3-1950S R&B, BLUES AND GOSPEL FROM DOLPHIN’S OF HOLLYWOOD.

WOW, WOW, BABY! VOLUME 3-1950S R&B, BLUES AND GOSPEL FROM DOLPHIN’S OF HOLLYWOOD.

By 1958, Fred Grayton Dolphin was living the American dream. The Toast of The Coast was a successful businessman, who owned a record shop and independent record label. Fred was also a record producer and political activist. He was well respected within the Los Angeles’ community. However, not by everyone.

February the 1st 1958, was just like any other day. Fred had spent much of the day in his office, running his various businesses. Later, some young, up-and-coming musicians, including Sandy Nelson, Dave Shostac and future Beach Boy Bruce Johnson, came into Fred’s office. They were trying to interest Fred in their music. That was when shipping clerk and singer Percy Ivy burst into Fred’s office. Percy was clutching a gun. A moment later, and Fred Grayton Dolphin was dead. 

Fred Grayton Dolphin had packed a lot of living into fifty-six years. He was born in Beatrice, Alabama, on 1st April 1902. Before long, the Dolphin family were on the move. Next stop was Boley, Oklahoma, Fred was brought up. However, he didn’t settle in Boley.

After leaving high school, Fred moved to Detroit, Michigan. For a while, Motortown was home for Fred. However, he then moved to Los Angeles. That proved to be the place Fred Grayton Dolphin called home. It’s where his business career began.

In 1948, Fred decided to open a record shop. This was no ordinary record shop. Dolphin’s Of Hollywood was open twenty-four hours a day. It was based on Central Avenue, Los Angeles. This proved a perfect location for a record shop, as Central Avenue was where the great and good of jazz and blues hung out. Everyone from Billie Holiday, Big Joe Turner, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole hung out in Dolphin’s Of Hollywood. Soon, Dolphin’s Of Hollywood became a hub for blues, jazz and later, R&B music.

As R&B became the most popular musical genre,  Dolphin’s Of Hollywood played an important part in R&Bs rise and rise. Dolphin’s Of Hollywood was one of Los Angeles’ biggest, and most important shops. Fred, always a pioneer, encouraged local R&B DJs, Hunter Hancock and Dick Hugg to broadcast live from Dolphin’s Of Hollywood. This was a first. By then, Fred had expanded his musical empire.

In 1950, Fred founded his first label, Recorded In Hollywood. A year later, in 1951, the nascent label enjoyed its first hit single with Once There Lived A Fool. This came courtesy of Jimmy Grissom, Duke Ellington’s vocalist. For Fred Dolphin, this was the first of many hit singles his labels would release.

Unlike some label owners, Fred Dolphin didn’t concentrate specifically on one musical genre. Fred realised that music was constantly changing. So, he released everything from blues, gospel, and jazz, to R&B, rock ’n’ roll and soul. He produced singles by Charles Mingus, Gene Forrest, Illinois Jacquet, Linda Hayes, Major Lance, Pee Wee Crayton, Percy Mayfield and Sam Cooke on the various labels he founded. 

Fred Dolphin’s first label was Recorded In Hollywood. He then founded Lucky Records, and later, Money Records and Cash Records. Tracks from each of these labels feature on Ace Records’ recent celebration of Fred Dolphin’s career, Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood. This twenty-four track compilation features Memphis Slim, Jimmy Witherspoon, James Reed, Scatman Crothers, The Mellow Tones, Johnny Fuller, Earl Burton and The Mellow Tones. They’re just a few of the names on Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood, which I’ll pick the highlights of.

Big Boy Groves and His Orchestra open Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood with Heavy Artillery (Aka The Solid Rock). It’s the first of two unreleased tracks from Big Boy Groves and His Orchestra. This is an unedited version of Heavy Artillery (Aka The Solid Rock). It features a blistering tenor saxophone solo from Roland Mitchell. The original version was released as a single on Money Records. On the B-Side was Traffic Ticket. The version included features Big Boy Groves on lead vocal, while the rest of the group add the chorus. Just like the unreleased version of Heavy Artillery (Aka The Solid Rock), Traffic Ticket is a welcome addition, and shows just why Big Boy Groves and His Orchestra were so popular in the fifties.

In 1951, Scatman Crothers released his second single for Recorded In Hollywood. This was a cover of Wynonie Harris’ Man Have I Got Trouble. On the flip side was Elaine, a Scatman Crothers composition. When Man Have I Got Trouble was released as a single, it flopped. That’s despite Scatman breathing life and meaning into the lyrics. His vocal is an outpouring of despair. It’s almost cathartic, and it sounds like Scatman has lived and survived the lyrics. 

Memphis Slim is one of the true legends of blues music. He was playing a few live dates in L.A. when he recorded a session for Fred Dolphin. This included Pete’s Boogie. It was recorded, but never released until 1991, when it featured on a compilation. Pete’s Boogie is a glorious reminder, one of the greatest blues pianists. He and his band ensure Pete’s Boogie swings, and then some.

Jimmy Witherspoon is another blues great. He was a truly prolific artist, who for ten years, seemed to flit between labels. By the early  fifties, Jimmy was signed to Dolphin. Among the tracks he cut, were S.K. Blues. It features a needy, hopeful vocal from Jimmy. Then on Take 1 of Teenage Party, Jimmy accompanied by a tight, talented band, reinvents himself as a rock ’n’ roller. This works, and could’ve helped Jimmy to break into the profitable youth market. That wasn’t to be. These tracks, which show two sides of Jimmy Witherspoon, weren’t released until 1991, when they found their way onto a compilation released by the Speciality label. They make a welcome return on Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood.

Just like Jimmy Witherspoon, Floyd Dixon was a rolling stone. After cutting forty sides for Modern, Floyd moved from label to label. He never staying long anywhere. By the time Floyd arrived at Cash Record, his career at a crossroads. Despite that, two of the tracks he  recorded, Oh Baby and Never Can Tell (When A Woman’s Going To Change Her Mind) saw Floyd roll back the years. They were released as singles in 1958. Sadly, by then, Floyd’s brand of piano driven R&B was no longer as popular. Oh Baby and then Never Can Tell (When A Woman’s Going To Change Her Mind) passed the record buying public by. However, they’re a welcome addition to Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood, and are a reminder of just what Floyd Dixon was capable of.

In 1956, Fred Dolphin decided to add gospel singer Brother Prince Dixon to Cash Records’ roster. Two years later, in 1958, Brother Prince Dixon released Step In The Right Direction as a single on Cash Records. It was a rousing gospel track. Sadly, it failed commercially. Brother Prince Dixon’s other contribution is an unreleased track, I Need The Lord To Guide Me Everyday. Just like Stepping In The Right Direction, it’s a stirring slice of gospel from Brother Prince Dixon.

Earl Burton signed to Money Records in 1954. A year later, he turned his back on the music industry. His musical swan-song was Eat, Sleep, Drink And Play. It was attributed to The Earl Burton Combo, and was released on Money Records, in 1955. Although it wasn’t a commercial success, Eat, Sleep, Drink And Play falls into the category of hidden gem. That’s due to Earl’s hopeful vocal and the sometimes sultry saxophone.

Before signing to Money Records, James Reed was signed to the Bihari Brothers’ Modern Records. Next stop for James Reed was Money Records. That’s where he released My Love Is Real as a single in 1954. It’s a slow, wistful blues full of hurt and heartache. My Love Is Real proved to be James Reed’s only release for Money Records. Ironically, if Fred Dolphin had been a bit more patient, then maybe James would’ve released his hit single Fool’s Paradise on Money Records.

Another of the unreleased tracks on Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood is Tap Anthony and His Orchestra’s Fancy Pants. It’s one of just four tracks they recorded with Fred Dolphin. However, Fred never released the tracks. However, somehow, they found their way onto an E.P. Cavalcade Of Jazz. Whether it was with Fred Dolphin’s permission, that’s unclear. What’s clear is that Fancy Pants finds Tap Anthony and His Orchestra at the peak of their powers.

Closing Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood is Chuck Higgins and The Mellotones’ Oh Yeah! (Aka Rock And Roll). It was penned by Chuck and James Thomas, and released on Money Records in 1956. Oh Yeah! (Aka Rock And Roll) saw Fred Dolphin jump onboard the rock ’n’ roll bandwagon. No wonder. Rock ’n’ roll and groups like Chuck Higgins and The Mellotones were seen as the future of music. Especially, if they were capable of unleashing a barnstorming performance like Chuck Higgins and The Mellotones do on Oh Yeah! (Aka Rock And Roll).

Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood, sees Ace Records return to the vaults of Fred Dolphin’s record companies. There’s tracks from Recorded In Hollywood, Cash Records and Money Records. This includes blues, doo wop, jazz, R&B and rock ’n’ roll. That’s not a surprise. 

Fred Dolphin was always looking for the “next big thing.” He realised that music was constantly changed. Musical genres fell in and out of fashion. This was the case throughout his eight year career as record label owner. It seemed Fred was always a step ahead of the pack.

When jazz was no longer as popular, Fred Dolphin moved onto R&B. Then when piano driven R&B had had its day, Fred jumped onboard the rock ’n’ roll bandwagon. Sadly, Fred Dolphin never lived to see the pop, rock and psychedelic ages.

On February 1st 1958, Fred Dolphin had spent much of the day in his office. He had a record shop and four record labels to run. So there was always a steady stream of aspiring musicians wanting to see Fred. That day, three young, up-and-coming musicians, Sandy Nelson, Dave Shostac and Bruce Johnson, came into Fred’s office. They were trying to interest Fred in their music. That was when shipping clerk and singer Percy Ivy burst into Fred’s office. Percy was clutching a gun. A moment later, and Fred Grayton Dolphin was dead. That day, music lost one of its pioneers.

Throughout his career, Fred Dolphin was a pioneer. He was partly responsible for the upsurge in R&B’s popularity. Fred managed to market R&B to a white audience. That was something that many had previously thought impossible. That was until Fred Dolphin played R&B on Los Angeles’ KRKD radio station. Soon, R&B had crossed America’s then racial divide. Suddenly, many talented R&B singers, who previously were struggling to make ends meet, were making a comfortable living. For Fred, who was a political activist, this was just one of his proudest achievements.

Another of Fred Dolphin’s proudest moments came in 1954. That was when Fred organised a protest against intimidation that was directed at interracial trade. Fred managed to get 150 other business owners onboard. There was safety in numbers. Together, they reacted against an organised campaign against African-American owned businesses. This included Dolphin’s of Hollywood, which was the biggest selling record shop in Los Angeles. If the campaign of intimidation continued, Fred feared his customers would be scared off. So, he and other business owners stood shoulder-to-shoulder. In doing so, the campaign of intimidation came to an end. After this, the success story that was Dolphin’s of Hollywood continued.

By the time of Fred Dolphin’s death in 1958, he was a successful businessman, political activist and record producer. He was running four record companies and L.A.’s most successful record shop. Fred Grayton Dolphin was living the American dream. Sadly, his life was cut tragically short, aged just fifty-six. However, Fred Dolphin left behind a rich musical legacy.

Fred Dolphin’s musical legacy is in good hands. It’s owned by Ace Records, who have released a string of lovingly compiled compilations. The latest compilation is Wow, Wow, Baby! Volume 3-R&B, Blues and Gospel From Dolphins Of Hollywood, which is a fitting tribute to Fred Dolphin, musical pioneer, record producer, label owner and the man they called The Toast of the Coast. 

WOW, WOW, BABY! VOLUME 3-1950S R&B, BLUES AND GOSPEL FROM DOLPHIN’S OF HOLLYWOOD.

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