Vanguard Records…a free album download for you and a chance for me to say a few words about Lawrence Welk
A few weeks ago Vanguard Records posted a link on their Facebook page to get a free three song sampler download. Within a minute or two after they put it up there, I shot back with a caustic comment that took them to task for being a little stingy with only three songs. Since I’ve had both business and personal relationships with this label that stretches back to the mid-seventies, it was more like an old friend giving them a little jab but I did feel somewhat guilty because they are really a top of the shelf organization down there in Santa Monica.
Well lo and behold, last week they came back to the top of my chart by offering up a free full-length sampler of their artist roster in exchange for your email address. And tonight I received an email that said I could share the link with my friends. That would be you…..so click on this.
If you haven’t already jumped off the page, I’d like to share a few thoughts about Vanguard for a minute or two. Founded back in 1950 by brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon in New York, they originally were a classical label and in 1953 they worked with John Hammond to bring in some jazz. In the mid-1950s they challenged what we now call McCarthyism and signed blacklisted performers Paul Robeson and The Weavers. Through the fifties and sixties they were the home to Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Country Joe and the Fish, Ian and Sylvia, and Mimi and Richard Fariña. They released sets from the Newport Folk Festival and were groundbreaking in their focus on Chicago blues. Albums were released by Junior Wells with Buddy Guy, Muddy Water’s bandmate’s Otis Spann and James Cotton, Otis Rush, Homesick James, Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton, and Charlie Musselwhite. (I thank Wikipedia for helping jog my memory here.)
When I started my music career as a salesman back in Philadelphia in the early seventies, I represented about a hundred different labels and Vanguard was one of them. But here’s where it gets a little interesting. Remember The Lawrence Welk Show?
My grandparents forced me to watch it every Saturday night when I was a kid and the label he and all the other people from the show recorded for was called Ranwood Records. It was Myron Floren’s polkas, Tom Netherton and Jim Nabors’ spirituals, the Magic Organ and of course Lawrence himself. Well..I sold them too..along with Vanguard. And beginning in 1978 a small bluegrass label called Sugar Hill out of Durham, North Carolina started up, and we became their distributor as well.
The Lawrence Welk story is extremely fascinating and worth checking out if you have some time…but the upshot is that this man not only was successful as a performer, but he was also a shrewd businessman. In 1985 he began buying up music labels and included both Vanguard and Sugar Hill to his portfolio that was fat with not only recordings, but publishing and real estate investments.
Aside from his reputation for being somewhat conservative and a little cornball…I believe we here in this community owe him and his family a world of thanks for taking the early roots and folk recordings from Vanguard and the bluegrass from Sugar Hill, and taking such good care of them for us. They have been diligent in the restoration of the old masters, price sensitive to consumers, provided excellent presentations of packaging, are shrewd marketeers and have remained what so many other labels have not: independent.
Well done…and thanks.