For the rock 'n roll collector in search of out-of-print singles or albums, the choice is often simple. He can spend time and sometimes a considerable amount of money obtaining the originals or wait and hope a lable reissues the material. While Rhino Records remains the domestic leader in compiling and reissuing '50s and '60s rock 'n roll, a number of other small independent labels have also been catering to the specialized interests of collectors.
Relic Records (Box 572, Hackensack, N.J. 07602) began in the '60s to reissue singles by vocal groups and in 1965 was the first label to release an a cappella album. Since 1970 the label has won the hearts of doo-wop collectors world-wide by building a catalogue of about 40 compilation albums, all thoroughly researched and annotated and all still in print.
In addition to numerous greatest-hits collections devoted to such pioneering vocal groups as the Harptones, the Nutmegs and the Five Satins, Relic has also compiled collections from the catalogues of R&B lables like Herald, Emberm Specialty and Class. "Best of Class Records: Vol. I" (Relic 5055) and "Vol. 2" (5057) reveal just how rich the Los Angeles R&B scene was in the '50s. While Class wasn't nearly as successful as the larger L.A. indies Specialty and Imperial, these two albums present an impressive roster of talent, including hit makers Bobby Day ("Little Bitty Pretty One") and Eugene Church ("Pretty Girls Everywhere') and the R&B comic Richard Berry.
Two of Relic's most remarkable releases are its recent compilations of the 1956-64 recordings of Detroit's Falcons, a group with four outstanding lead voices -- Joe Stubbs, Mack Rice, Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett. The Falcons were a rough-edged, gospel-inflected group whose music marked the transition from the vocal group to soul style. "You're So Fine" (Relic/Flick 8005) and "I Found a Love" (Relic/Lu Pine 8006) feature a variety of ballads, jump tunes and rockers, all delivered with a charged urgency and churchiness that anticipated the Motown and Stax sound.
Another lable specializing mostly in the reissue of '50s vocal group music is Collectibles (Box 35, Narberth, Pa. 10972). Collectibles has a catalogue of more than 30 compilations, mostly greatest hits collections of groups like the Crests, the Del Vikings, the Turbins and the Capris. Three of their albums, however, are exact reissues of the earliest Dion and the Belmonts albums.
One of the Collectibles' most recent releases, "The BEst of Baby Washington" (Collectible 5040), makes available the hard-to-find Sue and Neptune recordings of Jeanette (Baby) Washington, a sultry R&B singer who never achieved much pop success. All of Washington's R&B hits, including "The Time" and "That's How Heartaches Are Made," are here. The powerfully emotive performances mark her as an unjustly ignored artist.
Anyone looking for the original 1957 albums of West Texas rockabilities Buddy Know and Jimmy Bowen can expect a long search and a hundred-dollar price tag.
Murray Hill Records (1 Park Ave., New York City 10016) has built a catalogue of about 30 rock albums, a number of them exact reissues of hard-to-find albums from the '50s and '60s. In addition to "Buddy Know" (Murray Hill 61307) and "Jimmy Bowen" (Murray Hill 61315), they have reissued 1963's "The Raindrops" (Murray Hill 6134), a superb Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich girl group album.
The most illustrious entries in the Murray Hill catalogue are its two five-album boxed sets, "The Orioles: For Collectors Only" (Murray Hill 6127) and "The Cadillacs: For Collectors Only" (Murray Hill 61285). The Oriles set focuses on this legendary Baltimore vocal group's beautfil ballads recorded for Jubliee between 1948 and 1955, all featu;ring the impassioned tenor voice of Sonny Til. The Cadillacs set contains all of the group's Josie singles dating from 1954 to 1958 and is contagiously up-temp and often comic.
More recently, Murray Hill has reissued "Roy Hamilton's Greatest Hits" (Murray Hill 28370), a superb introduction to a singer whose blend of pop and gospel and magnificent baritone voice influenced artists like Elvis Presley, Jerry Butler, Jackie Wilson and the Righteous Brothers. Hamilton's versions of "You'll Never Walk Alone," "Edd Tide" and "Unchained Melody" are the kind of vocal tours de force, part church and part opera, that even Roy Orbison might envy.