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'Jewel / Paula': Small Labels With a Lot of Punch

April 30, 1993|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

It's amusing in retrospect to recall the groaning at the start of the CD revolution in the mid-'80s about all the great music that would be lost in the switch from vinyl albums.

The concern wasn't about the works of bestsellers because there was clearly enough commercial potential in those albums for companies to re-release them on disc.

The victims were supposed to be all the marginal sellers--including vintage R&B works from small, regional labels.

Instead of being lost, however, this music is the subject of renewed interest, thanks to a series of expertly produced CD historical box sets. The latest is "The Jewel/Paula Records Story: The Blues, Rhythm & Blues and Soul Recordings."

The two-disc package from Capricorn Records was produced by Diana Reid Haig and features 43 recordings released in the '60s, '70s and '80s by the Shreveport, La., labels of record store owner Stan Lewis.

Because he was competing for talent against far more established labels, Lewis wasn't always able to sign artists at the peaks of their careers or hold on to promising young artists for more than a record or two.

Still, the list of artists represented on Lewis' labels is impressive. They included Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Little Johnny Taylor, Lowell Fulson, Charles Brown, Memphis Slim, Big Joe Turner, Fontella Bass and Ike & Tina Turner.

Among the set's highlights are two novelty-tinged cheating songs by Taylor: "It's My Fault," in which a man apologizes for coming home early and finding his wife with another man; and "Open House at My House," where neighborhood gossip makes a man suspicious of what's going on when he's at work.

Sample lines from the latter:

I've got a friend that lives

Across the street

He knows where your birthmark is , baby,

And how many corns you've got on your feet.

Lewis started in the music business in the late '40s as a jukebox operator, saving enough money to buy his own store. He named it Record Shop and specialized in R&B plus a smattering of gospel and country.

He eventually became friends with the owners of some of the nation's leading regional record labels and produced some sessions for them. After such hits as Dale Hawkins' "Suzie-Q," Lewis started his own company in the early '60s. He named one of his labels, Jewel, after a local supermarket and the other, Paula, after his wife.

In the liner notes, Lewis outlines his philosophy: "I think the greatest songs (are the ones that) tell a story and come from the heart. To me, that is the common thread in my catalogue. I have always tried to find songs that are from the heart."

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