Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK record labels. Jean Luc Young (b '47, Strasbourg) began as a concert promoter, worked for Barclay, met Jean Karokos: they formed a chain of record shops (Richard Branson came over to look, later formed Virgin). They formed BYG '67, then the only independent in France, licensed Savoy and built a catalogue of over 60 albums of free jazz, including Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton etc (all now on Affinity); also founded monthly paper Actuel, trendy at the time and still running many years later, but BYG went broke '75, partly because of losing money on one of the biggest live festivals Europe ever saw. Young talked Shelby Singleton, owner of the Sun Records vault, into switching rights from Phonogram to him, formed Charly in Paris '74, moved it to London '75, soon with Joop Visser as MD (who'd formerly worked for EMI). Labels licensed included Jewel, Vee-Jay, Gusto; Sun product included original LPs reissued, but compilations ran to sumptuous boxes of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis (a 13-disc box sold 13,000 copies), nine-disc box The Blues Years 1950-56 with a 44-page illustrated booklet. Other early reissues included Gong and the Yardbirds. Joop formed Affinity '77 for jazz, began with the BYG records and carried on with classic jazz compilations which were the best around on vinyl, including an eight-LP Django Reinhardt set. The Charly/Affinity catalogue included over 350 albums (Johnny Adams to Zydeco, the Art Ensemble to Lester Young): some leasing from King (Earl Bostic, Bill Doggett), Bethlehem (Mel Tormé, Ruby Braff, Nina Simone), Capitol (Serge Chaloff); rare stuff like the Flatlanders (see Butch Hancock), Hardrock Gunter and Robert Cray's first album, others by almost everybody who was anybody in country or urban blues, R&B, soul, jazz, hillbilly. Offshoot labels included Goldband, Decal, New Cross, New Cross Gospel, budget lines Topline and Atlantis.

Young and Visser were among the first to perceive that all musics were becoming repertory; they were first in the UK with compilations/reissues of vintage material on CD (e.g. Duke Ellington from Bethlehem '56) and absurdly cheap and generous CD samplers of blues and jazz; the series Le Jazz in the '90s was extremely good value. With the CD era they were among the first to take advantage of the fact that vintage material over 50 years old was out of mechanical copyright and that the major labels had been neglecting their vaults for many years, leading to boxed sets of Louis Armstrong's complete recordings as a sideman with blues singers, The Complete Recordings 1933-1940 of Billie Holiday, The Complete Brunswick And Decca Recordings 1932-1941 of Art Tatum, a three-CD selection of Jelly Roll Morton's Library of Congress recordings etc; the technical quality of the transfers was reliable if not state of the art.

Meanwhile Karokos had not been idle; he formed Celluloid '76 in NYC, leasing Rough Trade from UK; published Bill Laswell's music; formed offshoots incl. Moving Target, Mercenary, OAO (Fred Frith, Laswell, Billy Bang, Ronald Shannon Jackson's Pulse, John Zorn, Derek Bailey, Daniel Ponce etc). On a visit to Rio Karakos decided he liked the music, bought up some rights and ended up with Lambada, the sexy international dance hit of the early '90s, which had actually come from a pair of Bolivian folk musicians.