Label founders speak for themselves: Michael Frank, Earwig 

"A label catalog must have at least two records—so if I wanted to make only one recording, I [was advised] not do it."

click to enlarge JOHNNY SAMPSON

I started listening to music on the radio and TV, and bought soul and blues records, as a pre-teen in 1961. I wanted to be a musician, singer, and sax player but let my shyness stop me. I got very heavy into blues, jazz, and soul 45 and LP collecting in high school and college, and read many blues books and magazines. After driving to Chicago over Thanksgiving weekend 1970 in a blizzard, I went to the legendary Theresa's Tavern at 4501 S. Indiana and heard Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and many others the first night; then Wise Fools Pub at 2170 N. Lincoln Avenue for Mighty Joe Young; and Saturday at the Avenue Lounge at Madison and California there was Lonnie Brooks (called Guitar Junior at the time). I was hooked and knew that after college graduation two years later I would move to an urban area with a lot of musicians playing in the African-American community.

I met Honeyboy Edwards and Jim Brewer in November of 1972 at Biddy Mulligan's Blues Bar on Howard and Sheridan and started hanging out with them, playing harmonica with Honeyboy, and gradually booking them and managing their careers. I worked at the Jazz Record Mart as a blues-specialist floor clerk part-time for three years. I simultaneously started a career in child welfare and pursued a career in social work for 25 years until I quit for the final time in March 2005 as Honeyboy was approaching age 89, to accelerate his worldwide touring.

I produced my first recording session in 1978 with the Jelly Roll Kings: Frank Frost, Sam Carr, and Big Jack Johnson from Clarksdale, Mississippi. My first with Honeyboy Edwards was in 1979. Bob Koester [of Delmark Records] had encouraged me to start a label, with the caveat that a label catalog must have at least two records—so if I wanted to make only one recording, I should not do it. I brought Koester and Jim O'Neal, cofounder of Living Blues magazine and Rooster Blues Records, to Memphis to assist me in producing the Jelly Roll Kings album. He also educated me about how distribution works and the costs and profit margins of selling through distribution and direct to customers.

Word got out in the blues trade press that I was recording Frank, Sam, and Big Jack for the first time in over 20 years. This was Jack Johnson's debut as a lead player on the international scene. Earwig is responsible for Big Jack's first fame as a great guitarist, singer, and songwriter.

I had no expectations for that album other than to make a great recording and leverage it to help the band. I hoped to at least break even. That Earwig album has become known as the definitive electric Mississippi juke joint band recording. It is still the recording that defines the Earwig label.

I feel passionately about blues music and the musicians who create and perform it. I still want to facilitate their careers and to help them make great recordings. Now I also want to mentor younger musicians. However, I am feeling less bound to Chicago than previously, as many of the musicians I recorded or managed have died. I have been spending a lot of time in Clarksdale and the Mississippi Delta.

Next: Dan Koretzky, Drag City

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Kevin Warwick

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories

Follow Us

Sign up for newsletters »

 Early Warnings
 Food & Drink
 Reader Recommends
 Reader Events and Offers