The Soul of Designer Records

The Soul of Designer Records


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Chances are, you've never heard of Designer Records. One of many independent labels run on a little less than a shoestring in the '60s and '70s, Designer Records was one of the many imprints run by Style Wooten, a Memphis recordman who recruited new talent in classified ads in the back of local newspapers (this also happened to be how he found his wife). Wooten's rates ran low but he wasn't cheap. As long as the musicians had the cash, he took his time in the studio, coaxing the best possible performances out of his nonprofessional artists, which wasn't a particularly easy thing to do due to his own amateur status. He could play a little, but he left a lot of the actual recording up to Roland Janes, a former studio guitarist for Sun who had played with Billy Lee Riley and Jerry Lee Lewis before he departed to set up Sonic Studios in Memphis in 1962. Two years later, Style became a regular customer of Sonic, cutting a wide variety of artists -- country, rockabilly, soul, rock & roll -- and issuing them on a bewildering number of imprints, many of them named after cars. Wooten dedicated Designer Records to gospel. Many vocal harmony groups came through Memphis with the intent to perform live and they'd wind up recording while they were in town, waiting to release a single until the groups could afford to get a record pressed. Nobody involved ever expected that one of these records would turn into a hit, and none did. Often, the groups would sell several copies at live shows -- sometimes selling well enough to ensure a second single from Designer -- but that was the only place they'd ever circulate. Over the years, collectors were drawn to Wooten's work and Designer in particular because there was a raw, vibrant authenticity to the records. Little was known of the musicians or Wooten himself -- in his series of excellent liner notes, Michael Hurtt's writes that Style's son Jason admitted that his father remains a mystery to him -- but that hardly dilutes the impact of Big Legal Mess' four-disc 2014 box set The Soul of Designer Records. In a way, this mystery strengthens the music as it underscores that it was, in many ways, true folk music, performed, recorded, and sometimes written by musicians who simply had a compulsion to sing these songs. Hurtt details biographical information for as many of the groups as he can -- more than you'd expect, although the information is often sketchy -- but the common thread is this: these are groups raised in the church but whose material often was informed by contemporary soul (some of the latest tracks here even feature newfangled effects like phased guitars), so they sounded like they belonged to the present, not the past. Sometimes the group had a guitarist, sometimes they also had a bassist, but it was Janes' responsibility to fill out the arrangement, so he'd sometimes add some live-wire guitar to the proceedings. The focus was always on the groups whose joy in harmonizing was palpable. This kind of gospel music isn't made much anymore. It's all rural small groups who were determined to connect on the terms of the modern world, adapting to its rhythms and sometimes addressing its secular concerns. At times, this does mean the music is tied to its time -- music made on a budget usually reflects the limits of technology -- but that's what is exhilarating about The Soul of Designer Records. Some of the groups are exceptional, as are some of the songs, but what matters is the cumulative impact, how the four discs paint a picture of a thriving, distinctive regional scene.

Product Details

Release Date: 09/30/2014
Label: Big Legal Mess
UPC: 0895102002898
catalogNumber: 289
Rank: 237904


Disc 1

  1. Tone the Bells Easy
  2. I Thank You Jesus
  3. Beautiful City
  4. Viet Nam
  5. I Know It's Jesus
  6. If You Need the Lord Call Him
  7. Tone the Bells
  8. Climbing High Mountains
  9. I'll Go
  10. Everyone Should Know Who Jesus is
  11. We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder
  12. It's Been a Long Journey
  13. I Made It Over
  14. What a Time
  15. After While
  16. Trying To Do Thy Will
  17. What Ever You Do-Do Good
  18. A Great Day
  19. Move
  20. I Feel Good
  21. Trusted
  22. The Same God
  23. How Good God Has Been
  24. How Far the Lord Has Brought Me
  25. Stand By Me
  26. Something Within Me
  27. Go Back To God

Disc 2

  1. God is Ruler From Above
  2. I'm On My Way
  3. Walking Through the City
  4. Sweet Home
  5. I Come To Praise His Name
  6. Mary Don't You Weep
  7. I Am Going Home
  8. The ABC's
  9. Get Right With Jesus
  10. It May Be Your Last
  11. Beautiful Mansion
  12. It's Me Oh Lord Standing In the Need of Prayer
  13. Just a Little While
  14. Do What the Lord Day Do
  15. He's Coming To Judge the World
  16. Too Close To Turn Around
  17. I've Got the Love of Jesus
  18. God's Word Will Never Pass Away
  19. When the Gates Open
  20. Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone
  21. God Has Done So Much For Me
  22. People of the World Are So Easy To Forget
  23. Ring the Message Out
  24. The Great Creator
  25. By and By I'll See Jesus
  26. Here I Am

Disc 3

  1. Since He Touched Me
  2. He's Sweet I Know
  3. Letter From Jesus
  4. New Born Soul
  5. He Won't Deny Me
  6. Only Jesus Knows
  7. Jesus is Calling Me
  8. If I Could Not Say a Word
  9. Going Over the Hill
  10. When the World's On Fire
  11. Lord's Been Good To Me
  12. Clean Up Your Life
  13. Lord Remember Me
  14. I Won't Have To Cry No More
  15. A Sinners Plea
  16. Holy Ghost
  17. How Bless You Are
  18. Nobody's Fault But Mine
  19. At the Red Sea
  20. How I Made It Over
  21. Living Down Here On Borrowed Time
  22. My Last Song
  23. I Won't Be Back No More
  24. Praise His Name

Disc 4

  1. Try the Lord
  2. The Lord Will Make a Way
  3. Don't Give Up
  4. It's Your Life
  5. Christ At the Wall
  6. Strong Believer
  7. If I Don't Wake Up In the Morning
  8. You Don't Know
  9. This Joy I Have
  10. Why Am I Treated So Bad
  11. Let Me Lean On You
  12. When Jesus Comes
  13. A Helping Hand
  14. Plant Love
  15. Freedom Shore
  16. Don't Blame It On the Children
  17. Noah's Ark
  18. Hold On To His Hand
  19. I'll Fly Away
  20. The Lord is My Shepherd
  21. I Got the Love of Jesus
  22. Do Yourself a Favor
  23. Testify For Jesus
  24. Love King Jesus

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