LOS ANGELES, Calif. — On November 5, 2019, BMG Books will publish Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Storyby Billy Vera, with a foreword by 102-year-old label founder Art Rupe. The book is the fourth installment of BMG’s RPM Series, which focuses on pioneering record labels.
Launched in the mid-1940s, the Los Angeles-based Specialty Records emerged as one of the most important independent labels for African-American music in the 20th century. Recognizing that competing with major record companies was a losing battle, founder Art Rupe headed to Central Avenue, cultural center of L.A.’s black community, where he spent $200 on what were then known as “race records.” He carefully analyzed each, developing his own formula for a successful venture.
Soon, Specialty was scoring R&B hits with artists such as Roy Milton, Camille Howard, Jimmy and Joe Liggins, and Percy Mayfield. Drawn to the music of New Orleans, Rupe went on to sign Lloyd Price, who topped the charts with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” It was through Price that Specialty acquired its best-known artist, Little Richard. After “Tutti Frutti” exploded in 1955, Richard and the label scored a string of successes: “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille,” “Keep A Knockin’,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and more.
In addition to R&B and the emerging sounds of rock ’n’ roll, Rupe was particularly drawn to the sounds of the church. Black gospel music was an essential element of his company, with a roster that included stars of the genre such as Sam Cooke’s Soul Stirrers, Sister Wynona Carr, Brother Joe May, and Alex Bradford and the Bradford Specials, among others.
From behind-the-scenes producers Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, J.W. Alexander, Harold Battiste, and Sonny Bono, to R&B recording stars Floyd Dixon, Guitar Slim, Jesse Belvin, Larry Williams, and Don and Dewey, Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Storyoffers a definitive history of the legendary label.
About the author
Billy Vera is a singer, songwriter, actor, record producer, and music historian who wrote and recorded “At This Moment,” which was a #1 hit in 1987. He won a 2013 Grammy award for his notes for the Ray Charles Box set, Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles, and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Vera’s other books include his memoir, Harlem to Hollywood; Vintage Neon: Los Angeles, 1979; and his forthcoming novel, A Dollop of Toothpaste.
About the RPM Series by BMG Books
BMG’s RPM Series examines the histories of important record labels from various eras and musical genres. Each volume is seven inches by seven inches to mirror the dimensions of a 45 rpm record. Other books in the series include World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story (by Gillian G. Gaar), Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story (by Randy Fox), and Goin’ Off: The Story of the Juice Crew & Cold Chillin’ Records (by Ben Merlis). Forthcoming titles will examine the histories of Chrysalis, Slash, and Arista Records.