Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story
by Billy Vera
Written by singer/songwriter (and former Specialty Records reissue producer) Billy Vera, with a foreword from the man himself, Art Rupe, this account of a methodical businessman who transformed his love of gospel music into a world-wide successful record label illustrates how one man with a good set of ears can set the world rocking.
Art Rupe (who, at a staggering 102 still comes into the office!) formed Juke Box Records in 1944. After a few struggling years, he left his business partners behind and formed Specialty Records, where he released sides by Percy Mayfield, Roy Milton and Jimmy Liggins. His love of gospel music led him to releasing records by the Swan Silvertones, Sister Wynona Carr and the Soul Stirrers, who featured up and coming vocalist Sam Cooke, although Rupe decided not to release Cooke’s more secular work, including “You Send Me.” Rupe had success with New Orleans mainstay Lloyd Price, who’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, released in 1952, became a standard (and led ultimately to Price being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998). Along the way Price befriended a wild piano playing Georgian and encouraged him to send a demo record to Rupe.
That was Little Richard, and the rest is flamboyant, outrageous history. Born Richard Wayne Penniman, Little Richard took a New Orleans beat and merged it with strains of gospel, rockabilly and a large dose of, well, Little Richard on his way to stardom. The accounts of his early work (marked at times by Richard’s erratic work tendencies) are insightful and give testament to Art Rupe’s innate sense of musical trends and good ears.
Rupe sold Specialty Records to Fantasy Records in 1991, but not before launching the careers of three Hall of Famers (Cooke, Price and Little Richard) and forming an indisputable body of early rock and roll and gospel recordings that literally changed the world. Vera, who assembled later CD collections of material from the Specialty vaults brings his years of experience as both a music historian and performer, as well as a long friendship with Rupe to this definitive look at one of rock’s building blocks, Specialty Records. Highly recommended.