Randy Fox’s “Shake Your Hips” is an Invaluable Chronicle of Excello Records

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Randy Fox’s Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story details the roughly 30-year odyssey of an independent R&B record label that grew up right in the heart of Nashville. The story of Excello Records leads back Ernie Young and his mostly mail-order record business, Ernie’s Record Mart. Ernie Young came to the record business late in life, already in his fifties, after a career as a pinball operator went down in flames to bribery charges.

Beginning in 1945, Young, who was white, targeted his business to a rural black audience who didn’t have access to local record shops. As Fox details, he didn’t set out to make hits, and only briefly did he work the angle of the pop market–and then, not too successfully. These generally came about unintentionally, such as Arthur Gunter’s “Baby Let’s Play House,” covered by Elvis Presley. Young’s genius as a promotions man, Fox tells us, lay in his ability to cheaply produce and bundle his own creations, sometimes with other records, to produce discount record packages, which sold like hotcakes.

Even within this formula, some real talents emerged, foremost among them the bluesman Slim Harpo, with his hits “I’m a King Bee” and “Scratch My Back.” As Fox describes, Harpo led an unusually disciplined and clean life, so it was shocking when he passed away in 1970, only 46 years old. The loss of such a talented and commercially successful figure was one of the last blows to Excello, as was Young’s advancing age. Excello would be sold to a commercial consortium, and ceased making new records in the Seventies.

For fans of blues and R&B history, Shake Your Hips contains more information about the label than can be accessed virtually anywhere else. Fox has done a service in compiling this record of label, which label of great to interest to hobbyists and historians for a long time to come.

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