Like so many others, Art Rupe came to California to find fame and fortune. But in doing so, Rupe broke new ground. The Pennsylvania native had grown up listening to the music coming from the local, primarily African-American Baptist church. He’d fallen in love with gospel and studied the adjacent sounds of rhythm and blues which were growing in popularity. Rather than water down the music in a supposed attempt to reach white audiences, he was determined to release it with all its raw power. In 1946, Specialty Records was launched in Los Angeles – and soon, the independent label would boast such seminal artists as Little Richard and Sam Cooke. Craft Recordings has announced a 75th anniversary campaign for the label that Rupe built. On August 6, Rip It Up: The Best of Specialty Records will arrive on CD, LP, and digital platforms, and Craft promises that further releases from the Specialty catalogue will arrive over the next year.
The 18 tracks on Rip It Up spotlight the incendiary R&B and, later, rock-and-roll that put Specialty on the map. (Perhaps the label’s gospel offerings will be recognized with a future release.) It includes Roy Milton’s 1945 hit “R.M. Blues,” originally released on Rupe’s early Juke Box label but reissued on Specialty. Milton was a drummer as well as a singer, and when his microphone picked up the leakage from the snare drum he was playing, the seeds of the rock-and-roll backbeat were planted. Other artists featured on the compilation include Little Richard (“Long Tall Sally,” “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille,” and the title track “Rip It Up”), Lloyd Price (“Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Ain’t It a Shame,” “Oooh-Oooh-Oooh”), Larry Williams (“Bony Maronie,” “Short Fat Fannie”), Percy Mayfield (“Please Send Me Someone to Love,” “Lost Love (Baby, Please),” doo-wop duo Jesse and Marvin (“Dream Girl”), and Sam Cooke (“I’ll Come Running Back to You”). This is the music that influenced The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and nearly every rock-and-roller that followed.
For those looking to dive deeper into the history of Specialty, Craft has also brought the 1994 box set The Specialty Story to digital and streaming services. The 130-song box compiled and annotated by musician-historian Billy Vera showcased the full spectrum of Specialty’s sounds. Vera has returned to write the liner notes for the new Rip It Up compilation.
Art Rupe released the final album on the original Specialty in 1960, though he briefly reactivated the label for an LP by guitarist Denny King in 1972. Specialty also continued to eke out reissues of the label’s classic material right up through the CD era. While the label’s tenure was a brief one, its impact is still keenly felt. Sold to Fantasy Records in 1991, it’s now part of the Concord Music Group family of labels. Rupe, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ahmet Ertegun Award recipient, turns 104 in September. You can look for Rip It Up: The Best of Specialty Records at the links below. It’s due on August 6.
- Lloyd Price: Lawdy Miss Clawdy (Specialty 428, 1952)
- Little Richard: Long Tall Sally (Specialty 572, 1956)
- Roy Milton: R.M. Blues (Juke Box 504, 1946 – reissued Specialty 504)
- Sam Cooke: I’ll Come Running Back to You (Specialty 619, 1957)
- Joe Liggins: Pink Champagne (Specialty 355, 1950)
- Little Richard: Tutti Frutti (Specialty 561, 1955)
- Percy Mayfield: Please Send Me Someone to Love (Specialty 375, 1950)
- Roy Milton: Information Blues (Specialty 349, 1950)
- Larry Williams: Bony Moronie (Specialty 615, 1957)
- Little Richard: Lucille (Specialty 598, 1957)
- Jesse & Marvin: Dream Girl (Specialty 447, 1952)
- Jimmy Liggins: Drunk (Specialty 470, 1953)
- Lloyd Price: Ain’t It a Shame? (Specialty 452, 1953)
- Larry Williams: Short Fat Fannie (Specialty 608, 1957)
- Percy Mayfield: Lost Love (Baby, Please) (Specialty 390, 1951)
- Lloyd Price: Oooh-Oooh-Oooh (Specialty 440, 1952)
- Roy Milton: Best Wishes (Specialty 414, 1951)
- Little Richard: Rip It Up (Specialty 579, 1956)
- Lloyd Price: Lawdy Miss Clawdy
- Little Richard: Long Tall Sally
- Roy Milton: R.M. Blues
- Sam Cooke: I’ll Come Running Back To You
- Joe Liggins: Pink Champagne
- Little Richard: Tutti Frutti
- Percy Mayfield: Please Send Me Someone to Love
- Roy Milton: Information Blues
- Larry Williams: Bony Moronie
- Little Richard: Lucille
- Jesse & Marvin: Dream Girl
- Jimmy Liggins: Drunk
- Lloyd Price: Ain’t It a Shame?
- Larry Williams: Short Fat Fannie
- Percy Mayfield: Lost Love (Baby, Please)
- Lloyd Price: Oooh-Oooh-Oooh
- Roy Milton: Best Wishes
- Little Richard: Rip It Up