Various Artists

Vee Jay: The Chicago Black Music

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Founded in 1953 by the husband and wife team of James Bracken and Vivian Carter and given direction and vision by Vivian's brother Calvin Carter, Vee Jay Records was one of the first successful black-owned record labels in the country. Initially Vee Jay released urban blues and R&B sides by Chicago-based performers, but eventually branched out into being a full-fledged pop label with a varied catalog (and licensing agreements that included several early singles by the Beatles). This expansive four-disc box centers on the label's blues and R&B material and includes gems like the loping "Coming Home" by Elmore James (complete with his patented "Dust My Broom" slide riff), John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom," Jimmy Reed's sparse and laconic "You Don't Have to Go," Pee Wee Crayton's wrenching "The Telephone Is Ringing," Chick Carbo (aka Leonard Carbo)'s blistering "Pigtails and Bluejeans," Billy Boy Arnold's impressive and spooky "I Was Fooled" and Little Richard's typically kinetic "Money Honey." Exciting and varied, even at 90 tracks this box set just scratches the surface of the vast catalog available from this important and often overlooked label.

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