The Wonderland of Charly Records

Charly Records is a wonderland for devotees of the blues, rockabilly and R&B; roots of rock 'n' roll. It's a label that served as an influence for Los Angeles' Rhino Records, another treasure chest of rock history, and helped trigger commendable reissue campaigns by numerous major U.S. labels, including Atlantic, Columbia, MCA and RCA.

Here is the range of Charly's world.

Box sets--The 12-record Jerry Lee Lewis set is Charly's most celebrated box set, but the label has also released excellent sets from the Sun catalogue on Johnny Cash (five records in the box), Carl Perkins (three records), "The Blues Years" (nine records featuring such artists as B.B. King and James Cotton) and "The Rocking Years" (12 records, featuring superstars Lewis, Perkins, Orbison and Cash; cult favorites Charlie Feathers and Billy Lee Riley, and unknowns Luke McDaniel, Danny Stewart). "The Sun Box" is a three-record overview of the Sun catalogue. All include booklets so filled with appealing photos and well-researched text that they would be collectors' items even without the records. In addition to the Sun-related boxes, Charly has released sets on the Yardbirds (seven records) and guitarist Django Reinhardt (eight records). Just out: a 9-record set devoted to '50s rocker Gene Vincent.

Compact discs--Charly has already released more than 150 of its vinyl albums in compact disc and expects to eventually put its entire catalogue on CD. The most ambitious step is a series that will contain every single (except Elvis Presley's) ever released by Sun. The singles, which will be sequenced in chronological order, will be divided into four "black music" discs, five "country music" and 17 "rock" discs. The music and sound is uneven (Charly engineers had to turn to acetates or the original 45s and 78s where no master tape was available), but the historical importance of this material is undeniable. The first disc in each genre is already available, with new discs due at the rate of about three every other month.

Single albums--The amazing variety of soul music ranges from country and city blues to '40s jump 'n' jive and '50s R & B to gospel and zydeco. Besides Sun, the reissues involve product originally released by such seminal labels as Federal, DeLuxe and King. Among the titles: Lavern Baker's "Real Gone Gal," Roy Brown's "Boogie at Midnight," the Five Keys' "It's a Groove," Wynonie Harris' "Rock Mr. Blues," Little Willie John's "Grits and Soul," Clyde McPhatter's "Rock and Cry," Jimmy Reed's "Upside Your Head" and Chuck Willis' "Keep a Drivin'."

Country and/or rockabilly albums include Johnny Cash's "Hot and Blue Guitar," Red Foley's "Tennessee Saturday Night," Wanda Jackson's "Let's Have a Party" and Charlie Rich's "Original Hits and Midnight Demos."

The jazz and big-band reissues--released on the Affinity subsidiary and pulled from such catalogues as Bethlehem and MCA--spotlight such artists as Count Basie, Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Jimmie Lunceford, Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Mel Torme and Ben Webster.

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