Because of its success with such artists as Joan Baez and the Weavers, Vanguard Records has been widely regarded as chiefly a folk music label. However, the company also has an impressive blues catalogue.
The Welk Record Group, which purchased Vanguard in 1986, emphasizes that side of the company’s history with the recent release of five blues-related CDs. The albums are appearing in compact disc for the first time and most haven’t been available in vinyl for nearly a decade.
The “Great Bluesmen/Newport,” a 71-minute collection drawn from Newport Folk Festivals between 1959 and 1965, features tracks by Robert Pete Williams, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, John Lee Hooker, Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Originally released in vinyl as a double album, it is now in a single CD (or cassette) at regular prices. To make it fit on a single CD, some music from the original Vanguard album was deleted.
The four other blues packages are all in the Vanguard Midline CD series and should retail for around $11. They are Skip James’ “Today,” Junior Wells and Buddy Guy’s “Coming at You,” James Cotton’s “Cut You Loose” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Last Sessions.”
On the folk side, Vanguard has just added six catalogue albums to the Midline CD series: Country Joe McDonald’s “Thinking of Woody Guthrie,” Cisco Houston’s “Sings Woody Guthrie,” “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 2,” the Weavers’ “Almanac,” Liam Clancy’s “Liam Clancy” and “The Best of John Herald and the Greenbriar Boys.”
The new titles bring to 36 the number of blues and folk titles in the Midline CD series and to 31 the number in the “twofer” packages.
Kent Crawford, vice president and director of sales and marketing for the Santa Monica-based Welk Record Group, said Volume II of the “Great Bluesmen/Newport,” featuring mostly unreleased material, is due later this year.
In addition, Crawford said Samuel Charters, author of the widely acclaimed ""The Country Blues,” is designing some CD-only folk compilations, including some unreleased material. And due early next year: a three-disc Joan Baez anthology box along the lines of Bob Dylan’s “Biograph.”