Saturday, 7 May 2011

Parrot Records on Matt the Cat's radio show

If you are reading this around the time of its being posted you may be able to catch Matt the Cat's Juke in the Back radio show dedicated to Parrot Records, available for a while as a free-to-download MP3 on the Rock-it radio Archives page here - but hurry, as newer shows will gradually push it off the list. You can find further details about this and other Juke in the Box programmes in the episode guide on Matt's own website here (scroll down to # 44).

Parrot Records, a small label run "alone, almost as a hobby", by DJ Al Benson (above), neverthelss produced some superb doo wop recordings, including the faultless output of the Orchids (Newly Wed, etc) and a brace of sides by the Flamingos in between their time on Chance Records and Chess.

One of the things which makes these sides so enjoyable is the additional pleasure often offered by the backing: I don't know whether the musicians involved felt like they were slumming, but there are often musical subtleties which repay repeated listening - and a sense of looseness about the playing. There is an online discography (link at end) which details the players regularly involved.

I've writen about both the Flamingos and the Orchids in some detail in earlier entries, and there is no shortage of information online, or indeed in book form, about Parrot Records, so the rest of this post will be mostly links, other than to say that the programme is as much about the label's rhythm and blues output as doo wop, and that Matt shows impeccable taste in singling out Gilbert Warren's contributions to various vocal group recordings.

A few bare details noted at the end of the programme: Parrot Records was only active from 1952 to 1956. It only issued 40 singles and its sister label, Blue Lake, issued 18.

But its recordings, including some not issued at the time, are among the best doo wop sides you will ever hear.

And if you haven't heard of Parrot Records before, it may be to do with the "hobby" aspect of Benson's operation. In his book Doowop: The Chicago Scene, Robert Pruter says that when two group members complained to Benson they couldn't hear their records in Detroit,
Benson thrust some copies of the record into their hands and gave them the name of a distributor they might entreaty to secure a distribution deal. Needless to say, a company operating on that level was not long for this world. 
But it's ultimately a happy ending:
Parrot and Blue Lake were failures in only one sense: as commercial enterprises. Otherwise the labels were a terrific success because they handed down to us a legacy of the most splendid recordings by bluesmen, solo R&B performers, and vocal harmony groups of the early 1950s.
Here are three prime examples of vocal groups recorded at Parrot, backed by seasoned jazz musicians.

The next side is a cover of a country song by the Flamingos. Robert Pruter isn't keen on it but I believe he is wrong on this occasion:

And finally an example of the Orchids other than Newly Wed:

Related Posts and Links:

A detailed analysis of the Orchids' You Have Two (I Have None) here; for Robert Pruter the recording is "a minor masterpiece and represents the highest level of doo wop creativity."

Post about available Flamingos compilations including Parrot sides here. The post includes links to other blog entries about the Flamingos including archived messages from my 2000 dialogue with Clarke Davis in Kewl Steve's Doo Wop Shop.

Details about Robert Pruter's Doowop: the Chicago Scene  here. There is a chapter about Parrot Records. Very readable. There are also individual chapters about Chance, Chess, United and Vee-Jay. The Parrot chapter includes substantial sections about the 5 Thrills, the Orchids, the Fascinators, the 5 Chances and the Flamingos.

Online discography of the Parrot and Blue Lake labels here - an astonishing feat of scholarship by Armin B├╝ttner, Robert Campbell, and Robert Pruter.

Billy Vera's sleevenotes about the Orchids from the 1993 A Taste of Doo Wop release here.

 Tribute to Al Benson by ExiledOne here

If you have access to Spotify, there are two compilations The Parrot Records Blues Story and The Parrot Records R&B Story (including doo wop) here and here.


  1. I like to get a picture of the orchids

  2. Me too. There isn't one on the sleeves for A Taste of Doo Wop or The Golden Era of Doo Wops CDs. So if Donn Filetti or Billy Vera can't find pics ... maybe Al Benson never had one taken?