THE LIN & KLIFF STORY
"It was something we had burning desire to do. We felt like we were right about the commercial potential of an artist. It turned out lots of times that we were wrong, but we kept on going."
Joe Leonard's Lin Records out of Gainesville, Texas arrived relatively late among the independent labels that proliferated in the years following World War II, its first session taking place in the winter end of 1953-54. The labels that sprang up in this boom period ran the gamut from tiny, one or two-off locals to more ambitious companies that enjoyed lengthy and successful regional, and in a few cases national, identities. The smaller of these were sometimes merely a recording artist's vanity label, or sometimes short-lived because they were ill-timed or ill-financed, or simply unlucky despite big-eyed ambition, while the larger companies were often characterized by the forceful personalities and/or ruthless business operations of their owners, like Lew Chudd's Imperial or Bill McCall's Four Star Records -- though there were ruthless small timers, too, like Jimmy Mercer at Royalty in Paris, Texas, and honest big shots, like Starday's Pappy Daily in Houston.
The majority of independents that emerged from the mid-1940s through the 1950s may have been those short-lived failures with a handful of now rare releases, but there were a notable number that were prolific enough or hung around long enough to establish more permanent legacies. Some of these may have ultimately been victims of their own success. Jim Bulleit's Bullet label out of Nashville, for example, survived a half dozen years (and change in ownership) and produced well over a hundred issues, but was effectively sunk rather early in its existence by being too ambitious and incautious after landing the biggest pop hit of 1947. Others rose quickly with an impressive gush of releases, then collapsed under the weight of it all when too few of those releases sold sufficiently (and too few distibutors paid for those records that did sell); witness Herb Rippa's Bluebonnet label in Dallas, or Sol Kahal's Freedom Records or Macy Lela Henry's Macy's label, both of Houston, all three of which issued as many or more records in less than three years than Lin and its sister label Kliff did in fourteen.
Joe Leonard's relatively conservative volume of output over the years -- not only the fourteen years of Lin Records' actual life, but involvement in publishing and side recording projects that continue to the present -- is indicative of a deliberately cautious approach to a usually unkind business. Leonard coupled business acumen (tellingly, he approached Lin as a sideline, always anchored by other more stable enterprises) and strong promotional skills with a good ear for the commercial and an astute willingness, not only to adapt to changing tastes, but also to take an occasional chance, which set Lin apart from, and allowed it to outlive most contemporaries.
Lin enjoyed one national hit, Pledge Of Love by Ken Copeland in 1957, and Joe Leonard placed several artists and a number of individual Lin sides with larger labels, including MGM, Imperial and Dot. It covered a wide spectrum of styles, beginning as a country label, then easing toward rockabilly, pop and rock 'n' roll in time, with an odd R&B, comedy or children's record thrown in here and there. Its lasting impact and significance stems from its early exploration of rockabilly and its subsequent signing of a number of excellent Texas-Oklahoma area rock 'n' roll performers, none of whom became household names but who produced dozens of prized and enduring sides.
The recordings of Andy Starr and Buck Griffin, Lin's most prolific artists (though many of their Lin-produced recordings were released on larger labels), have been collected on previous Bear Family CDs. Four sides by the Strikes, leased to Imperial have been reissued on 'That'll Flat Git It, Vol. 12' (BCD 16102). These were singers who came to Joe Leonard as essentially country acts that veered toward rockabilly and rock 'n' roll. They have been included here as well, in representative early sides, along with artists like the classic late-period rockabilly David Ray (Ray Smith), the elusive, Buddy Holly-struck West Texan Ray Ruff, and the fresh-faced, unassuming teen Ken Copeland, whose surprising stabs at rock 'n' roll stand in stark contrast to his pop sides (and who is far better known today as televangelist Kenneth Copeland). Also getting his start at Lin and almost as squeaky-clean as Copeland was in 1957, was Jerry Fuller, who became a semi-successful recording artist after leaving Lin, then far more successful as a songwriter and producer.
Included among the more than 120 sides here are pop, country, R&B, and many stops in between -- how does one neatly categorize the niteclub quasi-rock 'n' roll of the Chuck-A-Lucks' Disc Jockey Fever ? --from Wayne Jetton's inaugural country sides from the winter of 1953-54 to Honee Welch's overlooked blue-eyed soul from 1968. In addition to the artists mentioned above, and many others -- The Four Mints, The Atmospheres, Steve Wright, and on -- this set features a impressive roll call of excellent backing musicians, from guitarists Thumbs Carllile and J.B. Brinkley, fiddlers Johnny Manson, Jimmy Belkin and Johnny Gimble, tenor banjoist Marvin 'Smokey' Montgomery, pianist Bill Simmons, to multi-instrumentalist Paul Buskirk, Nashville session legends like saxophonist Boots Randolph and pianist Floyd Cramer, and even the soon-to-be country-pop singing star Sonny James when he was still working Dallas recording sessions as a decidedly country fiddler...
Fort Worth, Texas