Designer Records

The Soul of Designer Records is four CDs packaged in a record-album gatefold. 101 gospel soul scorchers from Style Wooten’s Designer Records of Memphis, TN.



From Peter Guralnick’s website, Guest blogger Mr. C:

The artists on the recently released set, The Soul of Designer Records, are true voices in the shadows. They’re the “little people,” in the phrase that Boston record store entrepreneur Skippy White (“Mass. Records: Home of the Blues”) once used to describe the underheralded underclass of ’60s soul singers. The “little people” who recorded for the Memphis, Tennessee, Designer label, were church singers, locals from the Memphis area or pilgrims from Cincinnati, Detroit or South Carolina, who came to one-time Jerry Lee Lewis guitarist Roland Janes’ Sonic Studio to record a 45 rpm record, something to sell on the weekend programs that they played in churches, auditoriums, wherever they might find a venue for their music.

“New talent needed all the time!” read the opening of a Designer Records ad, and new talent was the thirst for Designer owner Jesse Corbett Graham, who opened shop in 1964, fishing for hits in the rockabilly and country pond. He christened himself J.C. Wooten first, and spontaneously nicknamed himself “Style”….Style Wooten, a jack of all trades who soon, with the help of Roland Janes, found his calling in black gospel music.

Style’s concept was cash and carry. For $469 (or less depending on circumstances), a custom record was pressed, usually 25 or 50 copies, with Janes providing the studio and as often as not most of the musicians. As the ad stated, “We furnish our recording staff…” Once word got out, Sonic Studio became a hotbed of Designer gospel sessions. As Janes is quoted in the liner notes, “See, these gospel guys, man, were doing it for the love of what they were doing. They used to get in their cars – maybe two or three carloads of them, say, from Detroit – and they’d come down south and work down here all Friday night and Saturday and Sunday, they might miss a day’s work, probably two days. They were doing it ‘cause they loved it, man.” As for Style: “He felt that he was performing a service, and he was…He didn’t cheat nobody, he treated everybody right.”

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