Bob Shad – Early Career – Jazz, R&B

Russ: “We are writing tonight about a great record producer whose career seemed to go where the money was. Thus, he deftly shifted his skills with the popular forms of music of the times.  He was recognized as an outstanding producer of major blues, pop, rock, and R&B recordings, but his earlier production career actually began in the jazz world…
Bob Shad
(February 12th 1920 – March 12th 1985)

Back in the late 1940’s Bob Shad started his production career with the Savoy label.  It was there that Shad produced jazz sessions for the great saxophonist, Charlie Parker.

During this time, he also produced blues and R&B recordings on the National label.

Then in 1948, Bob and his brother, Morty Shad, founded the Sittin’ in With label, based in New York. The labels earliest recordings were primarily jazz, featuring artists such as Chu Berry, Charlie Ventura and Stan Getz before cutting a blues recording by Brownie McGhee.

After that release the label’s catalog mixed blues, vocal group  and jazz before blues became the label’s dominant sound.

Soon Shad was issuing records by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Smokey Hogg, Peppermint Harris, Bob Gaddy,  Curley Weaver, Elmore Nixon, Teddy Reynolds, James Wayne and Arbee Stidham among others.

The Sittin’ In With label, with its strange name from jazz terminology, had a good run. In four years, they offered a large selection of true R&B performers resulting in the sound of the late forties, as the nation began to discover this great music right under their noses..

The Sittin’ In With label was a departure from most Eastern USA labels up to that time. In fact a quite a number of this label’s artists  were based out of Houston.

The story goes that Shad went to Houston and recorded a bunch of folks over the course of about a year or so, then disappeared.  He then rented an old house and used it to audition (and sometimes recorded there) some of the talent he had discovered in Houston.

More information on Shad’s activities can be gleaned in an interview he did with author Arnold Shaw in his seminal Honkers And Shouters:

“Started my own label after I left National; it was called Sittin’ In With. And I did all the early Charlie Venturas, Stan Getz, Wardell Gray. It was strictly jazz at the beginning-Gerry Mulligan, Buddy Stewart, Benny Green. But ther was no money in jazz. Used to sell seven to eight thousand. That’s when the blues thing hit me and I bought a Magnecord, which was probably the first portable tape recorder. Went down South and did a lot of recording with Peppermint Harris, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Smokey Hogg. Recorded in Texas, mostly Houston. But I did some up in Tyler; also Shreveport, Louisiana. The big problem with on-location recording was finding a piano that was in tune. I would go to the black quarter of town and ask the disk jockeys. I would tie up one musician and find a blue singer. One bluesman would tell you about another-it’s a whole family-everybody sings blues. I did Curley Weaver, Big bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, Mel Walker with the Johnny Otis Band, Little Esther.”

In 1951, Morty Shad moved to an independent label Jax, while Bob went on to work for Mercury Records, where he became Director of Artists and Repertory (an A&R man).

In the spring of 1953 he briefly switched to the grand daddy of all labels, Decca, where he did a stint of Jazz A&R activity before deciding to return to Mercury in January of 1954.

It was at Mercury that Bob began to establish the entire EmArcy Jazz line (as well as heading the R&B department at Mercury). He also took over the Jazz and R&B functions of the original Wing label; and many more.

Emarcy Records

In 1954 Bob partnered with Irving Green to start the Emarcy label as a jazz brand of the US division of Mercury Records. Creating the name from a phonetic spelling of “MRC”, the initials for Mercury Record Company,  their logo featured the stylized image of a drummer.

The mission of Emarcy was to work with a diverse roster of jazz artists. These artists included the innovative Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet and Erroll Garner through to the pop-inflected Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. In so doing, they became a direct rival to Verve, the leading contemporary jazz label at that time.

Some Emarcy Recording Artists

1.  Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street   Label: EmArcy 36070   12″ LP 1956

Playing with Brown and Roach are regular members of their quintet Harold Land tenor saxophone, Richie Powell piano, George Morrow bass and Sonny Rollins, who later replaced Land.


2. Sarah Vaughan Swingin’ Easy  Label: Emarcy 12″ LP 1957

Early Emarcy successes included Sarah Vaughan’s “Swingin’ Easy” album, her first and still perhaps best recording with her then regular trio.

This album includes her famous version of ‘Lover Man’, which set a benchmark for jazz singers globally.


3. Dinah Washington In The Land Of Hi-Fi  Label: Emarcy  12″ LP 1956


4. Cannonball Adderley   Label: EmArcy 36043   12″ LP 1955


5. Gerry Mulligan: Mainstream of Jazz   Label: EmArcy 36101   12″ LP 1956

As an A&R man working for many labels, Bob Shad was not only an outstanding jazz and R&B producer; he also supervised several major pop and rock artists. Then in 1958, he left Mercury to start his own labels… and the rest is history, as covered by my partner, Gary.

See: Bob Shad – Time / Brent / Shad Story


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