Born Ernest Lafayette Young, 2 December 1892, Giles County, Tennessee
Southern entrepreneur Ernie Young was the founder of the Excello label, which has attained almost legendary status among blues and R&B fans. Young's labels were off-shoots of Ernie's Record Mart, a Nashville- based shop and mail order operation launched in 1950, when Young had already reached the advanced age of 57, after a career as a real estate businessman. Young was more or less following in the footsteps of Randy Wood (founder of Dot Records), who had started a similar operation a couple of years earlier in the Nashville suburb of Gallatin. Ernie's business was selling records to southern blacks (and later teenagers of all pigmentation) by advertising over the powerful (40,000 watt) radio station WLAC in Nashville during John Richbourg's show. In August 1951, Young launched a black gospel line, Nashboro, and consolidated one year later with a second label, Excello, which was devoted primarily to blues with occasional gospel and hillbilly releases interspersed. Early sessions were recorded after-hours at the WLAC studios, but Young was no Sam Phillips and the recording process was merely a matter of transferring a live performance onto tape with the minimum cost and effort.
Excello's first hit came in November 1953 with Kid King's Combo recording of "Banana Split" (Excello 2009), which broke in the South and even began selling on the West Coast, peaking at # 9 on the Billboard R&B charts. In spite of a lower peak position (# 12, February 1955), Excello's next R&B hit was far more influential. Arthur Gunter's "Baby Let's Play House" achieved fame when it was recorded by Elvis as his fourth Sun single. The subsequent royalties (Young also had his own publishing company, Excellorec Music) helped finance much of Excello's business operations. Further Excello hits in 1955-56 came from The Marigolds, Louis Brooks and his Hi-Toppers (featuring Earl Gaines) and Larry Birdsong. In October 1955 Ernie Young met up with record producer J.D. Miller from Crowley, Louisiana, setting up one of the most famous partnerships in R&B history. The first Jay Miller production for Excello, "Congo Mambo" by Guitar Gable became a strong regional seller in 1956. The rock 'n' roll explosion of 1956 did not have much of an effect on Excello. In his time as a former jukebox operator, Young had seen fads come and go and he was satisfied to cater for the new rock 'n' roll market through his thriving mail-order mart. However, Young did release some rockabilly singles (by Al Ferrier and Johnny Jano) from masters sent up by Miller from Louisiana.
By 1957 swamp blues was in full stride with consistent recordings by Lightnin' Slim and Lazy Lester emanating from the Crowley studios. Shortly afterward came recordings by Lonesome Sundown and Slim Harpo. In 1957 Excello also scored its first pop hit, "Little Darlin'" by the Gladiolas, a group that included Maurice Williams (# 41 pop, # 11 R&B), though a cover by the Diamonds outsold the original version by far. However, this meant another windfall in publishing royalties for Young, who launched a third label, Nasco, in May 1957. Early in 1958, Nasco's fifth release went to # 5 on the Billboard pop charts. It was "Oh Julie" by a local college group, the Crescendos. However, as Young made no attempt at artist development or promotion, the prospects of a Nasco / Excello single hinged on how many plays it received on WLAC. Young would send out 1500 records to radio stations and that was it. Only if a record made it in the Billboard or Cash Box Top 100, he would take out a small ad. Apart from "The Prisoner's Song" by Warren Storm (# 81 in August 1958) there were no further hits on Nasco, but Excello with its strong array of blues and R&B singers would continue to score occasional hits like "Rooster Blues" by Lightnin' Slim (1959) and "Rainin' In My Heart" by Slim Harpo (1961).
The latter artist gave Excello its first-ever # 1 hit in 1966 (R&B, that is) with "Baby Scratch My Back". In that year Ernie Young retired at the age of 73, selling Nashboro Records to the Crescent Company for $ 250,000. The Excello label changed with the times putting out quality soul music and having a few minor hits. The final blow to Excello was the changing to a Top 40 format by WLAC that strongly impacted sales. Excello issued its final release in 1975. After several compilations on Rhino in the 1980s and early nineties, the Excello catalog was acquired by AVI Entertainment in 1994, who did an excellent reissue job, but since 1997 ownership has been in the hands of Hip-O Records, a division of MCA. In the UK, Ace Records was responsible for an extensive reissue programme, with over 40 CD's of Excello material, details of which can be found at: http://www.island.net/~blues/eyoung.htm
Some recommended Various Artists compilations:
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