Born Stanley J. Lewis, 5 July 1927, Shreveport, Louisiana
Distributor, producer, publisher, label owner.
Stan “the Record Man” Lewis was a major player in the independent record business between 1950 and the 1980s. He became the number one Independent Record Distributor in the Southern USA. “Locally owned, nationally known” was his slogan, back when corporations didn’t control the entire music business.
Born to grocery storekeepers of Italian heritage, Stan Lewis had his parents’ flair for business. At age nineteen he invested his savings in a variety of coin machines. Soon he would expand the business into a "one-stop" for jukebox operators, who often had trouble finding the records they wanted, especially by black artists. Lewis had records that nobody else in the South carried and he was the first one to give the operators a discount. On June 22, 1948, he opened “Stan’s Record Shop” at 728 Texas Street in Shreveport. Elvis Presley would later become a regular customer.
Over the next few years, Lewis set up an independent distribution network, distributing such labels as Chess / Checker, Atlantic, Specialty, Modern, Imperial and servicing record shops and jukebox operators in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. In 1951 he added a successful mail-order operation that lasted for over a decade. He advertised on Radio KWKH in Shreveport and soon also on WLAC in Nashville. Both stations operated 50,000 watt clear channels, covering much of the country.
Records on Chess/Checker were promoted heavily on these radio shows. Leonard Chess quickly understood that Stan Lewis, by virtue of his location and hardworking business ethic, was going to be tremendously valuable to the fast-growing Chess network. So he took Lewis under his wing. With this strong bond, Leonard Chess would involve Stan in joint ventures in distributorships and pressing plants. Soon, Lewis became a talent scout and learned how to produce records for Chess and others. In September 1954 he produced “Reconsider Baby” by Lowell Fulson, a # 3 R&B hit. Not a natural songwriter, Stan was accorded co-writer song credits on two Checker recordings that turned out to be very rewarding : “I’ll Be Home” by the Flamingos (# 5 R&B in the spring of 1956, before being crushed by Pat Boone’s international hit) and “Susie-Q” by Dale Hawkins (# 27 pop, # 7 R&B). Lewis claims that he came up with the title of “Susie-Q” and that he wrote part of the lyrics. Dale Hawkins emphatically rejected both notions (“Those are the biggest damn lies ever told.”). Leonard Chess often 'rewarded' disc jockeys and other friends in the record business with co-writing credits. This sort of ‘gratitude’ was considered routine in those days. Four other early Dale Hawkins tracks bear the signature of Stan Lewis as a co-writer, along with several other releases on Chess/Checker/Argo. But by the early 1960s Lewis had sufficiently mastered the art of songwriting to set up his own publishing company, Su-Ma Music.
In 1963 Lewis finally started his own label, Jewel Records. “I was about ten years too late”, he told John Broven. Stan had good connections with the Louisiana Hayride. He went there every Saturday night and kept in touch with all of the artists. He introduced hillbilly artists to Chess and Specialty, but Leonard Chess and Art Rupe were not very interested. “That’s when I should have gone in business with my own label. I could have had Jim Reeves, Floyd Cramer, Jim Ed and Maxine Brown, Webb Pierce, Faron Young.” But Lewis was afraid the record men might get mad at him when he started his own label. Jewel was followed in 1965 by Paula (named after Stan’s wife) and in 1966 Ronn (after his brother). The Jewel-Paula-Ronn roster included (among many others) Bobby Charles, Lowell Fulson, Cookie and the Cupcakes, Mickey Gilley, Jerry McCain, Peppermint Harris, Frank Frost, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Charles Brown, Toussaint McCall, John Fred, Big Joe Turner and John Lee Hooker. “I was one of the last record men to record the old blues guys.” All this release activity resulted in only one significant hit : the “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” parody “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred and his Playboy Band (Paula 282), which topped the Billboard charts for two weeks in January 1968. The follow-up “Hey Hey Bunny” went to # 57.
In the late 1960s Lewis acquired the masters of several respected Chicago blues labels : Cobra, Chief, Age, JOB and USA. The Cobra roster included Harold Burrage, Otis Rush and Magic Sam. Stan Lewis was still going great guns as the 1960s morphed into the 1970s. His empire just kept on expanding. But he was unable to keep it together into the 1980s, when CDs began to replace 45s. Stan Lewis thought he had made the deal of a lifetime when he agreed to a multi- million dollar sale of his masters to eMusic. com in 1999, but it was not to be. The stock nose- dived when the dot-com bubble burst before the expiry of the sale lockup period. “Well, then you wind up getting screwed out of all your money with the company going broke you sell out to. It hurts ; that was eMusic. I went down ; I lost all my shares.” At least Lewis was able to sell Su-Ma separately and hold on to his personal songwriting copyrights, including the shares in “I’ll Be Home” and “Susie-Q”.
The Jewel/Paula/Ronn catalogue was subsequently sold to Fuel 2000 / Westside. In 2015 Fuel 2000 was acquired by the Private IP Holding Company in North Broadway, NY.
More info : http://www.bsnpubs.com/gulfcoast/jewel-paulastory.html
CD : The Jewel-Paula Rock Story (Airline Records, 2015). 36 tracks on 2 CDs.
Acknowledgements : John Broven, Record Makers and Breakers : Voices of the Independent Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneers (University of Illinois Press, 2009), page 161-166.
Dik, June 2017
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