Make It Your Sound, Make It Your Scene: Vanguard Records & the 1960s Musical Revolution
Begun in 1950 by brothers Maynard & Seymour Solomon, Vanguard Records was initially a classical label, although it issued some two-dozen jazz recordings between 1953 and 1958 under the direction of John Hammond. The brothers weren't as much interested in the commercial side of the record business as they were interested in presenting and archiving American musical history, and they had standards. When they signed blacklisted artists Paul Robeson and the Weavers in the mid-'50s, they garnered the respect of the emerging folk scene, putting the label in a wonderful position to document the urban folk and blues revivals that broke through to new commercial levels just as the '60s opened. Not only did Vanguard issue live albums of the Newport Folk Festivals, the label had also assembled an impressive catalog of young, cutting-edge folk singers, including Joan Baez, Patrick Sky, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian & Sylvia, Richard & Mimi Fariña, Hedy West, the Rooftop Singers, Eric Andersen, and many others, and had also issued important albums from blues rediscoveries Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt, made forays into bluegrass, and released Doc Watson's first LPs, all of which made Vanguard the most successful of the folk and blues labels of the '60s. Later in the decade the label tried its hand at rock, signing and issuing fine albums by Country Joe & the Fish and the Frost, although it is as a folk label that Vanguard's reputation rests. This four-disc set provides an in-depth survey of the breadth of Vanguard's catalog, and also serves as a sort of musical journey through the cultural shifts and changes of the '60s. The '70s weren't as kind to Vanguard as the '60s were, and the label was sold to the Welk Music Group in 1985, undergoing a kind of resurgence with albums from John Fogerty, Greg Laswell, Merle Haggard, Chris Isaak, Linda Ronstadt, Robert Cray' and others, but Vanguard's '60s catalog continues to be the label's defining jewel. This set shows why.