The Parkway Label - A Guide to the Recordings on this Program
If you happened to have visited the Red Saunders Research Foundation Parkway page, to read the history of this tiny but fascinating Chicago record company, then you know that, technically speaking, we have a bit of a problem when it comes to some of the material presented on this program. As Robert Pruter and Robert Campbell report:
“[Parkway] was in business for little more than four months and produced only 23 recordings, of which 14 were released at the time — four by the Baby Face Leroy Trio, four by the Little Walter Trio, two by Memphis Minnie, two by Sunnyland Slim, and two by... Robert Jenkins. Just four singles are known to have come out on Parkway. But what extraordinary records they were.”
In compiling the material for this episode, we relied heavily on their research. Among the 36 performances on the program, we included all 14 of the originally issued sides — the four known Parkway singles, plus three other 78s that were recorded by Parkway, but were either leased or purchased by Fred Mendelsohn at Regal, and first released on his label (all six of those can be found at the end of hour one). So, doing some quick math: 14 from 36 leaves 22 sides unaccounted for. Two additional performances come from a 45 rpm single released by Louis Records in 2012, which include two alternate, previously unissued outtakes of Parkway material — one by Baby Face Leroy, the other by Little Walter. Now we’re down to 20.
Another 5 were recorded by Parkway, but never issued until decades later. This includes the opening performance by Jimmy Rogers, plus two each by Memphis Minnie and Sunnyland Slim (you’ll find them near the end of hour two). That leaves us with 15.
Four performances by Roosevelt Sykes, attributed to a March 1950 recording date, fall within the time frame that Parkway was still a viable, operating entity (three of them can be found in hour one, one more is tucked away towards the end of hour two). Whether or not they were recorded by Parkway and later snapped up by Fred Mendelsohn at Regal — a theory that is certainly plausible, at best — is unknown. That leaves us with 11 recordings to go.
Hour two opens with three more cuts by Roosevelt Sykes, plus two titles by the enigmatic Essie Sykes — her relation to Roosevelt, as yet unknown. The Essie Sykes 78 is SO rare, that it wasn’t listed in any of the standard blues discographies until 2006 — some 55 years after it was first recorded. Traditionally, the session date assigned to these titles was April 1951, and, going on some rather vague information on the current Red Saunders page that they possibly could have been recorded earlier, we decided to include them anyway. Plus, quite simply, it gave us an excuse to dust off the exciting Essie Sykes titles for this program. That leaves us with six sides still unaccounted for.
Five of those remaining six, all found in hour two, and recorded by Little Brother Montgomery and St. Louis Jimmy in 1949, don’t really “fit” within the time frame that Parkway was operating. However, as Pruter and Campbell point out at the Red Saunders page, St. Louis Jimmy was under contract to a personal management firm set up by Parkway founder Monroe Passis, and another veteran of the Chicago music scene, J. Mayo Williams. All we can say for certain is that Fred Mendelsohn never came to Chicago to hold recording sessions on behalf of Regal. That leaves us with a bit of a mystery, however. If these sides were not recorded by Fred Mendelsohn, then who did record them? Since St. Louis Jimmy was under contract to a company that Passis and Williams had set up, it’s tempting to point fingers in that direction. As for the two sides by Little Brother Montgomery, they “sound like” they fit in with this time frame, and with a 1949 recording date also attributed to them, they tend to fall under the category of “if they weren’t cut by Mendelsohn for Regal, then who did cut them?"
Finally, we have one remaining title, by Muddy Waters. This is one we know for sure that was NOT cut by Parkway. Instead, it was cut by Leonard Chess, deliberately in the hopes that Muddy’s version of “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” would kill the Parkway version, on which he can clearly be heard. In the end, Leonard Chess got his wish. It not only killed the Parkway version, but along with it, the Parkway label. Without the money coming in from their “break out” record, the company collapsed under its own weight, and with the departure of George and Ernie Leaner (two key figures who helped get Parkway off the ground), there was apparently no point in soldiering on.
After Regal, Fred Mendelsohn went over to Herald, and after Herald, wound up at Savoy. The last known original release of Parkway material (as a 45 or a 78) was on Savoy, in 1956.
For such a tiny company, the legacy of Parkway Records remains, to this day, quite remarkable — and their impact on the history of Chicago blues — one that will not be forgotten for some time to come.
Pictured: One of the high-water marks of Chicago Blues, “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” by Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Baby Face Leroy.
To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/hzjslb9