With the release of the Danceland Years featuring music which has been unavailable for almost half a century the legacy of Danceland Records has finally been revealed. The long dormant, nearly forgotten label founded in 1948 by Morris Kaplan today provides an aural snapshot of a specific time and place where momentous events were occurring on the outer fringes of American popular culture.
“Latest local entrant in the independent label field is the Danceland Record Company, headed by Morry R. Kaplan of the Kaplan Music Sales, record distributors. First release is a double by the Candy Johnson orchestra, Stampin and Ebony Jump, released nationally this week. The company will specialize in the race field.”
– Billboard, November 13, 1948
As the first songs released on Danceland Records, Candy Johnson’s Stampin and Ebony Jump not only heralded the labels creation in November, 1948; the double-sided 78 rpm single marked the labels first regional hit, crossing-over and attracting large numbers of both white and black record buyers in the midwest. Johnson was in his early 30s and had been living in Detroit for years by the time he met Kaplan in the late 1940s. The good-natured saxophonists three piece band had established a strong reputation in the Paradise Valley scene. Joined by pianist Stubby Jackson, Johnson & Co. cut tracks for Danceland during two recording sessions in September/October 1948. The sessions took place in the living room of Kaplans home Candy Johnsons four tracks on Danceland Years capture the rollicking sax-based instrumental sound that made him Dancelands best selling artist. The Stampin success story epitomizes the freewheeling nature of the record industry in the late 1940s, when a single could be pressed and on store shelves within a mere three weeks after the original recording session! In those days things were a lot different, Kaplan admits. You could walk in on a jockey in the studio and hed play the record. Apparently, the strategy worked: achieving hit status in Detroit and Chicago, Stampin eventually sold 60,000 copies, an impressive showing for a small, local independent label, but one which Danceland was unable to match during its next three years of existence.
John Lee Hooker
The five tracks by John Lee Hooker represent the most stunning of Danceland Years long-hidden gems. As the earliest known recordings of Hookers music, they provide a vivid document of his developing style (a style which of course eventually inspired generations of musicians, including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Led Zeppelin, to name a very few). Kaplan had known Hooker for several years before approaching him in early 1949 to record a few sides. Hooker whose numerous recording pseudonyms are almost as legendary as his music chose Little Pork Chops for the Danceland recording sessions, which took place on location at either the Royal Blue or Blue Heaven, over a period of approximately one week in February or March of 1949. In the years following his Danceland recordings, Hooker would help reshape the landscape of popular music. But in 1949, at the beginning of his legendary career, Hookers genius went largely unrecognized. To most people, he was just another guitarist playing low down blues. His stark, boogie woogie blues sides for Danceland notched very modest sales success less than 10,000 copies only a fraction of the sales levels attained by Dancelands Candy Johnson.
“Take Me Back Daddy” by Rose Nelson is being featured in a new film “A Million Colours” The track features Candy Johnson on Tenor Baritone Saxiphone and Stubby Jackson on Piano recorded at the Danceland Ballroom in 1949.
Tony Blues Lewis
Candy Johnson introduced Morris Kaplan to Tony Blues Lewis soon after Danceland had released the John Lee Hooker singles in early 1949. Following Johnson’s introduction, Kaplan was tremendously impressed with Lewis’ vocals and harmonica playing so much so that he released four sides with Lewis, recording him in the family’s basement recreation room of their home at 15794 Steele Street. The recording dates took place in spring 1949, with the singles released shortly thereafter. Like Hooker’s guitar blues, Lewis’ stripped-down style attracted little attention when his two singles hit the street. Nevertheless, Lewis’ four tracks on Danceland Years provide an intriguing example of the evolving blues sound in postwar Detroit.