Jeffrey Kruger: People think I’m a tough son of a bitch to work with, but I’m not. It’s just that everything has to be right and I won’t let people walk all over me.Quoted by Spencer Leigh in obituary, independent, 23 may 2014
Jeffrey Kruger founded Ember International Records in Hove in 1960. Kruger was only 29 at the time. He also owned The Flamingo Club in Soho, which was the leading R&B venue of the early sixties. He had founded it with his father in 1952, when he was just 21, and it rapidly became a major jazz venue. It hosted Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the 1950s. It was in the heart of London’s Gangland. His father was an East End hairdresser with connections.
Jeffrey Kruger: Luckily one of my dad’s customer’s was Jack Spot, the biggest mobster in London. My dad shaved him every morning. When I opened the Flamingo, Dad went to see Jack and explained that the Flamingo belonged to his son.
Quoted by Simon Napier-Bell in Black Vinyl, White Powder.
Not surprisingly much of Ember’s early output was modern jazz, big band and blues. This went across to early Ember releases. The jazz output had string modern designs, very much like Enoch’s Light Command label from the USA.
Kruger had started out as a pianist with his own band, Sonny Kruger and His Music. He managed drummer Tony Crombie as Tony Crombie & The Rockets. Kruger had seen Rock Around The Clock and recorded bits secretly. He helped Tony Crombie form Tony Crombie & His Rockets to bring rock and roll to the kids … though Crombie was a jazzer at heart. By 1960, Kruger was representing Angel Music publishers for the UK, and had connections with the mainly Doo-Wop Herald / Ember label in the USA, from where he took the label name.
The Flamingo had started out as a sedate venue, with ties obligatory for male guests. This was just off Leicester Square. It moved to Wardour Street in the heart of Soho in 1957.
The Flamingo was where Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames became famous. Zoot Money, Chris Farlowe, John Mayall, Geno Washington, The Small Faces and Jimi Hendrix all played there. Its all-night R&B sessions at weekends were rock legend. Visitors who played sessions included Jerry Lee Lewis, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Lee Dorsey and Wilson Pickett.
Jeffry Kruger: (My worst business decision was) Not to have signed the up-and-coming stars featured at the club as their manager or agent like Cream, Georgie Fame, Shotgun Express and their then-young blues singer Rod Stewart, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, Cheynes (featuring Mick Fleetwood on drums), Eric Burdon and the Animals, Led Zeppelin and many others.
Simon Napier-Bell: Jeff had surprised everyone by getting permission to run it from the Chief Constable at the Savile Row police station. “I told him if you let me have an all-night licence, all the kids who hang around Soho after hours will go there and you’ll know where they are. You can get any number of plain clothes men in the club, but you’ve got to promise only to arrest people outside, never inside. There’ll be no alcohol, and we’ll stay open till the tubes start running so the kids can get home again.“
Simon NapierBell, Black Vinyl, White Powder.
Yes, but …
John Mayall: (it was) a very dark and evil-smelling basement…. It had that seedy sort of atmosphere and there was a lot of pill-popping. You usually had to scrape a couple of people off the floor when you emerged into Soho at dawn.
Quoted in Uncut, 2019
The label showed why it was Ember Records International by starting out with Jan und Kjeld’s novelty Banjo Boy, which got to #36 in the chart.
Jeffrey Kruger: I had the publishing on a Continental hit called ‘Banjo Boy’ sung by Jan & Kjeld, two teenage Danish boys. I got it covered by several artists but my contract stipulated that I had to secure a British release for the original version. None of the majors would touch it so I designed labels myself, had 250 45rpm singles pressed on a converted button press in Dagenham, and my Ember label was born. I didn’t know how you were supposed to distribute records so I drove round dozens of independent record shops selling them myself. Then I went down to BBC Radio who reluctantly agreed to give it some airplay, and before I knew it distributors around the country were phoning me for copies of the single and we had a Top 40 hit.
The hit was extremely rare for a song in Danish. The British market could occasionally stretch to Italian, but otherwise foreign language releases didn’t sell. The American licensed version on Kapp got to #58 there. It had been a German #1 and a hot smash across Europe as Ember noted on the picture sleeve … picture sleeves were very unusual in the UK at the time. International was important … he could see what Top Rank International and Decca’s London-American were doing by focussing on licensing rather than production.
Ember was a serious effort to become the “sixth or seventh” important British record company. Kruger had seen Top Rank enter the field as an independent, as well as seeing Triumph fail as a pop label. There were several jazz specialist labels, with Esquire the largest, but Kruger had far wider ambitions.
As well as doing picture sleeves on singles, they decided to advertise the catalogue on their base company sleeves, and started in 1960 by issuing jazz / big band LPs with a standard base cover design.
Ember were stymied in the early years by their pressing deal with Oriole, who would often press records for the Big Four major labels, and when a rush came along, Ember’s pressings got postponed. Oriole was ‘the fifth’ label, but because of their massive output of Embassy Records for Woolworths, owned two large vinyl pressing plants, which were regularly used by the four majors if a record was a sudden hit with such great demand that their own presses couldn’t cope.
Kruger had to go head on for the three independent problems; manufacturing, distributing and promoting.
He sorted out distribution by working directly with a number of outlets. Keith Prowse Record Stores did the south, Lugton & Co did the Midlands (they were radio / TV wholesalers and many record stores were in the corner of radio and TV stores), Brian Epstein’s NEMS did the North-West and Wolfson did Scotland. A deal was done with the Solomon Brothers’ Emerald records for Ireland, a two-way trade as Ember then released Emerald material in Britain.
Kruger then established his own manufacturing facility, persuading a button manufacturer to tool up for pressing vinyl. The old story is that Kruger had to point out they only needed one hole in the middle, not four.
The third area was the hardest, as the Big Five (EMI, Decca, Phillips, Pye and Oriole / Embassy) had established the PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) to deal with the BBC, and only members’ records could be played. They declined to admit Kruger to the cartel, so he attacked the BBC over their charter requirement for impartiality, and they signed a separate deal with Ember, allowing airplay.
Tony Crombie got one of the early home-grown jazz LPs on Ember. This started Ember’s penchant for :series” with The Flamingo Jazz Series.
Kruger had a talent for picking up odds and ends, such as Michael Cox’s Angela Jones when the Triumph label failed, and Roy Orbison’s Sun Records releases, and odd soul tracks. Angela Jones is noted as one of Ember’s bigger hits, but I suspect they only picked up the very tail end of sales. I’ve seen many copies and they’re all on the Triumph label. Apparently he also took over the existing Triumph stock of the record and distributed them.
Though not often to be found in the singles charts, Ember nevertheless released some well-known musicians and artists on 45. Ember was yet another label on which James Brown and his Famous Flames once appeared. The presence of a number of releases by people like B.B. King, James Brown, Little Esther Phillips, as well as the first record by The Dave Clark Five, make Ember a collectable label.
Ember ploughs on
The second Ember release was The Madison by Ray Ellington in July 1960. It eventually charted two years later when Joe “Dead” Loss popularized the dance with Must Be Madison. The copy above is inscribed “BYGRAVES” in scribble and came from a charity shop about half a mile from Max Bygraves’ family home in Poole.
Many early releases from Banjo Boy onward had picture sleeves, on thin paper, which in those days was highly unusual. Ray Ellington was a British singer, drummer and bandleader with an African-American father and Jewish mother. He joined the Harry Roy Band as a singer in 1937. He was a popular figure in film, radio comedy in The Goon Show, and leading his band.
His band is claimed to be the first British band to strip back to piano, bass, drums and guitar, the classic early rock and roll line-up, as well as being the first to use amplified guitar, then electric guitar.
After The Madison, he cut Too Old To Cut The Mustard in 1962, which is more interesting for its B-side, the Bob Crewe-Bob Gaudio song She Cried.
20th Century Fox
A deal with 20th Century Fox was a major coup for a fledgling independent label. Ember International became the outlet for the mighty 20th Century Fox, to the amazement of the British record industry.
An early release in 1960 was The Harry Simeone Chorale performing Onward Christian Soldiers with Little Drummer Boy on the B-side, licensed from 20th Fox (who got a prominent logo on the label). They were so pleased to get it that early copies had a gold label.
The Ember advertising company sleeve on the pink and grey label pressing of Onward Christian Soldiers is numbered on the reverse (EMB S118) and the ad for “It’s Real Trad Dad” dates it to 1962 on a reissue. The B-side Little Drummer Boy had been the first Top Rank release (JAR 101) in January 1959. It was reissued in November 1959 (JAR 222). In July 1960, it was on the Ember International B-side (with a production date of 1960). As the same song appeared in 1965 on London, 1982 on MCA and 1963 on Stateside, 20th Fox were wheeler-dealers.
Onward Christian Soldiers was a #35 hit in December 1961, and #38 in December 1962. Marching as to war doesn’t sound very Christmassey, but at least it was religious.
20th Century Fox provided a series of jazz EPs and LPs … all with simple but excellent sleeve designs by Ember. These were “historic jazz” releases. or in other words old (ancient?) back catalogue stuff.
Ember International Jazz
Gallery: Ember International / 20th Century Fox Jazz LPs. 1960. Click to enlarge
Earlier Label Designs for 45s
Kruger started out with red and orange, and it may be that the early red and gold (as on Onward Christian Soldiers) was his aim, but it was too expensive initially. Ember copies of Angela Jones (EMB S103, the third release) are the same red / orange design.
The Harry Simeone is red and gold as was a disc by The Valentines and Matt Monro’s The Ghost of Your Past, all late 1960 to early 1961. Then you get red and white versions of the same design, which may be either economy, or the problems of finding a label printer for the gold in time for release.
When the Golden Hits By Glenn Miller EP was released, it got a full shiny gold card sleeve (both sides) which would have been extremely expensive to produce. Golden Hits By The Harry Simeone Chorale got the same. The Glen Miller was probably the first in the EP series, judging by its EMB 4500 catalogue number. The gold does not age well.
It’s a shame we have to use Harry Simeone to illustrate Ember so much, but it’s what turns up.
Darling I Love You: Al Martino, Ember 45, 1961
Golden Hits of the Harry Simeone Chorale, Ember EP, 1961
Early Ember International designs are mainly pink and grey, both for singles and EPs. The 20th Fox logo is just typescript, not a logo.
Three of Ember’s first albums were by the Harry Simeone Chorale: Songs of Faith, More Songs of Faith and Sing Along With … A large cross is the dominant cover design feature. Face it, Ember didn’t do cover design apart from jazz.
The second Ember sleeve
Split singles: The JBS Juke Box Series
In 1962, Ember ventured into the “split single” (where there is a different artist on each side) within the Juke Box Series. They had always had the dodgy re-issue policy with artists’ pre-success recordings. The “JBS” series went further when they issued a split single with Jackie Wilson singing Tenderly and Clyde McPhatter singing Harbor Lights. Both dated back to when these guys were members of Billy Ward & The Dominoes, the name under which these records had previously been issued. Ember credited both sides to “Clyde McPhatter & Jackie Wilson” in larger print, with Billy Ward & The Dominoes below in smaller print. It is probably Ember’s most valuable single, Record Collector (February 2018) guessing its value at £250. The rest of the JBS series (only 13 releases) are uninteresting … The Platters, Woody Herman, Jonah Jones, Billy Eckstine, Earl Bostic. They weren’t playing on any juke boxes near me in 1962.
Country & Western series
Ember could strike lucky with licensing, but could also do bizarre things when they did. Take Reflections on Country & Western Greats by Little Esther Phillips, an LP in Ember’s ‘Country & Western Series.” The sleeve notes describe the November 1962 session, while her phenomenal version of Release Me was still climbing the US chart. Ember licensed it from Ad Lib. Esther Phillips was following Ray Charles’ success with soul covers of C&W classics on Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music. So, a soul singer from a classic soul / pop label doing C&W.
The cover photo is from the British Holiday Travel Association, and shows the Lake District, or a Scottish loch. I tried covering the title and asking a group of people what the subject music was. Sibelius and Mantovani were the most popular choices. I guess the justification was, ‘Hey! There’s a reflection of the sun on the water!’ It is such a contrast to their cool Jazz album sleeves. Maybe they felt that’s what the genre fans would like.
They also had more in the Country & Western series, in the case of Reno & Smiley’s Sing Sweet Ballads of The West (1963) licensed in from King. It’s the same as A Variety of Country Songs issued by King in 1959, but it does have a more appealing sleeve than the original:
However Ember’s sleeve with a gunslinger evokes Marty Robbins rather than a song like Since I’ve Used My Bible For A Road Map on the album.
The licensed in country material by George Jones, The Oak Ridge Quartet and Justin Tubb did get the original sleeves though.
Gallery C & W Series: click to enlarge
The case of ‘Christine’
Christine by Miss X was a minor hit, produced by John Barry In 1963, after the Profumo affair when the Secretary of State for War was found to be sharing the attentions of Christine Keeler with Eugene Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Russian Embassy, and this fun was all going on at Lord Astor’s Cliveden estate. The girls, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies achieved instant notoriety. They were also regulars at the Flamingo Club. The fuss over Profumo started with a knife fight between two of Christine Keeler gangster admirers at the club, Aloysious Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe.
The case against osteopath Dr Stephen Ward was a travesty of British justice, and he was set up by the government. See The Trial of Christine Keeler TV series in 2020, and more Tom Mangold’s BBC2 doumentary on the case.
The Ember record was a topical cash-in with its lyrics suggesting that the singer might be Ms. Keeler whispering sexily, Your secrets are safe with me. The B-side was S-E-X, The jewel in my crown is simply S-E-X. The singer posing as “Christine” was actress Joyce Blair, sister of Lionel Blair. The unique plain white Ember label made it look as if it were a demo or an illicit recording (five years before bootlegs came into being). The record was banned by the BBC and Radio Luxembourg, but played cheerfully on Ready Steady Go with Joyce Blair owning up and singing.
Joyce Blair: The record was made in an atmosphere of hysterical laughter. We all thought it very funny. What’s wrong with that? Bad taste? Certainly not.
They then put out an EP by Mandy Rice-Davies, Introducing Mandy with sleeve notes mentioning everything and anything except her reputation in the Profumo Affair. It was produced by Arthur Greenslade. Ember then licensed it to EMI in France, a strange reversal. The French EP has the better sleeve. Mandy Rice-Davies later had a successful acting career on TV and on stage.
They were prepared to advertise this one, together with an EP of Dave Clark Five material from two years earlier.
Around 1963 Ember dropped the “International” from their name, and became simply Ember Records. The design changed to red and yellow.
Release Me: Esther Phillips, Ember 45, 1965 … two years after the LP release, and no longer “Little”
I’m The Richest Man Alive: Ray Singer, Ember 45 DEMO version, 1965
On the other hand, they released way more picture sleeves than any comparative British 60s label.
At this point, the John Barry Seven was a touring group led by Alan Bown, in which Barry had only financial involvement. John Barry was a partner, and head producer at Ember in 1963 and the official soundtrack music to the second James Bond film From Russia With Love was released on the label. One of the ways that Ember tried to keep Barry sweet was with picture sleeves, first for The James Bond Theme in 1963, then for Zulu Stomp in 1964, from the Zulu original soundtrack.
Ember released under its own name in other countries. The John Barry James Bond compilation differs in the UK and South African versions. The UK version features the composer. The South African version features clips from the films, which may well have been problematic, not to say expensive in the UKL where United Artists released soundtracks via EMI.
Chad Stuart (of Chad & Jeremy) said:
John Barry was a very successful record producer at E.M.I. and he asked us if we wanted to make a record and all that, which again kind of blew our minds. Yes, we’d like to very much. Unfortunately, Jeffrey Kruger had talked John into leaving E.M.I. and becoming a partner in Ember Records. He’d seduced him with visions of tons of money, artistic control and who knows what else. And of course it was a disaster. There was just no way a little independent label could compete in those days. There wasn’t a successful indie (independent label) until Island Records.
The single Yesterday’s Gone was a lowly #37 UK hit, but it seemed to be everywhere at the time. Chad Stuart is right. It would have been a bigger hit on another label. That wasn’t the end of the story:
Chad Stuart: .John Barry bought himself out of his contract and we were stuck. I think we would’ve broken up then and there except for the fact that Noel Rogers, who published ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ fenced it off to this other company in America called World Artists.
In the USA, the record became a #21 hit in July 1964. They went on to have eleven more American hits, three of them Top Twenty.
John Barry left again in 1964.
We were like chalk and cheese. I was disciplined, businesslike and watched every penny but John (Barry) was not a student of budget control. However, I needed someone to give the label’s UK recorded releases a kick in the pants.
Zulu soundtrack, John Barry, Ember LP 1964
Christine had been co-written by Leslie Bricusse. Fool Britannia was a stage show, co-written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, and featured them with Peter Sellers and Joan Collins . It was a reaction to the university-led satire boom, that had put their Equity noses out of joint. As it said on the sleeve The living proof that talented amateurs may have their moments of glory – apologies to Peter Cook and Co.,- but the professionals will always have the last laugh. Louder. The project had been financed by Anthony Newley, and recorded in August 1963. At that time Vaughan Meader’s The First Family, a spoof on the Kennedys, was a million selling album and Alan Sherman’s comedy albums were major sellers. A British equivalent had 100,000 pre-orders in the USA on London, and good advances on Decca (Newley’s label) in the UK. The satire, in modern terms, was extremely mild, but it lampooned the Establishment. Sir Edward Lewis, boss of Decca / London heard about it, was incensed, and cancelled the release. Newley went to Warner Bros, who agreed to release it. Decca was Warner’s UK distributor, and after a call from Sir Edward Lewis, Warner withdrew also. Newley released it on his own label in the USA, and on Ember in Britain. Things were happening fast … Ember had it pressed and ready by the first week of September 1963, an astonishing speed. The US release made the Top 100 for ten weeks, though never rose above #93. But Ember had a problem. Their main distributor was Selecta, owned by Decca. Guess what? Sir Edward Lewis stopped distribution. Ember’s independent wholesalers (just nine of them) worked like mad to get it in the shops, without a national distributor. It made #10 in the UK LP charts, and was voted Humorous Album of 1963.
They did two EP selections from it. LPs were comparatively too expensive for many in the UK, so breaking an LP into EPs was standard.
The CD release added the two Miss X tracks and the Mandy Rice-Davies EP.
The R&B Series
This is another highly sought after area. The Flamingo was the centre for R&B and Blue Beat … witness Georgie Fame’s Rhythm & Blues At The Flamingo, and his , Rhythm & Blue Beat. While Georgie was working at The Flamingo, he’d been around long enough to make sure those were signed to EMI’s Columbia label.
Kuger had more though. The Flamingo installed a Jamaican ska sound system, and featured blue beat and ska DJs.
These are the only releases by The Fabulous Blue Beats.
Rhythm & Blues Volume Two: The Fabulous Blue Beats: Ember EP, 1964
Folk and Folk-Blues too
Aravel were a small New York company, mainly in the Folk-Blues genre. Ember released their 1963 Folk Blues Song Fest a year later in 1964. They didn’t even change the back sleeve copy and the Ember address and credit look typed on a manual typewriter. It’s probably Ember’s most influential LP release. It was cited by the more esoteric and erudite British blues players as a seminal LP. I read about it at the time and bought one, but for most British teen musicians, the Chess-Checker electric sound from Chicago (as filtered via The Rolling Stones) was the main influence. The bands I knew learned and played most of the Chess songs on Pye International’s Blues Volume 1 and Blues Volume 2, but Folk Blues Song Fest was earlier forms, deeper blues maybe, but it had a very minor effect on British band set lists compared to the Chess material.
Banjo is where Ember started, so Pete Seeger, an older banjo boy.
These tracks must have been licensed in from earlier in Seeger’s career. They are credited as an Aravel Recording.
The licensing game
Half the job was licensing from the USA, and they could be lucky, as on the seminal B.B. King Rock Me Baby.
Kruger did a deal with the American King and Federal labels, run by Syd Nathan.
Jeffery Kruger: Syd was a small, heavy set man, kindly but shrewd. He met me at the airport and the first thing he did was to whisk me off to a World series baseball game where I tried not to look too bored! Eventually, after the game was over, we got down to business. I couldn’t afford big advances in those days and told him so but I think he saw in me some of my enthusiasm and chutzpah that he’d had as a young man, and he agreed to lease me some singles by Earl Bostic, The Platters and a few more. I sent him regular statements and (modest) royalty cheques, he leased albums by Bill Ward’s Dominoes, James Brown, Billy Eckstine and other top artists to Ember.
Sleeve notes toThe Ember Records Story 2 CD set, TKO
King dropped older material on him. Sings Blues by John Lee Hooker featured 1949 King recordings.
It was however an important album, so much so that it was re-pressed. Left is the 1964 pressing, right is a “stereomonic” reprocessed stereo version from four or five years later.
The Famous Artists Series
The Tops of The Pops LP compilation in the Famous Artists series looks most impressive … Dave Clark Five, Roy Orbison, James Brown, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Matt Monro, John Lee Hooker, Jewel Akens, Chad & Jeremy. This was a label to be reckoned with.
It was a label very fond of series too … The Country & Western Series, the R&B series (just two EPs) and The Famous Artists series. It even had a Famous Artists logo with FA. Did no one point out that FA, often euphemised as ‘Fanny Adams’ meant ‘Fuck all’ as in ‘Sweet FA’?
Oddly the sleeve reverse doesn’t list the tracks, it just shows the other LPs in the series. You have to look inside at the centre label. Perhaps they aren’t exactly the best known songs by these artists: I’ve Just Come From the Fountain, I Never Knew, Lost Someone, Wanderin’ Blues, Chaquita.
So who are these by? (Little Richard, Roy Orbison, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Dave Clark Five). In other words, little-known recordings licensed from the labels that had lost the artists years earlier. In the Dave Clark Five’s case, they’d been on Ember itself in 1962 before they became famous.
In Matt Monro’s case, he tried to stop Ember releasing The Ghost of Your Past in 1961. Kruger had bought two demo recordings which Monro had made a few weeks before signing to Parlophone. Kruger had the legal ownership and followed up with a ten track Matt Monro and Don Rennie LP, on which Monro’s two demo tracks were his only presence.
Then we have Roy Orbison … And Others, an “FA” LP from 1965. Note the font size of “and others” on the sleeve above.
The two tracks in larger print on the cover are This Kind of Love and It’s Too Late. The inner label just says Roy Orbison … and Others. The Rare Record Guide says four tracks are by Orbison, and that includes the two mentioned above. Maybe FA meant ‘Fuck all Roy Orbison on the record.’ Running Scared, Crying and Ooby Dooby are among the other tracks on the record, but not in the Roy Orbison versions. Tower of Strength, Runaway and Take Good Care of My Baby are anonymous covers. I’d rate this LP as VERY dishonest. Three of Roy Orbison’s Sun sides surfaced on Ember, at the height of his London-American successes. Sam Phillips of Sun “wrote” several of the tracks.
The Dave Clark Five also had an FA album out (same sleeve design as Roy Orbison) plus … er, “and the Washington D.C.’s”. So here’s the FA series as printed on the rear sleeve:
The vast majority are deep back catalogue if you’re being polite, all “old hat” if you’re not.
One of the most opportunistic was Stars From The New Christy Minstrels as it says on the outer sleeve aka Star Folk which is what it says on the inner label. It was no coincidence that ex-Minstrel Barry ‘Eve of Destruction’ McGuire was suddenly ‘hot.’ The rear sleeve waxes eloquent about The New Christy Minstrels and that they are about to visit Britain. This is NOT the New Christy Minstrels in spite of the cover photo, but people who once were in the group. They put out some folk greatest hits too: Puff The Magic Dragon, The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face), Greenback Dollar. Barry McGuire features on eight tracks, so it’s surprising they didn’t call it a Barry McGuire album, in that he’s on four more songs than Roy Orbison was on his. The smokescreen continues to the version of Puff by “Art & Paul”. Wow! Would that be Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon? No, it would be Art Podell and Paul Potash.
More from the Famous Artists series, which could go from Little Richard and Donna Hightower to a Los Angeles religious choir and Scottish traditional airs.
Jazz and band music was not forgotten providing the tracks that would later be compiled on CD as “Ember Lounge” music. Mark Wirtz produced other artists but also did his own Easy Listening albums.
Gallery – click to enlarge
Latin A Go Go: Mark Wirtz, His Orchestra and Chorus, Ember LP, 1966
The Mark Wirtz version of Watermelon Man adds words … “It’s cool just like us.” Wirtz also did an instrumental version of Georgie Fame’s just post-Flamingo hit, Yeh Yeh. It’s hard to judge though tracks like Riviera Carnival are what gives Lounge a bad name, or as the CD sleeve notes say, ‘is regarded as a lounge classic.’.
Kruger picked up good producers later too. I’m The Richest Man Alive by Ray Singer (1965) has Mark Wirtz producing a full Phil Spector Wall of Sound backing, though it was recorded at Oriole’s London studio (until recently the home of Embassy budget recordings). Ray Singer was a songwriter, and became a producer, working closely with Simon Napier-Bell, then later joined Nirvana (UK)’s backing band on guitar. He produced Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To My Lovely, and the Average White Band, Child, Françcoise Hardy and Japan.
Ember were confident enough to go for a base picture sleeve, listing “Ember’s Top Ten” on the reverse. There’s some opportunist stuff listed. The Other Ringo by Larry Finnegan is subtitled A Tribute To Ringo Starr. So Long Stay Well for the folk boom isn’t The New Christy Minstrels, but rather “Stars From The New Christy Minstrels.” Then they have Chad & Jeremy, and an old James Brown track, Tell Me What You’re Gonna Do. Return To Me by The Values was an American 1962 track on Invicta, covering an old Dean Martin song. The Ember reissue was also in a picture sleeve with the same “Ember’s Top 10” rear. If you can find a mint one, it’s valued at £80.
Distribution remained an issue. Ember were reluctant advertisers in the music press – the prime spaces were block-booked by the majors. Also, it was only worth taking out an advert if you had chart potential. However I doubt that Paul’s Troubles single was a major contender. The Roy C may have had better chances.
Red Hey Kids! Ember are sufficiently worried about distribution to suggest you phone, or send a Postal Order for 7/2d directly, upon which they’ll not only post it but add a free bonus record, which would be unsold back catalogue.
Ember were fast in with Twiggy, releasing her single When I Think of You, in 1967. Unfortunately her voice matched her figure. Both were thin.
They were still keen on picture sleeves. Lee Lynch did several Ember singles. This one was written by Jack Hammer (co-writer of Great Balls of Fire). Produced by Mike Berry.
Joe Poor Loves Daphne Elizabeth Rich: Lee Lynch, Ember 45 1970
The US version of this LP was called By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Ember added a new title, I Wanna Live. The Capitol logo and song titles were carried over exactly from the American Capitol LP. They added I WANNA LIVE in yellow, the Ember logo, and STEREOMONIC.
Kruger picked up representation of Glen Campbell for the UK only after Campbell felt Capitol weren’t marketing him aggressively enough. He had seen him on Shindig, and noted that he was not on Capitol UK’s English release schedule. He contacted them and was told, ‘You can have the cowboy.’
Jeffrey Kruger: Glen seemed to specialize in songs about unfashionable American towns.
Sleeve notes to The Ember Story 2 CD set
While Campbell’s hits of the late 60s were Capitol in the USA, they were on Ember for the UK (with a note “A Capitol Recording”). The first release, Satisfied Mind, was put on Ember’s short-lived sub-label Speciality. (Linked)
By The Time I Get To Phoenix (written by Jim Webb), one of the most covered records of all time, was number 3 in the USA but failed to chart in Britain. Ember did score with the next two Campbell releases before Capitol grabbed the rights back. Jim Webb again provided the song for Vic Damone with Didn’t We?
Ember’s new sleeve and centre designed appeared on Galveston in 1969. Sleeve – A side and B side.
Ember sought originality. In 1968, we were worried whether we could play the new stereo LPs (for Britain) on our mono Dansettes. Ember assured us their albums were STEREOMONIC.
This was an earlier album, but has an Ember catalogue. The three Glen Campbell albums are numbered NR 5041, NR 5042 and NR 5043. It looks like they were put out fast and close to each other.
Campbell must have been pleased with the sleeve notes to the Wichita Lineman LP: Probably one of the best albums you’ve ever heard. Probably the best album he’s ever made. Add a further fulsome sleeve note written by Tom Jones, see above.
Both Glen Cambell and Sanford Clark had featured on the Speciality sub-label before it turned to soul exclusively. Ember released They Call Me Country by Sanford Clark, which is an interesting compilation of Clark’s mainly Lee Hazlewood written and produced songs. This came out in 1968 when Lee and Nancy Sinatra were at their peak. The “C & W Series” had been shelved long before.
They had Mike Berry produce The Good Shop Lollipop on a cover of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer in 1969 with a singer doing a Liverpool accent.
Mike Berry also wrote and produced This Ain’t The Road for Back Street Band in 1970, with an unusual sleeve idea. Instead of going for a printed picture sleeve, they put a wrap round picture over a standard company sleeve, then put the two in a cellophane bag, creating a triple wrap.
The early 70s sawEmber reviving the careers of some 60s stars like P.J. Proby and Julie Rogers … Ember had their own imprint in Spain, Germany, Portugal and other European countries. Julie Rogers in particular retained status there. They also managed to get the rights to release Desmond Dekker outside the UK.
Ember was also a niche soul label in the early 70s, and enlisted John Abbey, the editor of Blues & Soul magazine to advise on soul releases. Artists included Gladys Knight & The Pips, Jewel Akens, Milt Matthews Inc, Motown-producer Mickey Stevenson and Tony & Tyrone.
The Good To The Last Drop CD compilation is a superb summary of Ember soul releases.
Some of it dates back to the 60s. Dig In by The Pac-Keys dates from 1967, and is The Bar-Kays, plus Packy Axton, the son of the Stax label founder. It was released on Ember’s Speciality sub-label, as the B-side of Stone Fox.
The Brothers Grimm Looky Looky 45 from 1966 is rated highly. Manship’s Rare Soul Price Guide UK prices a near mint copy at £85, or £125 for a demo version. Rare Record Guide rates a mint copy at £50, and Discogs has never recorded sales of one. It’s on the CD.
Tony & Tyrone’s 1970 Everyday Fun owes a considerable debt to Sly & The Family Stone, which you might have guessed from the title. But it’s a very good Sly & The Family Stone ripoff too.
So is Fork In The Road’s I Can’t Turn Around You / Skeletons in the Closet single from 1970. It was licensed from Detroit’s GM label. Manship’s Rare Soul Price Guide rates that as £250, or £350 as a demo. The more conservative Rare Record Guide goes for £100 and £150. (Both sides are on the CD). Remember rarity rather than quality drives Northern Soul prices. The A side is a Four Tops soundalike, but not as good. Skeletons in The Closet echoes bits of The Temptations. But not as good.
Milt Matthews Inc did a series of singles in the early 70s which Ember licensed. They became Northern Soul favourites. That’s What I Feel For You is a killer track. Can’t See Myself Doing You Wrong from 1972 starts as psychedelic soul with distort guitar and turns into narration.
Mickey Stevenson was an original Motown producer, the “Mickey” in The Miracles Mickey’s Monkey. He did an album and two singles for Ember. The Here I Am album is a rarity in being an original Ember LP which was issued on CD (By Fantastic Voyage).
Gladys Knight & The Pips re-recorded version of Every Beat of My Heart was an Ember 1973 release.
The final centre label design ran from 1971 to 1978, and often came in plain black sleeves. By this point Ember were distributed by Pye.
Can’t See Myself Doing You Wrong / Disaster Area: Milt Matthews Inc Ember 45 1972
The success of Wichita Lineman is indicated by the black post-1971 centre design here. Original 1969 copies had the blue centre design (as above).
With arcane soul, demos add value. In 1972 they secured Motown producer Mickey Stevenson for a couple of singles. Surprisingly the B-side of Here I Am is Joe Poor Loves Daphne Elizabeth Rich which Lee Lynch had done as an earlier Ember single.
This was the era of the label sampler, and Ember introduced the Explosion Series in 1970. Note yet another “series” rather than a different label, though it had its own design and logo on the centre labels.
Star Explosion was their sampler and it harks back to 1965’s Tops of The Pops compilation. In fact with an apparently bare girl on the cover it looks uncannily like the budget Top of The Pops cover compilations. Those had recent hits. Not this one. Eclectic? Billy Eckstein, instrumental Glen Campbell, Scott Walker, Desmond Dekker (who was on Ember in Europe, but not in the UK), Julie Rogers, Kay Starr? It’s hardly CBS’s Rock Machine Turns You On or Island’s Nice Enough To Eat or You Can All Join In. But significantly they had skipped out on rock and psych material.
After that, Explosion put out two licensed Italian classical recordings of Strauss Favourites. looking decidedly unlike the inner label. Classical wasn’t an Ember area.
Then Explosion had Charles Segal and His Piano and Orchestra doing sugary versions of recent popular songs, and an album of Glen Miller covers by The Sidemen.
70s rock: Blonde on Blonde
So Ember were not a label that signed a lot of British early 70s rock bands. They probably knew how much money Prog rock could eat up. Blonde on Blonde from South Wales were an exception with two Ember albums:
Rebirth: Blonde on Blonde, 1970
Castles In The Sky, Blonde On Blonde, Ember 45 1970
Reflections on Life: Blonde on Blonde 1971. The full prog gatefold too.
Following Hendrix’s death, a lot of labels rushed in.
Experience: Titles from the Original Sound Track of The Feature Length Motion Picture, 1971
More Experience, Volume Two, 1972
Albert Hall concerts in February 1969 were the subject of the film. The 1st on the 18th, the 2nd on the 24th with improved lighting and extra footage. 4-track recording was by Glyn Johns and film direction by Nick Hague.
The two became a double Ember album in 1976.
Jeffry Kruger himself did the sleeve notes to this In The Beginning with gatefold sleeve in 1973. Ember also released Experience and More Experience.
Jeffry Kruger: On his original arrival from the States, Jimi dropped in on odd late night sessions (at the Flamingo) and jammed with the groups … I often talked to Jimi in the wee small hours in my cubby hole of an office and over a drink or two we would talk of the “old days.” He talked of countless sessions he had done and of sessions when he played every instrument himself and of live sessions at clubs which he had recorded himself … We would talk of the sessions he had done with Curtis Knight (many of which he hated and tried to stop being released) … He had mixed feelings about the sessions on this LP. I recall him saying, ‘The audience were a drag and didn’t appreciate’. At the time of the date he liked the sounds but on rehearing the tracks some three years later, he felt they suffered by comparison. And he was right, but which great artist’s work doesn’t ??? (sic) These sessions are of historical significance … we at Ember feel we are helping to perpetuate the name of the music of a legend of his time.
In other words, Jimi didn’t like it. The music sucks. We’re releasing it anyway.
Kruger had promoted Liza Roza, Twiggy, Julie Rogers … and he produced early 60s star Susan Maugham in 1974 for an LP This Is Me. Her flares are astonishing.
Oy also has a new (final?) simple Ember centre design:
It’s notable that it includes the Julie Rogers single of three years earlier, just as it’s notable that Mickey Stevenson re-did the Lee Lynch Ember single Joe Poor … I’d guess that there was a music publishing connection.
The appeal of girl singers goes on to the 1975 release of the all female band, Mother Trucker. They claimed to have been truck drivers. The single Tonight adds Jeffrey Kruger presents … and adds that they were licensed from “Paramount-Ember Records USA.” A second single was the Gamble & Huff Explosion in My Soul. They may not have done too well, as Promo copies seems to be the only images online.
And in the end …
The label became quiescent in 1979 when Kruger switched all his attention to concert and festival promotion, and focussed heavily on tours for major soul artists like Marvin Gaye.
In 1999 Kruger published his autobiography My Lif With The Stars (Angels and Assholes). He died in 2014.
|Jan and Kjeld||Banjo Boy||1960||36|
|Ray Ellington||The Madison||1960||–|
|Michael Cox||Angela Jones (from Triumph label)||1960||7|
|Harry Simeone Chorale||Onward Christian Soldiers||1960||35|
|Matt Monro||The Ghost of Your Past||1961||–|
|Carter, Lewis & The Southerners||Two Timin’ Baby||1961||–|
|Ray Ellington||The Madison (reissue)||1962||32|
|Dave Clark Five||Chaquita||1962||–|
|Chad Stuart & Jeremy Clyde||Yesterday’s Gone||1963||37|
|John Barry Seven||007 / From Russia With Love||1963||39|
|B.B. King||Rock Me Baby||1964||–|
|Roy Orbison||You’re My Baby||1964||–|
|John Barry Seven||Zulu Stomp||1964||–|
|Johnny Otis Show||Hand Jive One More Time||1964||–|
|Barry McGuire||Greenback Dollar||1966||–|
|Esther Phillips||Release Me||1965||–|
|James Brown||Tell Me What You’re Gonna Do||1966||–|
|Jewel Akens||Dancing Jenny||1966||–|
|Sonny Charles & The Checkmates||Pleae Don’t Take My World Away||1967||–|
|Glen Campbell||By The Time I Get To Phoenix||1968||–|
|Glen Campbell||Wichita Lineman||1969||7|
|Vic Damone||Didn’t We?||1970||–|
|Tony & Tyrone||Everyday Fun||1970||–|
|Blonde on Blonde||Castles in The Sky||1970||–|
|Milt Matthews Inc.||Can’t See Myself Doing You Wrong||1971||–|
|Eddie Robinson||Hey Blackman||1971||–|
|Gladys Knight & The Pips||Every Beat Of My Heart||1973||–|
|Mother Trucker||Explosion in My Soul||1974||–|
|Johnny Otis Show||Jaws||1975||–|
|Limmie & Family Cooking||I Can Stop (Anytime I Want To)||1977||–|
Ember on CD
The CD reissues are comprehensive and growing.
The Ember Records Story: 44 Historic Tracks 1960-1979 2 CD set, 2003
This was the earliest set. Unfortunately some of them have more vinyl hiss than my singles do. Also, when you put it in a computer, over half the tracks come up as ‘Various Artists’ suggesting it was sourced from compilations. The release is credited to TKO (The Kruger Organization, his music conglomerate).
Tell Me: Ember Beat Vol 1 (1962-1964)
Have You Seen My Baby Ember Sixties Pop 1964-66
Done Me Wrong: Ember Beat Vol. 2 1965-1966
After Tonight Ember Beat Vol 3 1966-67
Rainy Day Mind Ember Pop 1969-1974
Good To The Last Drop: Ember Soul.
Simply a great compilation.
Happy Hour In The Ember Lounge
Another Happy Hour in the Ember Lounge
All Fantastic Voyage label, 2009 to 2010