As the moribund recording industry marginalizes itself into utter irrelevance, it warms the cockles to hark back to the heyday of the great independent labels across the country whose legendary bossmen cast their nets across all genres in search of hits. Syd Nathan in Cincinnati (King), Art Rupe in L.A. (Specialty), and Sam Phillips in Memphis (Sun), among others, were recording r&b, blues, country, gospel—whatever sounds they could reel into their studios that had a chance of making a buck or, better yet, catching a wave of national popularity. While these powerhouse labels were churning out legendary sides by the crateful, a number of smaller-time outfits in the boonies were following the same business plan, though with minimal chances of achieving more than just the occasional regional score.
One such enterprise that hummed along under the radar was Fine Records based in Rochester, New York, which produced spirited releases over the course of 30 years beginning in the late 1940s. The label was owned and operated by Vincent Giancursio, a dance-band saxophonist who began playing professionally in 1932 at the age of 12. After a frustrating 15-year run traveling the dead-end nightclub circuit in upstate New York, Vince Jan (his preferred music-biz moniker) decided that if he couldn't hit the big time making music, maybe he'd record someone else who could. After the War, Giancursio studied audio engineering for a year, then opened Fine Recording Studio. He started off cutting mostly custom recordings, but then began to release 45 rpm discs on his own label, which he did up until his death, at the age of 58, in 1977.
During his three decades in the record business, Giancursio supported the music passionately, producing over 3,500 sessions single-handedly, most resulting in limited pressings of rarely more than a thousand copies, though usually a lot less. The sessions he engineered were wide ranging and eclectic, mostly one-offs by an assortment of jazz bands, garage rock combos, Elvis wannabes and even a few country & western acts. In addition, for a fertile stretch in the '60s and '70s, Fine Records captured on tape a string of electrifying performances of soulful gospel as good as any from the era.
(25 righteous MP3s are posted after jump)
Surely the most accomplished performer ever to buzz the amps at Fine Recording Studio was future Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee Ersel Hickey, who released one single for Fine under the name Mickey Evans. (A second single was recorded, but apparently only one copy was pressed!) Hickey died in 2004, but two of the gospel groups Ciancursio recorded nearly 40 years ago, the Bright Clouds and the Spiritual Jubilators, are still active today.
In 2002, 15 years after Vincent Giancursio's death, a fire gutted the old Fine studios at 114 St. Paul Street in Rochester. Shockingly, it still contained thousands of reel-to-reel tapes and 45s, along with promotional items and other historical documents—much of which was destroyed. Through a series of connections, the studio's remnants were purchased by a garage-rock historian, and one-time guitarist for the Sydney band Lipstick Killers, named Mark Taylor. The whole shebang was shipped to Australia where Taylor meticulously sifted through the singed and sodden artifacts, and what emerged from the wreckage was nothing less than a history of the recorded music of Rochester. A major component of the recordings that survived are more than two dozen glorious gospel singles, which, through Taylor's generosity—and, of course, Vincent Giancursio's lifelong devotion to music—are available for downloading here:
I'm not sure who created this handsome CD art. When I find out, I will thank them in the comments.
For higher-resolution artwork, go here and here.
1. The Sons of David ~ My Work Will Be Done (MP3)
2. The B.C. Harmonizers ~ You Ought to Been There (MP3)
3. The Spiritual Jubilators ~ Precious Lord (MP3)
4. The Sensational Zion Seekers of Paterson, NJ ~ Called Up to Meet Him (MP3)
5. The Mighty Sons ~ Jesus Delivered Daniel (MP3)
6. The Inspirational Gospel Singers ~ I Feel the Spirit (MP3)
7. The Gospel Tone Spiritual Singers ~ What Manner of Man Is This? (MP3)
8. The Gospel Hi-Lites ~ Ease My Troublin' Mind (MP3)
9. The Bible Aires Spiritual Singers ~ You Better Get Ready (MP3)
10. The Radio Gospel Kings ~ Glad News (MP3)
11. The Gospel Echoes ~ Sinners Run to Jesus (MP3)
12. The Royal Harmonier Singers ~ I Want to Know (MP3)
13. The Inspirational Gospel Singers ~ The Same Thing It Took (MP3)
14. The Gospel Tone Spiritual Singers ~ Sinner Man! (MP3)
15. J.J. & J. Modernaires ~ Servant of the Lord (MP3)
16. The Gospel Hi-Lites ~ Too Far to Turn Around (MP3)
17. The Spiritual Jubilators ~ No Graves (MP3)
18. The Gospel Echoes ~ I Claim Jesus (MP3)
19. The Sons of David ~ There's a Man Taking Names (MP3)
20. The Bright Clouds ~ Certainly Lord! (MP3)
21. The Mighty Sons ~ Stand By Me (MP3)
22. The Gospel Tone Spiritual Singers ~ Where Could I Go, But the Lord! (MP3)
23. The Radio Gospel Kings ~ Dry Bones (MP3)
24. The Bright Clouds ~ Someone Is Knocking at Your Door! (MP3)
25. The Sensational Zion Seekers of Paterson, NJ ~ I Know I've Been Converted (MP3)
[For lossless audio (flac) files and label shots, go here]