Date Posted: 2009-06-15
DEEP INTO THE SOUTHLAND
By Page VanVorst
The Southland Collection was one of the most formidable acquisitions in the history of the GHB/Jazzology group. We bought Southland from Joe Mares in the 1960s and our purchase included four hundred reels of tape and a large box containing about six hundred photographs Mares had accumulated over the years. We used a few of the photos in early issues of JazzBeat and, other than a few obvious reissues- the Sweet Emma, George Lewis and Papa Celestin sides, for example, we did very little with this potentially rich resource.
About nineteen months ago Barry Martyn decided to have a crack at the Southland Archive, which took up a whole wall in our tape vault. He began playing through the mountain of tape, gradually identifying the various sessions, determining what had been issued and what was previously unreleased. There were some surprises- a session with Rosemary Clooney was certainly unexpected, and a whole session by Papa Celestin that had escaped release.
Barry Martyn says he gained considerable respect for Mares and some of his musical associates after spending weeks poring over the material. Mares, who was self-taught as a record producer, was very good at what he did. He recorded a lot of his own sides in his music room, a corner of the French Quarter commercial building housing his fur and hide business. He had his own ideas of what he wanted and he was usually able to get it, though he had a tendency to put the musicians through a number of takes until they got it right, his way.
Martyn says he also acquired great respect for Joe Capraro, who was featured on guitar on a number of Southland sessions, and Mike Lala, a relatively unknown trumpeter who appeared on a number of Southland dates.
What had been four hundred reels of tapes has been whittled down to about three- sessions that are of unclear provenance (we don’t know if we really own them) and/or poorly recorded concerts where we have better material by the same musicians. In the place of four hundred boxes of tape we now have twenty-seven CDs. Our current release has four CDs drawn from the Southland catalog, and we’re probably only about halfway through releasing our new Southland compilations.
The Southland project has included a number of re-arrangements of material. Joe Mares was given to recording short sessions, so he seldom recorded enough material at a session to put out an entire LP, and, of course, some of his sessions were notoriously short- his George Lewis LP was basically a ten inch LP that he began pressing as a 12” LP when the industry switched standards in the late 1950s. And there were a number of LPs that had groups only vague related to each other lumped under a title like Dixieland From the Southland. Martyn had to break each LP down, determine what other material, issued or unissued, should be combined with it to make a coherent reissue. He had produced a series of CDs that contain virtually everything Joe Mares recorded, organized logically, including unissued tunes, alternate takes and, in some cases. completely unissued sessions.
So keep watching JazzBeat and I’m sure your favorite Southland session will pop up one of these days. The Southland project has taken us over thirty years to complete- we’re sorry it took so long, but until now we were so busy putting out new sessions and acquiring other labels that no one had the time to sit down and listen to everything Joe Mares recorded.