• Added info on Jimmy Ford, thanks to Volker Houghton. • Extended and corrected the post on Happy Harold Thaxton (long overdue), thanks to everyone who sent in memories and information! • Added information to the Jim Murray post, provided by Mike Doyle, Dennis Rogers, and Marty Scarbrough. • Expanded the information on Charlie Dial found in the Little Shoe post.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Home of the Blues Records

Home of the Blues Records
On the Street Where Blues Were Born

I recently made contacts with ancestors of Ruben Cherry and Celia Camp, owners of the Home of the Blues label, a mostly overlooked Memphis record label. Both Cherry and Camp were influential figures in the city's music scene, though they are forgotten nowadays. During its years active in the 1960s, the Home of the Blues label released recordings mostly in the rock’n’roll and rhythm and blues genres. The label was active from 1960 until 1964 and had only limited commercial success. Though it was part of the development of southern soul music and an early nest of this music's forerunners.

The Beginnings
The Home of the Blues record label was founded by Ruben Cherry, who also operated the Home of the Blues record shop. Cherry, a native Memphian born there in 1923, had opened the shop in the mid 1940s after World War II and soon, it became a music institution in the city. Cherry was known for his eccentric behavior and colorful appearance. Located on Beale Street, which is still the city’s amusement alley with countless juke joints and bars featuring live blues music, the shop was named aptly “Home of the Blues” (with its slogan “on the street where blues were born”). Soon, it developed into a music hot spot for both black and white customers as the shop offered all kinds of musical genres. Some of the now famous personalities that entered Cherry’s store frequently were local DJ Dewey Phillips, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash (who also composed his song “Home of the Blues” inspired by the shop), or members of the Johnny Burnette Trio, including guitarist Paul Burlison.

The shop enjoyed financial help by Cherry’s aunt Celia G. Camp, who operated a jukebox and pinball machine distribution company called Southern Amusement Company in Memphis. Camp, who also held several other business interests, would eventually finance the Home of the Blues record label, too.

The Home of the Blues Record Company, as it was officially called, was founded on July 15, 1960, by Cherry and Camp, both being owners of the company. While Cherry was responsible for the creative part of the business, which included spotting and signing recording artists, Camp took care of the financial issues of the company. Though sharing the name, the record shop and the record label were separate businesses operated by Cherry (and Camp). Other people involved in the label were Arthur Baldwin as vice president, Max Goldstein as vice president of sales, Ray Meaders as promotion man, and Wolf Lebovitz, who joined the label as a company secretary, dealing also with some of its partner labels. Lebovitz was married to Celia Camp’s adopted niece Dorothy.

The Artists - The Recordings

The first artist to record for Home of the Blues was R&B singer Roy Brown, who had cut numerous discs for several labels before. His “Don’t Break My Heart” b/w “A Man with the Blues” (HOTB #107) appeared already in July 1960. Although Brown had been a successful singer with several chart hits in the 1940s, his debut for the Home of the Blues label did not reach the charts. Brown had a total of four releases on the label and in Brown’s own memory, his third single, a duet with Mamie Dell called “Oh So Wonderful” from early 1961, sold well at least locally. According to Brown, around 44,000 copies were sold in Memphis but due to missing distribution, failed to sell outside of the city.

By August, another singer had been signed to the label, namely Dave Dixon, whose recordings “You Satisfy” and “You Don’t Love Me No More” (HOTB #108) were released the same month but did not sell better than its precursor.

What became probably the label’s biggest success in commercial terms was a song by the 5 Royales, another R&B act that had enjoyed successful years in the early 1950s while recording for Apollo Records. Their “Please, Please Please”, released with the flip side “I Got to Know” (HOTB #112) in October the same year, reached #114 on Billboard’s “Bubbling Under” chart.

From 1960 until 1962, more artists recorded for the label and many of them were influential musicians in the blues and R&B fields. Larry Birdsong, Willie Mitchell (who made his first attempts as a producer for Cherry), and Willie Cobbs were some of them. Billy Lee Riley, who had recorded rockabilly for Sun Records in the 1950s, recorded a single for the label in 1961, as did Billy Adams, another former Sun recording artist.

By 1961, Cherry and Camp had worked out an agreement with the Vee-Jay record label to release Home of the Blues material also on the Vee-Jay label for national distribution. This deal soon transferred to  ABC-Paramount Records after the company purchased Vee-Jay. However, the output of Home of the Blues material on its partner companies remained very limited and did not add any success.

Cherry and Camp created a couple of subsidiary labels, including Rufus Records, Six-O-Six Records, 1st Records, and Zab Records. Only few singles were released on these off-shots and they remained without commercial success.


The label’s last release came nearly exactly two years after its debut in August 1962 with Jimmy “Louisiana” Dotson’s “Search No More” b/w “I Feel Alright” (HOTB #244). After a two years existence without a major chart hit, the Home of the Blues label came to an end. There could have been more recording sessions during 1963 and 1964 - and there were a few copyright registrations - but apparently the label did not release any new singles.

Around the same time, Celia G. Camp had divorced from her first husband Clarence Camp but had remarried a man by the name of Ward Hodge a year later. Hodge in turn was the manager of a female teenage singer, who recorded for the company’s 1st Records subsidiary when she was still underage. According to local Memphis part-time music historian John Shaw, the singer’s parents sued Ward and Celia Hodge, which – according to Shaw – “may have occasioned the label's closing”.

Cash Box magazine reported on November 24, 1967, that Ruben Cherry had moved his Home of the Blues record shop from Beale Street to 147 South Main Street due to urban renewal in Downtown Memphis. Three years later, in 1970, Celia Camp sold the Home of the Blues label, catalog and recording tapes to Wayne McGinnis’ Memphis Record Company. Unfortunately, the Home of the Blues master tapes were stolen from McGinnis’ office and have not turned up since. Ruben Cherry died in 1976 at the age of 52 years in Memphis. Celia Camp passed away in 1979. After their deaths, Wayne McGinnis in turn sold the company to British music enthusiast and entrepreneur Dave Travis in 1991.

In recent years, confusion has been raised to who the rightfully owner of the Home of the Blues material is. Steve LaVere, who is considered to be a rather dubious character in music business, claimed to have the rights to the label. As it turned out, Wolf Lebovitz, who was in the possession of numerous unreleased Home of the Blues tapes, assigned the rights to LaVere. Although LaVere managed to transfer the song catalog to his Delta Haze publishing firm before he died, Dave Travis had already bought the Memphis Music Company, including the Home of the Blues label, from Wayne McGinnis, emphasizing that his deal was legally set up with the person who inherited the rights to the label.

Home of the Blues sign in Memphis, 2023, marking the beginning of Beale Street.
The name "Home of the Blues" was adopted by the city of Memphis for marketing purposes.

In contrast to other Memphis labels, the Home of the Blues label had been of little interest to reissue record companies and scholars in the past. In 1995, the Japanese P-Vine label released three CDs with Home of the Blues material. The British Stomper Time label, known for various reissue albums of Memphis music, released another two CDs containing Home of the Blues recordings. Most recently, German Bear Family Records has released two 10-track LPs with Home of the Blues material in 2021. The label is briefly mentioned at Memphis’ Stax Museum of American Soul Music as well as the Rock’n’Soul Museum, also located in the city.

While the Home of the Blues record label did not gain much national chart success, the recordings of the label bridged the gap between Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rhythm and Blues, and the development of Soul music in Memphis, Detroit and Philadelphia. However, it was probably Ruben Cherry’s record shop that had a much deeper impact on the musical education of many influential Memphis musicians, including B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. The latter not only borrowed the Home of the Blues name as a tribute for one of his songs, but also acknowledged the shop as an influence on him during his 1992 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.

The Congress of the United States, in a motion brought by Rep. Steve Cohen, designated the phrase “Home of the Blues” to the city of Memphis, which uses it as the city’s nickname and slogan for music tourism promotion. It is also used for Beale Street and can be seen on the gates marking the street.

Recommended reading
• Howdy at his 45 blog has also two songs by Larry Birdsong on Home of the Blues. See here and here.

45cat entry
Ruben Cherry Find a Grave entry
• Tony Wilkinson: "Home of the Blues Label and Record Shop Story" (American Music Magazine #133), 2013
• Thanks to Bruce Frager, a relative of Ruben Cherry and Celia Camp, for providing additional material and for keeping the memory of Home of the Blues Records alive!


Anonymous said...

you mentinned "take me with you baby" form the five royals,i love this tune,i think it's one of the better production of this label

Anonymous said...

The label's address was 107 Beale St., Memphis - that's probably why the earliest known release is numbered 107. I don't think 100-106ever existed.

jdogg said...

Ruben Cherry owned the store, but the CEO of the label was listed as one Celia G. Hodge. Writers' credits on some of the 5 Royales releases attribute the songwriting to one "Celia G. Camp", undoubtedly the same person. Celia Hodge appears in Memphis city directories of that era as the president of the Southern Amusement Company, a jukebox firm. I was told by someone that "Camp" had been the name of her first husband, and that he had been a gangster. I could never prove that, but the address of Home of the Blues in those days was something like 635 Madison Avenue, if I recall correctly. This was in the same block as Sam Phillips Recording Service, and a firm called "Camp Electric", and the Camp name seems a little more than coincidence. But by 1963, she had evidently divorced Mr. Camp and married Warren Hodge, who was managing a teenage singing star who recorded for First Records, a subsidiary of Home of the Blues. The girl's parents ended up suing Hodge and his wife Celia in 1963, and this may have occasioned the label's closing. I have also been told that Celia Hodge was some kin to Ruben Cherry, but how they were related is unclear.

Mellow said...

Thanks for your comment, jdogg. There's a large article in an issue of American Music Magagazine in 2013 or 2014, I believe. It has the complete story of Home of the Blues, I just had no time to rewrite my article.

Bruce Frager said...

For the sake of filling in the blanks of the incomplete history by jdogg above, my aunt Celia's maiden name was Goldstein. She married Clarence Camp whom she later divorced and married Ward Hodge. She was the owner of Southern Amusement Company on Madison Ave but also financed my uncle Rubens record store, Home of the Blues, at 107 Beale St, which we used to go visit when I was young. After the redevelopment of Beale Street, HOTB moved to Main St until Ruben passed away. Southern Amusement, also a hang-out when we were young, distributed juke boxes, pinball machines and vending machines with candy, cigarettes, etc. I have seen Celia G, Camp listed as songwriter credit on some 45's sold on eBay, in particular Larry Birdsong. I believe that 'Camp' was a fireman, never heard of anything nefarious or gangster like but who knows ... Aunt Celia's sister was Ida Goldstein Cherry, Rubens mother, married to Harry Cherry. The third sister, Sara Goldstein, was my grandmother who passed away when my mother, Natalie (Rosenberg) Frager, was young in Birmingham, AL. From that point, Celia and Ida 'adopted' my mom, their niece, who used to come to visit Memphis throughout her life until she moved to Memphis after marry my Father, Jerry Frager, who was in the Real Estate business for over 50 years. I believe that she may have also owned a bar that my uncle Wolf Lebovitz managed until she later took over the 'Bagel' kosher delicatessen in East Memphis, on Poplar after the owner, Arne Fallon, whom she had financed to run it, left town. Later, she also divorced Ward as her health was deteriorating and there appeared to be some financial improprieties in his managing her assets, that my father helped to settle. I would be interested in the magazine article referenced above. I can be reached at bhfrager@yahoo.com.