New book The Last Soul Company tells the story of Mississippi’s Malaco Records
Malaco Records has the kind of catalogue that speaks for itself.
Ever since its launch in the 1960s, the Jackson, Mississippi-based imprint has worked to showcase and promote Black music and artists. Founded by Tommy Couch Sr. and Mitchell Malouf – with Wolf Stephenson joining a little later – Malaco has taken on a multitude of forms over time; it spent several years as a booking agency, for example, and as a recording studio, too.
Given its legacy status – it may just be the longest-running independent record label in America – it’s a given that Malaco has also shifted and adapted musically over the decades. Early on, it moved through R&B to genres like soul and soul blues, before eventually settling into its current positioning as one of the world’s leading gospel imprints. Over the years, artists like Little Milton, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, The Jackson Southernaires, Z.Z. Hill, Johnnie Taylor, the Mississippi Mass Choir and more have released hits and cult favourites alike on Malaco. But, despite its successes both in the charts and behind the scenes, the label has remained relatively out of the spotlight for much of its operation, away from widespread international acclaim.
This year, however, the label is being celebrated in a new book entitled The Last Soul Company: The Malaco Records Story. The illustrated book weaves together exclusive stories, photos and pivotal moments spanning over 50 years of the label’s trajectory, with an array of essential Malaco artists featured. It was written by Grammy Award-winning author Rob Bowman, who also penned Soulsville, USA: The Story of Stax Records.
In the week of its release, we caught up with Bowman to discuss the new book and find out more about the “soul-satisfying journey” explored within its pages.
Dave Clark © Malaco Records
What led you to writing the book?
I had written the Grammy-nominated liner notes for The Last Soul Company: A 30 Year Retrospective back in 1999. I’ve been friends with the company’s owners ever since. They commissioned me to take those liner notes and expand them to cover the next 20 years as well as the gospel catalogue, which was not documented in the original notes.
© Malaco Records
Why did it feel important to tell Malaco’s story now?
Malaco is the longest-running, totally independent label in American music history. The company pioneered the soul blues genre of the early 1980s with such seminal artists as Z.Z. Hill, Lattimore, Denise LaSalle, Johnnie Taylor, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and Little Milton. They also became the most important label for gospel quartets in the late 1970s and, starting in the late 1980s with the Mississippi Mass Choir, they came to dominate the contemporary mass choir movement in gospel music. As the founder of the company, Tommy Couch Sr., has said many times [that] Malaco makes “Black music for Black people”. This is a story that needed to be told.
Mosie Burks with the Mississippi Mass Choir © Malaco Records
© Malaco Records
Did you discover anything unexpected about the label or its artists during the writing process?
I discovered tons of great stories behind numerous hit soul blues and gospel records. Perhaps most unexpected is how smart the company has been adapting to the transformation of the company to the new digital reality of the contemporary music business. By buying up labels such as Savoy, Apollo, Muscle Shoals and Atlanta International, Malaco now owns hundreds of thousands of copyrights. This has led to numerous samples by the likes of Drake, Snoop Dogg, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Malaco has pivoted with this new technology in a way that most major labels took years to figure out.
King Floyd © Malaco Records
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I hope as people read this book they will enjoy that extraordinary story that a Hollywood script writer couldn’t have come up with and, along the way, they will want to hear dozens, if not hundreds, of incredible recordings that Malaco has created or now owns and distributes. It is a soul-satisfying journey.