Air Week: February 26-March 4, 2018

Mambo / Vita Records

The Juke In The Back is jumpin’ this week with records from the Vita Label and its direct predecessor, Mambo Records. In 1955, record producer Mike Gradney got together with Larry Mead, who owned a record pressing plant in Pasadena, CA to form Mambo Records. They picked that name, because the Mambo was all the rage in ’55. Mambo hit the ground running with a roster of fantastic R&B cats, like Willie Egan (who’s name always appeared on record as either Eggins or Egans), saxophonist Jackie Kelso and vocal groups the Squires and The Colts. Just as Mambo issued The Colts, “Adorable,” they decided that disc jockeys might get confused and think Mambo Records was a Latin label instead of an R&B label. They changed Mambo to Vita and reissued “Adorable” as Vita 112. “Adorable” was Vita’s first hit record and The Colts only hit record. More Vita releases from The Colts, The Squires, Harmonic Slim, Ike Turner and The Titans followed. In late 1956, Vita had a huge hit on their hands when “Confidential” by Sonny Knight took off nationally. Vita couldn’t handle the distribution of such a large seller, so they leased the record out to Dot Records. The tide started turning for Vita in 1957 and Gradney left Mead to form his own label, Spry Records. Unfortunately, he took some of Vita’s best artists with him and by 1959, Mead decided to shut Vita down for good. This week’s Juke In The Back is a look into the musical legacy of Vita Records, another small West Coast label that made a significant contribute to Rhythm & Blues and the formation of Rock n’ Roll. 

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